Tag Archives: nebula

Flame Nebula lights Orion on fire in new fantastic images

The Flame Nebula is the large feature on the left half of the central, yellow rectangle. The smaller feature on the right is the reflection nebula NGC 2023. To the top right of NGC 2023, the iconic Horsehead Nebula seems to emerge heroically from the “flames”. Credit: ESO/Th. Stanke & ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

The constellation Orion is basically one giant cloud of molecular gas. Located just 1,400 or so light-years away, Orion is home to the most active stellar nursery in the vicinity of our solar system. So it’s no wonder that astronomers, amateur and tenured professors alike, love it and often target it with their telescope lens.

Orion has no shortage of nebulas, including the famous Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula. The latter was recently imaged in exquisite detail by astronomers affiliated with the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), perched in the frigid Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“As astronomers like to say, whenever there is a new telescope or instrument around, observe Orion: there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” says ESO astronomer Thomas Stanke.

This images shows the Flame Nebula and its surroundings captured in radio waves. Credit: ESO/Th. Stanke.

Stanke should know a thing or two about it. He and colleagues just published a new study in which they included images of Orion lighting up like a fireworks display. But don’t let the pictures fool you — these clouds are actually super cold, with temperatures hovering just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero (around -250 degrees Celsius).

The observations looked for radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide in the Orion clouds in order to map regions of large gas clouds that are in the process of seeding new stars.

In the process, the astronomers imaged not only the Flame Nebula, but also the reflection nebulae Messier 78 and NGC 2071, called so because they reflect the light of nearby stars. The research also revealed a previously never before seen nebula, the almost circular Cow Nebula, as described in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The most energetic light recorded thus far hits Tibetan plateau

Crab Nebula as seen by Hubble and Herschel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

An experiment involving over 600 particle detectors stretched over 36,900 square meters has measured the most energetic light ever witnessed on this planet. The photons were part of gamma rays emanating from the famous Crab Nebula, the remains of a supernova that was first observed in 1054 AD, which is located approximately 6,500 light years away. These photons measured tremendously high values exceeding 100 trillion electron volts (TeV), with one measurement clocking in 450TeV — the highest ever recorded. Previously, photons measuring no more than tens of trillions of electronvolts had been recorded.

Physicists started the Tibet Air Shower Gamma Collaboration, an observatory in the Tibetan Plateau some 4,300 meters above sea level because rarified air at this altitude allows more secondary particles to reach detectors. Secondary subatomic particles are created when cosmic rays and gamma rays interact with particles in the upper atmosphere.

By measuring and excluding muon particles — an elementary subatomic particle similar to the electron but 207 times heavier — physicists were able to backtrack the energy and origin of the incoming gamma rays that caused the showers. A total of 24 events caused by intense photons with energies higher than 100 trillion electronvolts were reported. To get a sense of the scale involved, regular photons that emanate from the sun — particles of visible light — have an energy of only a few electronvolts.

Now that scientists have experimental confirmation that high-energy photons reach Earth, they can elaborate a more precise model for how such particles are created and whether or not there’s a limit to how much energy they can carry.

In this particular case, researchers think that the gamma rays were accelerated by a process known as Inverse Compton scattering — a process during which super high-energy electrons bounce off lower energy photons. Inside the Crab Nebula, electrons may have scattered off low-energy photons from the cosmic microwave radiation (photons created soon after the Big Bang).

The findings appeared in the journal Physical Review Letters.

How to “Weigh” Baby Planets

Similar to how stars are formed, the most popular theory among today’s scientists regarding the creation of planets is that they are a result of a nebula breaking down. During the long evolution of the deteriorating gaseous cloud, the nebula transforms into a structure called a protoplanetary disk, with a newly-formed star at its center. Such a disk provides a place of incubation for developing planets.

Just recently, for the first time on record, young planets-to-be (also referred to as protoplanets) developing in one of these protoplanetary disks were actually “weighed”. Several scientific papers published earlier this month as inclusions in the Astrophysical Journal Letters discuss a new mode of operation which can be employed to calculate various physical attributes of these protoplanets. It’s also rather accurate and dependable.

One group of astronomers headed by Richard Teague was responsible for the discovery of two young planets having a mass close to the size of the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The two bodies orbit a star which has been labeled HD 163296. This four-million-year-old ball of burning gas is still a youngster as a star the size of our Sun would have a normal life expectancy of about 10 billion years and beyond.

A Developing Star System. Source: SciTechDaily.

But a separate party of scientists, this one based in Australia and headed by Christophe Pinte, was also spending time examining the same system. They noticed a third protoplanet in a revolution around the very same star. However, the finding attributed to Pinte’s team was a young planet nearly twice as massive as the gas giant Jupiter.

