Massive stars, abrasive winds, mountains of dust, and energetic light sculpt one of the largest and most picturesque regions of star formation in the Local Group of Galaxies. Known as N11, the region is visible on the upper right of many images of its home galaxy, the Milky Way neighbor known as the Large Magellanic Clouds (LMC). The featured image was taken for scientific purposes by the Hubble Space Telescope and reprocessed for artistry by an amateur to win a Hubble’s Hidden Treasures competition. Although the section imaged above is known as NGC 1763, the entire N11 emission nebula is second in LMC size only to the Tarantula Nebula. Compact globules of dark dust housing emerging young stars are also visible around the image. A new study of variable stars in the LMC with Hubble has helped to recalibrate the distance scale of the observable universe, but resulted in a slightly different scale than found using the pervasive cosmic microwave background.
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 the enormous energy driving the relativistic jets from the center of active galaxy M87.
Tracking along the southern Milky Way this beautiful celestial mosaic was recorded under dark Brazilian skies. Spanning some 20 degrees it actually starts with the dark expanse of the Coalsack nebula at the lower left, tucked under an arm of the Southern Cross. That compact constellation is topped by bright yellowish Gamma Crucis, a cool giant star a mere 88 light-years distant. A line from Gamma Crucis through the blue star at the bottom of the cross, Alpha Crucis, points toward the South Celestial Pole. Follow the Milky Way to the right and your gaze will sweep across IC 2948, popularly known as the Running Chicken nebula, before it reaches Eta Carinae and the Carina Nebula near the right edge of the frame. About 200 light-years across, the Carina Nebula is a star forming region much larger than the more northerly stellar nursery the Orion Nebula. The Carina Nebula lies around 7,500 light-years from Earth along the plane of the Milky Way.
Ridges of glowing interstellar gas and dark dust clouds inhabit the turbulent, cosmic depths of the Lagoon Nebula. Also known as M8, the bright star forming region is about 5,000 light-years distant. But it still makes for a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius, toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Dominated by the telltale red emission of ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with stripped electrons, this stunning view of the Lagoon is over 100 light-years across. At its center, the bright, compact, hourglass shape is gas ionized and sculpted by energetic radiation and extreme stellar winds from a massive young star. In fact, the many bright stars of open cluster NGC 6530 drift within the nebula, just formed in the Lagoon several million years ago. Broadband image data from Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System) was combined with narrowband data from amateur telescopes to create this wide and deep portrait of the Lagoon Nebula.
The symmetric, multi-legged appearance of the Southern Crab Nebula is certainly distinctive. About 7,000 light-years distant toward the southern sky constellation Centaurus, its glowing nested hourglass shapes are produced by the remarkable symbiotic binary star system at its center. The nebula’s dramatic stellar duo consists of a hot white dwarf star and cool, pulsating red giant star shedding outer layers that fall onto the smaller, much hotter companion. Embedded in a disk of material, outbursts from the white dwarf cause an outflow of gas driven away both above and below the disk resulting in the bipolar hourglass shapes. The bright central shape is about half a light-year across. This new Hubble Space Telescope image celebrates the 29th anniversary of Hubble’s launch on April 24, 1990 on board the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The methane mystery on Mars just got stranger. New results from ESA and Roscosmos‘ ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, has unexpectedly not detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars. This result follows the 2013 detection of methane by NASA‘s Curiosity rover, a result seemingly confirmed by ESA’s orbiting Mars Express the next day. The issue is so interesting because life is a major producer of methane on Earth, leading to intriguing speculation that some sort of life — possibly microbial life — is creating methane beneath the surface of Mars. Non-biological sources of methane are also possible. Pictured is a visualization of the first claimed methane plume over Mars as detected from Earth in 2003. The new non-detection of methane by the ExoMars Orbiter could mean that Mars has some unexpected way of destroying methane, or that only some parts of Mars release methane — and possibly only at certain times. As the mystery has now deepened, humanity’s scrutiny of our neighboring planet‘s atmosphere will deepen as well.
Twenty seven Merlin rocket engines are firing in this close-up of the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket. Derived from three Falcon 9 first stage rockets with nine Merlin rocket engines each, the Falcon Heavy left NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launch pad 39A on April 11. This second launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket carried the Arabsat 6A communications satellite to space. In February of 2018, the first Falcon Heavy launch carried Starman and a Tesla Roadster. Designed to be reusable, both booster stages and the central core returned safely to planet Earth, the boosters to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station landing zones. The core stage landed off shore on autonomous spaceport drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.
A postcard from planet Earth, this springtime night skyscape looks over Alandan lake in the Alborz mountains. Taken after local midnight on April 17, the central Milky Way is rising over the region’s southeast horizon. Its luminous track of stars and nebulae along the plane of our galaxy are reflected in the mirror-like lake. The brightest celestial beacon mingled with the diffuse galactic starlight is Jupiter. Slightly dimmer, Saturn is below and left just above the mountains. As spring brought leaves to the trees and the galactic center to the northern night the photographer found it also gave frogs their voices, heard like a melody across the calm water.
This group is popular in the northern spring. Famous as the Leo Triplet, the three magnificent galaxies gather in one field of view. Crowd pleasers when imaged with even modest telescopes, they can be introduced individually as NGC 3628 (left), M66 (bottom right), and M65 (top). All three are large spiral galaxies but they tend to look dissimilar because their galactic disks are tilted at different angles to our line of sight. NGC 3628, also known as the Hamburger Galaxy, is temptingly seen edge-on, with obscuring dust lanes cutting across its puffy galactic plane. The disks of M66 and M65 are both inclined enough to show off their spiral structure. Gravitational interactions between galaxies in the group have left telltale signs, including the tidal tails and warped, inflated disk of NGC 3628 and the drawn out spiral arms of M66. This gorgeous view of the region spans almost two degrees (four full moons) on the sky. The field covers about a million light-years at the trio’s estimated distance of 30 million light-years. Of course the spiky foreground stars lie within our own Milky Way.
Strange shapes and textures can be found in neighborhood of the Cone Nebula. The unusual shapes originate from fine interstellar dust reacting in complex ways with the energetic light and hot gas being expelled by the young stars. The brightest star on the right of the featured picture is S Mon, while the region just below it has been nicknamed the Fox Fur Nebula for its color and structure. The blue glow directly surrounding S Mon results from reflection, where neighboring dust reflects light from the bright star. The red glow that encompasses the whole region results not only from dust reflection but also emission from hydrogen gas ionized by starlight. S Mon is part of a young open cluster of stars named NGC 2264, located about 2500 light years away toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). Even though it points right at S Mon, details of the origin of the mysterious geometric Cone Nebula, visible on the far left, remain a mystery.