A gaze across a cosmic skyscape, this telescopic mosaic reveals the continuous beauty of things that are. The evocative scene spans some 6 degrees or 12 Full Moons in planet Earth’s sky. Above, folds of red, glowing gas are a small part of an immense, 300 light-year wide arc. Known as Barnard’s loop, the structure is too faint to be seen with the eye, shaped by long gone supernova explosions and the winds from massive stars, and still traced by the light of hydrogen atoms. Barnard’s loop lies about 1,500 light-years away roughly centered on the Great Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery along the edge of Orion’s molecular clouds. But beyond lie other fertile star fields in the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. Below, the long-exposure composite finds NGC 2170, a dusty complex of nebulae near a neighboring molecular cloud some 2,400 light-years distant.
This dramatic new image of cosmic clouds in the constellation of Orion reveals what seems to be a fiery ribbon in the sky. The orange glow represents faint light coming from grains of cold interstellar dust, at wavelengths too long for human eyes to see. It was observed by the ESO-operated Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile.
In this image, the submillimetre-wavelength glow of the dust clouds is overlaid on a view of the region in the more familiar visible light, from the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The large bright cloud in the upper right of the image is the well-known Orion Nebula, also called Messier 42.
The orange star centered in this remarkable telescopic skyview is T Tauri, prototype of the class of T Tauri variable stars. Nearby it is a dusty yellow cosmic cloud historically known as Hind’s Variable Nebula (NGC 1555/1554). Over 400 light-years away, at the edge of a molecular cloud, both star and nebula are seen to vary significantly in brightness but not necessarily at the same time, adding to the mystery of the intriguing region. T Tauri stars are now generally recognized as young (less than a few million years old), sun-like stars still in the early stages of formation. To further complicate the picture, infrared observations indicate that T Tauri itself is part of a multiple system and suggest that the associated Hind’s Nebula may also contain a very young stellar object. The dramatic color image spans about 4 light-years at the estimated distance of T Tauri.
More than three decades after it aired, Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking, brilliant 13-part TV series Cosmos:A Personal Voyage will finally get a sequel.
Cosmos, which originally ran in 1980 and was rerun many times over the following decade, is widely regarded as one of the first, and best, TV shows to make science accessible to everyone. You can watch the show now on Hulu, but despite its brilliance it is still a show from more than 30 years ago, and you can tell — the special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but more importantly some of the content has been superseded by discoveries in the intervening years.
So, it’s high time someone made a sequel to it, and now someone is! In partnership with Sagan’s colleagues Ann Druyan (who is also his widow) and Steven Soter, Seth MacFarlane — yes, that Seth MacFarlane — is going to produce a new 13-part series to serve as a sequel and modern update to Sagan’s masterpiece.
Taking over the hosting duties will be none other than well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has served as host of NOVA ScienceNOW on PBS for the past five years, so he has plenty of experience making science accessible to the general public. It would be difficult to think of anyone who would be better able to succeed the late, great Carl Sagan.
The folks working on it will take their time and do it right — it’s not scheduled to air until sometime in 2014.
The producers of the show say the new series will tell “the story of how human beings began to comprehend the laws of nature and find our place in space and time.” They go on to boast: “It will take viewers to other worlds and travel across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on the grandest scale. The most profound scientific concepts will be presented with stunning clarity, uniting skepticism and wonder, and weaving rigorous science with the emotional and spiritual into a transcendent experience.”
That’s the good news. The bad — or at least, potentially bad — news is that, because of MacFarlane’s involvement, the series will air in prime time, and on Fox.
Now, in one way I’m all for showing it in prime time on a major network, because it’ll be that much more likely that people who routinely ignore the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel and, yes, PBS will actually see it.
I’m less thrilled, though, that it will have to compete with other, more mainstream prime-time shows — and it’ll be on Fox, which doesn’t have the greatest track record for giving shows a chance to pull their ratings up once they go down.
Now, maybe the fact that MacFarlane is involved — and Joss Whedon isn’t — will help. I certainly hope so.
The highlighted portion is an image taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The colour is produced by composite of three different images. The different colours indicate emission from different kinds of atoms excited by the shock: blue shows oxygen, green shows sulphur, and red shows hydrogen.
The small portion of the Veil Nebula - the shattered remains of a supernova that exploded some 5-10,000 years ago. The intertwined rope-like filaments of gas result from the enormous amounts of energy released as the fast-moving debris from the explosion ploughs into its surroundings and creates shock fronts.
These shocks, driven by debris moving at 600,000 kilometres per hour, heat the gas to millions of degrees. It is the subsequent cooling of this material that produces the brilliantly coloured glows.
