Category: Fantasy Creatures

Dragon Jewels

Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

A dragon swoops in to protect its jewels in this image of NGC 3603. Thousands of sparkling new stars form one of the most massive star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Explore this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. What other stories can you create? The jewel box nestles within a glowing cloud of gas and dust; the original material from which the cluster was made. Fierce winds from the hot, blue suns have driven back the dust cloud forming fantastic shapes and landscapes of pillars and swirls. The star cluster is one of the most densely packed clusters known to astronomers. Some of the stars toward the center of the cluster are blue giants, with a mass much greater than our Sun. These monster stars burn out quickly, living only a few million years before exploding in a supernova. Also, find Bok globules within the cloud. These inky, black globs of dust may eventually collapse to form new stars.

NGC 3603 is found about 20,000 light-years away in a star-forming region of the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way. The nebula was discovered by John Frederick William Herschel in 1834.

Dragon nest

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

A firestorm brews in this dragon nest. Whether you see a dragon rising above or an amoeba with antenna in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope, NGC 604 is one of the largest known areas of star birth. NGC 604 is a vast star cloud, larger than the Orion Nebula and contains stars only about 3 million years old. More than 200 bright blue stars lie within this glowing cloud of gas and dust.

NGC 604’s gas and dust clouds form a stellar nursery, a place where new stars are born. As these dust clouds swirl and move around, eddies form. When enough gas and dust come together in one place, gravity causes the dust cloud to collapse on itself. Eventually, this dense area of gas begins to glow as fusion processes start and a star is born. The blue stars forming at heart of NGC 604 are hot and huge. The most massive stars in NGC 604 are more than 120 times heavier than our Sun. Ultraviolet radiation flows out from these hot stars making the surrounding nebula glow. Strong solar winds and supernova have carved out the fanciful landscape we see in the nebula.

At 1,300 light years across NGC 604 is nearly 100 times the size of the Orion Nebula. First noted by English astronomer William Herschel in 1784, NGC 604 lies in a spiral arm of the Triangulum Galaxy, or M33. As galaxies go, M33 is right next door, only about 2.7 million light years away toward the small constellation Triangulum. The galaxy is part of what astronomers call the Local Group, that also includes the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds.

Dragon Mist

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

A brownish dragon rises from the blue mist in this image of a star-forming area by NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

This deep view of LH 95 in the Large Magellanic Cloud shows small young stars forming with giant blue stars. From Earth, astronomers could study the bright blue giant stars but with the Hubble image, they can also peer deeper and study the younger smaller stars. The LMC offers scientists a different environment to study star formation. The LMC is rich in hydrogen but not the heavier elements that are present in the Milky Way. In this hydrogen-rich cloud, stars can grow very large. The largest stars in LH 95 are about three times larger than the Sun. The blue stars generate strong solar winds and flood the surrounding nebula with ultraviolet radiation. This causes the bluish glow we see in the Hubble image.

The Large Magellanic Cloud, a small dwarf galaxy close to our own Milky Way Galaxy, has hundreds of star-forming areas. Wander about the image and see if you can find the brown dust, glowing blue gas and the hundreds of background galaxies. Do you find any patterns in the gas and dust of this nebula?

The Large Magellanic Cloud is the fourth largest galaxy of the Local Group of galaxies. Andromeda Galaxy is the largest followed by the Milky Way and M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. The LMC is located about 160,000 light years from Earth toward the southern constellations of Mensa, the Table, and Dorado, the Dolphin.

Dragons behind the Pillars

Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

There be dragons in the “Pillars of Creation.”

We’ve looked at this nebula called the Eagle Nebula before. But come back to an image over time and new things appear. This image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope, is part of the Eagle Nebula, or M16. A bright star marks the eye of a dragon seemingly looking away from us.

This area of the Milky Way is a huge star producing area. At the tip of the head of the dragon are EGGs, short for evaporating gaseous globules. EGGs are dense, compact pockets of interstellar gas and dust. And they seem to be perfect for making stars.

The Eagle Nebula created its first stars only about 3 million years ago. EGGs are formed when these hot, young stars heat up the surface of the pillars causing the gas to boil away into space. Astronomers call this photoevaporation. When you zoom in closer, you can see the streamers flowing away from the edges of the columns. Not all the gas evaporates at the same rate and EGGs, which are denser, are left behind. As more and more material clumps together, gravity can start to pull it together. When it clumps tightly enough, the cloud can collapse under its own weight and nuclear fusion reactions can start at the core. A new star is born. Because photoevaporation burns away this gas and dust, some of these EGGs may not finish growing enough to make new stars. This image shows many EGGs caught in this situation.

Some EGGs appear as tiny bumps but others resemble fingers sticking out from the gas. Can you find any EGGs that have completely pinched off from the pillars, hanging like teardrops in the nebula? Maybe you see other shapes in the Eagle Nebula.

The Eagle Nebula is located about 6,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Serpens, the serpent.

Monsters of a starry sea

Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Like sea serpents riding the waves, a group of creatures rise out of the gas and dust of the Carina Nebula. All week, we’ve been exploring the way the swirls in the star cloud look like animals; a swift, caterpillar and an eagle.

In this part of the image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope, we find more Bok globules. These inky, dark dust blobs are star nurseries. Inside these areas, stars are being born.

The Carina Nebula is a very large nebula in Earth’s skies but it lies far in the southern hemisphere so it’s not well known. Astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille discovered the nebula in 1751-52 during a science trip to the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa.

The Carina Nebula is about 7,500 light-years away toward the constellation Carina the Keel. Carina is a constellation in the southern hemisphere. it is part of an older constellation group called Argo Navis, after the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts.

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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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