Both of the teams employed data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This is a system of radio telescopes located in Chile, South America. The two teams of astronomers closely examined the motion of the nebulous gas. Both managed to develop a process of measuring the gas’s velocity by observing the change in the wavelength of light emitted by carbon monoxide molecules.

The gravitational pull of a planet would best explain the gaseous movements. Richard Teague thinks this method of measurement could be used effectively in observing many other stars and protoplanets. In this way, he hopes scientists will be able to discover what types of protoplanets are most common in the cosmos.

The Crab Nebula as seen by five different observatories (animation; 10 May 2017).

Phosphorus — a crucial ingredient for life — might be a lot less common in the universe than we thought

The Crab Nebula as seen by five different observatories (animation; 10 May 2017).

The Crab Nebula as seen by five different observatories (animation; 10 May 2017).

Phosphorus, denoted by the symbol P in the periodic table, is the 11th most common element on Earth. It is fundamental to all living things, being essential for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, and for bone and teeth formation in humans. According to a new study by astronomers at Cardiff University, there seems to be far less of this precious element lurking in the rest of the universe than we used to think. If extraterrestrial life is similar to that on Earth, then the odds of it existing have just depreciated considerably.

P is for life

Phosphorus is one of just six chemical elements that are thought to be indispensable to the functioning of Earth organisms. Phosphorus cannot be manufactured or destroyed, and there is no substitute or synthetic version of it available. Astronomers claim that phosphorus in created in supernovae, which are massive explosions of dying stars. Dr. Jane Greaves of Cardiff University observed that the observed amounts of phosphorus in the universe don’t match the computer models, and naturally wondered what this implies for life on other planets given the unpredictable nature of phosphorus production. 

Using the William Herschel Telescope, sited on La Palma in the Canary islands, Greaves and colleagues probed the famous Crab Nebula in infrared for signs of phosphorus and iron. The first element supports life, while the second is a major part of our planet’s core. The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant around 6500 light years away in the direction of the constellation of Taurus.

This was only the second study of phosphorus from supernovae ever made. The first such study looked at the Cassiopeia A (Cas A) supernova remnant. By comparing phosphorus content from both supernovae, the researchers concluded that there seems to be far less phosphorus in the Crab Nebula than in Cas A. The latter is the explosion of a rare type of supermassive star, which might explain the discrepancy in phosphorus content.

More observations by different telescopes could reveal more insight and complete some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. For instance, it could be that there are some phosphorus-rich regions in the Crab Nebula that astronomers have overlooked. But, so far, these preliminary results suggest that the amount of phosphorus blown into space can vary wildly. In the future, the researchers plan on studying more supernovae to establish how common it is to find supernova remnants that lack phosphorus.

“The route to carrying phosphorus into new-born planets looks rather precarious. We already think that only a few phosphorus-bearing minerals that came to the Earth—probably in meteorites—were reactive enough to get involved in making proto-biomolecules,” Greaves said in a statement.

‘If phosphorus is sourced from supernovae, and then travels across space in meteoritic rocks, I’m wondering if a young planet could find itself lacking in reactive phosphorus because of where it was born? That is, it started off near the wrong kind of supernova? In that case, life might really struggle to get started out of phosphorus-poor chemistry, on another world otherwise similar to our own.”

The findings were presented this week at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Liverpool.

The Crab Nebula.

Stunning image of the Crab Nebula put together from five telescopes’ worth of data

By piecing together data from across the electromagnetic spectrum, NASA researchers have created the most detailed image of the Crab Nebula to date.

The Crab Nebula.

Image credits NASA / ESA.

Languishing in space some six and a half thousand light years away from Earth in the constellation Taurus are the remnants of humanity’s first witnessed supernova — the Crab Nebula. The nebula was noted by Chinese astronomers in 1054 (when the parent star went boom), and currently boasts a super-dense neutron star that does a full rotation every 33 milliseconds and shoots out massive beams of electromagnetic energy from its poles as it does — in other words, a pulsar. The nebula itself is the product of the original material ejected before and during the supernova, bits and pieces of which are spurred outward by the pulsar’s energy and stellar wind.

A lot of work went into making the image. Astronomers put together data from five different telescopes whose sensors span the electromagnetic spectrum: radio waves recorded by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), which were colored red. This color shows the winds generated by the pulsar.

The Spitzer Space Telescope recorded infrared, shown in yellow — mostly the glow of dust particles. Hubble Space Telescope recorded in the visible spectrum (here in green), showing the hot filamentary elements that make up the nebula.