The entire structure spans about 3 degrees, corresponding to about 6 full moons. The bright blue star – dubbed 52 Cygni and unrelated to the supernova explosion – can be observed with the naked eye on a clear summer’s night.
The haunting “Skull Nebula”, planetary nebula (NGC 246) surrounds a dying star some 1,600 light-years away in the constellation Cetus. Expanding over a period of thousands of years, nebula is the outer atmosphere of a once sun-like star. The expanding outer atmosphere is interacting with the gas and dust in the interstellar medium, while the star itself, the fainter member of the binary star system seen at the nebula’s center, is entering its final phase of evolution, becoming a dense, hot white dwarf.
WR 25 and Tr16-244, on the left of the image, are located within the open cluster Trumpler 16. This cluster is embedded within the Carina Nebula, an immense cauldron of gas and dust that lies approximately 7500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina, the Keel.
Solar science meets art in this unique portrait of a solar storm heading straight for Earth.
The image is based on data collected by the ESA/NASA SOHO space observatory during a coronal mass ejection, when a huge cloud of magnetised plasma was ejected from the Sun’s atmosphere and launched towards Earth.
The image shows an extreme-ultraviolet view of the solar disc superimposed on a wide-field view of the surrounding solar environment as the storm leaps away from the Sun.
Two particularly bright regions on the Sun’s face indicate active regions with looping magnetic fields. Towards the left a filament of dense, cool gas appears to snake its way across the surface.
As a result of the ‘running difference’ technique used to process the images, the scene creates a feeling of rapid change as the solar storm expands outwards on all sides of the Sun and races towards us.
The running difference technique takes sequential snapshots and compares them such that the strongest and most persistent features are isolated and highlighted.
Note that the solar disc is not to scale with the background image. SOHO images are usually shown with a gap of around 3 solar radii from the edge of the Sun’s disc, with an occulter blocking out the intense light from the Sun in order to reveal the faint details of the corona.
Coronal mass ejections like the one portrayed here blast away billions of tonnes of matter from the Sun at millions of kilometres per hour. By the time this particular event engulfed Earth two days later, the eruption was some 50 million kilometres wide.
There’s a new star in the sky — and it was put there by astronomers using a giant laser. Installed on to one of the telescopes at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal site in Chile this February, the laser projects a ”star” on to the sky, which helps astronomers get a clearer view.
“We project a beam with a diameter of about 50cm, and make a ‘star’ about 90km up in the atmosphere,” explains ESO laser engineer Steffan Lewis. This artificial star acts as a reference point for atmospheric distortion. The light waves it sends back to Earth are “crinkled” by the turbulence and changing density of the atmosphere; this is why stars seem to twinkle. A sensor in the telescope measures the distortion, and very thin deformable mirrors are automatically reshaped to compensate.
Since the laser was installed, astronomers have observed distant objects such as the dwarf planet Haumea and radio galaxy Centaurus A. “By seeing more clearly into the atmosphere, you get very sharp images,” explains Lewis. Or, as we say: everything is better with lasers.
Hubble has captured the most detailed images to date of the open star clusters NGC 265 and NGC 290 in the Small Magellanic Cloud - two sparkling sets of gemstones in the southern sky.
Two new composite images taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys onboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show a myriad of stars in crystal clear detail. The brilliant open star clusters, NGC 265 and NGC 290, are located about 200,000 light-years away and are roughly 65 light-years across.
Star clusters can be held together tightly by gravity, as is the case with densely packed crowds of hundreds of thousands of stars, called globular clusters. Or, they can be more loosely bound, irregularly shaped groupings of up to several thousands of stars, like the open clusters shown in this image. The stars in these open clusters are all relatively young and were born from the same cloud of interstellar gas. Just as old school-friends drift apart after graduation, the stars in an open cluster will only remain together for a limited time and gradually disperse into space, pulled away by the gravitational tugs of other passing clusters and clouds of gas. Most open clusters dissolve within a few hundred million years, whereas the more tightly bound globular clusters can exist for many billions of years.
Open star clusters make excellent astronomical laboratories. The stars may have different masses, but all are at about the same distance, move in the same general direction, and have approximately the same age and chemical composition. They can be studied and compared to find out more about stellar evolution, the ages of such clusters, and much more.
The Small Magellanic Cloud, which hosts the two star clusters, is the smaller of the two companion dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way named after the Portuguese seafarer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). It can be seen with the unaided eye as a hazy patch in the constellation Tucana (the Toucan) in the Southern Hemisphere. Both the Small and the Large Magellanic Clouds are rich in gas nebulae and star clusters. It is most likely that these irregular galaxies have been disrupted through repeated interactions with the Milky Way, resulting in the vigorous star-forming activity seen throughout the clouds. NGC 265 and NGC 290 may very well owe their existence to these close encounters with the Milky Way.
