RSSAll Entries in the "Gallery" Category

SpaceInfo gallery for 10 February 2014

1. Saturn’s turbulent clouds

This colour-enhanced view of Saturn’s clouds, made with data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, shows the progress of a huge, long-lived storm that began way back in December 2010. White areas signify the highest cloud tops. The storm ended up becoming so large that it covered an area the size of Europe. Saturn itself is 9.5 times wider than the Earth. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Hampton University.

Storms in Saturn's atmosphere

Storm clouds in Saturn’s atmosphere.

 

2. Starburst galaxy

This is galaxy M82, inside which a supernova was recently spotted. Located about 12 million light-years from Earth, and seen nearly side on, M82 is classed as a ‘starburst’ galaxy since it is undergoing a wave of stellar formation. The main image at lower left is a visible-light image made with the Hubble Space Telescope. The inset shows part of the galaxy viewed at radio wavelengths with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope system – it reveals bright dots that are in some cases star-forming regions, and in other cases the remains of exploded stars. The VLA studies are helping astronomers sort out which is which. Courtesy Josh Marvil (NM Tech/NRAO), Bill Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), NASA.

Views of galaxy M82

Radio wavelength (inset) observations of galaxy M82 reveal regions of both star birth and star death.

 

3. A new camera for space

A technician examines the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) that will form part of the suite of instruments aboard the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due for launch later this decade. The JWST will be much larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, which it is designed to replace. NIRCam’s ability to detect infrared light will enable it to peer back in time toward the Big Bang, since cosmological redshift has moved visible light wavelengths into the infrared part of the spectrum. Courtesy NASA GSFC.

A technician looks at NIRCam

A technician looks at NIRCam, one of the instruments that will be used by the James Webb Space Telescope.

 

4. Solar flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare on 3 February 2014 – the flare is the bright section near the middle of the Sun’s disc. When flares are seen on the edge of the Sun, they stand out as huge tongues of ultra-hot gas reaching into space. In the case of this flare, it was aimed straight upwards towards the camera. Courtesy NASA.

Full view of the Sun with a solar flare

The white region in the middle of this image of the Sun, is a solar flare.

 

5. Deluge after the impact

Flood channels lead away from a 20-kilometre-wide crater on the surface of Mars. When the small asteroid or comet that formed the crater hit, it would have melted the rock, dust and below-ground ice, leading to a runaway flood that flowed downhill across the surface. In this false-colour image produced from data collected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, green and yellow colouring represent shallow areas; blue and purple show deeper areas down to about four kilometres depth. Courtesy ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

Flood channels on Mars

Ancient flood channels snake away from a crater on Mars.

 

6. A galactic giant

Twelve million light-years from Earth lies the giant galaxy NGC 5128. In its core lies a huge black hole, responsible for accelerating material near it into an intense jet of gas shooting through the galaxy. The jet and its after-effects can be seen at X-ray wavelengths. This image, from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite, shows X-ray emission at several wavelengths, colour-coded in blue, red and green. Courtesy NASA / CXC / U.Birmingham / M.Burke et al.

X-ray view of NGC 5128

The galaxy NGC 5128 viewed at infrared wavelengths. Revealed is a huge jet of material being shot from the vicinity of a black hole in the galaxy’s core.

 

7. Fire drill

Fire inside a spacecraft is the one thing astronauts dread the most, even more than a slow loss of atmosphere. That’s why regular fire drills are so important. Here, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst (in the white shirt) and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman (blue) are practicing a fire drill in NASA’s Space Station mock-up in Houston, USA. Courtesy NASA.

Astronauts conduct a fire drill

Astronauts conduct a fire drill inside an International Space Station mock-up.

 

8. Herbig-Haro object

Hidden deep inside this hourglass-shaped cloud is a newly formed star that is spitting out streams of gas from its poles – standard behaviour for such stellar youngsters. The gas collides with other gas in star’s vicinity, forming a glowing cloud. Such a cloud, or nebula, is called a Herbig-Haro object (named for two astronomers who studied them). This one, known as HH 909A, is located in the Chamaeleon I molecular cloud 500 light-years from Earth. Courtesy ESA / NASA.

