Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently.  The photos are from  NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  Enjoy!

The Tadpole Galaxy
The Tadpole Galaxy

In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 – from right to left in this view – and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy’s stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail’s star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.

The Trapezium
The Trapezium — four bright stars within the Orion Nebula

Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region’s entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a recent dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula’s distance of some 1500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.  Being able to clearly see the Trapezium is a sign of a good telescope!

On October 12, 2012, Felix Baumgartner — an Austrian parachutist — jumped from the edge of space, and thereby set the world records for the highest ever balloon flight, the highest ever parachute jump, and the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound without using powered flight.  His flight occurred over Roswell, New Mexico.  See Red Bull Stratos for more information.

NGC 2623
NGC 2623

NGC 2623 is really two galaxies that are becoming one. Seen to be in the final stages of a titanic galaxy merger, the pair lies some 300 million light-years distant toward the Name A Star Live constellation Cancer. The violent encounter between two galaxies that may have been similar to the Milky Way has produced widespread star formation near a luminous core and along eye-catching tidal tails. Filled with dust, gas, and young blue star clusters, the opposing tidal tails extend well over 50,000 light-years from the merged nucleus. Likely triggered by the merger, accretion by a supermassive black hole drives activity within the nuclear region. The star formation and its active galactic nucleus make NGC 2623 bright across the spectrum. This sharp cosmic snapshot of NGC 2623 (aka Arp 243) is based on Hubble Legacy Archive image data that also reveals even more distant background galaxies scattered through the field of view.

A Stellar Show for Early Birds!

If you’re an early riser, you’re in astronomical luck in September!  While Mars and Saturn are fading rapidly in the western sky during the early evening hours, Venus and Jupiter dominate the early morning eastern sky.

Jupiter in the east
This image shows the night sky in mid-September, facing east, shortly before sunrise.  Look for Jupiter near the V-shaped group of stars known as “The Hyades,” which are a part of the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus (the bull). The beautiful Pleiades are also part of Taurus, and are often confused with the Little Dipper.  While you’re at it, look for the prominent Name A Star Live constellation Orion (the hunter).  The three stars of Orion’s belt are easy to spot.  The bright planet Venus will be well below Jupiter, near the eastern horizon.
But fear not, fellow night owls, for you too can feast your eyes on some celestial treats!  The planets Neptune and Uranus will be visible through binoculars and small telescopes during the evening hours this month. In fact, now is a particularly good time to observe these two (not so bright) planets.  Uranus reaches what’s called “opposition” on September 29: That’s when the Earth is between Uranus and the Sun.  In other words, Uranus is on the opposite side of Earth than the Sun on September 29.  Neptune was at opposition last month, but is still a nice site to see through a telescope or binoculars.  While you can see both Neptune and Uranus through a telescope, Uranus — strictly speaking — is just barely visible to the naked eye — but just barely!  In order to see it, you’d need to go far from city lights and view it on a clear, moonless night.  (And you better have good eyesight to boot!)  We recommend sticking with your telescope or binocs!
Uranus and Neptune
This image shows the locations of Uranus and Neptune in mid-September.  Look for Uranus in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces, and look for Neptune in the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius this month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos that have been posted on the Internet in recent weeks.  Enjoy!

Helix Nebula
The Helix Nebula from the VISTA Telescope. Credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson; Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula, located in the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius, is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture was taken in three colors on infrared light by the 4.1-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Ringside with Titan and Dione. Credit : Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Orbiting in the plane of Saturn’s rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the middle of this Cassini snapshot. The scene features Titan, largest, and Dione, third largest moon of Saturn. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet’s cloud tops at the bottom of the frame. Pale Dione is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring. Dione is seen through Titan’s atmospheric haze. At 5,150 kilometers across, Titan is about 2.3 million kilometers from Cassini, while Dione is 3.2 million kilometers away.

The Large Magellanic Cloud
Infrared Portrait of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI

Cosmic dust clouds ripple across this infrared portrait of our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is visible in the southern hemisphere constellations Dorado and Mensa. In fact, the remarkable composite image from the Herschel Space Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope show that dust clouds fill this neighboring dwarf galaxy, much like dust along the plane of the Milky Way itself. The dust temperatures tend to trace star forming activity. Spitzer data in blue hues indicate warm dust heated by young stars. Herschel‘s instruments contributed the image data shown in red and green, revealing dust emission from cooler and intermediate regions where star formation is just beginning or has stopped. Dominated by dust emission, the Large Magellanic Cloud’s infrared appearance is different from views in optical images. But this galaxy’s well-known Tarantula Nebula still stands out, easily seen here as the brightest region to the left of center. A mere 160,000 light-years distant, the Large Cloud of Magellan is about 30,000 light-years across.

Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232. Image Credit: FORS, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESO

Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don’t yet know – pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy.  The Grand Spiral Galaxy is located in the constellation Eridanus, right below the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

The Northern Lights as viewed from an Arctic research station.

In late January 2012 a strong solar storm hit Earth’s atmosphere. Charged particles from the sun interacted with the Earth’s magnetic field to create spectacular night shows of green light — the “Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis.”  See a beautiful video of the Northern Lights shot in late January from Norway!