Posts Tagged ‘Ophiuchus’

Sam and a Billion Fireflies

ESO/S. Guisard (

Sam, the owl, in hues of pink, yellow and blue glares out of the panorama of a billion fireflies in an image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the rich star fields of Sagittarius and Scorpius. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The owl, to the right in the image, is actually Rho Opiuchi cloud complex and Antares. This nebula, similar to the Great Nebula in Orion, is just over 400 light-years away, making it one of the closest star-making regions to Earth. As gas and dust interact within these nebulae, they begin to swirl and collapse under gravity. When enough material collects, the temperature rises. Sometimes the temperature rises enough so that hydrogen atoms begin to fuse. When this happens a new star is born. some of the stars in these gas-and-dust rich areas are many times more massive and brighter than our Sun. These stars give off strong solar winds that clear out a space around the star. The huge stars also send out a torrent of ultraviolet radiation that excites hydrogen atoms in the nebula causing it to glow.

The bright glow of stars to the left is the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Between here and there a dusty spiral arm blocks the light. In this image, look for the S-shaped dark nebula near the center of the image toward the top. Astronomers call this Snake Nebula. It is part of a larger structure known as the Dark Horse Nebula. The horse is standing up and down. The Snake Nebula forms its front leg while the back legs are outlined in a dark ribbon of dark dust just below. That leg also forms what’s known as the Pipe Nebula.

As we dive deeper into the dark lane of dust, look for the reddish nebulae, including Trifid Nebula and the Lagoon Nebula. Toward the bottom of the image, look for NGC 6357 and the Cat’s Paw Nebula, or NGC 6334. New stars are forming in all of these nebulae.

This image, taken by astrophotographer Stéphane Guisard, is part of ESO’s GigaGalaxy Zoom project. The mosaic was assembled from about 1200 individual images taken at the observatory at Cerro Paranal in Chile.

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Rich Tapestries

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Rich colors spill across a tapestry of dust and gas in this image of the Rho Ophiuchi star cloud from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the arcs, folds and wrinkles in an image that resembles a painting. Your imagination should come up with lots of shapes and stories in this image. Tell us what you see in the image by leaving a note below.

The star cloud is named after a bright star in the region of the constellations Ophiuchus and Sagittarius. The nebula is one of the closest star-making regions to Earth allowing astronomers a clear look at the processes surrounding star birth. The pink stars near the center of the image are young stellar objects. In visible light, these stars are hidden from view. They are so young that they are still wrapped tightly in blankets of dust.

Explore a bit deeper in the image and you’ll find some of the oldest stars in our galaxy. M80, a distant globular cluster, is found on the far right of the image near the top. Another globular cluster known as NGC 6144 is found close to the bottom center of the image. They appear as tightly compacted groups of blue stars. Born soon after the universe formed, they are thought to be about 13 billion years old.

The bright white region in the center of the image glows with heating from nearby stars. Astronomers call this an emission nebula. Young, bright stars send out a blistering stream of ultraviolet radiation that excites the gas atoms in the nebula and causes them to glow like a neon sign. Most of the gas and dust in this image glows from that process including the blue arc of light just above the reddish nebula. The dust in the red region reflects light from the light of Sigma Scorpii. Astronomers call this type of nebula a reflection nebula. Throughout the image float cold, dark and dense clouds of dust. WISE sees the universe in infrared, seeing warm sources of light even in the darkest clouds. The orbiting telescope can usually penetrate these dark clouds but these are especially opaque to the satellite’s sensors meaning they are very cold. Astronomers call this type of interstellar cloud absorption nebulae.

The stunning array of color in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light. Blue, cyan and the blue-green hues represent hot sources of light such as stars. The green and red color comes mostly from dust.

Baby Blanket

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

Newborn stars are tucked away in their baby blanket of gas and dust in this image of Rho Ophiuchus from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Zoom into the folds of molecular hydrogen gas glowing red in this image. Explore the bubble-like nebulae surrounding some of the stars. What shapes and stories do you see in this nebula? Leave a note below.

