Posts Tagged ‘Taurus’

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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Swimming in the Starry Seas

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A glowing jellyfish floats in a starry sea. Instead of floating in water, what appears to be a translucent sea creature is actually a dying star surrounded by rings of glowing gas in this new image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

NGC 1514 from the Digitized Sky Survey, based at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

Explore the image of NGC 1514, also known as the Crystal Ball Nebula. The object is a close pair of dying stars; so close WISE cannot distinguish between them. Two unusual dust rings, shown in orange, surround the stars as well as other material, shown in green. The WISE telescope shows astronomers the universe in infrared light. The telescope basically sees heat, so what we see in this picture isn’t actually what our eyes would see. Astronomers have given certain wavelengths of light certain colors so we can better understand what we are seeing. In the image at the left, we see the Crystal Ball Nebula as our eyes see it through ground-based telescopes.

NGC 1514 is located about 800 light-years away toward the zodiacal constellation Taurus, the Bull. Taurus is one of thirteen constellations that the Sun moves through throughout the year.

NGC 1514 is a planetary nebula. As stars similar to our Sun reach the end of their lives, they puff off their outer layers. A white-hot core called a white dwarf is all that is left behind. As the bubble expands, the white dwarf star floods the surrounding region with intense radiation causing the gas to glow like a neon sign. Far in the future, this dead star will eventually fade as it becomes a warm ember. Our Sun will not reach this stage of its life for another 4 billion years or so.

Sometimes these bubbles of gas and dust form round orbs surrounding the star. Other times, butterfly shapes appear. But in other cases, when two stars are involved, the puffing out of gas becomes more complex. The two rings are new to astronomers. Scientists speculate that the rings formed when jets of material from one of the stars hit walls of a bubble of dust surrounding the other star.

Planetary nebula have nothing to do with planets. As astronomers in the 17th and 18th centuries explored and cataloged the sky through new telescopes, they found round, fuzzy objects that resembled the orbs of Uranus and Neptune. British astronomer William Herschel discovered NGC 1514 in 1790. He was surprised to find a “shining fluid” surrounding the object. Originally, he thought that NGC 1514 and other similarly fuzzy objects were clusters of stars. But NGC 1514 convinced him that the blobs were actually a new astronomical phenomenon.

WISE scans the entire sky in infrared light pick­ing up the faint glow of far-off objects. The orbit­ing obser­va­tory is joined in space by two other infrared obser­va­to­ries; NASAs Spitzer Space Tele­scope and Her­schel Space Obser­va­tory from the Euro­pean Space Agency. These infrared obser­va­to­ries detect heat from objects in space, even the barely notice­able heat of a cool star. The WISE mis­sion dif­fers from the other two by scan­ning the entire sky. Astronomers using this tech­nique have seen all sorts of pre­vi­ously unseen cos­mic trea­sures, such as cool stars, bright galax­ies, comets, aster­oids that pass near Earth.

Starry Sisters

Credit: NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech

High in the winter sky, the Pleiades look like a tiny dipper. Those with sharp eyes can see seven stars in the open star cluster M45, or the Seven Sisters. Some people report seeing up to 14 stars under the best conditions. But most, including myself, can see six at best. In this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, we see hundreds of stars.

Ancient Greeks gave us name the Pleiades. But the star cluster was known to other ancient cultures as well. The Bablylonians referred to them as MulMul or “star of stars.” The Aztecs knew them as Tianquiztli. To the Maya, they were Tzab-ek. The Chinese, Persians, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans and Persians all have stories about this prominent cluster near the shoulder of Taurus, the Bull.

Explore the image. Do you notice the color of the stars? The cluster is fairly young and is dominated by hot, blue stars. Astronomers believe the cluster formed about 100 million years ago. And while clusters like this are born out of huge clouds of gas and dust, the misty star cloud around the cluster is just a nebula that the star cluster is passing through. The cloud reflects the blue light of the brightest stars in the Pleiades. Astronomers call this a reflection nebula.

The Pleiades are just 440 light years away from Earth making it one of the closest star clusters to Earth. The core of the cluster is packed in an area about 8 light-years across. A light-year is the distance traveled by light in one year; about 6 trillion miles. The cluster is more spread out, however. In a starship traveling at the speed of light, it would take us 43 years to pass through the entire star cluster. The Pleiades move through space as a group. In a few thousand years they will pass near the feet of Orion as seen from Earth. The stars in the cluster also will drift apart and disperse.

The Crab

Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

In the year 1054, Japanese, Chinese and Native American astronomers recorded a violent event. They saw a star that hadn’t been there before. It turned out to be a supernova that formed the Crab Nebula and it’s one of the earliest recorded astronomical events by humans.

Also known as M1 and NGC 1952, the Crab Nebula is the leftovers after a star explodes. The streamers found in the Crab Nebula are the remains of that star flung out during the huge explosion. To astronomers who first looked at the night sky, this patch of light looked like a crab. At the center of the Crab Nebula is a neutron star. A neutron star is as massive as the sun but is pressed into a ball the size of a small town. It is very dense and spins very quickly. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times a second.

The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light years. It is 6,000 light years away toward the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Taurus is beginning to rise in the late evening now and during the fall will rise earlier and earlier.

NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope took this image of M1 in 1999 and 2000. The picture is one of the largest ever taken by Hubble. It is the best image taken of the Crab Nebula.


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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