Herbig-Haro object HH 909A

This hourglass-shaped cloud is called a Herbig-Haro object. Hidden inside is a newly formed star.

 

9. Heavy lift-off

Flight VA217 launched from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana on 6 February to place two communications satellites (ABS-2 and Athena–Fidus) into orbit. The rocket was an Ariane 5 ECA ‘heavy-class’ rocket belonging to the Arianespace company. This was the 216th launch of an Ariane family rocket. Courtesy ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Optique video du CSG – S. Martin.

Launch of Ariane flight VA217

An Ariane 5 ECA rocket lifts off from Europe’s launch site in French Guiana.

Story by Jonathan Nally.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Weekly space gallery for January 28, 2014

WELCOME TO OUR WEEKLY COLLECTION of the best astronomy and space exploration images taken by observatories around the world and in space. Each week we’ll bring you a selection of our favourite recent images – if you like them (and we hope you do), please share them with your friends. And don’t forget you can elect to have this and other stories emailed direct to your inbox, just by signing up to our free email service – see the Subscribe box in the column at right.

So, let’s get started on this week’s images.

1. Disruptive black hole

A black hole lives at the heart of the white galaxy in the middle of this image. Extensive clouds of hot gas, detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite and coloured purple, should be the raw material from which countless new stars would be born. But jets of energy emanating from the vicinity of the black hole have disrupted the gas, forming two cavities on either side of the centre and sending out shock waves that prevent the gas from clumping and forming stars. The galaxy in question is called RX J1532+3201, and it is 3.9 billion light years from Earth. Image credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / Stanford / J.Hlavacek-Larrondo et al, Optical: NASA / ESA / STScI / M.Postman & CLASH team.

Gas surrounding galaxy RX J1532+3201

Hot gas surrounds galaxy RX J1532+3201.

 

2. Titan, top and bottom

This black and white image of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, was taken through a special infrared filter to bring out detail in its atmosphere. Visible at the far north (top) is a haze that stands up above the bulk of atmosphere, while near the south pole is the South Polar Vortex – thought to be an uplifted mass of air caused by a change in the seasons. This image was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft from a distance of 2.5 million kilometres. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.

Titan

Haze is visible in Titan’s north, while a polar vortex is in the south.

 

3. Brown dwarf revealed

Astronomers have used special techniques to block out the light of a star (leaving a speckled appearance) to reveal a dim brown dwarf that is in orbit around it. Brown dwarfs are bodies at are two big to be planets, but two small to be proper stars. They give off a relatively small amount of heat. The astronomers are particularly interested in studying the brown dwarf’s atmosphere, by analysing the light that reflects from it. “This object is old and cold and will ultimately garner much attention as one of the most well-studied and scrutinised brown dwarfs detected to date,” says Justin R. Crepp of the University of Notre Dame. “With continued follow-up observations, we can use it as a laboratory to test theoretical atmospheric models. Eventually we want to directly image and acquire the spectrum of Earth-like planets. Then, from the spectrum, we should be able to tell what the planet is made out of, what its mass is, radius, age, etc., basically all relevant physical properties.” Courtesy Crepp et al. 2014, ApJ.

Brown dwarf image

By blocking most of the light of its parent star, a faint brown dwarf is revealed.

 

4. A gallery of galaxies

The Hubble Space Telescope was used to make this long-exposure image of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, which comprises the bright galaxies in the foreground. Fainter background galaxies appear to have become distorted as their light is bent by Abell 2744’s gravity. Astronomers have counted up to 3,000 of these background galaxies in the full-size version of this image alone. Courtesy NASA / ESA.

Galaxy cluster Abell 2744

A long Hubble exposure of galaxy cluster Abell 2744 also reveals other galaxies in the far background.

 

5. We have lift-off

NASA’s newest Tracking and Data Relay System Satellite (TDRSS) was launched on January 23 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. There are several TDRSS satellites circling Earth, through which NASA can communicate with spacecraft in Earth orbit. They are not directly involved in communicating with deep space missions. Courtesy NASA / Tony Grey.

