Tag Archives: NASA

Stardust in the Perseus Molecular cloud

Clouds of stardust drift through this deep skyscape. The cosmic scene spans nearly 2 degrees across the Perseus molecular cloud some 850 light-years away. A triangle of dusty nebulae reflecting light from embedded stars is captured in the telescopic field of view. With a characteristic bluish color reflection nebula NGC 1333 is at left, vdB13 at bottom right, and rare yellowish reflection nebula vdB12 lies at the top. Stars are forming in the Perseus molecular cloud, though most are obscured at visible wavelengths by the pervasive dust. Still, hints of contrasting red emission from Herbig-Haro objects, the jets and shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars, are evident in NGC 1333. At the estimated distance of the molecular cloud, legs of the triangle formed by the reflection nebulae would be about 20 light-years long. via NASA

Sharpless 249 and the Jellyfish Nebula

Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring telescopic mosaic. The scene is anchored below by bright star Eta Geminorum, at the foot of the celestial twin, while the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with tentacles dangling below and left of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the Jellyfish Nebula is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. An emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper right. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this narrowband composite image presented in the Hubble Palette would be about 300 light-years across. via NASA

New York Harbor Moonset

Moonset on January 1 is captured in this sea and night sky snapshot from the port city of New York. Its warm moonlight shining through haze and thin clouds, this New Year’s Moon was about 3 days old, in a waxing crescent phase. The visible lunar disk is about 10 percent illuminated. Also easy to spot in hazy urban skies, Venus blazes forth over the western horizon, begining the year as Earth’s evening star. Like the Moon, Venus goes through a range of phases as seen from planet Earth. As the year began, telescopic views of the brilliant inner planet’s disk would show it about 50 percent illuminated, growing into a larger but thinner crescent by early March. New York Harbor’s welcoming beacon, the Statue of Liberty, anchors a terrestrial corner of the night’s triangle at the far left. via NASA

Clouds of Andromeda

The beautiful Andromeda Galaxy is often imaged by planet Earth-based astronomers. Also known as M31, the nearest large spiral galaxy is a familiar sight with dark dust lanes, bright yellowish core, and spiral arms traced by blue starlight. A mosaic of well-exposed broad and narrow-band image data, this colorful, premier portrait of our neighboring island universe offers strikingly unfamiliar features though, faint reddish clouds of glowing ionized hydrogen gas in the same wide field of view. Still, the ionized hydrogen clouds likely lie in the foreground of the scene, well within our Milky Way Galaxy. They could be associated with the pervasive, dusty interstellar cirrus clouds scattered hundreds of light-years above our own galactic plane. If they were located at the 2.5 million light-year distance of the Andromeda Galaxy they would be enormous, since the Andromeda Galaxy itself is 200,000 or so light-years across. via NASA

Pandora Close up at Saturn

What do the craters of Saturn’s small moon Pandora look like up close? To help find out, NASA sent the robotic Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting Saturn, past the unusual moon two weeks ago. The highest resolution image of Pandora ever taken was then captured from about 40,000 kilometers out and is featured here. Structures as small as 300 meters can be discerned on 80-kilometer wide Pandora. Craters on Pandora appear to be covered over by some sort of material, providing a more smooth appearance than sponge-like Hyperion, another small moon of Saturn. Curious grooves and ridges also appear to cross the surface of the small moon. Pandora is partly interesting because, along with its companion moon Prometheus, it helps shepherd the particles of Saturn’s F ring into a distinct ring. via NASA

Shell Game in the LMC

An alluring sight in southern skies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here through narrowband filters. The filters are designed to transmit only light emitted by ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Ionized by energetic starlight, the atoms emit their characteristic light as electrons are recaptured and the atom transitions to a lower energy state. As a result, this false color image of the LMC seems covered with shell-shaped clouds of ionized gas surrounding massive, young stars. Sculpted by the strong stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation, the glowing clouds, dominated by emission from hydrogen, are known as H II (ionized hydrogen) regions. Itself composed of many overlapping shells, the Tarantula Nebula is the large star forming region at top center. A satellite of our Milky Way Galaxy, the LMC is about 15,000 light-years across and lies a mere 180,000 light-years away in the constellation Dorado. via NASA

Curiosity Surveys Lower Mount Sharp on Mars

If you could stand on Mars — what might you see? If you were the Curiosity rover, then just last month you would have contemplated the featured image — a breathtaking panorama of the lower portion of Mount Sharp. The colors have been adjusted to mimic lighting familiar to Earthlings. Surveyed here was a rocky plain before increasingly high rolling hills. The rounded hills in the middle distance, called the Sulfate Unit, are Curiosity’s highest currently planned destination. One reason these hills are interesting is because sulfates are an energy source for some micro-organisms. The immediate path forward, though, was toward the southeast on the left part of the image. via NASA

Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree

Clouds of glowing hydrogen gas fill this colorful skyscape in the faint but fanciful constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. A star forming region cataloged as NGC 2264, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The tall, telescopic mosaic image stands up about 3/4 degree or nearly 1.5 full moons, covering 40 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the the Fox Fur Nebula, whose dusty, convoluted pelt lies just left of center, bright variable star S Monocerotis immersed in the blue-tinted haze right of the Fox Fur, and the Cone Nebula pointing down from the top of the frame. Of course, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster. The triangular tree shape traced by the stars has its apex at the Cone Nebula. The tree’s broader base is centered near S Monocerotis. via NASA

Once Upon a Solstice Eve

Once upon a solstice eve a little prince gazed across a frozen little planet at the edge of a large galaxy. The little planet was planet Earth of course, seen in this horizon to horizon, nadir to zenith projection, a digitally stitched mosaic from the shores of the Sec reservoir in the Czech Republic. So the large galaxy must be the Milky Way, and the brightest beacon on the planet’s horizon Venus, visible around the globe as this season’s brilliant evening star. Celestial treasures in surrounding dark skies include the Pleiades star cluster, and the North America nebula found along a dusty galactic rift. Embracing Venus, Zodiacal light traces a faint band across the night, but the more colorful pillars of light shine above streets a little closer to home. via NASA

Sharpless 308: Star Bubble

Blown by fast winds from a hot, massive star, this cosmic bubble is huge. Cataloged as Sharpless 2-308 it lies some 5,200 light-years away toward the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major) and covers slightly more of the sky than a full moon. That corresponds to a diameter of 60 light-years at its estimated distance. The massive star that created the bubble, a Wolf-Rayet star, is the bright one near the center of the nebula. Wolf-Rayet stars have over 20 times the mass of the Sun and are thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova phase of massive star evolution. Fast winds from this Wolf-Rayet star create the bubble-shaped nebula as they sweep up slower moving material from an earlier phase of evolution. The windblown nebula has an age of about 70,000 years. Relatively faint emission captured in the expansive image is dominated by the glow of ionized oxygen atoms mapped to a blue hue. via NASA