XMM-Newton recorded ultraviolet (blue), along with the Chandra X-ray Observatory which picked up the X-ray glow (purple), show the cloud of energized electrons generated by the rapidly rotating pulsar.

The VLA, Hubble, and Chandra recordings were taken almost at the same time in November 2012. The data was then crunched and analyzed by a team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

They findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Hubble captures the death of a star, offering a glimpse of our sun’s final days

A spectacular image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) gives us a glimpse into how the Sun will look at its death.

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope is among the most powerful and versatile tools astronomers have at their disposal even to this day. On Monday, the European Space Agency released a photo taken bu Hubble’s WFPC2 of the planetary nebula Kohoutek 4-55 that reminds us that nothing under the sun lasts forever — but the star itself also abides by that saying.

Five billion years from now, this is most likely how the sun will look. By then, the star is anticipated to be on the throes of death.
(Photo : NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: R. Sahai and J. Trauger (JPL))

This photo is a composite image of three individual shots taken at specific wavelengths, to allow researchers to distinguish light from particular gas atoms. The red wavelength corresponds to nitrogen gas, blue to oxygen and green signifies hydrogen.

At the center of the colorful swirl of gas is a star, about the same size as the sun, on the throes of death. The star is about as massive as the sun. As stars age and consume their fuel, the nuclear reactions that produces their light and warmth start to slow down; The irregular energy patterns of energy production causes aging stars to pulsate irregularly making them eject their outer layers.

As the outer layers of gases are released the star’s core is revealed, giving of massive amounts of UV light. That radiation is responsible for the glow of the gas and the nebula’s beauty.

The sun is anticipated to behave in a similar manner to the Kohoutek 4-55 star,ejecting its outer layers to reveal its core — until it gradually cools down into a white dwarf. The image allows scientists a glimpse the distant future of our sun, expected to die off 5 billion years from now.

“By that time, Earth will be long gone, burnt to a crisp as the Sun dies,” ESA wrote. “But the beauty of our star’s passing will shine across the Universe.”

Pillars of Creation

3D map of the Pillars of Creation shows the same shaping forces will also destroy them

Using the MUSE instrument aboard  ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have made a three dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation – a photograph taken by Hubble 20 years ago showing elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 7,000 light years from Earth. The 3D image shows never before seen details of the dust columns, greatly expanding scientists’ knowledge of how these formed, but also what’s in stored for them in the future.

Pillars of Creation

A 3-D map of the Pillars of Creation. ESO/VLT

These beautiful features were born out of the intense energy spewed by new stars in the Eagle Nebula. It’s actually a classic example column-like shapes that develop in the giant clouds of gas and dust nearby newborn stars.

The original 1995 image was beautiful. Compare this view to the 2014 image in a side-by-side montage. Image: NASA

The original 1995 image was beautiful. Compare this view to the 2014 image in a side-by-side montage. Image: NASA

The same stars that formed the pillars will also destroy them, however. On one side, the ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds gushing from freshly formed blue-white O and B stars blow away less dense materials from their vicinity, causing the pillars to form in the place. On the other side, however, the same radiation is breaking up the gas and dust columns. Denser pockets act like a shield and protect less dense regions from destruction, but not forever. Using this new data, astronomers operating the Very Large Telescope  estimate the pillars lose roughly 70 times the mass of the sun every million years. This would entail that the Pillars of Creation only have three million years left before they’re obliterated. It’ll be only the Pillars of Destruction that remain in the aftermath.

The new study also reports fresh evidence for two gestating stars in the left and middle pillars as well as a jet from a young star that had escaped attention up to now, as reported in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

starnebula

New images of Tarantula Nebula may help refine star formation theory

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently completed one of its most thorough and ambitious mozaic projectes. Astronomers at Hubble, stitched together some 438 separate images, both in visible and infra-red light, to complete the most accurate picture of the Tarantula Nebula so far, spanning across no less than 600 light-years. The Tarantula nebula contains some 800,000 newly born or developing stars, and these latest developments will hopefully help scientists answer some puzzling questions on star formation.

One such question is whether super-massive stars – stars with mass at least 50 times greater than the sun – form exclusively in star clusters or not. The Tarantula Nebula, located 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, contains the nearest observable super-cluster of stars. Coupled with the fact the nebula is still a massive star hatchery, makes it an ideal candidate for investigating super-massive star formation in isolation.

starnebula

Click for magnefied view. (c) NASA

Hubble is sensitive enough to resolve individual stars and many red protostars as well as aging red giants and supergiants, giving astronomers new insights into the stars’ birth and evolution. The telescope had to be wired to ‘see’ in infra-red however, since only these light wavelengths can peer through the ubiquitous clouds of dust and gas which are aggregated in star formation.

