Category: Fantasy Creatures

Dragon Blazes in Light and Color


Light from the Large Magellanic Cloud takes nearly 200,000 years to travel to Earth. And it’s worth the wait. In this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, a dragon roars out of the cloud, or maybe you see a rearing horse.

Explore the bright pockets of color, dark lanes of dark dust and blazing new stars in this image of LHA 120-N 11, or just simply N11, from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

This region of the Large Magellanic cloud is ablaze with star formation. It is the brightest and most prolific stellar nursery known to scientists. Explore the regions of colorful gas and dark fingers of fine dust. Hydrogen gas glows its characteristic pinkish-red throughout the image providing plenty of fuel for new stars. Massive stars, born from the cloud itself, blast the surrounding nebula with stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation that ionizes the hydrogen gas causing it to glow. Bright pockets of star formation, NGC 1769, in the center, and NGC 1763, to the right in the image, dominate this scene.

Alot of Hubble’s time is spent peering at the star clouds of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The LMC, an irregular dwarf galaxy, is close astronomically speaking. This proximity – less than one-tenth the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the closest large spiral galaxy – allows astronomers to study star formation as well as galaxy evolution in detail. It is also relatively clear of the Milky Way’s busy and dusty plane offering a clear view uncluttered by bright foreground stars. LMC shares some features with spiral galaxies, such as a single arm and a clearly visible central bar. Some research indicates that the small galaxy is just passing by, distorted by the gravitational tug of the much larger Milky Way Galaxy.

View more of Hubble’s Hidden Treasures.

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The Helmet of a Hero

ESO/B. Bailleul

Ancient bards spun tales of heroes rescuing maidens and the eternal struggle of good versus evil. So it’s fitting that a huge glowing helmet with gossamer wings should adorn the head of Thor, one of mythologies greatest figures. Gaze deep into the rich nebula of glowing gas and dust in this amazing image of Thor’s Helmet from the European Southern Observatory.

If ancients could have seen celestial objects a little sharper, they might have come up with similar stories. So it’s no surprise that present-day astronomers romanticize the amazing objects they see with spectacular names hinting at the rich mythology surrounding the stars.

Thor’s Helmet, a nebula also known as NGC 2359, is no exception. The helmet-shaped nebula is a cosmic bubble. A massive star has formed near the bubble’s center. The strong solar wind from this star pushes away gas and dust clearing an area spanning about 30 light-years. Ultraviolet radiation from the new star excites elements in the gas causing it to glow with different colors; pink and red from hydrogen atoms, blue-green from oxygen atoms.

The central star is known as a Wolf-Rayet star. Astronomers believe these extremely hot giant stars are going through their last stage of stellar evolution before exploding in a colossal and cataclysmic event known as a supernova. By exploding, the star will destroy itself, giving off more energy in a single moment than our Sun would produce in a thousand lifetimes. For short periods of time, supernovae will outshine their parent galaxies. The last visible supernovae in Earth’s skies happened in 1604.

Thor’s Helmet lies about 15,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog. The image was taken on the ESO‘s 50th anniversary, October 5, 2012.

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Cassiopeian Dragon

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A dragon lurks in the vast spaces between constellations Cassiopeia and Cepheus in the image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

Explore the cool dense clouds of gas and dust. A curvy dragon-shaped nebula rises in the middle of the image. What shapes and patterns does your imagination create? Leave a note below.

When we look up into this part of the sky at night we see dark space between the stars of Cassiopeia and Cepheus, named after the ancient Queen and King of Ethiopia in Greek mythology. But with WISE’s infrared telescopes, the cool gas and dust of the region glow brightly.

Dozens of nebulae are spread across this image. And within, massive stars have blown bubbles in the clouds. These nebulae and bubbles are hundreds of light-years across. As these huge stars blaze into existence, their blistering radiation and strong solar winds push the gas and dust away, clearing an area for the star to glow. Astronomers find these huge stars interesting but as the gas and dust is compressed at the edge of the bubbles new stars pop into being. Each part of this image contains a piece of a puzzle that together gives astronomers a complete idea of how a star is created. The radiation from the new stars cause the clouds to glow brightly in this infrared image.

Also visible in the image is the remains of an explosion that destroyed a sun. A supernova blazed in this part of the sky. Astronomer Tycho Brahe witnessed this explosion in 1572 AD.

Cosmic Pterodactyl

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A giant star-forming region sets the perfect backdrop for a cosmic pterodactyl clutching a gem.

Explore the nebula SH 2-235 in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, spacecraft. What stories or images do you see in the image? Leave a note below.

From side to side, SH 2-235 is more than 100 light-years across. This nebula was created when two vast star clouds collided. The collision started a burst of star birth across the region. The sensors on WISE pick up the faint heat found in star-forming clouds. Ultraviolet light and strong stellar winds from a young star called BD+35°1201 cause the surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas to glow. Look for bright orange objects at the end of the curl of glowing gas. This cluster of stars are massive stars forming from the cold gas. Many different stages of star formation are found in this image.

As you wander across the image, notice several red colored clumps. These baby stars are still wrapped tightly in the thick blankets of dust from which they were created. Their warmth glows brightly in infrared light. In the bottom right of the image is a bright red mysterious object. The object was first spotted by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, or IRAS, as an indistinct bright spot. WISE reveals it as a hazy glow. Scientists will be using this image to learn more about this object and association with the nebula.

SH 2-235 is as part of a stellar catalog created by Stewart Sharpless in 1959. He created his Sharpless Catalogue to chart areas of ionized gas clouds called HII regions. The nebula is found on the other side of the galaxy between 5,000 and 8,000 light years from Earth in the Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Rich Tapestries

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Rich colors spill across a tapestry of dust and gas in this image of the Rho Ophiuchi star cloud from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the arcs, folds and wrinkles in an image that resembles a painting. Your imagination should come up with lots of shapes and stories in this image. Tell us what you see in the image by leaving a note below.

The star cloud is named after a bright star in the region of the constellations Ophiuchus and Sagittarius. The nebula is one of the closest star-making regions to Earth allowing astronomers a clear look at the processes surrounding star birth. The pink stars near the center of the image are young stellar objects. In visible light, these stars are hidden from view. They are so young that they are still wrapped tightly in blankets of dust.

Explore a bit deeper in the image and you’ll find some of the oldest stars in our galaxy. M80, a distant globular cluster, is found on the far right of the image near the top. Another globular cluster known as NGC 6144 is found close to the bottom center of the image. They appear as tightly compacted groups of blue stars. Born soon after the universe formed, they are thought to be about 13 billion years old.

The bright white region in the center of the image glows with heating from nearby stars. Astronomers call this an emission nebula. Young, bright stars send out a blistering stream of ultraviolet radiation that excites the gas atoms in the nebula and causes them to glow like a neon sign. Most of the gas and dust in this image glows from that process including the blue arc of light just above the reddish nebula. The dust in the red region reflects light from the light of Sigma Scorpii. Astronomers call this type of nebula a reflection nebula. Throughout the image float cold, dark and dense clouds of dust. WISE sees the universe in infrared, seeing warm sources of light even in the darkest clouds. The orbiting telescope can usually penetrate these dark clouds but these are especially opaque to the satellite’s sensors meaning they are very cold. Astronomers call this type of interstellar cloud absorption nebulae.

The stunning array of color in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light. Blue, cyan and the blue-green hues represent hot sources of light such as stars. The green and red color comes mostly from dust.


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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