Posts Tagged ‘infrared’

Butterfly of Combined Light

X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Mich./S.Oey, IR: NASA/JPL, Optical: ESO/WFI/2.2-m

When NASA combines images from different telescopes they create amazing works of art and we learn a few things.

Explore this butterfly of combined light, known as NGC 1929, from NASA‘s Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and ESO‘s ground-based telescope in Chile. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Star cluster NGC 1929 contains some of the most massive stars known to scientists. These massive stars spew intense radiation and a blistering stellar wind that blow huge bubbles in the surrounding nebula. The massive stars also end their short lives exploding as supernova which further helps carve out cavities in this region. Officially, the entire nebula is known as LHA 120-N 44, or just N 44. The vast superbubble is 325 by 250 light-years across; almost a hundred times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. As you explore the image, look for dozens of smaller bubbles and the faint rim of another huge bubble on the left side of the nebula. Along the edges of the superbubble, new stars are forming

As beautiful as this destructive scene is, we wouldn’t be able to see it quite like this with our own eyes. Astronomers combined the light of several telescopes; all observing N44 in different wavelengths of light. X-rays from Chandra, in blue, reveal areas created by winds and shocks. Infrared data from Spitzer, in red, show where dust and cooler gas reside. Optical light from ESO’s telescope in Chile, light we can see with our eyes, outlines where ultraviolet radiation from the stars causes the gas to glow.

N 44 and NGC 1929 are found about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf, irregular companion galaxy to our Milky Way Galaxy.

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Bumblebees and the Bubbles of Scutum

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisconsin

A bumblebee hums around the part of the night-time sky dominated by the constellation Scutum in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the bubbles in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Milky Way Galaxy is full of wonders and not all of them can be seen easily with our naked eye. The stars and shapes in this image cannot be seen without the help of special telescopes and sensors aboard the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer helps astronomers see warm objects, such as new stars, lurking in cold dust clouds. These objects are hidden from view by a thick veil of dust. The orbiting telescope sees the Universe in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum that lies just below the range of visible light, like a rainbow. We don’t see infrared light but we can feel it as heat.

New stars forming deep in these clouds blew bubbles into the gas and dust. As they become hotter, the surrounding nebula will expand and begin to glow as ultraviolet light floods the area. Someday our naked eyes will behold new and spectacular nebulae.

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Warm Eyes

NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Wisps of warm dust in Barnard 3 wrap around creating an eye or bubble in space in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the brush-like strokes of gas and dust in this image. What stories or shapes do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Barnard 3, also called IRAS Ring G159.6-18.5, is a huge interstellar cloud of gas and dust. It is a perfect place for new stars to form. WISE detects infrared light. We feel infrared light as heat. WISE can peer deep into nebulae to see warm patches that may become new stars. As you zoom across the image it is hard not to stop at the bright star in the middle of the red mist. This part of the cloud is very warm. This star is a huge, luminous star called HD 278942. Ultraviolet radiation streaming outward from the star is likely causing the rest of the cloud to glow. Strong solar winds from this star push away gas and dust and create the ring. Green areas in the cloud are made up of tiny particles of stuff that resembles smog. Yellowish areas in the cloud are areas where dust is more dense. The blue dots scattered throughout the image are stars.

Barnard 3 is found fairly close to Earth; only about 1,000 light-years away. It’s well within the Milky Way Galaxy toward the constellation of the mythical hero Perseus and Taurus, the Bull.

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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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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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