“Because of the mosaic’s exquisite detail and sheer breadth, we can follow how episodes of star birth migrate across the region in space and time,” said Elena Sabbi, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and the principal investigator of the observing team.

So far, astronomers have identified a multitude of star formation pockets, which most likely will merge into large clusters. When the program will be completed, astronomers will have a more refined view of various star formation properties.

Source: NASA

Image Credit: Optical: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO) Infrared: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson ( Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit) Ultraviolet: NASA/AP

The stunning Eye of God nebula

Arguably,  NGC 7293 is maybe the most stunning deep space photograph astronomers have captured thus far. The nebula, located approximately 700 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Aquarius, goes by the name of the Helix Nebula, but it’s also sometimes referred to as the Eye of God. It’s easy to understand why.

Image Credit: Optical: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO) Infrared: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson ( Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit) Ultraviolet: NASA/AP

Image Credit: Optical: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO) Infrared: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson ( Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit) Ultraviolet: NASA/AP

A lot of planetary nebulae – remnants of dead medium-sized stars – resemble an eye because   following the death of star, what remains is a dense core called a white-dwarf (the iris), surrounded by the clouds of dust which help to form the visual pattern which we resemble to an eye. The Eye of God nebula, however, bears a truly striking resemblance, especially in the ultraviolet view where what looks like an eyelid and even eyelashes can be seen.

Overall, the nebula extends about 2.5 light-years across. Meaning, it’s larger in size than our entire solar system. In fact, light could make it half of the way from the sun to the sun’s nearest neighbor (in the Alpha Centauri star system) before it could travel from one side of the Helix nebula to the other one.

Not too long ago, the Ring nebula was thought to be shaped like a sphere. New Hubble observations, coupled with ground imaging, show that the nebula is actually shaped like a bagel. In the image, the deep blue color in the center represents helium; the cyan color of the inner ring is the glow of hydrogen and oxygen; and the reddish color of the outer ring is from nitrogen and sulfur. (c) NASA

“Ring Nebula” imaged in stunning never before seen 3-D detail

Not too long ago, the Ring nebula was thought to be shaped like a sphere. New Hubble observations, coupled with ground imaging, show that the nebula is actually shaped like a bagel. In the image, the deep blue color in the center represents helium; the cyan color of the inner ring is the glow of hydrogen and oxygen; and the reddish color of the outer ring is from nitrogen and sulfur. (c) NASA

Not too long ago, the Ring nebula was thought to be shaped like a sphere. New Hubble observations, coupled with ground imaging, show that the nebula is actually shaped like a barrel. In the image, the deep blue color in the center represents helium; the cyan color of the inner ring is the glow of hydrogen and oxygen; and the reddish color of the outer ring is from nitrogen and sulfur. CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR A MASSIVE MAGNIFIED VIEW (c) NASA

The “Ring Nebula” is a very popular target for amateur astronomers around the world since its bright glow and highly characteristic shape make it easily identifiable, even to those who have yet to learn even the most basic tricks of the trade. This fantastic cosmic cloud tells the story of a dying star and for years astronomers have been peering it with powerful telescopes, such as Hubble, looking to learn more about it.

New observations from Hubble, courtesy of the telescope’s powerful Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, now show that nebula isn’t shaped like a ring at all, but rather like a doughnut filled with  jelly in its inner rim. The object is tilted toward Earth so that astronomers see the ring face-on, but when imaged in 3-D the nebula’s shape is more sophisticated.

“The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, it’s like a jelly doughnut, because it’s filled with material in the middle,” study leader C. Robert O’Dell, an astronomer with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said in a statement today.

 The doughnut-shaped feature in the center of the graphic is the main ring. The lobes above and below the ring comprise a football-shaped structure that pierces the ring. Dense knots of gas are embedded along the ring's inner rim. Illustration courtesy of NASA

The doughnut-shaped feature in the center of the graphic is the main ring. The lobes above and below the ring comprise a football-shaped structure that pierces the ring. Dense knots of gas are embedded along the ring’s inner rim. Illustration courtesy of NASA

The Ring nebula is a fantastic example of what happens to a star when it dies and we’ve been lucky enough to be close enough to see this. Located 2,000 light-years away in the Lyra constellation, the nebula formed some 4,000 years ago when a star, several times the mass of the sun, died. After the star burned all its nuclear fuel, it started to expand until it grew into a massive red giant. During this point the star began shedding its outer layers of gas as it collapsed in on itself to become a white dwarf; layers which were then expelled across trillions of miles by the the solar wind generated by the dying star. By studying the nebula, researchers hope to learn more about how Earth’s sun, which is a middle-age star, will die in 6 billion years.