Time exposure of TDRSS launch

Lift off of NASA’s latest TDRSS satellite.

 

6. A supernova surprise

A supernova was spotted in galaxy M82 on January 21, causing great excitement amongst astronomers. M82 is only 12 million light years from Earth, making the supernova (called SN 2014J) one of the closest in many years. Many observatories broke into their normal scheduled operations to make observations of the supernova, including NASA’s Swift orbiting observatory. This picture, sensitive to ultraviolet light, shows the supernova standing out brightly against the amorphous background of the rest of M82. Courtesy NASA / Swift / P. Brown, TAMU.

Swift image of galaxy M82 and its supernova

A Swift image of galaxy M82 and its supernova.

Story by Jonathan Nally.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Weekly space gallery for January 18, 2014

WELCOME TO THE FIRST of our weekly collections of the best astronomy and space exploration images taken by observatories around the world and in space. Each week we’ll bring you a selection of our favourite recent images – if you like them (and we hope you do), please share them with your friends. And don’t forget you can elect to have this and other stories emailed direct to your inbox, just by signing up to our free email service – see the Subscribe box in the column at right.

So, let’s get started on this week’s images.

1. The Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula

An infrared view of the Orion Nebula.

One of the most famous sights in the sky, the Orion Nebula is a huge cloud of gas and dust about 1,500 light-years from Earth. Astronomers call it a ‘stellar nursery’ because many stars have been born, or are in the process of being born, out of all that gas and dust. See all the tiny red dots? Those are newly born stars. This false-colour image was taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which views the universe at infrared wavelengths. Courtesy NASA.

2. The Coma Cluster

Coma Cluster

The Coma Cluster of galaxies.

Galaxies tend to clump together in groups, or clusters. Some clusters comprise only a handful of galaxies, others have more than a thousand. The Coma Cluster – so-called because it is seen in the direction of the constellation Coma Berenices, which means ‘Berenice’s Hair’ (named after an ancient Egyptian queen) – is located about 350 million light years from Earth. Most of its 1,000-plus galaxies are elliptical (one of the two main galaxy shapes, the other being spiral). Pretty much all of the dots and blobs of light you can see in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies; the three main ones are called IC 4041 (left), IC 4042 (middle) and GP 236 (right). The Coma Cluster is itself part of a larger grouping that also contains the Leo Cluster, and is called the Coma Supercluster. Courtesy ESA / Hubble & NASA; D. Carter (LJMU).

3. The Topsy Turvy galaxy

Topsy Turvy galaxy

The Topsy Turvy galaxy, with X-ray emission from regions surrounding two black holes shown in purple.

The Topsy Turvy galaxy (also known by its catalogue number, NGC 1313) is located about 13 million light years from Earth. Hidden within it are two black holes, whose presence is given away – where the purple patches are (false colour) – by energetic X-rays coming from gas being siphoned from companion stars. The X-ray data comes from NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope, while the background image is from the Digitised Sky Survey (made from pictures taken by ground-based telescopes). Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / IRAP.

4. Planets in the dust

Dust ring around the star HD 142527

Dust around the star HD 142527 could be giving birth to planets.

Japanese astronomers have been studying a star called HD 142527, about 450 light years Earth. HD 142527 is a young star, surrounded by a huge, slightly lop-sided ring of gas and dust. The astronomers say that a dense spot in the ring is where planets could be forming. (Due to the wavelength used, the star is not visible in this image.) Courtesy ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NAOJ.

5. The Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula is a huge cloud of gas and dust in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring galaxy to our Milky Way. This Hubble Space Telescope infrared view shows cloudy whisps and many thousands of sparkling stars. Just to the left of centre is a tight group of stars known as R136. In early photographs, R136 seemed to be a single, giant star, and no one could work out how a star could grow to be so big. But eventually better imaging revealed it to be a cluster of stars – so many and so bright, that the light the emit is the main reason why the Tarantula’s gas and dust is all lit up. Courtesy NASA, ESA, E. Sabbi (STScI).

