Posts Tagged ‘European Space Agency’

Ripples in an Explosion of Light


Waves of gas and dust ripple through this image of the Large Magellanic Cloud from the Herschel and Spitzer space telescopes.

Explore the curls of dust and waves of gas creating an explosion of light in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Both the ESA Herschel Space Observatory and NASA Spitzer Space Telescope see the Universe in the infrared. Infrared is a part of the spectrum of light that is just below visible light. We feel infrared light energy as heat. What these telescopes offer us is a way to see the heat of stars being born and of warm dust. And it allows astronomers to peek inside nebula to see warm objects that otherwise are blocked by thick dust in visible light.

The bright object to the left of center is called 30 Doradus or the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula is one of the largest star-making areas known to scientists. Look for other bubbles of star-formation around the image. Any bright blob is a an area of warm dust and possible new star formation.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a small, irregular dwarf galaxy that has come alongside the Milky Way Galaxy. 30 Doradus, deep within the LMC, is found about 170,000 light-years from Earth. Both the LMC and another small companion galaxy known as the Small Magellanic Cloud can be seen in the night skies of the southern hemisphere.

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Winged Heat

Credit: ESA Herschel

Wings flank the center of Centaurus A in this far-infrared image of the elliptical galaxy from the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory and the XMM-Newton X-ray satellite.

Explore the reds, greens and blues of this giant elliptical galaxy. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a comment below.

Centaurus A is only about 12 million light-years from Earth making it the closest giant elliptical galaxy to Earth. Scientists study the galaxy not only because it is relatively close but also because when we train our radio telescopes in its direction we are blasted with noise. Astronomers believe that a massive black hole, more than a million times heavier than our Sun, sits at the core emitting the blaring sound. In visible light, the galaxy is beautiful; a halo of stars with a dark and warped lane of dust surrounding the middle. The galaxy is bright and with a dust blocking our view of the galactic core, scientists can’t see much beyond the initial view. But by using other wavelengths of light, such as infrared or ultraviolet, astronomers can begin to see the inner workings of the galaxy.

The new images from Herschel show a flattened inner disk of a spiral galaxy. This may be the last remnants of a spiral galaxy that collided with the elliptical galaxy long ago. The dust we see across the center of the visible image is that remnant. Deeper toward the center of the galaxy, the image shows evidence of a burst of star birth. Jets shoot from the top and bottom of the galaxy curling near the top more than 15,000 light-years from the galactic core. Herschel’s sensitive telescopes pick up the warm dust surrounding the galaxy and also the searing heat as electrons are spun up to a velocity near the speed of light by the galaxy’s strong magnetic fields.

Centaurus A lies in the southern constellation of Centaurus the mythical Centaur. English astronomer Sir John Herschel first detailed the bright galaxy in the mid 19th century.

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Gaggle of Martian Tadpoles

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

What looks like a gaggle of Martian tadpoles turns out to be a series of lava tubes on Pavonis Mons, a volcano on Mars, in this image from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.

Explore the series of channels as you travel across Mars. What other stories and pictures do you see in this image? Share a note below.

Rising more than 39,000 feet (12 kilometers) above the surrounding plains, Pavonis Mons is the central volcano of three that make up the Tharsis Montes. Called shield volcanoes, these three gently sloping mountains, dwarfing the largest mountains on Earth, look like flattened domes and are built mostly of thick, slow-moving lava over a long period of time.

Scientists found what they think are lava tubes along the south-west flank of the volcano. Lava tubes are formed by hot flowing lava. As the surface cools, a crust forms on top. Lava continues to flow beneath the hardened surface. When lava stops flowing and the tube is empty, the roof collapses leaving long, wormlike depressions. The longest tube in this image extends for about 36 miles (59 kilometers) and is more than a mile wide in some places. Lava tubes are well-known features here on Earth and have been found on the Moon as well.

Mars Express launched in 2003 as part of a series of probes sent to explore the Red Planet. Mars Express carries a wide variety of instruments to explore the planet. The greatest strength of the mission is its High Resolution Stereo Camera. The camera has a two-meter resolution; meaning objects as small as two meters can be seen in the images. Scientists are using it to image the entire planet in full color.

Catching a Wave

Credit: ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortium/HOBYS Key Programme Consortia

A colorful, stellar wave crashes over a cosmic beach in this new image from the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope.

Explore the dusty cosmic cloud of the Rosette Nebula. Share what you see in the image. Herschel is the largest infrared telescope launched so far. And with those infrared telescopes helping to peer through the thick dust, we see new stars forming within the Rosette Nebula. Look for the bright points of white light scattered throughout the image. In images with normal telescopes, astronomers cannot see these massive, new stars. The large stars are ten times heavier than our own Sun. These stars send out a howling stellar wind that will one day carve a hollow spot in this nebula. Pushing all that dust and gas around can also spur the formation of new stars. This area of the Rosette Nebula may be home to a star cluster one day; thousands of baby stars all formed about the same time. But large stars like those found glowing in the nebula usually live short lives before exploding in supernovae. Other stars similar in size to our Sun can be found forming in the redder areas of the image.

Herschel, launched in May 2009, is the most sensitive telescope studying what astronomers call the far-infrared. The telescope is used to find objects that are only a little warmer than the universe, such as galaxies at the edge of the universe and brown dwarfs, cool objects that started to become stars but didn’t quite have enough mass to start burning on their own. Herschel took a 60-day journey away from Earth before settling into its orbit. At this distance, Earth’s heat does not affect what astronomers see.

The Rosette Nebula is found about about 5,000 light-years away toward the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn.

A Martian Happy Face

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Every once in a while, something grabs scientists’ attention and makes them smile. The “Happy Face Crater” on Mars is one of them. This crater, also called Galle Crater after German astronomer J.G. Galle, is about 134 miles (215 kilometers) across and sits at the edge of the Argyre Planitia. This smiley face image was taken by a camera aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express.

The crater was first pointed out during NASA‘s Viking Orbiter 1 mission in 1976. The large impact crater is the result of a large comet or asteroid that slammed into Mars millions of years ago. Mars’ surface looks much like the Moons with impact craters and basins, all left over from the early days of the solar system. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, wind and rain haven’t softened those features like on Earth. Mars has a little atmosphere and the Happy Face Crater shows a surface softened by wind, dust devils and maybe some water.

There are many features on Mars that resemble faces or heads such as the “Face of Cydonia.” Those features are tricks of light and shadow. In the case of the Happy Face Crater, peaks, craters and ridges form the eyes, nose and mouth of the crater and they are all natural.

Explore Google Mars and find more faces and heads.


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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