“When the sun becomes a white dwarf, it will heat more slowly after it ejects its outer gaseous layers,” O’Dell said. “The material will be farther away once it becomes hot enough to illuminate the gas. This larger distance means the sun’s nebula will be fainter because it is more extended.”

Check out the video below for a fly-around and zoom on the Ring nebula for a better perspective.

Horse Head nebula

Stunning Horsehead nebula imaged in infrared

Horse Head nebula

Two fantastic space telescopes, Hubble and ESA’s Herschel, have teamed up to image one of the most popular astronomical sights in the sky, the “Horsehead” nebula, in infrared  as well as longer wavelengths to provide unprecedented insights as to what’s going on in this stunning star hatchery.

Listed in catalogues under “Barnard 33”, but better known as the Horsehead nebula thanks to its distinctive shape, this fabulous molecular gas cloud lies some 1,300 light years away in the constellation Orion. Until recently, optical observations have made the nebula famous, but new infrared imaging shows the Horsehead in unprecedented detail.

Besides being a fabulous sight, the region is also a highly active star formation region, which makes it particularly appealing.

“You need images at all scales and at all wavelengths in astronomy in order to understand the big picture and the small detail,” said Prof Matt Griffin, the principal investigator on Herschel’s SPIRE instrument.

“In this new Herschel view, the Horsehead looks like a little feature – a pimple. In reality, of course, it is a very large entity in its own right, but in this great sweep of a picture from Herschel you can see that the nebula is set within an even larger, molecular-cloud complex where there is a huge amount of material and a great range of conditions,” the Cardiff University, UK, researcher told BBC News.

The image comes ahead of the 23rd anniversary of the telescope’s launch on the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is due to launch around 2018.

An infrared image of the Lobster nebula, filled with glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. (c) ESO

Lobster nebula shines in new light after infrared observation

An infrared image of the Lobster nebula, filled with glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. (c) ESO

An infrared image of the Lobster nebula, filled with glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. (c) ESO

Deep inside the Milky Way lies the beautiful star breeding ground known as the Lobster nebula, located in the constellation Scorpius – some 8,000 light-years away from Earth. The nebula has been the subject of study for astronomers for many years, however just recently it has been imaged in infrared for the first time capturing its beauty in a whole new light.

The ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA)  at the Paranal Observatory in Chile is  the largest and most powerful survey telescope ever built. It’s task is that of scanning the Milky Way as part of a major effort to map our galaxy’s structure and learn how it formed.

Part of this survey, the Lobster nebula, known to astronomers by the name of NGC 6357, was also scanned. Being a nebula, naturally a lot of it is obscured to optical observations due to the massive clouds of dust that surround it on all planes. This new infrared observation has now revealed a myriad of new elements hidden before, like  tendrils of purple gas that stretch out from the nebula in different areas.

Besides being a pretty picture, the Lobster nebula actually presents some unique characteristics. For one, the nebula is home to the Pismis-24 star cluster, which contains some of the most massive stars in the Milky Way. Nevertheless, the Lobster nebula joins countless other nebulae, clusters, and various cosmic bodies as part of the massive VISTA survey which intends to eventually build a huge dataset capable that might hint to the origin, early life, and structure of the Milky Way.

As an added bonus, ESO has also provided a stunning video that zooms in on the Scorpius constellation and beautifully lands the viewer gently at the heart of the nebula.

manatee-nebula

Newly imaged nebula looks like a manatee in space

The Very Large Array radio telescope network in New Mexico recently captured this amazing view of a 20,000 year old nebula that intriguing enough is shaped like a manatee – the famous and adorable sea cow native to the greater Gulf of Mexico – in its favorite position: floating on its back with its fins across its belly.

manatee-nebula

The nebula, initially named W50, was produced after a massive supernova exploded, but before the original star that formed it died, it “puffed out its outer gaseous layers, which now swirl in green-and-blue clouds around the dead hulk of the star, which has collapsed into a black hole,” according to the researchers. The nebula is actually one of the most massive the VLA has come across so far, spanning across  700 light years  and covering two degrees on the sky (the equivalent of four full moons).

The astronomers believe the crushed relic of the past star now feeds on gas from a companion star, forming a stream of gas around the black hole that eventually births a disk of matter. The cannibalized disk of matter and the black hole together for a powerful network of magnetic field lines which grabs charged particles from the disk and channels them outward in powerful jets. This makes W50 shine brightly in both radio and X-rays, and all the better for us viewers.

