In honor of its launch 23 years ago the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a breathtaking, never-before-seen view of one of the most photogenic cosmic vistas in the night sky.
Dubbed the Horsehead nebula because of its obvious resemblance to a steed or chess piece in profile, this dark cloud of gas and dust sits 1,500 light years from Earth in the winter constellation Orion and has been a favorite target for generations of backyard stargazers.
Read the rest of the story at National Geographic News
Tags: Horsehead nebula, Hubble
Posted in Space Exploration, Stargazing, stars | 1 Comment »
A newfound primordial galaxy nearly 13 billion light-years away is breaking distance records and may unlock the secrets of how and when some of the most massive star factories were born in the early universe, according to a new study.
Using the infrared mapping capabilities of the European Space Agency’s Herschel space telescope, a team of astronomers have spied the faraway light of a starburst galaxy—one that exhibits a high rate of star formation—from when the 14-billion-year-old universe was just 880 million years old.
Why is this cosmic discovery exciting the scientific community and how will it change our understanding of what the Universe was like when it was young? Read all the details at National Geographic News.
Tags: cosmology, Herschel Space Observatory, starburst galaxy
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If you have clear skies in your neck of the woods over the weekend of April 13th then step outside and look west for a beautiful pairing between the Moon and some of the brightest stars and planet in the night sky.
While conjunctions like thee are not rare by any means, they do make for a great opportunity to track down some celestial objects that otherwise may be a challenge to find for beginner stargazers. And for those more experienced navigating the heavens, this cosmic close encounter makes for a pretty photo op.
Read all the details about the Moon-planet-star event, including detailed star charts, at National Geographic News
Tags: Aldebaran, conjunction, Hyades star cluster, Jupiter, Pleiades, Taurus
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It never fails to amaze me whenever one of our great observatories manages to capture the beauty that fills our night skies. Here is one of those picture postcards…. “This intriguing new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows the glowing green planetary nebula IC 1295 surrounding a dim and dying star located about 3300 light-years away in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield). This is the most detailed picture of this object ever taken.
Stars the size of the Sun end their lives as tiny and faint white dwarf stars. But as they make the final transition into retirement their atmospheres are blown away into space. For a few tens of thousands of years they are surrounded by the spectacular and colourful glowing clouds of ionised gas known as planetary nebulae.
This new image from the VLT shows the planetary nebula IC 1295, which lies in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield). It has the unusual feature of being surrounded by multiple shells that make it resemble a micro-organism seen under a microscope, with many layers corresponding to the membranes of a cell.
These bubbles are made out of gas that used to be the star’s atmosphere. This gas has been expelled by unstable fusion reactions in the star’s core that generated sudden releases of energy, like huge thermonuclear belches. The gas is bathed in strong ultraviolet radiation from the aging star, which makes the gas glow. Different chemical elements glow with different colours and the ghostly green shade that is prominent in IC 1295 comes from ionised oxygen.
At the centre of the image, you can see the burnt-out remnant of the star’s core as a bright blue-white spot at the heart of the nebula. The central star will become a very faint white dwarf and slowly cool down over many billions of years.
Stars with masses like the Sun and up to eight times that of the Sun, will form planetary nebulae as they enter the final phase of their existence. The Sun is 4.6 billion years old and it will likely live another four billion years.
Despite the name, planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This descriptive term was applied to some early discoveries because of the visual similarity of these unusual objects to the outer planets Uranus and Neptune, when viewed through early telescopes, and it has been catchy enough to survive . These objects were shown to be glowing gas by early spectroscopic observations in the nineteenth century.
This image was captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope, located on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, using the FORS instrument (FOcal Reducer Spectrograph). Exposures taken through three different filters that passed blue light (coloured blue), visible light (coloured green), and red light (coloured red) have been combined to make this picture.”
- adapted from a ESO press release.
Tags: IC 1295, planetary nebula, Scutum
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Astronomers announced this week that they have witnessed a titanic explosion of a star where the light from the blast has taken more than 10 billion years to reach Earth. The faint, near-infrared speck of light from this ancient beacon, dubbed UDS10Wil, now pushes back the previous record-holder by 350 million light-years. The new-found supernova, along with seven other stellar blasts more than nine billion light-years out, is part of a three-year Hubble survey of faraway supernovae which will offer new clues as to the nature of dark energy.
One of my expert sources I interviewed for this story put this amazing discovery in perfect context by explaining it this way…
“If we step back from the scientific impact, just as a human being the idea is profound. This supernova exploded 10 billion years ago, 5 billion years before the Earth or Sun even existed. Another star was here, died, and from its ashes the Sun and Earth were formed. Life evolved, then humans, we developed telescopes, even space telescopes, and then used them to catch a few precious photons from this supernova that is older than anything we’ve ever known. You think dinosaur bones are old? The Grand Canyon? They are babies compared to these photons!“
- Andrew Howell, Astrophysicist at University of California at Santa Barbara.
Read all the details about this exciting new cosmic discovery that may help unlock some of the deepest mysteries about the Universe at National Geographic News.
Tags: Hubble, supernovae
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Sometimes celestial objects line-up in the sky so that they produce an amazing sky show. That is exactly what is happening in our evening skies this week as comet PanSTARRS and the famous Andromeda galaxy have a close encounter. The cosmic pair will be quite a sight through binoculars and small backyard telescopes, and of course create a magical photographic opportunity not to be missed.
Tags: Andromeda, comet, comet PanSTARRS, galaxy, m31
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It seems that like your favorite latte at the local coffee shop, the most violent star explosions in the universe come in small sizes too. Astronomers this week announced they have found a new miniature version of a supernova they are calling Type Iax. Up until now, supernovae were thought to come in two main flavors – core collapse and Type Ia.
How common are these mini-supernovae and could there be one lurking nearby? Read all the details on my story at National Geographic News.
Tags: supernov, supernova
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GLOBE at Night is a worldwide, hands-on science and education program to encourage citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of their night sky. During five select sets of dates in 2013, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion or Leo in the northern hemisphere, and Orion and Crux in the southern hemisphere) with seven star charts of progressively fainter stars (www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude_orion.html).
Participants then submit their choice of star chart at www.globeatnight.org/webapp/ with their date, time and location. This can be done by computer (after the measurement) or by smart phone or pad (during the measurement). From these data an interactive map of all worldwide observations is created (www.globeatnight.org/map/). Over the past 7 years of 10-day campaigns, people in 115 countries have contributed over 83,000 measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most popular, light pollution citizen-science campaign to date (www.globeatnight.org/analyze.html).
The GLOBE at Night website is easy to use, comprehensive, and holds an abundance of background information (www.globeatnight.org/learn.html and www.globeatnight.org/observe.html). Guides, activities, one-page flyers and postcards advertising the campaign are available at www.globeatnight.org/pdf/.
Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution locally and across the globe. The remaining GLOBE at Night campaigns in 2013 are: March 3 – 12, March 31 – April 9, and April 29 – May 8.
Make a difference and join the GLOBE at Night campaign.
- a message from NOAO
Tags: Globe at Night
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The white dwarf thought it was sending all the right signals. Embedded near a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the star was emitting short, bright X-ray flashes that made it look like a feeding black hole. But after a multi-agency stakeout, cosmic detectives have blown the dwarf’s cover.
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The North Star has been a guiding light for countless generations of navigators. But a new study reveals that its distance to Earth may have been grossly overestimated.
In fact, the North Star—also called Polaris—is 30 percent closer to our solar system than previously thought, at about 323 light-years away, according to an international team who studied the star’s light output.
Tags: North Star, Polaris
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