Dark Molecular Cloud Barnard 68
Image Credit: FORS Team, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESOExplanation: Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured here. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light.
Image Credit & Copyright: Fred Espenak (MrEclipse.com)Explanation: We live in an era where total solar eclipses are possible because at times the apparent size of the Moon can just cover the disk of the Sun. But the Moon is slowly moving away from planet Earth. Its distance is measured to increase about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) per year due to tidal friction. So there will come a time, about 600 million years from now, when the Moon is far enough away that the lunar disk will be too small to ever completely cover the Sun. Then, at best only annular eclipses, a ring of fire surrounding the silhouetted disk of the too small Moon, will be seen from the surface of our fair planet. Of course the Moon was slightly closer and loomed a little larger 100 million years ago. So during the age of the dinosaurs there were more frequent total eclipses of the Sun. In front of the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College in Wyoming, this dinosaur statue posed with a modern total eclipse, though. An automated camera was placed under him to shoot his portrait during the Great American Eclipse of August 21.
Global Aurora at Mars
Image Credit: MAVEN, LASP, University of Colorado, NASAExplanation: A strong solar event last month triggered intense global aurora at Mars. Before (left) and during (right) the solar storm, these projections show the sudden increase in ultraviolet emission from martian aurora, more than 25 times brighter than auroral emission previously detected by the orbiting MAVEN spacecraft. With a sunlit crescent toward the right, data from MAVEN’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph is projected in purple hues on the right side of Mars globes simulated to match the observation dates and times. On Mars, solar storms can result in planet-wide aurora because, unlike Earth, the Red Planet isn’t protected by a strong global magnetic field that can funnel energetic charged particles toward the poles. For all those on the planet’s surface during the solar storm, dangerous radiation levels were double any previously measured by the Curiosity rover. MAVEN is studying whether Mars lost its atmosphere due to its lack of a global magnetic field.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Text credit: European Space Agency
This beautiful Hubble image reveals a young super star cluster known as Westerlund 1, only 15,000 light-years away in our Milky Way neighborhood, yet home to one of the largest stars ever discovered.
Stars are classified according to their spectral type, surface temperature, and luminosity. While studying and classifying the cluster’s constituent stars, astronomers discovered that Westerlund 1 is home to an enormous star. Originally named Westerlund 1-26, this monster star is a red supergiant (although sometimes classified as a hypergiant) with a radius over 1,500 times that of our sun. If Westerlund 1-26 were placed where our sun is in our solar system, it would extend out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
Most of Westerlund 1’s stars are thought to have formed in the same burst of activity, meaning that they have similar ages and compositions. The cluster is relatively young in astronomical terms —at around three million years old it is a baby compared to our own sun, which is some 4.6 billion years old.
Image Credit & Copyright: Bernhard Hubl, CEDIC 2017Explanation: The galaxies of Abell 2666 lie far beyond the Milky Way, some 340 million light-years distant toward the high flying constellation Pegasus. Framed in this sharp telescopic image, the pretty cluster galaxies are gathered behind scattered, spiky, Milky Way stars. At cluster center is giant elliptical galaxy NGC 7768, the central dominant galaxy of the cluster. As the cluster forms, such massive galaxies are thought to grow by mergers of galaxies that fall through the center of the cluster’s gravitational well. Typical of dominant cluster galaxies, NGC 7768 likely harbors a supermassive black hole. At the estimated distance of Abell 2666, this cosmic frame would span about 5 million light-years.
Explanation: Can you find which day is the winter solstice? Each panel shows one day. With 360 movie panels, the sky over (almost) an entire year is shown in time lapse format as recorded by a video camera on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco, California. The camera recorded an image every 10 seconds from before sunrise to after sunset and from mid-2009 to mid-2010. A time stamp showing the local time of day is provided on the lower right. The videos are arranged chronologically, with July 28 shown on the upper left, and January 1 located about half way down. In the videos, darkness indicates night, blue depicts clear day, while gray portrays pervasive daytime cloud cover. Many videos show complex patterns of clouds moving across the camera’s wide field as that day progresses. The initial darkness in the middle depicts the delayed dawn and fewer daylight hours of winter. Although every day lasts 24 hours, nighttime lasts longest in the northern hemisphere in December and the surrounding winter months. Therefore, finding the panel with the longest night will locate the day of winter solstice — which happens to be today in the northern hemisphere. As the videos collectively end, sunset and then darkness descend first on the winter days just above the middle, and last on the mid-summer near the bottom.
The Dark Energy Survey aims to answer that question, and UCL, Cambridge and other UK astrophysicists are heavily involved in the collaboration.This film explains the project – and features Prof. Ofer Lahav (UCL Physics & Astronomy), one of the leading figures of the DES science programme.
Image Credit & Copyright: Data – ESO / MPIA / OAC, Assembly – R.Colombari
Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, the star factory known as Messier 17 lies some 5,500 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation Sagittarius. At that distance, this 1/3 degree wide field of view spans over 30 light-years. The sharp composite, color image, highlights faint details of the region’s gas and dust clouds against a backdrop of central Milky Way stars. Stellar winds and energetic light from hot, massive stars formed from M17 stock of cosmic gas and dust have slowly carved away at the remaining interstellar material producing the cavernous appearance and undulating shapes. M17 is also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA
Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. A popular target for earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years or so across M94’s central region. The sharp close-up examines the galaxy’s compact, bright nucleus and prominent inner dust lanes, surrounded by a remarkable bluish ring of young, massive stars. The massive stars in the ring are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating the galaxy experienced a well-defined era of rapid star formation. As a result, while the small, bright nucleus is typical of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, M94 is also known as a starburst galaxy. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can explore in detail the reasons for the galaxy’s burst of star formation.