Glowing Star Factories Captured

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 20, 2014 – 10:21 am -

Two giant star clusters tucked away in one of the neighboring arms of our Milky Way galaxy glow in full display in a dramatic new portrait. They also offer a fun opportunity for backyard astronomers.
Using the giant eye of the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured two dynamic star-forming regions in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. A minor limb of our galaxy, the spiral arm consists mostly of gas and dust. Recent research shows that it is surprisingly devoid of stellar activity, making these two star factories real standouts in our galactic neighborhood.
The star cluster on the left side, named NGC 3603, is located some 20,000 light-years from Earth. Its companion on the right, a colorful gas cloud known as NGC 3576, sits much closer to Earth at only 9,000 light-years distant.
NGC 3603 is real stellar jewel box filled with hundreds of young, massive stars, one of the richest open star clusters in the entire galaxy.
Originally, these stars formed behind a veil of gas and dust. However, as they matured, they cleared away much of this material and left behind the glowing clouds that we see today surrounding the hot, young stars.
Meanwhile, NGC 3576 brandishes the same horn-shaped clouds of gas. They were carved by strong stellar winds billowing out from the young stars cocooned within the colorful nebula.
Above the nebula, the two conspicuous black clouds called “Bok globules” are ripe for future star formation as well.
Star formation in the southern Milky Way

From ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two swirling star formations in the southern Milky Way in a smaller arm of our galaxy. Courtesy of ESO/G. Beccari

In a neighbouring arm of our Milky Way lay two glowing giant star clusters that produced this new dramatic photo. These stunning star factories can be seen from viewers’ own backyards in southern latitudes.

At the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured what appears to be swirling dust and gas in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Surprisingly this minor arm showed very little stellar activity making these beauties standout in this mostly dark part of our neighbourhood.

While visiting South Africa in 1834, British astronomer John Herschel first noted these fiery clusters in the Southern Hemisphere. Now backyard sky-watchers can see these same nebula using a small telescope.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 11, 2014 – 10:46 pm -

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

The starry skies this week offer up a quite a wide variety of celestial sights, including planetary duos and one of the year’s best flurry of meteors.

While the moon may have just past its full phase and still dominates the evening sky, the planets still are easy to spot even from urban location.  Folks should keep an eye out for a coming close encounter between Mars and Saturn over the course of the coming weeks in the late evenings, while Venus and Jupiter have their own conjunction in the early mornings in the east.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 10, 2014 – 3:31 pm -

Credit: Spaceweather.com

Credit: Spaceweather.com

On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant  lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.

Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.

The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon.  Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.

Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.

Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am  and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn.  You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.

Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.

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Cosmic Butterfly Mystery

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 16, 2013 – 2:50 pm -

Butterfly Emerges from Stellar Demise in Planetary Nebula NGC 6302. Credit: NASA

Butterfly Emerges from Stellar Demise in Planetary Nebula NGC 6302. Credit: NASA

New deep-sky images of the Milky Way’s central core reveal picturesque butterfly-shaped gas clouds left behind by dying stars called bipolar planetary nebulae.

And all appear to be mysteriously aligned with one another. Dozens upon dozens of these hauntingly beautiful stellar remnants are oriented in the same direction – despite being separated by many thousands of light years, and each exhibiting unique physical properties. Researchers are searching for how nature could come up with such a bizzare phenomena.

Learn more about this spectacular new discovery that has left astronomers scratching their heads in my story at National Geographic News


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Photo: Eskimo Nebula Burns Brightly

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 23, 2013 – 5:19 pm -

Eskimo nebula looks stunning in this new composite image. Credit:N. Ruiz et al, IAA-CSIC/CXC/STScI/NASA

Eskimo nebula looks stunning in this new composite image. Credit:N. Ruiz et al, IAA-CSIC/CXC/STScI/NASA

A glowing cloud of gas and dust has formed one of the most picturesque objects in the universe, around a dying star some 4000 light years away  from Earth.

Called the Eskimo or Clownface planetary nebula, this object is one of the favourite targets for backyard telescope users.  Now this newly released portrait reveals the Eskimo nebula like never before in a composite of two images snapped by NASA’s Chandra X-ray space telescope and it’s famous cousin, Hubble.

Amazing to think that this is a glimpse of the distant future of our own Sun- 5 billion years from now – when it becomes a Red Giant and blows off it’s atmosphere into space, forming a bubble of glowing gas just like the Eskimo nebula.

This nebula picture is just one of the best space photos chosen by editors at Nat Geo News. Check out the rest of the stunning Space Gallery.


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Red Dwarf Stars Host Billions of Habitable Planets?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 5, 2013 – 6:00 am -

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Red Dwarf stars may be the best place to look for Earth-like planets., according to a new study.