The name W50 is rather boring, so considering its uncanny resemblance, the nebula was named Manatee Nebula. Besides, since this gorgeous animals is currently threatened by extinction, the astronomers thought they could pitch in to raise awareness. The biggest risk manatees face are the deadly encounters with boat propellers that carve deep wounds causing intense amount of pains, which most of the time prove fatal. As the Florida coastline develops even further, the manatee is at ever greater peril.

“Manatees are endangered, in part because boat propellers often cut deep gashes into the herbivores’ sides, injuring or killing many manatees every year. The nebula, too, bears streaky scars carved out by particles in the two protruding jets emitting from the black hole at its core,” the researchers write.

The findings were published in the journal PLoS

 

Seagull nebula

Beautifully colored ‘seagull nebula’ imaged

Nebulae are among the most brightest objects in the sky, and besides their fantastic halo in the night sky, which served to inspire artists for countless past generations and more to come, they’re also an indispensable part of the Universe’s ‘ecosystem’. Essentially interstellar clouds of dust, gas, hydrogen, helium and other ionised gases, a nebula serves like a sort of star nursery, feeding new stars with all the matter it needs to mature and shine bright. Such a nebula is   IC 2177, or the Seagull Nebula as it’s also better known, thanks to its close resemblance to the bird.

Seagull nebula

This cloud of gas, known as Sh 2-292, RCW 2 and Gum 1, seems to form the head of the seagull and glows brightly due to the energetic radiation from a very hot young star lurking at its heart. (c) ESO

This fantastic image, taken from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula. At the photo’s center lies its brightest point, due to the strong ultraviolet radiation coming mostly from one brilliant young star (HD 53367), which our brain’s patterning associates it with an eye.

This wide-field view captures the evocative and colourful star formation region of the Seagull Nebula, IC 2177, on the borders of the constellations of Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog). This view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

This wide-field view captures the evocative and colourful star formation region of the Seagull Nebula, IC 2177. This view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

The nebula can be found about 3,700 light-years from Earth, on the border between the constellations Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog).

source

Hubble captures Dorado galaxy [PHOTO]

Located some 62 million-light years away, the Dorado constellation is home to a galaxy cluster, called the Dorado Group, comprised of around 70 galaxies. A pretty massive figure by all accounts, considering the Local Group, which also include the Milky Way, contains a mere 30 galaxies under its belt.

Recently, Hubble captured a splendid photo of NGC 1483, a barred spiral galaxy located in the southern constellation of Dorado. The nebulous galaxy features a bright central bulge, hence the barred spiral term used to describe it, and diffuse arms filled with young stars to its margins. Astronomers hypothesize that these bars, which are commonly formed in around two out of three spiral galaxies, actually show that a galaxy is fully matured.

Orion Nebula Baby stars

Pulsating embryonic stars in the Orion Nebula imaged by infrared telescopes

Located beneath the three stars that form the belt of Orion the Hunter, the Orion Nebula is one of the dearest sights for amateur astronomers in the night sky, due to its great visibility, being one of the few nebulae visible with the naked eye. Also known under the name of the Sword of Orion, the nebula which is 1,350 light years away from Earth, holds a myriad of amazing gems in its pocket. One of them is a formation of “baby stars”, which astronomers recently caught changing color and brightness before their very eyes.

Orion Nebula Baby stars

Click for enhanced resolution. (c) ESA/PACS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/IRAM

The image above shows embryonic stars – the colorful specks – within extensive gas and dust clouds. These were rendered through the combined far-infrared observations from the Herschel Space Observatory and mid-infrared observations from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope, the rainbow of colored young stars representing different wavelengths of infrared light – the only kind that could be read through the thick layer of gas and dust clouds.

A new star forms when a clump of gas and dust, such as the one found in the Orion Nebula, collapses under its own gravity, creating a warm glob of material in the process, called a protostar, which is fed by a swirling disc. As material is steadily building up, some young stars accumulate enough for nuclear fusion to be triggered and thus catapult it towards stardom.

What’s interesting about these recently noticed young stars is the rate at which their brightness varies, some by as much as 20% over the six weeks they’ve been observed by the team of astronomers lead Nicolas Billot of the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique, in Granada, Spain – a process which typically should have taken between a few hundred to a few thousands years.

To explain this peculiar phenomenon, the astronomers studying it have come up with two possible scenarios. One: it’s possible lumpy filaments of gas funnel from the outer to the central regions of the star, temporarily warming the object as the clumps hit its inner disk. Two: material might occasionally pile up at the inner edge of the disk and thus cast a shadow on the outer disk, temporarily causing it to darken.

“Yet again, Herschel observations surprise us and provide more interesting insights in to what happens during the very earliest phases of stars and planet formation,” comments Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist.

