Horsehead and Orion Nebulas


The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky’s most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning two-panel mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud on the lower left, a small silhouette notched against the glow of hydrogen (alpha) gas, here tinted orange. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion’s belt and can be found to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right, surrounded by the blue glow of reflecting dust. Immediately to its left is a prominent reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

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M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Center


What’s happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106‘s appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and red dust lanes near the nucleus, as shown in the featured image. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 23.5 million light years away, spans 60 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici).

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NGC 3324 in Carina


This bright cosmic cloud was sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from the hot young stars of open cluster NGC 3324. With dust clouds in silhouette against its glowing atomic gas, the pocket-shaped star-forming region actually spans about 35 light-years. It lies some 7,500 light-years away toward the nebula rich southern constellation Carina. A composite of narrowband image data, the telescopic view captures the characteristic emission from ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms mapped to red, green, and blue hues in the popular Hubble Palette. For some, the celestial landscape of bright ridges of emission bordered by cool, obscuring dust along the right side create a recognizable face in profile. The region’s popular name is the Gabriela Mistral Nebula for the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet.

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A View Toward M101


Big, beautiful spiral galaxy M101 is one of the last entries in Charles Messier’s famous catalog, but definitely not one of the least. About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. M101 was also one of the original spiral nebulae observed by Lord Rosse’s large 19th century telescope, the Leviathan of Parsontown. M101 shares this modern telescopic field of view with more distant background galaxies, foreground stars within the Milky Way, and a companion dwarf galaxy NGC 5474 (lower right). The colors of the Milky Way stars can also be found in the starlight from the large island universe. Its core is dominated by light from cool yellowish stars. Along its grand design spiral arms are the blue colors of hotter, young stars mixed with obscuring dust lanes and pinkish star forming regions. Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major, about 23 million light-years away. Its companion NGC 5474 has likely been distorted by its past gravitational interactions with the dominant M101.

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Perseverance Valley Panorama


Mars exploration rover Opportunity’s parting panorama from Perseverance Valley spans 360 degrees in this false color mosaic. The scene is composed of 354 individual images recorded through 3 different color filters by the rover’s panoramic camera from May 13 through June 10, 2018. A few frames remain in black and white at the lower left though. Those were obtained through only one filter just before a dust storm engulfed Mars in June 2018, ultimately ending the solar-powered rover’s trailblazing 15 year mission. Just right of center, the annotation identifies Opportunity’s entry point to Perseverance Valley along the Endeavor crater’s western rim. The rover’s tracks begin there, extending from over the horizon toward the far right and its final resting spot on the Red Planet.

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The Central Magnetic Field of the Cigar Galaxy


Are galaxies giant magnets? Yes, but the magnetic fields in galaxies are typically much weaker than on Earth’s surface, as well as more complex and harder to measure. Recently, though, the HAWC+ instrument onboard the airborne (747) SOFIA observatory has been successful in detailing distant magnetic fields by observing infrared light polarized by reflection from dust grains. Featured here, HAWC+ observations of the M82, the Cigar galaxy, show that the central magnetic field is perpendicular to the disk and parallel to the strong supergalactic wind. This observation bolsters the hypothesis that M82’s central magnetic field helps its wind transport the mass of millions of stars out from the central star-burst region. The featured image shows magnetic field lines superposed on top of an optical light (gray) and hydrogen gas (red) image from Kitt Peak National Observatory, further combined with infrared images (yellow) from SOFIA and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Cigar Galaxy is about 12 million light years distant and visible with binoculars towards the constellation of the Great Bear.

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Moonrise Through Mauna Keas Shadow


How can the Moon rise through a mountain? It cannot — what was photographed here is a moonrise through the shadow of a large volcano. The volcano is Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, USA, a frequent spot for spectacular photographs since it is one of the premier observing locations on planet Earth. The Sun has just set in the opposite direction, behind the camera. Additionally, the Moon has just passed full phase — were it precisely at full phase it would rise, possibly eclipsed, at the very peak of the shadow. The Moon is actually rising in the triangular shadow cone of the volcano, a corridor of darkness that tapers off in the distance like converging train tracks. The Moon is too large and too far away to be affected by the shadow of the volcano. Refraction of moonlight through the Earth’s atmosphere makes the Moon appear slightly oval. Cinder cones from old volcanic eruptions are visible in the foreground.

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