Explore extreme and terrifying realms of the Universe tonight. If you dare to look, mysterious dark matter, a graveyard galaxy, zombie worlds, and gamma-ray bursts of doom are not all that awaits. Just follow the link and remember, it’s all based on real science, even the scary parts. Have a safe and happy halloween!
On Halloween fear and dread will stalk your night skies, also known as Phobos and Deimos the moons of Mars. The 2020 opposition of Mars was on October 13, so the Red Planet will still rise shortly after sunset. Near Halloween’s Full Moon on the sky, its strange yellowish glow will outshine other stars throughout the night. But the two tiny Martian moons are very faint and in close orbits, making them hard to spot, even with a small telescope. You can find them in this carefully annotated composite view though. The overexposed planet’s glare is reduced and orbital paths for inner moon Phobos and outer moon Deimos are overlayed on digitally combined images captured on October 6. The diminutive moons of Mars were discovered in August of 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall at the US Naval Observatory using the Great Equatorial 26-inch Alvan Clark refractor.
Inspired by the halloween season, this telescopic portrait captures a cosmic cloud with a scary visage. The interstellar scene lies within the dusty expanse of reflection nebula IC 2118 in the constellation Orion. IC 2118 is about 800 light-years from your neighborhood, close to bright bluish star Rigel at the foot of Orion. Often identified as the Witch Head nebula for its appearance in a wider field of view it now rises before the witching hour though. With spiky stars for eyes, the ghoulish apparition identified here seems to extend an arm toward Orion’s hot supergiant star. The source of illumination for IC 2118, Rigel is just beyond this frame at the upper left.
Why is the Lobster Nebula forming some of the most massive stars known? No one is yet sure. Cataloged as NGC 6357, the Lobster Nebula houses the open star cluster Pismis 24 near its center — a home to unusually bright and massive stars. The overall blue glow near the inner star forming region results from the emission of ionized hydrogen gas. The surrounding nebula, featured here, holds a complex tapestry of gas, dark dust, stars still forming, and newly born stars. The intricate patterns are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. NGC 6357 spans about 400 light years and lies about 8,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Scorpion.
What would an erupting volcano on Venus look like? Evidence of currently active volcanoes on Venus was announced earlier this year with the unexplained warmth of regions thought to contain only ancient volcanoes. Although large scale images of Venus have been taken with radar, thick sulfuric acid clouds would inhibit the taking of optical light vistas. Nevertheless, an artist’s reconstruction of a Venusian volcano erupting is featured. Volcanoes could play an important role in a life cycle on Venus as they could push chemical foods into the cooler upper atmosphere where hungry microbes might float. Pictured, the plume from an erupting volcano billows upwards, while a vast lava field covers part of the hot and cracked surface of Earth’s overheated twin. The possibility of airborne microbial Venusians is certainly exciting, but currently controversial.
Do any shapes seem to jump out at you from this interstellar field of stars and dust? The jeweled expanse, filled with faint, starlight-reflecting clouds, drifts through the night in the royal constellation of Cepheus. Far from your own neighborhood on planet Earth, these ghostly apparitions lurk along the plane of the Milky Way at the edge of the Cepheus Flare molecular cloud complex some 1,200 light-years away. Over two light-years across and brighter than the other spooky chimeras, VdB 141 or Sh2-136 is also known as the Ghost Nebula, seen at toward the bottom of the featured image. Within the reflection nebula are the telltale signs of dense cores collapsing in the early stages of star formation.
Is our universe haunted? It might look that way on this dark matter map. The gravity of unseen dark matter is the leading explanation for why galaxies rotate so fast, why galaxies orbit clusters so fast, why gravitational lenses so strongly deflect light, and why visible matter is distributed as it is both in the local universe and on the cosmic microwave background. The featured image from the American Museum of Natural History‘s Hayden Planetarium previous Space Show Dark Universe highlights one example of how pervasive dark matter might haunt our universe. In this frame from a detailed computer simulation, complex filaments of dark matter, shown in black, are strewn about the universe like spider webs, while the relatively rare clumps of familiar baryonic matter are colored orange. These simulations are good statistical matches to astronomical observations. In what is perhaps a scarier turn of events, dark matter — although quite strange and in an unknown form — is no longer thought to be the strangest source of gravity in the universe. That honor now falls to dark energy, a more uniform source of repulsive gravity that seems to now dominate the expansion of the entire universe.
Globular star cluster 47 Tucanae is a jewel of the southern sky. Also known as NGC 104, it roams the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy along with some 200 other globular star clusters. The second brightest globular cluster (after Omega Centauri) as seen from planet Earth, it lies about 13,000 light-years away and can be spotted naked-eye close on the sky to the Small Magellanic Cloud in the constellation of the Toucan. The dense cluster is made up of hundreds of thousands of stars in a volume only about 120 light-years across. Red giant stars on the outskirts of the cluster are easy to pick out as yellowish stars in this sharp telescopic portrait. Tightly packed globular cluster 47 Tuc is also home to a star with the closest known orbit around a black hole.
Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 2525 lies 70 million light-years from the Milky Way. It shines in Earth’s night sky within the boundaries of the southern constellation Puppis. About 60,000 light-years across, its spiral arms lined with dark dust clouds, massive blue stars, and pinkish starforming regions wind through this gorgeous Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. Spotted on the outskirts of NGC 2525 in January 2018, supernova SN 2018gv is the brightest star in the frame at the lower left. In time-lapse, a year long series of Hubble observations followed the stellar explosion, the nuclear detonation of a white dwarf star triggered by accreting material from a companion star, as it slowly faded from view. Identified as a Type Ia supernova, its brightness is considered a cosmic standard candle. Type Ia supernovae are used to measure distances to galaxies and determine the expansion rate of the Universe.
On October 20, after a careful approach to the boulder-strewn surface, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s arm reached out and touched asteroid Bennu. Dubbed a Touch-And-Go (TAG) sampling event, the 30 centimeter wide sampling head (TAGSAM) appears to crush some of the rocks in this snapshot. The close-up scene was recorded by the spacecraft’s SamCam some 321 million kilometers from planet Earth, just after surface contact. One second later, the spacecraft fired nitrogen gas from a bottle intended to blow a substantial amount of Bennu’s regolith into the sampling head, collecting the loose surface material. Data show the spacecraft spent approximately 5 more seconds in contact with Bennu’s Nightingale sample site and then performed its back-away burn. Timelapse frames from SamCam reveal the aftermath.