6. Looking down on Venus

South pole view of Venus.

The view looking down on Venus’ southern polar regions.

This black and white image of Venus was taken by the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since April 2006. The viewpoint is looking down on the south pole from an altitude of 50,000 kilometres. Venus is perpetually covered by thick clouds, but Venus Express’ instruments can pick out bands within those clouds, which are being blown by the prevailing winds from east to west (the opposite to winds here on Earth). The small black blobs are not real; they are artefacts of the imaging equipment. Courtesy ESA / MPS / DLR / IDA.

7. Rima Marius

Rima Marius

Rima Marius stretches 280 kilometres across the Moon.

Rima Marius is a lunar ‘rille’ or channel. Such channels are thought to form when a tunnel through which lava once flowed, collapses in on itself. Rima Marius is 280 kilometres long, winding its way across a flat plain known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms. This image was taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Courtesy NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University.

8. Tracks on Mars

Orbital shot showing tracks left by the Curiosity rover

An orbital shot showing tracks left by the Curiosity rover on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this image of the martian surface on December 11, 2013. It clearly shows the tracks left by the Curiosity rover as it slowly makes it way across the floor of Gale Crater (the rover itself is out of frame). The rover has six wheels, three on each side; the distance between left and right wheels is about 3 metres. See if you can follow the tracks all the way from top right to bottom left. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona.

9. Shadows on Saturn

Saturn

The shadows of Saturn’s rings cast upon the planet’s cloud tops.

Shadows cast by Saturn’s rings make the planet look like it has been painted with Indian ink while spinning on a potter’s wheel. The rings themselves are out of view in this image, taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.

10. Docking at the Station

Cgynus craft docked at the International Space Station

Cgynus cargo craft docked at the International Space Station

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus commercial cargo spacecraft is seen docked to the Harmony module of the International Space Station. Attached is the Station’s robot arm, called Canadarm2 (being the second generation of robot arm supplied by Canada). The Cygnus craft was launched aboard an Antares rocket on January 9. Courtesy NASA.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

GALLERY: Black holes galore

AN ASSORTMENT OF BLACK HOLES lights up a new image from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. Although the coloured blobs might not look like much, every one of them is a black hole located inside the hearts of a galaxy.

The different colours represent different energies of X-ray light. The red, yellow and green colours represent black holes seen previously by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (with red denoting the lowest-energy X-ray light). The colour blue shows black holes recently detected by NuSTAR, which is uniquely designed to detect the highest-energy X-ray light.

Image showing X-ray emission from black holes

Every one of the blobs you can see here, represents the location of a black hole. Although black holes cannot be directly seen, the X-ray light given off by hot gas in the vicinity can – and that’s what we see here; X-ray emission detected by the Chandra and NuSTAR space observatories.

The black holes in this picture are between about 3 to 10 billion light-years away.

The X-rays aren’t coming from the black holes themselves, since nothing can escape the gravitational grip of a black hole. Rather, they are coming from hot gas in the vicinity of the black holes.

Why do some black holes produce more high-energy X-ray light than others? Astronomers say this is because the black holes are more actively feeding off surrounding clouds of dust and gas – a process which heats up the gas and makes it emit X-rays.

The image shows an area, called the COSMOS field, that has been studied in great detail by many telescopes (COSMOS stands for Cosmic Evolution Survey). Red and green represent X-ray light seen by Chandra. Blue is for the kind of X-ray light that can only be seen by NuSTAR.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Yale University.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

GALLERY: Solar blast

A CORONAL MASS EJECTION, or CME, has been spotted erupting away from the Sun, in images taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft.

According to the SOHO web site, a CME is a “huge magnetic bubble of plasma that erupts from the Sun’s corona and travels through space at high speed.” Plasma is gas that has been ” heated to sufficiently high temperatures that the atoms ionise”.

When a CME occurs, the plasma shoots out into space and travels through the Solar System. If the timing is right (or wrong, depending on your point of view), a CME can head directly toward Earth.

