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Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

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Waterfall, Moonbow, and Aurora from Iceland

(Amazing comments for a Nature post)
Image Credit & Copyright: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees) Explanation: The longer you look at this image, the more you see. Perhaps your eye is first drawn to the picturesque waterfall called Skogarfoss visible on the image right. Just as prevalent, however, in this Icelandic visual extravaganza, is the colorful arc of light on the left. This chromatic bow is not a rainbow, since the water drops did not originate in rainfall nor are they reflecting light from the Sun. Rather, the drops have drifted off from the waterfall and are now illuminated by the nearly full Moon. High above are the faint green streaks of aurora. The scene, captured one night last month, also shows a beautiful starscape far in the background, including the Big Dipper, part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

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It Starts Here

W5: Pillars of Star Formation
Image Credit & Copyright: Lori Allen, Xavier Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) et al., JPL-Caltech, NASA Explanation: How do stars form? A study of star forming region W5 by the sun-orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope provides clear clues by recording that massive stars near the center of empty cavities are older than stars near the edges. A likely reason for this is that the older stars in the center are actually triggering the formation of the younger edge stars. The triggered star formation occurs when hot outflowing gas compresses cooler gas into knots dense enough to gravitationally contract into stars. Spectacular pillars, left slowly evaporating from the hot outflowing gas, provide further visual clues. In the above scientifically-colored infrared image, red indicates heated dust, while white and green indicate particularly dense gas clouds. W5 is also known as IC 1848, and together with IC 1805 form a complex region of star formation popularly dubbed the Heart and Soul Nebulas. The above image highlights a part of W5 spanning about 2,000 light years that is rich in star forming pillars. W5 lies about 6,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia.

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Creation

Star Forming Region S106
Image Credit: GRANTECAN and IAC

Explanation: Massive star IRS 4 is beginning to spread its wings. Born only about 100,000 years ago, material streaming out from this newborn star has formed the nebula dubbed Sharpless 2-106 Nebula (S106), pictured above. A large disk of dust and gas orbiting Infrared Source 4 (IRS 4), visible in dark red near the image center, gives the nebula an hourglass or butterfly shape. S106 gas near IRS 4 acts as an emission nebula as it emits light after being ionized, while dust far from IRS 4 reflects light from the central star and so acts as a reflection nebula. Detailed inspection of images like the above image has revealed hundreds of low-mass brown dwarf stars lurking in the nebula’s gas. S106 spans about 2 light-years and lies about 2000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus).

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Edge On

Edge-on NGC 3628
Image Credit & Copyright: Stephen Leshin Explanation: Sharp telescopic views of magnificent edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 3628 show a puffy galactic disk divided by dark dust lanes. The tantalizing scene puts many astronomers in mind of its popular moniker, The Hamburger Galaxy. About 100,000 light-years across and 35 million light-years away in the constellation Leo, NGC 3628 shares its neighborhood in the local Universe with two other large spirals, a grouping otherwise known as the Leo Triplet. Gravitational interactions with its cosmic neighbors are likely responsible for the extended flare and warp of this spiral’s disk, populated by the galaxy’s young blue star clusters and tell tale pinkish star forming regions. Also a result of past close encounters, a faint tidal tail of material is just visible extending upward and left in this deep galaxy portrait.

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Interstellar Ghost

Ghost of the Cepheus Flare
Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, University of Arizona Explanation: Spooky shapes seem to haunt this starry expanse, drifting through the night in the royal constellation Cepheus. Of course, the shapes are cosmic dust clouds faintly visible in dimly reflected starlight. Far from your own neighborhood on planet Earth, they lurk at the edge of the Cepheus Flare molecular cloud complex some 1,200 light-years away. Over 2 light-years across the ghostly nebula and relatively isolated Bok globule, also known as vdB 141 or Sh2-136, is near the center of the field. The core of the dark cloud on the right is collapsing and is likely a binary star system in the early stages of formation. Even so, if the spooky shapes could talk, they might well wish you a happy Halloween.

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October

October Skylights
Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park Explanation: As northern hemisphere nights grow longer, October is a good month for spotting auroras, or even other eerie apparitions after dark. And this week the night sky did not disappoint. On October 24th a solar coronal mass ejection impacted planet Earth’s magnetosphere triggering far ranging auroral displays. On that night, this dramatic silhouette against deep red and beautiful green curtains of shimmering light was captured near Whitby, Ontario, Canada. But auroras were reported even farther south, in US states like Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma at latitudes rarely haunted by the northern lights. Well above 100 kilometers, at the highest altitudes infused by the auroral glow, the red color comes from the excitation of oxygen atoms.

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Garradd

Tails of Comet Garradd
Image Credit & Copyright: Gregg Ruppel Explanation: A good target for binoculars and small telescopes, Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1) now shines in planet Earth’s evening skies, a steady performer but just below naked-eye visibility. Telescopic images like this composite from October 15 can find the comet with a lovely green coma, sporting multiple tails, and lingering against a background of faint stars. The field of view spans over 1 degree or about 2 full moons within the southern boundaries of the constellation Hercules. Now around 16 light minutes (2 astronomical units) away, P1 Garradd is an intrinsically large comet, but will never make a very close approach to Earth or the Sun while sweeping through the inner solar system. As a result, the comet will likely stay a sight for telescopic eyes only, moving slowly through the sky and remaining in Hercules during the coming months.

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