“Herschel’s exquisite sensitivity opens up new possibilities for astronomers to study star formation, and we are very excited to have witnessed short-term variability in Orion protostars.
.. Follow-up observations with Herschel will help us identify the physical processes responsible for the variability,” Billot added.

source / NASA press release

The Eta Carina explosion took place more than 165 years ago - covered in a thick nebula. (c) N. Smith / J. A. Morse (U. Colorado) et al. / NASA

Eta Carinae – the star that exploded, but didn’t die

The Eta Carina explosion took place more than 165 years ago - covered in a thick nebula. (c) N. Smith / J. A. Morse (U. Colorado) et al. / NASA

The Eta Carinae explosion took place more than 165 years ago - covered in a thick nebula. (c) N. Smith / J. A. Morse (U. Colorado) et al. / NASA

Around 1843, on the night sky all of a sudden a new luminous star made its appearance. That luminous star, which at the time was actually the 2nd brightest star, after Sirius, was actually the result of a explosion in Eta Carinae system – the brightest star in the Milky Way. The eruption spewed a mass 10 times that of our sun into space, and shined with intense brightness for 20 years or so, then faded and left behind a majestic, billowing cloud of gas known as the Homunculus Nebula. This event was called by astronomers a “supernova impostor”, as the star didn’t die, it just had a local, albeit extreme, explosion. Now, scientists are studying this event that took place almost 170 years ago in real-time (yes, as if it were happening right now), by analyzing the light echoes it left behind. This gets interesting.

Observing Eta Carinae’s detailed structure has proven to be extremely difficult for astronomers, because of the Homunculus Nebula in which the system is engulfed – a thick cloud of dust and gas which was highly disturbing. The 1843 flare-up played out over 20 years, and XIX century astronomers did their best to observe and study it, however lacking the modern technology of today, they could only do so little. If only this bright explosion took place during our time…

Few events remain unrecorded in the Universe’s history however, and considering scientists have been able to trace back some of the events close the very dawn of existence, capturing information that was transmitted just barely two centuries ago shouldn’t have posed too much of a headache for the researchers.

When Eta Carinae erupted, light was blasted in all directions. Some reached Earth in the XIXth century, while other traveled for years and years through space, some eventually reaching cloud nebulae, which at turn reflected the light back to Earth with a delay. This light contains all the information scientists need, it’s basically like they would watch a faithfully accurate recording. Moreover, astronomers can study light echoes from a variety of different dust clouds, at varying distances from the star. That creates detours of varying lengths, so they can see different phases of the eruption all at once.

“The big puzzle,” says Jose Prieto, a co-author of the report. “is what caused the outburst. This star has been studied to death with all sorts of telescopes, but no one theory has ever been able to tell us what happened.”

The researchers admit that they currently do not know what caused the explosion, although there’s a somewhat mutually agreed assumption that the eruption took place from inside the star, which is 100 times the mass of the our own sun. They still have around 19 years and a half worth of real-time information coming through, so as the researchers  go through all the phases of  luminous blue variable explosion, they might be able to decipher what went on.  Eta Carinae is somewhat at the end of its existence however, as astronomers believe it should blow in a supernova event very soon.

“We know it’s close to the end of its life,” says astronomer Armin Rest, of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the lead author of the paper. “It could explode in a thousand years, or it could happen tomorrow.”

At 7,500 light years from Earth, though, such an event would pose absolutely no threat to life on Earth, even if it were of an even massive dimension. When it’s finally going to die, though, Eta Carinae will most surely go down with a bang, most likely resulting in one of the most brightest spots in sky, if not the brightest – one to last for centuries.

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature.

The Carina Nebula, captured in infrared by the Very Large Telescope. (c) ESO/T. Preibisch

The Carina Nebula in all its splendor [AMAZING PHOTO]

The Carina Nebula, captured in infrared by the Very Large Telescope. (c)  ESO/T. Preibisch

The Carina Nebula, captured in infrared by the Very Large Telescope. (c) ESO/T. Preibisch

This incredible photo of the Carina Nebuna, a massive star formation , was taken by the  The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), in the infrared spectrum. Even the astronomers from the ESO, who are privileged enough to witness some of the most amazing sights in the Universe, claim in a recent press release that this “one of the most dramatic images ever created by the VLT.”

The photo is in fact a mosaic of hundreds of smaller images, combined to form a giant, sublime picture. Because the photo was captured in infrared, a more accurate depiction of the formation, which contain some of the brightest stars know to astronomers, has been made, since most of its features don’t show in the visible spectrum. This is because cloud formation obstruct views, and infrared imaging can see right through these, but when it hits really dense gas and dust clouds that’s where it stops. This is why you can see some of the dark cloud formations in the photo captioned above, which couldn’t make the amateur star gazer more happier, adding even more beauty to an otherwise flawless “painting”.

