Category: Bugs, birds & animals

Sweeping Wings in a Cloud

ESA/Hubble, NASA and D. A Gouliermis. Acknowledgement: Flickr user Eedresha Sturdivant

The sweeping wings of a dragon or bat shine with the light of dozens of bright stars in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the haze surrounding this young stellar group known as NGC 2040, or LH 88. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

NGC 2040 is a loose star cluster. The stars have a common birthplace in this star cloud and will drift through space together. The cluster is known by astronomers as an OB association. These groups contain 10-100 stars of O and B type stars; among the hottest in the cosmos. Usually these hot and heavy stars have short but brilliant lives. After burning out their nuclear fuel in just a few million years, these stars will probably explode as supernovae. The stars lie in a supergiant shell of gas and dust called LMC 4. The shell is created as whipping solar winds from the new stars push gas and dust outward. Supernovae explosions also blow away surrounding gas and dust triggering even more star formation. Thousands of stars may form at the dense edge of these super bubbles.

NGC 2040 is found about 160,000 light-years away in a dwarf satellite galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud. Although the small galaxy is 100 times smaller than our own Milky Way it is home to some of the largest known star-making areas.

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Bumblebees and the Bubbles of Scutum

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisconsin

A bumblebee hums around the part of the night-time sky dominated by the constellation Scutum in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the bubbles in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Milky Way Galaxy is full of wonders and not all of them can be seen easily with our naked eye. The stars and shapes in this image cannot be seen without the help of special telescopes and sensors aboard the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer helps astronomers see warm objects, such as new stars, lurking in cold dust clouds. These objects are hidden from view by a thick veil of dust. The orbiting telescope sees the Universe in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum that lies just below the range of visible light, like a rainbow. We don’t see infrared light but we can feel it as heat.

New stars forming deep in these clouds blew bubbles into the gas and dust. As they become hotter, the surrounding nebula will expand and begin to glow as ultraviolet light floods the area. Someday our naked eyes will behold new and spectacular nebulae.

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Faint Webs of the Tarantula Nebula


The faint body of a spider hides in a web of dark dust in this image of the Tarantula Nebula from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the outskirts of this massive nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. What stories or images do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Located about 170,000 light-years from Earth, the Tarantula Nebula is the largest and brightest known nebula in the Local Group of galaxies; a group of nearby galaxies that includes the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda Galaxy. The nebula is a vast star-making factory. It takes light more than 650 years to cross this nebula.

The wispy structures in this nebula glow in this image because new stars give off strong ultraviolet radiation which causes the atoms in the cloud to become excited and glow. Hydrogen gas usually glows red but scientists tweak the filters used on the Hubble telescope to bring out different details in different colors of light. In this image, hydrogen glows green. Eventually, as the gas is blown away from the new stars, clusters of stars, like the Pleiades, will be revealed.

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Insectoid Head of Stars


An insect-shaped head emerges from the jumble of stars in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of irregular dwarf galaxy DDO 190.

Explore the crowded jumble of stars. What pictures or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

DDO 190 is called a dwarf irregular galaxy because it lacks clear structure. Unlike a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way Galaxy, DDO 190 has no spiral arms. Starting from the outskirts of the small galaxy, older, reddish stars dominate the scene. But as we move inward, younger, blue stars begin to appear. Pockets of glowing gas, areas where new stars are being created, dot the entire galaxy. The most noticeable of these is the butterfly-shaped area at the bottom (what makes the mouth of our head in my imagination).

Scattered throughout the image look for more distant galaxies; galaxies with more regular spiral or elliptical shapes and indistinct shapes.

DDO 190 is within the Messier 94 galaxy group but it is fairly alone in its area of space. While our Milky Way has many companions, such as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and the relatively nearby Andromeda Galaxy at two million light-years away, DDO 190 is alone. The closest galaxy to this tiny dwarf galaxy is thought to be no more than three million light-years away. DDO 190, discovered by Canadian astronomer Sidney van der Bergh in 1959, is found about 9 million light-years from Earth toward the constellations Canes Venatici (Hunting Dogs) and Coma Berenices (Queen Berenice’s Hair).

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Butterflies Beyond the Tail of a Swan


A butterfly-shaped nebula, the blasted remains of a star similar to our Sun, lies just beyond the tip of the tail of Cygnus, the Swan, in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the glowing gas and dust of this butterfly-shaped nebula known as NGC 7026. What shapes or stories can you tell? Leave a note in the comments below.

NGC 7026 is a planetary nebula. While astronomers using early telescopes thought these objects resembled planets, they are far beyond our solar system. As a star like our Sun ends its long life, it runs out of hydrogen atoms, the nuclear fuel that runs it. The star puffs off its outer layers creating bubbles of expanding gas and dust surrounding the white-hot core. Astronomers call this core a white dwarf. It is a dead star but is still incredibly hot. Eventually, after tens of billions of years, it will cool enough so you could touch it. But as a white dwarf, the star gives off strong solar winds that push material away from the star while blistering ultraviolet radiation causes the gas to glow. Different atoms in the expanding bubble give off different colors like a fluorescent sign on Earth. Red in this image is glowing nitrogen (the gas that makes up most of Earth’s atmosphere); blue is oxygen. Although in reality oxygen glows with a greenish color, astronomers have shifted the light in this image so they can see more detail.

NGC 7026 is found just 6,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Cygnus the Swan. That means that the light we see coming from this object has been traveling since before the beginning of recorded history.

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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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