Category: MainFeature

A Squid in the Darkness


A blue and gold squid-shaped galaxy glitters with other galaxies in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

potw1347aStarryCritters is all about seeing patterns in the stars. ESO 149-3 is an irregular galaxy that appears to be shaped like a squid with a dim smattering of stars hanging below. Irregular galaxies lack the shape and structure of more well known spiral and elliptical galaxies. They also tend to be much smaller. Nearly one-quarter of all galaxies are irregular galaxies. The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, companions to our Milky Way Galaxy, are irregular galaxies. Blue stars in ESO 149-3 are hot young stars probably born as the galaxy interacted with another. Gold stars are older stars like our Sun.

ESO 149-3 is found fairly nearby at about 20 million light-years from Earth toward the southern constellation Phoenix. Zoom deep into the image and spy more distant galaxies of all shapes scattered throughout the image.

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A Jellyfish on the Move


A jellyfish, blue tendrils trailing, speeds across this Hubble image of galaxy ESO 137-001. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

heic1404b_screenIntense blue streaks trail ESO 137-001 in this composite image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Wisps of gas stream from hot blue stars as the spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 blasts through the heart of galaxy cluster Abell 3627. Astronomers call this stripping of gas and dust from a galaxy ram pressure stripping. Ram pressure is the drag felt by an object as it moves through a thick fluid, such as your body walking through water. The fluid here though would not be suitable for swimming. It’s superheated gas that lurks near the heart of all galaxy clusters.

Surrounding this galaxy are countless nearby stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. ESO 137-001 lies near the plane of our galaxy, its light blocked by thick dust and gas. Farther away in the image, look for galaxies of all shapes and pointing in different directions. Most of those galaxies are far beyond ESO 137-001 and are not part of the Abell 3627 galaxy cluster. ESO-137-001 lies about 200 million light-years from Earth. It is part of the Norma Cluster near the center of a region of space called the Great Attractor. This area’s mass is so strong that even The Local Group, containing our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy, feel the tug of this strong gravity source.

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‘Retire’ the Voyager name

It took 35 years to make the leap, but a plucky little spacecraft has gone where none have gone before; beyond the bounds of the solar system and into the black between stars. Voyager 1 is our first starship; the first interstellar traveler. As such, the name Voyager should be “retired” from future use to honor the mission and humans who worked to make Voyager’s journey so remarkable.

On September 11, 2013, Voyager 1 officially sailed through the outer edges of our solar system on it Interstellar Mission. After exploring the outer planets, Voyager’s primary mission is to explore the edge of the heliosphere; a huge bubble of charged particles or plasma surrounding the Sun. It popped through that bubble sometime in the summer of 2012.

In 1977, Voyager 1 launched a couple months behind its sister, Voyager 2. It was an exciting era of space exploration. Scientists dreamed up a brilliant mission to take a Grand Tour and discover much about the outer solar system. Over the next few years, Voyager dazzled us with amazing close-up images and science of Jupiter and Saturn, then Uranus and Neptune.

19 Amazing Voyager Facts

  • Voyager 1 is traveling at more than 40,000 miles per hour crossing about 3.6 AU per year. Voyager 2 traverses a distance of nearly 3.3 AU per year.
  • Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune
  • Voyager 1 and 2 are the oldest pieces of space hardware still in contact with Earth.
  • It takes a message, traveling at the speed of light, more than 17 hours to reach the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
  • Even though New Horizons was launched at a faster speed than the Voyager spacecraft, the Pluto-bound probe will never overtake Voyager.
  • Each Voyager spacecraft is a complex machine comprised of about 65,000 individual parts. A modern color television contains just 2,500 parts.
  • In terms of mpg, Voyagers are extremely fuel efficient getting better than 30,000 miles per gallon.
  • The Voyager mission has been exceptionally frugal. The mission has costed only 8 cents per year, per US resident between 1972 and now to fund the mission.
  • Both Voyager spacecraft have enough fuel and power to operate until about 2020. NASA’s sensitive Deep Space Network could track the spacecraft for another century or two if not for the possibility that the spacecraft might lose their lock on the Sun.
  • Five trillion bits of data, enough information to fill more than 7,000 music CDs, flowed from Voyager’s instruments to Earth.
  • On September 18, 1977, Voyager 1 looked back at its homeworld and captured a three-image mosaic of the Earth and Moon. It was the first time both bodies were photographed together.
  • On February 17, 1990 Voyager turns its camera toward the Sun to take the only existing snapshot of the Solar System. Voyager’s last light shows a panorama of 60, sunlight-dappled images including the now famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth.
  • On February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 to become most distant human-made object in space.
  • Voyager’s vision is so sharp that the narrow-angle television cameras could read a newspaper headline at a distance of 1 kilometer or .62 miles.
  • Voyager spotted the first non-terrestrial active volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io.
  • Saturn’s rings became a dazzling and complex interaction of ice particles woven by the gravitational tug of Saturn and its moons.
  • Voyager 1 shows Saturn’s moon Titan is covered with a mysterious orange haze.
  • Uranus has a ring. Voyager spotted a faint, dark ring around the greenish gas giant.
  • Voyager 1 has traversed across more than 11 billion miles of space. That seems like a long way, and it is, but it will take Voyager 1 nearly 100,000 years to cross the distance between our Sun and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Alas, both spacecraft will have lonely journeys. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will pass within 1.6 light-years of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation Camelopardalis. Also in 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will drift 1.7 light-years from Ross 248 on its way toward Sirius. In 296,000 years, the tiny Earth probe will pass just 4.3 light-years from the bright star.

[sexybutton size=”xxl” color=”red” url=”” icon=”ok”]Tell NASA to retire Voyager’s name[/sexybutton]

Join me in signing a petition to NASA and other space agencies to retire the Voyager name.

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 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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