Posts Tagged ‘Cassiopeia’

A Bubble of Many Colors

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Steward/O.Krause et al.


Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A glows with many colors in this composite image from NASA’s Great Observatories.

Zoom into the jumbled strands of colors. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, is the remnant of a star that exploded. Supernovae are the ultimate end of stars that are about ten times more massive than our Sun. When stars this big run out of hydrogen fuel, they quickly expand. Their great gravity however pulls the material back in toward the star where it heats up very fast creating a runaway nuclear fusion reaction. The star becomes unstable and explodes.

As you explore the image, look for the different colors offered by images of each observatory. Astronomers used to think that the explosion scattered material evenly around the star. But knots and filaments show that material was ejected at different times and speeds. Spitzer imagery shows reddish warm dust in the outer shell of the supernova with a comfortable temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Hubble Space Telescope imagery shows a fine yellow filament structure of warmer gases. Chandra imagery shows superhot gas in blues and greens. The hot gas was created when material ejected at high speed during the explosion slammed into the calm gas and dust surrounding the star. Look for the turquoise dot near the center of the image. This may be the neutron star created during the supernova. A neutron star is the hot and super-dense core of an exploded star. Some scientists believe that a black hole resides at the center of the remnant.

Cas A lies about 11,000 light-years from the Earth toward the constellation Cassiopeia. Astronomers believe first light from the supernova reached Earth about 300 years ago. But no one on Earth seems to have seen it. Historians think that John Flamsteed may have noticed the star in 1680. Astronomers theorize that the massive star had ejected a dense bubble of dust that blocked light from the explosion. Scientists discovered the supernova in the 1940s because it is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. No supernovae have been visible in the Milky Way since.

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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.

Whale Sightings

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

A whale swims deep in this scene of stars, gas and dust.

Explore this image of IC 1590 from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. What pictures and stories does your imagination see in this image? Leave a note below and let us know.

IC 1590, is an open star cluster within a large nebula known as NGC 281. Also called the Pacman Nebula because of the resemblance of the entire nebula to the popular arcade game, NGC 281 is a star nursery. Astronomers call the glowing red cloud an emission nebula. The new stars born from this cloud give off ultraviolet light that causes the surrounding nebula to glow. All of the stars of IC 1590 were formed at about the same time from the same cloud. They are also loosely bound by gravity. Eventually, in the next 10 million years or so, the stars will disperse and wander the galaxy on their own. Other stars within in this nebula will form as gas and dust clouds collapse under their own gravity. Stars may be forming right now in some of the dark globs of dust in the image. Explore the dark tendrils of gas as they reach up for the whale in the image. This is the top part of the Pacman’s mouth.

IC 1590 lies about 10,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Casseopeia, the Queen. The nebula itself is a faint target to see in small telescopes. But the triple stars found at the top of the image are easier to pick out.

Cosmic Puffball

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K.Eriksen et al.; Optical: DSS

A cosmic puffball seems to float in this image of the Tycho Supernova Remnant from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

You won’t need 3-D glasses to explore this deep image. Cotton-like clouds of dust and gas can be seen in the expanding bubble from the blast. Look closer in the right side of the bubble and you can see what excites scientists most about this image; stripes in the X-ray image. The brightest stripes can even be seen in visible images. Astronomers have never seen features like this within the remains of an exploded star. They believe the stripes help explain how cosmic rays are created.

Cosmic rays are energetic particles made up of electrons, neutrons and atomic nuclei. Traveling at nearly the speed of light, they originate from space. But their ultimate source is unknown. Astronomers believe that supernovae remnants are one source of cosmic rays.

The stripes in the image provide support for theories about how magnetic fields can be amplified in the supernova blast waves. Electrons trapped in turbulent areas of the expanding bubble surrounding the supernova emit X-rays as they spiral within the magnetic fields. These regions of turbulence and magnetic fields were expected. Scientists predicted that most of the energetic particles would leave a messy network of holes and walls. The orderly stripes surprised scientists.

The Tycho Supernova Remnant is located inside our Milky Way Galaxy about 13,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the Queen. Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe first reported seeing the supernova in 1572. It was so bright that it could easily be seen during the daytime with the naked eye.

Galactic Heart

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A heart glows in this image from NASA’s WISE telescope.

Explore this wide view of IC 1805, also called the Heart Nebula. What shapes and patterns do you see in this star cloud? Leave a message below.

IC 1805 is a vast, star-making nebula within our Milky Way Galaxy. Look toward the left of the nebula and you can make out the glow of a couple of galaxies. In visible light, Maffei 1 and 2 are hidden by the thick dust of IC 1805. Both galaxies were discovered by astronomer Paolo Maffei in 1968 using infrared observations. The glaring heat of billions of stars is easily seen through the cold interstellar dust by infrared observatories, such as the orbiting WISE telescope. Maffei 1 is the bluish elliptical object in the center. It is a lenticular galaxy, with a halo of stars surrounding a central bulge. Maffei 2 lies just above and left of Maffei 1. This galaxy is a spiral galaxy similar to our Milky Way Galaxy.

Both Maffei 1 and 2 lie within the general neighborhood of our Milky Way Galaxy; about 10 million light-years away. IC 1805 lies just 6,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the Queen of King Cepheus.

The WISE satellite, short for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, took millions of images in its 13-month mission. WISE studied asteroids, cool and dim stars and luminous galaxies. Astronomers use different colors in the image to show varying temperatures.


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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