Category: Eyes in the Sky

Warm Eyes

NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Wisps of warm dust in Barnard 3 wrap around creating an eye or bubble in space in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the brush-like strokes of gas and dust in this image. What stories or shapes do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Barnard 3, also called IRAS Ring G159.6-18.5, is a huge interstellar cloud of gas and dust. It is a perfect place for new stars to form. WISE detects infrared light. We feel infrared light as heat. WISE can peer deep into nebulae to see warm patches that may become new stars. As you zoom across the image it is hard not to stop at the bright star in the middle of the red mist. This part of the cloud is very warm. This star is a huge, luminous star called HD 278942. Ultraviolet radiation streaming outward from the star is likely causing the rest of the cloud to glow. Strong solar winds from this star push away gas and dust and create the ring. Green areas in the cloud are made up of tiny particles of stuff that resembles smog. Yellowish areas in the cloud are areas where dust is more dense. The blue dots scattered throughout the image are stars.

Barnard 3 is found fairly close to Earth; only about 1,000 light-years away. It’s well within the Milky Way Galaxy toward the constellation of the mythical hero Perseus and Taurus, the Bull.

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Dots of Galaxies

Credit: ESO/UltraVISTA team. Acknowledgement: TERAPIX/CNRS/INSU/CASU

A staggering number of galaxies dot the latest and deepest view of the sky ever recorded in infrared by the European Southern Obseravtory’s VISTA Telescope.

Zoom into this image that contains more than 200,000 galaxies; each with billions of stars of its own. Astronomers thought they were looking at an unremarkable expanse of sky in the constellation Sextans, the Sextant. What they found was the equivalent of galactic treasure. The mission was to train the ESO’s VISTA telescope on the same patch of sky and then repeat many times. Scientists collected more than 6,000 separate exposures equaling about 55 hours of observing time.

Without zooming in, we see a few bright stars and sprinkling of dimmer ones. But as we zoom in, the galaxies become obvious with more and more coming into view as we zoom in closer. Yellow-tinged galaxies dominate the scene up to the highest zoom. At this level, notice the red objects scattered throughout the viewer. These are very remote galaxies. Their dim and ancient light comes from a time when the Universe was only about one billion years old. Scientists currently estimate the Universe is about 13.75 billion years old.

You can download the entire 253 MB deep view here.

VISTA’s sensitive infrared telescope is ideally suited to find ancient galaxies. As the Universe expands, light from the far-off galaxies is stretched and turns reddish, toward the infrared part of the light spectrum. Astronomers have been using VISTA at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of Chile to observe remote parts of the Universe since 2009.

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A Face in Profile

Credit: ESO


A pair of hot blue stars carve the inside of NGC 3324 and create a face in profile in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Zoom into the sculpted edges of this stellar geode. What shapes or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

Just like hollow rocks on Earth that can be broken open to reveal delicate crystals, zooming in on the edges of this star cloud reveal filaments of dark dust, elephant trunk pillars and rich, glowing regions of red gas. Strong solar winds and intense radiation from very hot and hefty blue-white stars have blown a bubble in this star cloud. Ultraviolet radiation also excites and warms hydrogen atoms within the cloud creating a warm red glow. Other colors are created by other elements, such as oxygen.

Zoom into the right side of the image and look for the face in silhouette with the bump out resembling a nose. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has zoomed even closer into NGC 3324 offering a crisper view of the edge of this stellar bubble.

NGC lies about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Carina, the Keel of Jason’s mythical ship the Argo.

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Faces in a Faint Cloud

Credit: ESA/NASA Hubble


Eyes peer out of this faint star cloud known as the Antlia Dwarf Galaxy in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Zoom into the sparsely populated star cloud. What faces or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

Discovered recently in 1997, the Antlia Dwarf Galaxy is a very faint collection of stars just four million light-years from Earth. Although it is somewhat close, it is unclear whether it is part of the Local Group, a group of galaxies containing the Milky Way Galaxy, Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda Galaxy. The Antlia Dwarf Galaxy may be just wandering near the group interacting slightly with nearby galaxies. Astronomers study galaxies like this one because it gives them a clear picture of different stages of galaxy formation.

Zoom into the loose galaxy. New, bluer stars are found toward the center of the image. Older red stars and faint, fuzzy globular clusters are found to the outside. In the background, gaze at dozens of faraway galaxies of different shapes. Perhaps one of those distant galaxies has a faint dwarf galaxy nearby that we cannot see.

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Starry Sparkler

Credit: ESA/NASA Hubble


Zooming into this intense swarm of stars is enough to dazzle any astronaut. Explore the very heart of globular cluster Messier 9 in this amazing image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. What stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

Globular clusters are spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars. They are also ancient; forming before the Milky Way Galaxy. These groups of stars are tightly bound by gravity. The closer toward the center we travel in a globular cluster, the more tightly stars are packed. Stars at the center of a globular cluster are less than a light-year apart. Some astronomers believe that black holes may lurk at the very center of globular clusters. As we travel toward the center of M9 look for different colors of stars. Redder stars are cooler while blue stars are extremely hot.

Messier 9, or NGC 6333, is one of the nearer globular clusters to Earth. French astronomer Charles Messier discovered M9 in 1764. Generally, globular clusters orbit the galaxy at great distances like a satellite orbits the Earth. M9 is actually closer to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy about 25,800 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Handler.

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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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