The Carina Nebula is basically a stellar nursery, located deep in the heart of the Milky Way, 7500 light-years away from Earth, in the Carina (The Keel) constellation. A massive cloud of glowing gas and dust, the Carina Nebula is home to one of the most brightest and heaviest known stars to man, and makes for a perfect laboratory for astronomers studying the violent births and early lives of stars.

source

A spectrum from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observator superim. (c) NASA, C.R. O'Dell, S.K. Wong (Rice University) posed on an image of the Orion nebula.

Stars spew out organic matter into space – life may have its origin in star dust

A spectrum from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observator superim. (c) NASA, C.R. O'Dell, S.K. Wong (Rice University) posed on an image of the Orion nebula.

A spectrum from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observator superim, on top of the Orion nebula. (c) NASA, C.R. O'Dell, S.K. Wong (Rice University) posed on an image of the Orion nebula.

A new study published by researchers at University of Hong Kong has produced controversial waves among the astronomy community, as it claims, backed by sound evidence, that organic matter can be created naturally by stars and travel through out the universe via interstellar dust.

It’s somewhat hard to believe, even picture, how organic matter can be spewed out by stars without current or previous life being involved, however incredibly enough this is very much true – moreover, organic compounds seem to be everywhere!

The Hong Kong researchers first observed various stars of different evolutionary stages and studied the well-known but mysterious infrared emissions, called Unidentified Infrared Emission (UIE). What they found was that highly complex organic compounds are ejected into space by stars under the form of cosmic dust at a surprisingly high pace, filling interstellar space. Some compounds’ chemical structures resemble the makeup of coal and petroleum, the study’s lead author Sun Kwok, of the University of Hong Kong, said.

“What impressed me most is that complex organics are easily formed by stars, they are everywhere in our own galaxy and in other galaxies,” Kwok told SPACE.com in an email interview. “Nature is much more clever than we had imagined.”

Previously, UIE features were thought to be emitted by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH, molecules – simple molecules made of hydrogen and carbon. The Hong Kong scientists’ recently published paper in the journal Nature suggests this hypothesis is incorrect.

Capitalizing on data furnished by the European Space Agency‘s Infrared Space Observatory and NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers found that the UIE features are not emitted by PAH molecules, but by complex organic compounds. These emissions occur, it seems, during the protoplanetary nebula stage and grew stronger as the stars matured into the planetary nebula phase.

“We therefore know that these organics are being made in the circumstellar stellar environment,” Kwok said.

Curiously enough, scientists have found these organic compounds observed in jetissoned star dust is very chemically similar to those found on meteorites. The primordial birth place of meteors lies in space rocks, and cosmic dust could easily enrich the organic coating, or place it there in the first place.

“It is quite possible that the organics in meteorites are remnants of star dust in the solar nebula,” he explained. “The star dust [was] ejected by nearby planetary nebula[s] and survived the journey across the galaxy.”

A not too far off hypothesis could be emitted,thus. Namely, during the Earth’s early stage in history when its atmosphere was still too thin to protect the planet from the hazards of the solar system and meteor showers rained constantly, there might exist a possibility that the organic compounds brought in by meteors could have played a major role in the formation of life. Basically, if this is true, we’re all star dust – children of the stars.

Kwok and colleagues intend to continue analyzing additional infrared observations to better pin down the chemical structure of organic star dust.

“Coal and kerogen are products of life and it took a long time for them to form,” Kwok said. “How do stars make such complicated organics under seemingly unfavorable conditions and [do] it so rapidly?”

source

RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

Stunning image of “O-ring” shapped nebula

RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

The brilliant image from above was captured by Spitzer space telescope and depicts a ring shaped region formed by hot gas and glowing dust.

Dubbed RCW 120, the nebula lies about 4,300 light-years away from Earth, and is located in the constellation Scorpius, just above the plane of the galaxy. The wavelength emited by the nebula is far within the infrared spectrum, which makes it totally invisible to a human observer, but perfectly bright for Spitzer’s infrared detectors.

It’s interesting “O-ring” shape, scientists believe, comes from the heat of a cluster of giant “O” type stars at the center of galaxy. These star are the most massive and bright stars so far known to man, which emit an intense ultraviolet light. But the captioned image example is only one of the slew of similar nebulas the Spitzer telescopes finds everyday.

So many, in fact, that the scientific team leading the Spitzer project are calling out “citizen scientists” to help identify and classify. As such, anyone interested in helping catalog findings such as these are invited to visit the Milky Way Project website.