Category: Bugs, birds & animals

Wings of Cepheus


A wing, or fan, sweeps across a star in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the swirls, loops and turbulence in this star cloud. What stories or shapes do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

V* PV Cephei is the young star just at the edge of the bluish wing, known as GM 1-29 or Gyulbudaghian’s Nebula. As you pan across the fan, look for curls and bright patches within the nebula. While we see only a fan, the nebula itself probably surrounds the bright star. Just like a doorway lets in only a little light, dust surrounding PV Cep is blocking most of the starlight, leaving just a shaft of light to light up the dust cloud.

Astronomers like to study the wing-shaped nebula because it changes over the span of just a few months. The star also varies in brightness over a short period of time.

PV Cep is found about 1,600 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Cepheus, the King.

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Smoky Horse


A smoky horse rises from a pink cloud of hydrogen gas in this spectacular new image of the Horseahd Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Zoom in and explore this dark pillar of dust. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most easily recognized nebula in the sky. Identified in 1888 by Williamina Fleming, its swirling shape resembles a horse’s head when viewed from Earth. Even in a telescope, the emission nebula is hard to see. Fleming identified the nebula using photographic plates taken at the Harvard College Observatory.

The vast interstellar cloud of dust is found just south of the star Alnitak, the most eastern star in Orion’s belt. The pillar of dust and gas, found about 1,500 light-years from Earth, collapsed from the even larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The clumps of material reflect light from the nearby hot star Sigma Orionis.

Usually the Horsehead Nebula is shown as a dark pillar against a bright pink background. The pink nebula is being energized by young, hot stars deep in the nebula. Ultraviolet radiation streaming from these stars causes hydrogen gas in the the nebula to glow pink and red. For this image, Hubble shows this area in infrared light. Infrared is a longer wavelength of light than visible light. We feel infrared light as heat. By using this kind of light, Hubble can pierce the dusty outer layers of the nebula and see deeper, revealing ghostly swirls and delicate folds of gas.

The image also reveals hundreds of faraway galaxies glowing with their own warm light. Pan around to find these stunning gems.

Scientists released this new image of the Horsehead Nebula to celebrate Hubble’s 23rd year in orbit.

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The Eye of the Bird


A seagull glares from a cloud of gas glowing by the light of a new star in the eye of the bird in this image of the Seagull Nebula from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the hot clouds of glowing gas as well as tendrils of cold dust in this stellar nursery also known as Sharpless 2-292.

The head of this nebular bird is just a small part of a larger nebula known as IC 2177. The whole expanse spans across 100 light years. Strong ultraviolet radiation streaming from the new star – looking like the seagull’s eye – excites molecular hydrogen in the star cloud causing it to glow a characteristic red. Visible light from the blue-white star, known by astronomers as HD 53367, scatters off of tiny dust particles in the nebula giving a contrasting blue haze throughout the image. HD 53367 is a type B star and is about twenty times more massive than our Sun.

The Seagull Nebula lies about 3,700 light-years from Earth toward the border between the constellations Monoceros, the Unicorn, and Canis Major, the Great Dog. Although the nebula lies close to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, it is 400 times farther away than the nearby Dog Star. This image was produced from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, high in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

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Butterfly of Combined Light

X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Mich./S.Oey, IR: NASA/JPL, Optical: ESO/WFI/2.2-m

When NASA combines images from different telescopes they create amazing works of art and we learn a few things.

Explore this butterfly of combined light, known as NGC 1929, from NASA‘s Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and ESO‘s ground-based telescope in Chile. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Star cluster NGC 1929 contains some of the most massive stars known to scientists. These massive stars spew intense radiation and a blistering stellar wind that blow huge bubbles in the surrounding nebula. The massive stars also end their short lives exploding as supernova which further helps carve out cavities in this region. Officially, the entire nebula is known as LHA 120-N 44, or just N 44. The vast superbubble is 325 by 250 light-years across; almost a hundred times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. As you explore the image, look for dozens of smaller bubbles and the faint rim of another huge bubble on the left side of the nebula. Along the edges of the superbubble, new stars are forming

As beautiful as this destructive scene is, we wouldn’t be able to see it quite like this with our own eyes. Astronomers combined the light of several telescopes; all observing N44 in different wavelengths of light. X-rays from Chandra, in blue, reveal areas created by winds and shocks. Infrared data from Spitzer, in red, show where dust and cooler gas reside. Optical light from ESO’s telescope in Chile, light we can see with our eyes, outlines where ultraviolet radiation from the stars causes the gas to glow.

N 44 and NGC 1929 are found about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf, irregular companion galaxy to our Milky Way Galaxy.

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Strangely Shaped Ray


While this starry vista seems tranquil, the events that shaped the Pencil Nebula were nothing but quiet. Stars are born and stars die and when they do, they create amazing stellar landscapes. A star, perhaps a massive one, exploded to sculpt this beautiful starry scene that resembles an exotic bird head or a strangely shaped ray of light.

Explore the fine filaments, bright knots, and nebulous remnants of the Pencil Nebula; just a tiny piece of the Vela Supernova remnant. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The oddly shaped nebula, also known as NGC 2736, makes up the bright edge of this piece of the remnant. The wispy red filaments look much like a witch’s broom. The new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. These glowing wisps of gas and dust are the result of the cataclysmic death of a star more than 11,000 years ago.

A supernova is a violent end to a star’s life. The blast is the result of either the death of a high-mass star or explosion of a white dwarf in a close double star system. The Vela supernova remnant is a vast expanding shell of gas. And as this shell expands it slams into the calm gas and dust surrounding it. This shockwave compresses the gas and causes the nebulae begin to glow. Those little filaments show the many shokwaves moving through the area. At first, as gas molecules are squished together, these regions are heated to millions of degrees but quickly cool as the shockwave passes. Enough lingering heat remains for observers on Earth to view the strange structures created from the shockwave’s interaction with the calm surrounding cloud.

Different colors within the nebula allow astronomers to map temperatures within the cloud of gas. Some regions glow hotly and are dominated by ionized oxygen atoms. These areas show with a blue light. Redder areas are cooler ionized hydrogen clouds.

The Pencil Nebula was discovered by British astronomer John Herschel in 1835. He described it as “an extraordinary long narrow ray of excessively feeble light.” The nebula is also called Herschel’s Ray. The ray of light is about three-quarters of a light year across. The nebula is rolling through the surrounding nebula at about 650,000 kilometers per hour (about 404,000 miles per hour). The Pencil Nebula is close too, only about 800 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Vela, the sails of Jason’s mythical ship the Argo. This means that over the span of a human life, the starry face of the Pencil Nebula change as it moves against the background of stars.

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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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