The first image is a wide field, showing the CME in action on January 14, 2014. The Sun has been blocked out in order to show detail in its outer atmosphere. (The white circle shows the size of the Sun – 1.4 million kilometres, or 870,00 thousand miles, in diameter.) The bright point of light in the top right is the planet Venus. (The white flare on either side of Venus is not real; it is an artifact of the imaging process.)

The second image shows a slightly narrower field, again with the Sun blocked out.

SOHO coronograph image of a CME

A SOHO image of a coronal mass ejection spotted on January 14, 2014. The bright spot in the upper right corner is the planet Venus.

SOHO coronograph image of a CME

Another SOHO view of the January 14, 2014 coronal mass ejection.

SOHO orbits the Sun at a special location between the Sun and the Earth called the L1 Lagrange point. At this location, the gravity of the Sun and Earth balances out, enabling the spacecraft to circle the Sun while always staying on a line between Earth and Sun. It is owned and operated jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.

Adapted from information issued by NASA and ESA.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

The Crab Nebula

WHEN A MASSIVE STAR EXPLODES at the end of its life, the shattered remains become known as a supernova remnant. The one shown here is called the Crab Nebula.

This is a composite view produced with data from two telescopes: the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions, and Hubble is a NASA mission with important ESA contributions.

A wispy and filamentary cloud of gas and dust, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054.

The Crab Nebula

A new view of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, using data gathered by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The image combines Hubble’s view of the nebula at visible wavelengths, obtained using three different filters sensitive to the emission from oxygen and sulphur ions (both shown here in blue). Herschel’s far-infrared image (shown here in red) reveals the emission from dust in the nebula.

While studying the dust content of the Crab Nebula with Herschel, a team of astronomers have detected emission lines from argon hydride, a molecular ion containing the noble gas argon. This is the first detection of a noble-gas based compound in space.

At the heart of the nebula is the Crab Pulsar, a rapidly spinning neutron star that emits a beam of radio waves. As the pulsar spins, the beam sweeps across the field of view as seen from Earth (a pure fluke, as it could have been pointed in any other direction).

Download wallpaper versions of this image:

1920 x 1080

1600 x 1200

1366 x 768

1024 x 768

800 x 600

Words and image adapted from information issued by ESA / Herschel / PACS / MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant  Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll / Jeff Hester (Arizona State University).

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Gallery: Supernova remnant B0049-73.6

THE PRECISE DETAILS of how massive stars explode at the end of their lives – a process known as a supernova – remains one of the biggest questions in astrophysics.

Located in the neighbouring galaxy of the Small Magellanic Cloud, this false-colour image shows the aftermath of such a supernova – an enormous, expanding debris cloud called a supernova remnant.

SNR B0049-73.6

Chandra X-ray Observatory image of supernova remnant SNR B0049-73.6, the aftermath of a stellar explosion. Image credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / Drew Univ. / S.Hendrick et al, Infrared: 2MASS / Umass / IPAC-Caltech / NASA / NSF

Known only by its catalogue number, SNR B0049-73.6, it provides astronomers with an excellent example with which to study the after effects of a supernova. Chandra observations of the motions and composition of the debris from the explosion support the view that the explosion was produced by the collapse of the core of a star.

In this image, X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite (purple) are combined with infrared data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, and blue).

More information and downloadable wallpapers images: nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/small-magellanic-cloud-supernova-remnant.html

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Gallery: The ‘Fireworks Galaxy’

NGC 6946 IS A MEDIUM-SIZED, face-on spiral galaxy located about 22 million light years away from Earth. In the past century, eight supernovae have been observed to explode in the arms of this galaxy. Chandra space telescope observations (coloured purple in this iamge) have, in fact, revealed three of the oldest supernovae ever detected at X-ray wavelengths, giving more credence to its nickname of the ‘Fireworks Galaxy.’ This composite image also includes optical data from the ground-based Gemini Observatory.

