Category: Water Creatures

Floating in Hydra

Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble

An angelfish floats in the constellation of Hydra in this image of spiral galaxy NGC 4980 from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the curving tails of the slightly deformed shape of this spiral galaxy. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a comment below.

Something has collided with NGC 4980. Although no galaxies are found nearby, the shape of the galaxy is slightly deformed. Distances between galaxies are huge. But every so often gravity pulls galaxies closer together. The stars themselves do not collide. Some may be thrown out of the galaxy, but most assume new orbits around the cores of their home galaxies. As the galaxies draw closer together, gas and dust clouds are pushed and pulled like taffy. New, hot blue stars blaze to life as nebulae are squeezed and compressed. This gives spiral arms in interacting galaxies a blue tinge. As we zoom into NGC 4980, look for areas of blue stars at the leading edges of the spiral arms. Look also at the center bulge. Galactic cores are usually a chaotic jumble of stars. But some galaxies like NGC 4980 keep their spiral arm structure all the way to the core. That detail makes the galaxy of interest to astronomers.

Dotting the background of this image, look for dozens of far-off galaxies. Older, cooler red stars dominate these elliptical and spiral galaxies. They are also much dimmer than NGC 4980 because they are farther away. This adds to their reddish color.

NGC 4980 lies about 80 million light-years from Earth toward the sprawling southern constellation of Hydra, the Snake.

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Jabbah’s Dolphin

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team


A dolphin frolicks in the dust around the bright star Jabbah in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the green filaments of nebula, yellow-tinged bubbles and red dust of this infrared image. What shapes and stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

WISE’s telescope sees the Universe in infrared. Humans feel the infrared part of the light spectrum more than we see it. It lies just outside the visible light part of the spectrum. We feel infrared as heat. So WISE shows warm dust allowing astronomers to see deep within star clouds where thick dust blocks visible light. And in the process we might see new stars developing. The green and yellow clouds are dust particles that are slightly warmer than the surrounding space. Areas in red are patches of even warmer dust heated up by the nearby stars.

Zoom into the bright star surrounded by a red glow just to the right of center. This is Jabbah. The name is Arabic and means “forehead of the Scorpion.” But while it appears to be one star, Jabbah actually is a collection of stars. Each of these stars is brighter and more massive than ten Suns. The star cloud near Jabbah, creating the dolphin shape, is called IC 4592. IC 4601 is another nebula to the far left of the image.

Another star of interest in this image also is surrounded by the warm glow of red dust. Zoom into the lower right corner of the image. The warm dust around this star, known as 9 Scorpii, is pushed to one side. 9 Scorpii is another massive star but this one is moving quickly through space. It’s zipping along at about 1,000 kilometers per second, or more than 224,000 miles per hour. The star could travel the distance between the Moon and Earth in just one hour. The red cloud pushed to one side may be a bow shock as the star pushes through the dust like a boat creates waves on the water. Astronomers think that 9 Scorpii may be a runaway star. It possibly could have been part of a star system where a much more massive star exploded. The blast sent 9 Scorpii careening into deep space.

All of the stars found within this cloud probably formed all at about the same time about 5 million years ago. Our Sun may have formed from a similar cloud of gas and dust more than four billion years ago. The stars that formed with the Sun have long since wandered away from their birthplace.

Jabbah, 9 Scorpii and IC 4592 are all found about 440 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius.

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The stars in watercolor

Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/C.P.O’Dea); Radio (NSF/VLA/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.)

Unusual and intriguing shapes float out of this combined starry image from NASA‘s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the reds, oranges, blues and green of this watercolor-like image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

A supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy, known as 3C305, gives us the shapes and colors we see in this image. Red colors in this image come from X-rays picked up by Chandra. Light blue in the image is visible light observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers use different filters to see different kinds of light and elements in the space images. Light blue in this image is from glowing oxygen gas within the galaxy and jets so we’re not seeing the entire galaxy which contains billions of stars. Other colors in the image are from radio observatory observations.

Using a combination of information from many different telescope sources allows astronomers to get a better idea of what is happening within the galaxy. Galaxy 3C305 is found about 600 million light years from Earth toward the constellation Draco, the dragon. It is considered an active galaxy, or a quasar. Radio and X-rays coming from these objects are much stronger than other types of galaxies.

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Arms Entangled

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

With arms entangled, this galaxy merger resembles the letters “g” or “j” or perhaps a sea horse with a long tail arching over its head.

Explore this image of the interacting galaxy IRAS 20351 from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. What pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

Dive deep into IRAS 20351+2521 and you’ll see vast dust clouds, nebulae and knots of blue stars. These patches are hot new stars born within the last million years. When galaxies interact, gas and dust are pushed and pulled together. These clouds can collapse under their own gravity and new stars can form. Sometimes scientists call these galactic collision although no stars collide. Eventually the stars that make up the two interacting galaxies will settle in new orbits around a new galactic center.

The bright stars in the image are closer stars within our own Milky Way Galaxy. IRAS 20351 is found about 450 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Vulpecula. Vulpecula is a curious small constellation near the dense star clouds of Sagittarius. The shape of Vulpecula is the imagination of Johannes Hevelius, who created the constellation in the late 17th century. He thought it represented a “fox with the goose.” Vulpecula is the Latin word for fox.

Whale of a Galaxy

Credit: ESA and NASA

Stars burst into life in the belly of the Whale Galaxy in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the bright glow from the galaxy’s central bulge, the dust patterns and star clouds in the image. What pictures does your imagination create? Leave a note below.

NGC 4631, or the Whale Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy probably similar to our own Milky Way. We are seeing the galaxy edge-on, from the side. Instead of whirling spiral arms, we are peering at the bright galactic center through its dusty arms. The Whale Galaxy is experiencing a galactic starburst with many stars being formed in short period of time. Even as you peer deep in to the galaxy and outward along its spiral arms, look for blue patches of stars. These are hot, young stars.

The Whale Galaxy is a fairly close galaxy; at least in the neighborhood. It is found about 30 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. The galaxy is not even on both sides, suggesting a whale or fish shape to astronomers who first discovered and studied the galaxy.


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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