The most common, humble star in the universe could be a mecca when it comes to astronomers hunting for planets hospitable to life. That’s because a new study is suggesting that red dwarfs – stars that are smaller, dimmer and cooler than our Sun – may have twice as many planets that are in the habitable zone than ever thought. In fact the number of these worlds- ones that have just the right temperature to support liquid water – may number as much as 60 billion. And that’s just in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Read more about this amazing new finding and what impact it will have on exoplanet research in my new article for National Geographic News.


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Weird Cosmic Radio Bursts Stump Scientists

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 4, 2013 – 2:01 pm -

he CSIRO Parkes radio telescope, which has been used to confirm a population of Fast Radio Bursts, is shown superimposed on an image the distribution of gas in our Galaxy. An artist's impression of a single fast radio burst is shown located well away from the Galactic plane emission. Fast radio bursts are a new population of radio source located at cosmological distances. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions, with CSIRO Parkes radio telescope and astronomy.fas.harvard.edu/skymaps/halpha (background image).
The CSIRO Parkes radio telescope, which has been used to confirm a population of Fast Radio Bursts, is shown superimposed on an image of the distribution of gas in our Galaxy. An artist’s impression of a single fast radio burst is shown located well away from the Galactic plane emission. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

 
 

Astronomers today announced that they have detected four never-before-seen quick bursts of radio signals that they believe originated billions of light years away. But the one problem is that they don’t yet know what caused them.

One thing is for sure – they do not originate from Earth and because they appear to be powerful enough to travel such vast distances across the universe – they must have been caused by some gigantic cosmological event. But what could that event be?

The international team of astronomers believe the culprit could possibly be two merging neutron stars or a star dying and being swallowed by a black hole.

What the sky sleuths noticed were Four Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs with durations of only a few milliseconds were detected at high galactic latitudes in the southern sky.

“A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real, so we have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts,” says Dan Thornton, the University of Manchester and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization PhD student who led the study in a press statement. “This paper describes four more bursts, removing any doubt that they are real. And the furthest one we detected after a light travelling time of about 8 billion years.”

Radio map of the whole sky in Galactic coordinates, with pulsars found within the High Time Resolution Universe Survey (HTRU) project marked as black dots. The positions of the newly detected four Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are marked as red asterisks.  Credit: MPIfR/C. Ng; Science/D. Thornton et al.

Radio map of the whole sky in Galactic coordinates, with pulsars found within the High Time Resolution Universe Survey (HTRU) project marked as black dots. The positions of the newly detected four Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are marked as red asterisks. Credit: MPIfR/C. Ng; Science/D. Thornton et al.

Using Australia`s CSIRO 64 meter radio telescope, the team listened in on only small chunk of sky when they discovered these bizarre signals, indicating that these signals might be flashing right across the entire sky from multiple locations at any one time.

“The bursts last only a tenth of the blink of an eye. With current telescopes we need to be lucky to look at the right spot at the right time,” explains Michael Kramer, Director at Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn and Professor at Manchester University in a press statement. “But if we could view the sky systematically with ‘radio eyes’ there would be flashes going off all over the sky every day.”

The next step will be to use other telescopes in the search for more signals in the hopes of catching them popping off in other parts of the sky and in real time.

The results are published in the current issue of “Science” (Science Online, July 5, 2013).


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Voyager 1 Leaving the Sun’s House

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 4, 2013 – 11:15 am -

Voyager is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

Voyager 1 is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

After a 36 year cosmic road trip one of the twin Voyager spacecrafts has entered a bizarre boundary of the solar system that leads directly into the interstellar realm of the Milky Way galaxy.

NASA scientists believe new data from the plucky Voyager 1 probe indicates that it is traveling through the final bubble like layer that surrounds the Sun and planets. When will it officially leave the solar empire is anyone’s guess but when it does it will make history as the first human-made object to do so.

Find out how scientists are following Voyager and what they think the future has in store for it in my story for National Geographic News.


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Photo: Stellar Horde of Jewels Reveals Mystery

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 20, 2013 – 9:45 am -

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Image courtesy ESO

Researchers this past week announced that they have discovered a whole new species of stars. The never-before-seen type of variable star- one that changes its brightness over time-  sits within the spectacular NGC 3766 open cluster 7000 light years from Earth. Astronomers believe this discovery will challenge or understanding of stellar formation and evolution.

This open cluster portrait is just one of the best space photos chosen by editors at Nat Geo News. Check out the rest of the Space Gallery.


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Small-Fry Galaxy Breaks Record

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 12, 2013 – 6:12 pm -

When talking about the universe the conversation usually centers on mind-bending large structures, but this week astronomers announced they have found a pipsqueak of a galaxy. In fact it now holds the record as the smallest ever detected and it lies relatively close – in our Milky Way’s backyard. It’s so tiny that it shines 20 billion times fainter than our own galaxy!

What’s so fascinating about this find other than its diminutive size is what it is teaching us about the elusive dark matter researchers believe make up 80% of our universe.

Read my entire story about this record-breaking discovery and what impact it will have on our understanding of the cosmos at large, at National Geographic News.


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