Rho Ophichus, or Rho Oph as it’s known by astronomers, is home to some very young stars. Researchers of have found more than 300 young objects within the central cloud with ages of only about 300,000 years. Their great-granddaddies, the oldest stars in the universe, are more than 12 billion years old. Even our Sun, with an age of more than 4 billion years is a grown-up to these young objects.

Spitzer sees the universe in infrared light. With the aid of the telescope, scientists can peer deep into cold clouds of star dust and see warm objects that might be the beginnings of stars. The colors of this infrared image represent temperatures within the star cloud. The colors also reveal aspects of the nebula surrounding the stars. The youngest stars surrounded by their dusty shrouds are tinged with yellow-green. Older stars in the nebula have already blown away their blankets of dust and show more blue-white.

Rho Oph is only 407 light-years from Earth making it one of the closest star-making regions. It lies toward the constellations Scorpius, the scorpion, and Ophiuchus, the snake charmer.

Bird of Gas

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A bird’s head glows in a cloud gas and dust in this image from NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Zoom into this infrared image. Leave a comment below telling us what stories and pictures you see.

The blue-colored star in the center of the image is Zeta Ophiuchi. This very massive star is plowing through a quiet interstellar cloud of gas and dust. The arc of gold and red above the star is a stellar example of a bow-shock. As the star moves through space, strong winds from this hot star push the gas and dust out of the way, just as a boat creates a bow wave along the front. In normal light, Zeta Ophiuchi is a dim, reddish star and the glowing arc of gas is not visible. Explore the interstellar gas and dust that surrounds Zeta Ophiuchi. To the sides of the image and in the background, calm clouds of dust appear green and wispy. Near Zeta Ophiuchi, these clouds look quite different. The cloud in all directions around the star is brighter and redder, because the extreme amounts of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the star are heating the cloud, causing it to glow more brightly in the infrared than usual.

Astronomers believe that this stellar wanderer was once part of a binary star system with an even more massive star that exploded as a supernova. Supernovae are cataclysmic explosions of very massive stars, more than 20 times that of our Sun. After its companion flung most of its mass into deep space and briefly blazed brighter than an the entire galaxy, Zeta Ophiuchi was suddenly freed from its massive partner’s pull and zipped away at more than 54,000 miles per hour (24 kilometers per second). Zeta Ophiuchi is about 20 times more massive than our Sun and 65,000 times more luminous. This extreme size and power comes at a price however. While our Sun will last for another four billion years or so before transforming into a red giant and eventually a white dwarf, Zeta Ophiuchi will probably follow its partner’s lead and become a supernova itself in just a few million years.

Zeta Ophiuchi lies relatively close to Earth about 428 light-years away toward the sprawling constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. If the star were not surrounded by the dense nebula, it would be the brightest star in the sky.

Bowing Dancer

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

A dancer bows to a stellar audience in this image of NGC 6572 from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this bright planetary nebula, also called the Emerald Nebula. Share a story below about what you see in this dazzling image.

Planetary nebulae is the last stage in the evolution of stars like our own Sun. After the star burns all of its hydrogen gas needed to power the star, it balloons up to become a red giant. The outer layers of the star are puffed out into space as the stars exhale their last breaths. Planetary nebulae come in all shapes and colors from intricate to simple bubbles. A hot, glowing ember of a star is left over called a white dwarf. This dead, but super-hot, star is the exposed core of the star. Intense ultraviolet radiation from this star makes the gas and dust in the expanding bubble glow.

Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. Astronomers in the 17th and 18th centuries catalogued many objects in the night sky that resembled planets in their telescopes. NGC 6572 is a fairly young nebula discovered by German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve in 1825. It began to shed its gases only a few thousand years ago and remains very bright. Over time as the gas and dust cloud grow, the nebula will dim.

NGC 6572 is located about 3,500 light-years from Earth toward the large constellation of Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer) and is bright enough to be seen in small telescopes from Earth. Some amateur astronomers liken the complex nebula as a blue racquetball while others describe it as being greenish.


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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