February 15, 2018

Spiral Galaxy NGC 3344

Spiral Galaxy NGC 3344

Captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the galaxy NGC 3344 presents itself face-on, allowing astronomers a detailed look at its intricate and elegant structure. And Hubble’s ability to observe objects over a wide range of different wavelengths reveals features that would otherwise remain invisible.

Spiral galaxies are some of the most spectacular sights in the sky, but to an observer they do not all look the same. Some are seen edge-on, giving astronomers an excellent idea of the galaxy’s vertical structure; others are seen at an angle, providing a hint of the size and structure of the spiral arms; while others are seen face-on, showcasing their arms and bright core in all their beauty.

Approximately 20 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo Minor (the Lion Cub), NGC 3344 is seen from a breathtaking face-on perspective. Half the size of the Milky Way, it is classified as a weakly barred spiral galaxy. The central bar is just visible in this image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3: an elongated lane of stars, trailing through the nucleus of the galaxy. Astronomers estimate that two-thirds of all spiral galaxies are barred, including our own Milky Way.

Hubble’s capacity to observe celestial objects in different wavelengths allows us to see more than just the spiral arms sweeping out loosely around the centre in a gorgeous whorl. This image is a composite of images taken through different filters, ranging from the near ultraviolet, to the optical and the near-infrared. Together they show a more complete picture of the galaxy than the human eye alone could possibly see.

The swirling spiral arms are the birthplace of new stars, whose high temperatures make them shine blue, resulting in them being easily identifiable in this image. Clouds of dust and gas distributed through the spiral arms — glowing red in this image — are reservoirs of material for even more stars. The bright jewel-like stars on the left of the picture, however, are much closer to Earth — they belong to our own galaxy and just happened to photobomb this Hubble image.

While its face-on orientation reveals much about NGC 3344’s detailed structure, this galaxy is still enigmatic; astronomers have noticed that some of its outer stars are moving in a strange way. Often, the high concentration of stars in the centre of a galaxy can affect the movements of the outer stars, but this does not seem to be the case in NGC 3344. Astronomers suspect that these weirdly behaving outer stars may actually have been stolen from another galaxy, after a close encounter that took place long ago.

The location of NGC 3344 is also intriguing. Our galaxy is part of the Local Group, which is made up of approximately 40 other galaxies, with the Andromeda Galaxy being the largest member. But NGC 3344 is not part of a local galactic neighbourhood like we are. It is actually part of a small spur that leads off the larger Virgo Supercluster — a gargantuan collection of several thousand galaxies.

But it stands out from these thousands of galaxies because of its beauty, which highlights to us the elegance of the Universe.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1803/

February 14, 2018

Earth and Moon seen by OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from 63 million kilometers away

Earth and Moon seen by OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from 63 million kilometers awayEarth and Moon seen by OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from 63 million kilometers away

As part of an engineering test, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the Earth and Moon using its NavCam1 imager on January 17 from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million km). When the camera acquired the image, the spacecraft was moving away from home at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 kilometers per second).

Earth is the largest, brightest spot in the center of the image, with the smaller, dimmer Moon appearing to the right. Several constellations are also visible in the surrounding space. The bright cluster of stars in the upper left corner is the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation. Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, is located in the upper right corner of the image. The Earth-Moon system is centered in the middle of five stars comprising the head of Cetus the Whale.

NavCam1, a grayscale imager, is part of the TAGCAMS (Touch-And-Go Camera System) navigation camera suite. Malin Space Science Systems designed, built, and tested TAGCAMS; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin
Explanation from: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2018/osiris-rex-captures-new-earth-moon-image

February 13, 2018

The Nile at Night seen from the International Space Station

The Nile at Night seen from the International Space Station

September 22, 2015

Image Credit: NASA

February 12, 2018

R Sculptoris

R Sculptoris

This ghostly image features a distant and pulsating red giant star known as R Sculptoris. Situated 1200 light-years away in the constellation of Sculptor, R Sculptoris is something known as a carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch (AGB) star, meaning that it is nearing the end of its life. At this stage, low- and intermediate-mass stars cool off, create extended atmospheres, and lose a lot of their mass — they are on their way to becoming spectacular planetary nebulae.

While the basics of this mass-loss process are understood, astronomers are still investigating how it begins near the surface of the star. The amount of mass lost by a star actually has huge implications for its stellar evolution, altering its future, and leading to different types of planetary nebulae. As AGB stars end their lives as planetary nebulae, they produce a vast range of elements — including 50% of elements heavier than iron — which are then released into the Universe and used to make new stars, planets, moons, and eventually the building blocks of life.

One particularly intriguing feature of R Sculptoris is its dominant bright spot, which looks to be two or three times brighter than the other regions. The astronomers that captured this wonderful image, using ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), have concluded that R Sculptoris is surrounded by giant “clumps” of stellar dust that are peeling away from the shedding star. This bright spot is, in fact, a region around the star with little to no dust, allowing us to look deeper into the stellar surface.

This image captures an extremely small section of the sky: approximately 20x20 milliarcseconds. For comparison, Jupiter has an angular size of approximately 40 arcseconds.

Image Credit: ESO
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1807a/

February 11, 2018

Spiral Galaxy NGC 1559

Spiral Galaxy NGC 1559

Roughly 50 million light-years away lies a somewhat overlooked little galaxy named NGC 1559. Pictured here by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, this barred spiral lies in the little-observed southern constellation of Reticulum (The Reticule).

NGC 1559 has massive spiral arms chock-full of star formation, and is receding from us at a speed of about 1300 km/s. The galaxy contains the mass of around ten billion Suns — while this may sound like a lot, that is almost 100 times less massive than the Milky Way. Although NGC 1559 appears to sit near one of our nearest neighbours in the sky — the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), this is just a trick of perspective. In reality, NGC 1559 is physically nowhere near the LMC in space — in fact, it truly is a loner, lacking the company of any nearby galaxies or membership of any galaxy cluster.

Despite its lack of cosmic companions, when this lonely galaxy has a telescope pointed in its direction, it puts on quite a show! NGC 1559 has hosted a variety of spectacular exploding stars called supernovae, four of which we have observed — in 1984, 1986, 2005, and 2009 (SN 1984J, 1986L, 2005df [a Type Ia], and 2009ib [a Type II-P, with an unusually long plateau]).

NGC 1559 may be alone in space, but we are watching and admiring from far away.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1806a/