Category Archives: Whats Up

All the Whats Up in the Nights Sky events

M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules

In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, “This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.” Of course, M13 is now less modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Sharp telescopic views like this one reveal the spectacular cluster’s hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter. Approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. The remarkable range of brightness recorded in this image follows stars into the dense cluster core. Distant background galaxies in the medium-wide field of view include NGC 6207 at the lower right. via NASA

The Jellyfish and Mars

Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring scene. In the telescopic field of view two bright yellowish stars, Mu and Eta Geminorum, stand just below and above the Jellyfish Nebula at the left. Cool red giants, they lie at the foot of the celestial twin. The Jellyfish Nebula itself floats below and left of center, a bright arcing ridge of emission with dangling tentacles. 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 that 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. Composed on April 30, this telescopic snapshot also captures Mars. Now wandering through early evening skies, the Red Planet also shines with a yellowish glow on the right hand side of the field of view. Of course, the Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away, while Mars is currently almost 18 light-minutes from Earth. via NASA

Jets from the Necklace Nebula

What celestial body wears the Necklace Nebula? First, analyses indicate that the Necklace is a planetary nebula, a gas cloud emitted by a star toward the end of its life. Also, what appears to be diamonds in the Necklace are actually bright knots of glowing gas. In the center of the Necklace Nebula are likely two stars orbiting so close together that they share a common atmosphere and appear as one in the featured image by the Hubble Space Telescope. The red-glowing gas clouds on the upper left and lower right are the results of jets from the center. Exactly when and how the bright jets formed remains a topic of research. The Necklace Nebula is only about 5,000 years old, spans about 5 light years, and can best be found with a large telescope toward the direction of the constellation of the Arrow (Sagitta). via NASA

NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge

Is our Milky Way Galaxy this thin? Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the spiral galaxy’s boxy, bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565’s thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view. Thought similar in shape to our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 4565 lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed. via NASA

NGC 602 and Beyond

The clouds may look like an oyster, and the stars like pearls, but look beyond. Near the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy some 200 thousand light-years distant, lies 5 million year young star cluster NGC 602. Surrounded by natal gas and dust, NGC 602 is featured in this stunning Hubble image of the region. Fantastic ridges and swept back shapes strongly suggest that energetic radiation and shock waves from NGC 602’s massive young stars have eroded the dusty material and triggered a progression of star formation moving away from the cluster’s center. At the estimated distance of the Small Magellanic Cloud, the featured picture spans about 200 light-years, but a tantalizing assortment of background galaxies are also visible in this sharp multi-colored view. The background galaxies are hundreds of millions of light-years or more beyond NGC 602. via NASA

The Southern Cliff in the Lagoon

Undulating bright ridges and dusty clouds cross this close-up of the nearby star forming region M8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula. A sharp, false-color composite of narrow band visible and broad band near-infrared data from the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope, the entire view spans about 20 light-years through a region of the nebula sometimes called the Southern Cliff. The highly detailed image explores the association of many newborn stars imbedded in the tips of the bright-rimmed clouds and Herbig-Haro objects. Abundant in star-forming regions, Herbig-Haro objects are produced as powerful jets emitted by young stars in the process of formation heat the surrounding clouds of gas and dust. The cosmic Lagoon is found some 5,000 light-years away toward the constellation Sagittarius and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. (For location and scale, check out this image superimposing the close-up of the Southern Cliff within the larger Lagoon Nebula. The scale image is courtesy R. Barba’.) via NASA

M104: The Sombrero Galaxy

A gorgeous spiral galaxy, M104 is famous for its nearly edge-on profile featuring a broad ring of obscuring dust lanes. Seen in silhouette against an extensive central bulge of stars, the swath of cosmic dust lends a broad brimmed hat-like appearance to the galaxy suggesting a more popular moniker, the Sombrero Galaxy. This sharp optical view of the well-known galaxy made from ground-based image data was processed to preserve details often lost in overwhelming glare of M104’s bright central bulge. Also known as NGC 4594, the Sombrero galaxy can be seen across the spectrum, and is host to a central supermassive black hole. About 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light-years away, M104 is one of the largest galaxies at the southern edge of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Still the colorful spiky foreground stars in this field of view lie well within our own Milky Way galaxy. via NASA

The Comet, the Whale, and the Hockey Stick

Closest to the Sun on March 1, and closest to planet Earth on April 23, this Comet ATLAS (C/2020 R4) shows a faint greenish coma and short tail in this pretty, telescopic field of view. Captured at its position on May 5, the comet was within the boundaries of northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs), and near the line-of-sight to intriguing background galaxies popularly known as the Whale and the Hockey Stick. Cetacean in appearance but Milky Way sized, NGC 4631 is a spiral galaxy seen edge-on at the top right, some 25 million light-years away. NGC 4656/7 sports the bent-stick shape of interacting galaxies below and left of NGC 4631. In fact, the distortions and mingling trails of gas detected at other wavelengths suggest the cosmic Whale and Hockey Stick have had close encounters with each other in their distant past. Outbound and only about 7 light-minutes from Earth this Comet ATLAS should revisit the inner solar system in just under 1,000 years. via NASA

A Meteor and the Gegenschein

Is the night sky darkest in the direction opposite the Sun? No. In fact, a rarely discernable faint glow known as the gegenschein (German for “counter glow”) can be seen 180 degrees around from the Sun in an extremely dark sky. The gegenschein is sunlight back-scattered off small interplanetary dust particles. These dust particles are millimeter sized splinters from asteroids and orbit in the ecliptic plane of the planets. Pictured here from last March is one of the more spectacular pictures of the gegenschein yet taken. The deep exposure of an extremely dark sky over Teide Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands shows the gegenschein as part of extended zodiacal light. Notable background objects include a bright meteor (on the left), the Big Dipper (top right), and Polaris (far right). The meteor nearly points toward Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, while the Pyramid solar laboratory is visible on the right. During the day, a phenomenon like the gegenschein called the glory can be seen in reflecting air or clouds opposite the Sun from an airplane. via NASA

Lightning and Orion Beyond Uluru

What’s happening behind Uluru? A United Nations World Heritage Site, Uluru is an extraordinary 350-meter high mountain in central Australia that rises sharply from nearly flat surroundings. Composed of sandstone, Uluru has slowly formed over the past 300 million years as softer rock eroded away. In the background of the featured image taken in mid-May, a raging thunderstorm is visible. Far behind both Uluru and the thunderstorm is a star-filled sky highlighted by the constellation of Orion. The Uluru region has been a home to humans for over 22,000 years. Local indigenous people have long noted that when the stars that compose the modern constellation of Orion first appear in the night sky, a hot season involving lightning storms will soon be arriving. via NASA