NGC 6949

NGC 6949, also known as the ‘Fireworks Galaxy’. Image credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / MSSL / R.Soria et al, Optical: AURA / Gemini Obs

More information and downloadable wallpaper images: nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/fireworks-galaxy-ngc6946.html

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

New view of the Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula in infrared light

The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

ASTRONOMERS HAVE USED NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory have produced stunning new photographs of the iconic Horsehead Nebula at infrared wavelengths.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. It is about 1,300 light-years from Earth.

The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.

Horsehead Nebula in infrared light

A new view from ESA’s Herschel space observatory of the iconic Horsehead Nebula (right) and two other prominent sites where massive stars are forming, NGC 2068 and NGC 2071 (left). Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme.

It appears to be riding towards another favorite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.

Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes.

The panoramic view also covers two prominent sites of massive star formation to the northeast (left-hand side of this image), known as NGC 2068 (or M78) and NGC 2071. These take on the appearance of beautifully patterned butterfly wings, with long tails of colder gas and dust streaming away.

A wide-angle view of the Horsehead Nebula

A wide-angle view of the Horsehead Nebula, seen at normal visible wavelengths. Image Credit: NASA

Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming lightweight stars.

The new Hubble view, taken at near-infrared wavelengths with its Wide Field Camera 3 to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the launch of the observatory, zooms in on the Horsehead to reveal fine details of its structure.

Nearby stars illuminate the backlit wisps along the upper ridge of the nebula in an ethereal glow. The harsh ultraviolet glare from these bright stars is slowly evaporating the dusty stellar nursery. Two fledgling stars have already been exposed from their protective cocoons, and can just be seen peeking out from the upper ridge.

The nebula is a favourite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light, but appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths.

Detailed, visible wavelength image of the Horsehead

This detailed, visible wavelength image of the Horsehead was released by the European Southern Observatory in 2002. Image credit: ESO

Adapted from information issued by NASA and ESA.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

GALLERY: Light and dark in the Milky Way

Star cluster NGC 6520 and nebula Barnard 86

The bright star cluster NGC 6520 and its neighbour, the dark cloud Barnard 86. In the background are millions of glowing stars from the brightest part of the Milky Way.

SET AGAINST A BACKGROUND of millions of glowing stars from the brightest part of the Milky Way, a region so dense with stars that barely any dark sky can be seen, lies the bright star cluster NGC 6520 and its neighbour, the dark nebula Barnard 86.

This part of the constellation Sagittarius is one of the richest star fields in the whole sky – the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud. The huge number of stars dramatically emphasise the blackness of dark clouds like Barnard 86.

Known as a Bok globule, Barnard 86 was described as “a drop of ink on the luminous sky” by its discoverer Edward Emerson Barnard, an American astronomer who discovered and photographed numerous comets, dark nebulae, one of Jupiter’s moons, and made many other contributions. An exceptional visual observer and keen astrophotographer, Barnard was the first to use long-exposure photography to explore dark nebulae.

Through a small telescope Barnard 86 looks like a hole in the star fields, or a window onto a patch of distant, clearer sky. However, it is actually in the foreground of the star field – a cold, dark, dense cloud made up of small dust grains that block starlight and make the region appear black. It is thought to have formed from the remnants of an interstellar cloud that formed the star cluster NGC 6520, seen just to the left of Barnard 86.

NGC 6520 is an open star cluster that contains many hot stars that glow bright blue-white, a telltale sign of their youth. Open clusters usually contain a few thousand stars that all formed at the same time, giving them all the same age. Such clusters usually only live comparatively short lives, on the order of several hundred million years, before drifting apart.

Both NGC 6520 and Barnard 86 are thought to lie at a distance of around 6,000 light-years from our Sun. The stars that appear to be within Barnard 86 are actually in front of it, between us and the nebula.

The image was taken with the Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory.

Star cluster NGC 6520 and nebula Barnard 86

This wide-field view shows the very rich star fields of the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud and the cluster NGC 6520 and the neighbouring dark cloud Barnard 86. It was created from images from the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

Adapted from information issued by ESO. Images courtesy ESO / Digitised Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…