When we look into the distant cosmos, the great majority of the objects we see are galaxies: immense gatherings of stars, planets, gas, dust, and dark matter, showing up in all kind of shapes. This Hubble picture registers several, but the galaxy catalogued as 2MASX J05210136-2521450 stands out at a glance due to its interesting shape.
This object is an ultraluminous infrared galaxy which emits a tremendous amount of light at infrared wavelengths. Scientists connect this to intense star formation activity, triggered by a collision between two interacting galaxies.
The merging process has left its signs: 2MASX J05210136-2521450 presents a single, bright nucleus and a spectacular outer structure that consists of a one-sided extension of the inner arms, with a tidal tail heading in the opposite direction, formed from material ripped out from the merging galaxies by gravitational forces.
The image is a combination of exposures taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, using near-infrared and visible light. A version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
UGC 8335 is a strongly interacting pair of spiral galaxies resembling two ice skaters. The interaction has united the galaxies via a bridge of material and has yanked two strongly curved tails of gas and stars from the outer parts of their bodies . Both galaxies show dust lanes in their centers. UGC 8335 is located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, about 400 million light-years from Earth.
Arp 87 is a stunning pair of interacting galaxies. Stars, gas, and dust flow from the large spiral galaxy, NGC 3808, forming an enveloping arm around its companion. The shapes of both galaxies have been distorted by their gravitational interaction. Arp 87 is located in the constellation of Leo, the Lion, approximately 300 million light-years away from Earth. Arp 87 appears in Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. As also seen in similar interacting galaxies, the corkscrew shape of the tidal material suggests that some stars and gas drawn from the larger galaxy have been caught in the gravitational pull of the smaller one. This image was taken in February 2007 with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 detector.
A record-setting blast of gamma rays from a dying star in a distant galaxy has wowed astronomers around the world. The eruption, which is classified as a gamma-ray burst, or GRB, and designated GRB 130427A, produced the highest-energy light ever detected from such an event.
“We have waited a long time for a gamma-ray burst this shockingly, eye-wateringly bright,” said Julie McEnery, project scientist for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The GRB lasted so long that a record number of telescopes on the ground were able to catch it while space-based observations were still ongoing.”
The burst subsequently was detected in optical, infrared and radio wavelengths by ground-based observatories, based on the rapid accurate position from Swift. Astronomers quickly learned that the GRB was located about 3.6 billion light-years away, which for these events is relatively close.
Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. Astronomers think most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel and collapse under their own weight. As the core collapses into a black hole, jets of material shoot outward at nearly the speed of light.
The jets bore all the way through the collapsing star and continue into space, where they interact with gas previously shed by the star and generate bright afterglows that fade with time.
If the GRB is near enough, astronomers usually discover a supernova at the site a week or so after the outburst.
“This GRB is in the closest 5 percent of bursts, so the big push now is to find an emerging supernova, which accompanies nearly all long GRBs at this distance,” said Goddard’s Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for Swift.
Ground-based observatories are monitoring the location of GRB 130427A and expect to find an underlying supernova by midmonth.
The 1st animation: The maps in the animation show how the sky looks at gamma-ray energies above 100 million electron volts (MeV) with a view centered on the north galactic pole. The first frame shows the sky during a three-hour interval prior to GRB 130427A. The second frame shows a three-hour interval starting 2.5 hours before the burst, and ending 30 minutes into the event. The Fermi team chose this interval to demonstrate how bright the burst was relative to the rest of the gamma-ray sky. This burst was bright enough that Fermi autonomously left its normal surveying mode to give the LAT instrument a better view, so the three-hour exposure following the burst does not cover the whole sky in the usual way.
The 2nd animation: This animation shows a more detailed Fermi LAT view of GRB 130427A. The sequence shows high-energy (100 Mev to 100 GeV) gamma rays from a 20-degree-wide region of the sky starting three minutes before the burst to 14 hours after. Following an initial one-second spike, the LAT emission remained relatively quiet for the next 15 seconds while Fermi’s GBM instrument showed bright, variable lower-energy emission. Then the burst re-brightened in the LAT over the next few minutes and remained bright for nearly half a day.
A burst of solar material leaps off the left side of the sun in what’s known as a prominence eruption. This image combines three images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured on May 3, 2013, at 1:45 pm EDT, just as an M-class solar flare from the same region was subsiding. The images include light from the 131-, 171- and 304-angstrom wavelengths.
The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 1:32 pm EDT on May 3, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, and the radio blackout for this flare has already subsided.
This flare is classified as an M5.7-class flare. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth. Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, as the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013.