Posts Tagged ‘Serpens’

Stars in Stars


Brilliant blue stars of NGC 6604 are scattered widely in the rich starfields of Serpens, the Serpent in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Zoom into the nebula deep in the sweep of the Milky Way. What stories or shapes do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The star cluster NGC 6604 is a young star cluster with only a few hundred hot blue-white stars. The cluster lies within its birth nebula. The glowing hydrogen gas is a perfect place for new stars to be born. Parts of the dust cloud collapse under gravity. As more and more material gathers, the gravity becomes stronger and starts to warm. Eventually, the temperature at the heart of the spinning cloud of gas and dust might become high enough to allow for fusion to take place. When that happens, a star is born. The hot blue stars give off a strong solar wind pushing the dust cloud away. The stars also give off blistering ultraviolet radiation that excites the atoms within the nebula causing it to glow.

Astronomers using the ESO’s Wide Field Imager attached to the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile captured this image of the faint nebula and star clsuter. NGC 6604 lies about 5,500 light-years from Earth. The star cluster is easily seen in small telescopes. The surrounding nebula, however, is very faint. Astronomers using photographic film discovered the nebula only in the 20th century.

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Galactically Linked “L”

NASA, J. English (U. Manitoba), S. Hunsberger, S. Zonak, J. Charlton, S. Gallagher (PSU), and L. Frattare (STScI)

Distorted galaxies form the letter “L” in this image of Seyfert’s Sextet. Six objects appear in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope but only four galaxies are interacting. The face-on spiral in the center of the image is a background galaxy five times farther away than the others.

Explore the image. This group of galaxies occupies a space just 100,000 light-years across; smaller than the Milky Way Galaxy. The distorted shapes of the galaxies tell a tale of close interactions and mergers. The spiral galaxy at the top appears almost untouched, with just a small warp the spiral arms. Travel across the dark band along the galactic plane of the center galaxy. The splash of stars in the lower right is a long, tidal tail of stars torn from one of the galaxies during the interactions. This warped tail is 35,000 light-years long. Halos of stars and streamers of dust link the galaxies as they continue to move closer to forming a larger galaxy, possibly an elliptical galaxy, far in the future. Many background galaxies can be seen in the image as well.

One thing we don’t see in this image are halos of blue stars, the tell-tale sign of new star formation. In many other galaxy interactions, clusters of new hot stars are seen throughout the galaxies. Astronomer’s may be seeing Seyfert’s Sextet at the beginning of its interactions.

Astronomers named the sextet for Carl Seyfert who discovered the grouping in the late 1940s. Seyfert’s Sextet is found about 190 million light years away from Earth toward the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. Light left this galactic merger during the Jurassic Period on Earth when the most popular dinosaurs, such as Allosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Stegasaurus roamed in large conifer forests.

Number Zero

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

We’re starting a new series here at Starry Critters; numbers and letters. Today’s image is brought to you by the number zero.

Hot, blue stars form a halo around the yellow center of a galaxy known as Hoag’s Object. From Earth it appears as the huge number zero as we view this odd galaxy face-on in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

The ring of young, massive stars stretches about 120,000 light-years across; slightly larger than our Milky Way Galaxy. The ring may be the result of new star formation caused when one galaxy zoomed through the other. Scientists don’t see a second galaxy that could be responsible. Another idea is that the ring is the shredded remains of a galaxy that encountered the older yellow galaxy in the center. Astronomers believe this encounter took place two to three billion years ago.

Explore the the billions of stars that make up this galaxy. The halo consists of blue stars grouped together in giant clusters. They are recently born out of huge clouds of gas and dust. These massive, new stars won’t live long. Within a couple million years they will start to explode in supernova brighter than the entire galaxy. The gap in the center may not be entirely empty. Faint star clusters or individual stars may be sprinkled lightly in this area. Can you pick out distant spiral galaxies and another ring galaxy shining through this area?

Light from Hoag’s Object has traveled a long time to reach Earth, taking nearly 600 million light-years to reach us. This unusual ring galaxy is found in the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. It is named after Arthur Allen Hoag who discovered it in 1950. Hoag believed it to be either a planetary nebula or a peculiar galaxy.

The Eagle

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

This eagle is a nursery for new stars. In this dramatic image from the Hubble Space Telescope taken in 1995, the baby stars are being born from eggs, small pockets of gas and dust. These columns of dust, like stalagmites in a cave are light years long. The Eagle Nebula, or M-16, is about 7,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Serpens, the Serpent.

A light year is the time it takes light to travel in a year, about 6 trillion miles (that’s 12 zeros behind the 6). The distances in space are so huge that scientists break down the big numbers into easier chunks making it easier for us to imagine the distances. It takes light almost 9 minutes just to reach Earth from the sun. The closest star is four light years away, so a trip to the Eagle Nebula would be a long one.

Credit: MPG/ESO 2.2-meter Telescope at La Silla, Chile

Credit: MPG/ESO 2.2-meter Telescope at La Silla, Chile

The nebula get its name from its overall shape to astronomers looking through telescopes on Earth. In this case, the nebula looks like flying eagle with talons.

The dark areas in the upper right aren’t big bite marks. The images from Hubble Space Telescope are actually made up of many smaller images. The dark areas are places where Hubble did not take an image.

Does the Eagle Nebula look like anything else to you?

Star Glasses

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

Star glasses look fetching on the odd-looking galaxy called Arp 220. Zoomed out, sunglasses is what sticks out for me. What stories do you see in this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope? Share them with us.

Arp 220 is not a single galaxy but the merger between two spiral galaxies. The collision began about 700 million years ago when life was just beginning during the Proterozoic Period here on Earth. The light from that galaxy, traveling 6 trillion miles per year, has taken a long time to reach Earth.

Explore the image. The “sunglasses” is a distinct band of dust along the plane of the galaxy. Besides the wacky shapes and far-flung galactic tails, the neatest thing about these galactic mergers is the burst of star formation we see. Find the bluish-white clouds throughout the galaxy. These new stars form when gas and dust gets stretched and twisted together. Some of the gas and dust begins to condense due to gravity and stars are born. Also find huge star clusters; the bluish bright knots of stars. Dozens of background galaxies complete the tour of this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image.

Arp 220 is about 5,000 light years across; about five times smaller than our Milky Way Galaxy. Using other telescopes that can see through the galactic dust, astronomers have found that the cores of the two merging galaxies are only about 1,200 light-years apart. Astronomers using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory also have found X-rays streaming from both cores, indicating two supermassive black holes.

Arp 220 lies about 700 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. The merging galaxy pair is the 220th galaxy in Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies.


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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