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Inside the Flame Nebula

The Flame Nebula is a stand out in optical images of the dusty, crowded star forming regions toward Orion’s belt and the easternmost belt star Alnitak, a mere 1,400 light-years away. Alnitak is the bright star at the right edge of this infrared image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. About 15 light-years across, the infrared view takes you inside the nebula’s glowing gas and obscuring dust clouds though. It reveals many stars of the recently formed, embedded cluster NGC 2024 concentrated near the center. The stars of NGC 2024 range in age from 200,000 years to 1.5 million years young. In fact, data indicate that the youngest stars are concentrated near the middle of the Flame Nebula cluster. That’s the opposite of the simplest models of star formation for a stellar nursery that predict star formation begins in the denser center of a molecular cloud core. The result requires a more complex model for star formation inside the Flame Nebula. via NASA

The Doubly Warped World of Binary Black Holes

Light rays from accretion disks around a pair of orbiting supermassive black holes make their way through the warped space-time produced by extreme gravity in this stunning computer visualization. The simulated accretion disks have been given different false color schemes, red for the disk surrounding a 200-million-solar-mass black hole, and blue for the disk surrounding a 100-million-solar-mass black hole. That makes it easier to track the light sources, but the choice also reflects reality. Hotter gas gives off light closer to the blue end of the spectrum and material orbiting smaller black holes experiences stronger gravitational effects that produce higher temperatures. For these masses, both accretion disks would actually emit most of their light in the ultraviolet though. In the video, distorted secondary images of the blue black hole, which show the red black hole’s view of its partner, can be found within the tangled skein of the red disk warped by the gravity of the blue black hole in the foreground. Because we’re seeing red’s view of blue while also seeing blue directly, the images allow us to see both sides of blue at the same time. Red and blue light originating from both black holes can be seen in the innermost ring of light, called the photon ring, near their event horizons. Astronomers expect that in the not-too-distant future they’ll be able to detect gravitational waves, ripples in space-time, produced when two supermassive black holes in a system much like the one simulated here spiral together and merge. via NASA

The Galaxy, the Jet, and a Famous Black Hole

Bright elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is home to the supermassive black hole captured by planet Earth’s Event Horizon Telescope in the first ever image of a black hole. Giant of the Virgo galaxy cluster about 55 million light-years away, M87 is the large galaxy rendered in blue hues in this infrared image from the Spitzer Space telescope. Though M87 appears mostly featureless and cloud-like, the Spitzer image does record details of relativistic jets blasting from the galaxy’s central region. Shown in the inset at top right, the jets themselves span thousands of light-years. The brighter jet seen on the right is approaching and close to our line of sight. Opposite, the shock created by the otherwise unseen receding jet lights up a fainter arc of material. Inset at bottom right, the historic black hole image is shown in context, at the center of giant galaxy and relativistic jets. Completely unresolved in the Spitzer image, the supermassive black hole surrounded by infalling material is the source of enormous energy driving the relativistic jets from the center of active galaxy M87. via NASA

The Pencil Nebula Supernova Shock Wave

This supernova shock wave plows through interstellar space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Near the middle and moving up in this sharply detailed color composite, thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a cosmic sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge-on. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its elongated appearance suggests its popular name, the Pencil Nebula. The Pencil Nebula is about 5 light-years long and 800 light-years away, but represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant. The Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the shock wave was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. In the featured narrow-band, wide field image, red and blue colors track, primarily, the characteristic glows of ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms, respectively. via NASA

Confirmed Muon Wobble Remains Unexplained

How fast do elementary particles wobble? A surprising answer to this seemingly inconsequential question came out of Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, USA in 2001, and indicated that the Standard Model of Particle Physics, adopted widely in physics, is incomplete. Specifically, the muon, a particle with similarities to a heavy electron, has had its relatively large wobble under scrutiny in a series of experiments known as g-2 (gee-minus-two). The Brookhaven result galvanized other experimental groups around the world to confirm it, and pressured theorists to better understand it. Reporting in last week, the most sensitive muon wobble experiment yet, conducted at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois and pictured here, agreed with the Brookhaven result. The unexpected wobble rate may indicate that an ever-present sea of virtual particles includes types not currently known. Alternatively, it may indicate that flaws exist in difficult theoretical prediction calculations. Future runs at Fermilab’s g-2 experiment will further increase precision and, possibly, the statistical difference between the universe we measure and the universe we understand. via NASA

Alnitak and the Flame Nebula

What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible on the far left, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The featured picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken across three visible color bands with detail added by a long duration exposure taken in light emitted only by hydrogen. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula. via NASA

When Black Holes Collide

What happens when two black holes collide? This extreme scenario occurs in the centers of many merging galaxies and multiple star systems. The featured video shows a computer animation of the final stages of such a merger, while highlighting the gravitational lensing effects that would appear on a background starfield. The black regions indicate the event horizons of the dynamic duo, while a surrounding ring of shifting background stars indicates the position of their combined Einstein ring. All background stars not only have images visible outside of this Einstein ring, but also have one or more companion images visible on the inside. Eventually the two black holes coalesce. The end stages of such a merger is now known to produce a strong blast of gravitational radiation, providing a new way to see our universe. via NASA

Zodiacal Night

An intense band of zodiacal light is captured in this serene mountain and night skyscape from April 7. The panoramic view was recorded after three hours of hiking from a vantage looking west after sunset across the Pyrenees in southern France. At 2838 meters altitude, Mont Valier is the tallest peak near center. In the sky above, the familiar stars of Orion and the northern winter Milky Way are approaching the rugged western horizon. At the shoulder of Orion, Betelgeuse is one of three bright yellowish celestial beacons. It forms a triangle with fellow red giant star Aldebaran located below Betelgeuse and to the right, and the red planet Mars. Mars shines just under the band of the Milky Way, still immersed in the bright zodiacal light. via NASA

Messier 106

Close to the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and surrounded by the stars of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici), this celestial wonder was discovered in 1781 by the metric French astronomer Pierre Mechain. Later, it was added to the catalog of his friend and colleague Charles Messier as M106. Modern deep telescopic views reveal it to be an island universe – a spiral galaxy around 30 thousand light-years across located only about 21 million light-years beyond the stars of the Milky Way. Along with a bright central core, this stunning galaxy portrait, a composite of image data from amateur and professional telescopes, highlights youthful blue star clusters and reddish stellar nurseries tracing the galaxy’s spiral arms. It also shows off remarkable reddish jets of glowing hydrogen gas. In addition to small companion galaxy NGC 4248 at bottom right, background galaxies can be found scattered throughout the frame. M106, also known as NGC 4258, is a nearby example of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, seen across the spectrum from radio to X-rays. Active galaxies are powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole. via NASA

3D Ingenuity

The multicolor, stereo imaging Mastcam-Z on the Perseverance rover zoomed in to captured this 3D close-up (get out your red/blue glasses) of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter on mission sol 45, April 5. That’s only a few sols before the technology demonstrating Ingenuity will attempt to fly in the thin martian atmosphere, making the first powered flight on another planet. The historic test flight is planned for no earlier than Sunday, April 11. Casting its shadow on the martian surface, Ingenuity is standing alone on four landing legs next to the rover’s wheel tracks. The experimental helicopter’s solar panel, charging batteries that keep it warm through the cold martian nights and power its flight, sits above its two 1.2 meter (4 foot) long counter-rotating blades. via NASA