Posts Tagged ‘star formation’

Dragon Blazes in Light and Color


Light from the Large Magellanic Cloud takes nearly 200,000 years to travel to Earth. And it’s worth the wait. In this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, a dragon roars out of the cloud, or maybe you see a rearing horse.

Explore the bright pockets of color, dark lanes of dark dust and blazing new stars in this image of LHA 120-N 11, or just simply N11, from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

This region of the Large Magellanic cloud is ablaze with star formation. It is the brightest and most prolific stellar nursery known to scientists. Explore the regions of colorful gas and dark fingers of fine dust. Hydrogen gas glows its characteristic pinkish-red throughout the image providing plenty of fuel for new stars. Massive stars, born from the cloud itself, blast the surrounding nebula with stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation that ionizes the hydrogen gas causing it to glow. Bright pockets of star formation, NGC 1769, in the center, and NGC 1763, to the right in the image, dominate this scene.

Alot of Hubble’s time is spent peering at the star clouds of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The LMC, an irregular dwarf galaxy, is close astronomically speaking. This proximity – less than one-tenth the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the closest large spiral galaxy – allows astronomers to study star formation as well as galaxy evolution in detail. It is also relatively clear of the Milky Way’s busy and dusty plane offering a clear view uncluttered by bright foreground stars. LMC shares some features with spiral galaxies, such as a single arm and a clearly visible central bar. Some research indicates that the small galaxy is just passing by, distorted by the gravitational tug of the much larger Milky Way Galaxy.

View more of Hubble’s Hidden Treasures.

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Sweeping Wings in a Cloud

ESA/Hubble, NASA and D. A Gouliermis. Acknowledgement: Flickr user Eedresha Sturdivant

The sweeping wings of a dragon or bat shine with the light of dozens of bright stars in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the haze surrounding this young stellar group known as NGC 2040, or LH 88. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

NGC 2040 is a loose star cluster. The stars have a common birthplace in this star cloud and will drift through space together. The cluster is known by astronomers as an OB association. These groups contain 10-100 stars of O and B type stars; among the hottest in the cosmos. Usually these hot and heavy stars have short but brilliant lives. After burning out their nuclear fuel in just a few million years, these stars will probably explode as supernovae. The stars lie in a supergiant shell of gas and dust called LMC 4. The shell is created as whipping solar winds from the new stars push gas and dust outward. Supernovae explosions also blow away surrounding gas and dust triggering even more star formation. Thousands of stars may form at the dense edge of these super bubbles.

NGC 2040 is found about 160,000 light-years away in a dwarf satellite galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud. Although the small galaxy is 100 times smaller than our own Milky Way it is home to some of the largest known star-making areas.

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Butterflies along a ridge of light

ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortia, T. Hill, F. Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/IRFU – CNRS/INSU – Uni. Paris Diderot, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium

A blue and yellow butterfly flits along a ridge of starlight in an image of the Vela C region by ESA’s Herschel space observatory

Explore the intricate web of filaments and cool dust in this infrared image. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Vela C is one of the most massive star-making regions in the Milky Way Galaxy. And it’s close, making it ideal to study the birth of stars. Herschel sees the Universe in infrared. The infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum lies just below what our eyes can see but we feel this energy as heat. Even cool clouds of gas and dust glow brightly against the cold of space and Herschel can peer into dark clouds to spot clumps of gas and dust that may be new stars.

Throughout the image a ribbon of dust made up of finer filaments meanders through the complex weave. Zoom in and look for point-like dots of light. These are protostars, seeds of new stars. Explore the blue butterfly shape in the center of the image along with the blue bubble just above. The gas and dust in these areas glow from the heat of hot new stars. Blistering radiation from these stars excite atoms in the nebula causing them to glow. These stars are also massive and will live just 10 million years or so before exploding as supernovae. Compared to our Sun’s expected 8 billion year lifespan, this is a short time.

Vela C is the most massive of four parts of the Vela molecular cloud. Found just 2,300 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Vela, the Sail of the mythical ship Argo, the nebula is one of the largest star-forming areas known by astronomers.

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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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A Running Chicken


With wings spread, a chicken-shape dominates this pink cloud of hydrogen gas and newborn stars in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the Running Chicken Nebula. What stories or pictures do you see in the patterns of this nebula? Leave a comment below.

Officially the nebula is known as IC 2944 or the Lambda Centauri Nebula. The nebula is a sprawling star-making factory. The nebula is lit by a loose cluster of hot, blue stars. These stars were born just eight million years ago. Radiation from these new stars warms and excites the hydrogen gas of the nebula causing it to glow with a characteristic pink color. These stars are also much more massive than our Sun. Their howling stellar winds and blistering ultraviolet radiation carve out the unique shapes, cavities and pillars we see within the cloud.

Zoom into the dark blobs near the top of the image. These are known as Thackeray Globules. Named after their discoverer AD Thackeray, these little inky blobs of dust are found in areas rich in star formation. Similar to Bok Globules, they may be cocoons where new stars are born. Each of these little clouds is about one light-year across. They contain enough gas and dust to create more than 15 stars the same size as our Sun.

IC 2944 is found relatively close to Earth. Light, traveling at more than 6 trillion miles per year from the direction of the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur, has taken almost 6,000 years to reach our eyes.

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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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