Posts Tagged ‘Very Large Telescope’

Elephants in the Mist


A couple of elephants wander across a celestial savannah in this image from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Zoom across the pink clouds of NGC 6357. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

NGC 6357 lies deep in the heart of the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion. Zoom into the bright stars at the center of the broad ribbon of dust. These bright blue stars are just a few million years old. New stars are being born in this chaotic cloud of gas and dust. Intense ultraviolet radiation and streaming solar winds hollow out the dust forming cavities and sculpt it into fantastic shapes. To the right, where the image was originally centered, look for the elephant trunk-like columns. These are similar to the “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

Some observers think the nebula looks like a lobster. English astronomer Sir John Herschel first observed NGC 6357 during an observing trip to South Africa in 1837. It was only in the 20th century with the aid of photography that the full extent of the huge nebula was found. In infrared images (this one is in visible light), scientists noted that a dove shape dominated the left side of the nebula while the right side resembled a skull. They gave it the name “War and Peace Nebula.”

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Secrets in Carina’s Dust

Credit: ESO/T. Preibisch

Sea monsters, birds and mystic mountains hide in this detailed infrared image of the Carina Nebula from ESO‘s Very Large Telescope.

Explore the cool details of the stellar nursery known as the Carina Nebula. What shapes and stories do you see? Leave a note below.

The Carina Nebula is one of the most active star-making factories in the Milky Way Galaxy. Nebulae are clouds of glowing gas and dust; perfect ingredients for making stars. The Carina Nebula is one of the largest nebulae known. It not only home to regular stars like our Sun but also the nebula houses some of the heaviest and most massive stars known. The bright area in the lower left is one of these stars. Known as Eta Carinae, this star, surrounded by arcs of glowing clouds, has been the second brightest star in our Earth skies. Its light changes over time and astronomers think that it may explode in a supernova in the near future.

The nebula is a favorite among the amazing images from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. That image taken in visible light shows many details. But looking at objects in space with infrared telescopes allows astronomers to peer into clouds of dust. We feel infrared as heat. With an infrared camera, we can see warm objects glowing inside the clouds of dust. These warm objects tend to be newborn stars still veiled in the dust clouds that created them. In both visible and infrared images, look for inky blobs of material. These cold, compact blobs of dust are known as Bok globules. They may be cocoons for new stars.

The nebula makes individual stars and also produces some star clusters. The bright cluster of stars near the center of the image is called Trumpler 14. This region can be seen in the Hubble image but many more stars are visible here. The yellowish cluster of stars to the left of Trumpler 14 can only be seen in infrared. It was discovered for the first time in this image. It appears yellow because thick dust scatters the light of the cluster making it yellowish or reddish much like the red sunsets we have on Earth. Astronomers use images like this to find fainter and smaller stars. They may even be able to see very faint, and cool brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are stars that didn’t quite make it as stars because they were too small to start nuclear fires within their cores.

The Carina Nebula is found about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Carina, the Keel of Jason’s ship, the Argo.

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Holy Galacticus

Credit: ESO/Oleg Maliy

Something about this image of the spiral galaxy Messier 96 from the European Southern Observatory has me awestruck.

Explore the glowing core, delicate swirls and dark dust lanes of this off-center galaxy. What stories do you see? Leave a note below.

The spiral arms and core of Messier 96, also known as NGC 3368, are not distributed evenly. The spiral galaxy is about the size of the Milky Way and spans about 100,000 light-years. The warped arms are probably caused by gravity interactions with other galaxies. Other signs of past galactic encounters are the long and looping spiral arms of young blue stars. Gas and dust within the spiral arms gets pushed and pulled like taffy. As nebula get smashed together, new stars can form.

A number of background galaxies peep through the dusty disk of M96. My favorite is the reddish edge-on spiral galaxy above and to the left of M96’s core. The reddish color is due to the thick dust in the spiral arm. We see this effect on Earth as the sun sets. Thick atmosphere and dust scatter the light letting the reddish part of the spectrum through.

Messier 96 is the largest galaxy in the Leo 1 group of galaxies. This group is one of the closest galaxy clusters to our Milky Way Galaxy. It is found about 35 million light-years away toward the constellation Leo, the Lion.

Tinker Bell Goes to the Stars

Credit: ESO

Tinker Bell has managed to get herself into the stars in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore this triple merger of galaxies named ‘The Bird’ by astronomers. What shapes or patterns do you see? Share in a note below.

An irregular galaxy makes up the heart and body of this grouping. Tidal tails of two massive spiral galaxies make up the wings. When galaxies interact, gravity can distort spiral arms. Some stars are pushed toward the center of their galaxy. Other stars are flung far outside. Many interacting galaxies show these tell-tale tidal tails. Galactic interactions also cause a flurry of star birth as dust and gas is smashed together. Astronomers think that the two spiral galaxies began to interact initially. But over time in a rare event, the smaller irregular galaxy joined the mix creating the unique shape we see today. Astronomers see very few triple galactic mergers.

The “wings” of these galaxies extend more than 100,000 light-years into space. That is about the same size as our Milky Way Galaxy. The head of this trio glows red from an eruption of new star formation. Hot blue stars can be seen at the head’s crown.

Light from the “The Bird” has been traveling for a very long time. The group of galaxies lies more than 650 million light-years from Earth.


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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