Tag Archives: Galaxy

Galactic Views (154)


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Hubble Images a Dusty Galaxy, Home to an Exploding Star

NASA – The galaxy pictured here is NGC 4424, located in the constellation of Virgo. It is not visible with the naked eye but has been captured here with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Although it may not be obvious from this image, NGC 4424 is in fact a spiral galaxy. In this image it is seen more or less edge on, but from above, you would be able to see the arms of the galaxy wrapping around its center to give the characteristic spiral form.

In 2012, astronomers observed a supernova in NGC 4424 — a violent explosion marking the end of a star’s life. During a supernova explosion, a single star can often outshine an entire galaxy. However, the supernova in NGC 4424, dubbed SN 2012cg, cannot be seen here as the image was taken ten years prior to the explosion. Along the central region of the galaxy, clouds of dust block the light from distant stars and create dark patches.

To the left of NGC 4424 there are two bright objects in the frame. The brightest is another, smaller galaxy known as LEDA 213994 and the object closer to NGC 4424 is an anonymous star in our Milky Way.

European Space Agency

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine

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Hubble Sees A Smiling Lens

NASA – In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it seems to be smiling.

You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this “happy face”, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing.

Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubble’s discoveries, can be explained by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring — known as an Einstein Ring — is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here.

Hubble has provided astronomers with the tools to probe these massive galaxies and model their lensing effects, allowing us to peer further into the early Universe than ever before. This object was studied by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of a survey of strong lenses.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA, Caption: ESA

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Hubble’s Little Sombrero

NASA – Galaxies can take many shapes and be oriented any way relative to us in the sky. This can make it hard to figure out their actual morphology, as a galaxy can look very different from different viewpoints. A special case is when we are lucky enough to observe a spiral galaxy directly from its edge, providing us with a spectacular view like the one seen in this picture of the week.

This is NGC 7814, also known as the “Little Sombrero.” Its larger namesake, the Sombrero Galaxy, is another stunning example of an edge-on galaxy — in fact, the “Little Sombrero” is about the same size as its bright namesake at about 60,000 light-years across, but as it lies farther away, and so appears smaller in the sky.

NGC 7814 has a bright central bulge and a bright halo of glowing gas extending outwards into space. The dusty spiral arms appear as dark streaks. They consist of dusty material that absorbs and blocks light from the galactic center behind it. The field of view of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image would be very impressive even without NGC 7814 in front; nearly all the objects seen in this image are galaxies as well.

European Space Agency
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington

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Hubble’s View of the Polar Ring of Arp 230

NASA – This image shows Arp 230, also known as IC 51, observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Arp 230 is a galaxy of an uncommon or peculiar shape, and is therefore part of the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies produced by Halton Arp. Its irregular shape is thought to be the result of a violent collision with another galaxy sometime in the past. The collision could also be held responsible for the formation of the galaxy’s polar ring.

The outer ring surrounding the galaxy consists of gas and stars and rotates over the poles of the galaxy. It is thought that the orbit of the smaller of the two galaxies that created Arp 230 was perpendicular to the disk of the second, larger galaxy when they collided. In the process of merging the smaller galaxy would have been ripped apart and may have formed the polar ring structure astronomers can observe today.

Arp 230 is quite small for a lenticular galaxy, so the two original galaxies forming it must both have been smaller than the Milky Way. A lenticular galaxy is a galaxy with a prominent central bulge and a disk, but no clear spiral arms. They are classified as intermediate between an elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy.

European Space Agency / Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Flickr user Det58

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Chandra Celebrates the International Year of Light

NASA – The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining together for this yearlong celebration to help spread the word about the wonders of light.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory explores the universe in X-rays, a high-energy form of light.  By studying X-ray data and comparing them with observations in other types of light, scientists can develop a better understanding of objects likes stars and galaxies that generate temperatures of millions of degrees and produce X-rays.

To recognize the start of IYL, the Chandra X-ray Center is releasing a set of images that combine data from telescopes tuned to different wavelengths of light. From a distant galaxy to the relatively nearby debris field of an exploded star, these images demonstrate the myriad ways that information about the universe is communicated to us through light.

In this image, an expanding shell of debris called SNR 0519-69.0 is left behind after a massive star exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way. Multimillion degree gas is seen in X-rays from Chandra, in blue. The outer edge of the explosion (red) and stars in the field of view are seen in visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope.

> More: Chandra Celebrates the International Year of Light

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

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Hubble’s High-Definition Panoramic View of the Andromeda Galaxy

NASA – The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble Space Telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long stretch of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And there are lots of stars in this sweeping view — over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.

This ambitious photographic cartography of the Andromeda galaxy represents a new benchmark for precision studies of large spiral galaxies that dominate the universe’s population of over 100 billion galaxies. Never before have astronomers been able to see individual stars inside an external spiral galaxy over such a large contiguous area. Most of the stars in the universe live inside such majestic star cities, and this is the first data that reveal populations of stars in context to their home galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

> More: Hubble’s High-Definition Panoramic View of the Andromeda Galaxy

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (U. of Washington), the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) team, and R. Gendler

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Hubble Sees an Ancient Globular Cluster

NASA – This image captures the stunning NGC 6535, a globular cluster 22,000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent) that measures one light-year across.

Globular clusters are tightly bound groups of stars which orbit galaxies. The large mass in the rich stellar centre of the globular cluster pulls the stars inward to form a ball of stars. The word globulus, from which these clusters take their name, is Latin for small sphere.

Globular clusters are generally very ancient objects formed around the same time as their host galaxy. To date, no new star formation has been observed within a globular cluster, which explains the abundance of aging yellow stars in this image, most of them containing very few heavy elements.

NGC 6535 was first discovered in 1852 by English astronomer John Russell Hind. The cluster would have appeared to Hind as a small, faint smudge through his telescope. Now, over 160 years later, instruments like the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the NASA/ European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope allow us to marvel at the cluster and its contents in greater detail.

European Space Agency
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine

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Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission Marks Ten Years of Discovery

NASA – On Nov. 20, 2004, NASA’s Swift spacecraft lifted off aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., beginning its mission to study gamma-ray bursts and identify their origins. Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos. Most are thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.

Astronomers at NASA and Pennsylvania State University used Swift to create the most detailed ultraviolet light surveys ever of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two closest major galaxies. Nearly a million ultraviolet sources appear in this mosaic of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which was assembled from 2,200 images taken by Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) and released on June 3, 2013.

The 160-megapixel image required a cumulative exposure of 5.4 days. The image includes light from 1,600 to 3,300 angstroms — UV wavelengths largely blocked by Earth’s atmosphere — and has an angular resolution of 2.5 arcseconds at full size. The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 14,000 light-years across.

Viewing in the ultraviolet allows astronomers to suppress the light of normal stars like the sun, which are not very bright at such higher energies, and provides a clearer picture of the hottest stars and star-formation regions. No telescope other than UVOT can produce such high-resolution wide-field multicolor surveys in the ultraviolet.

Pennsylvania State University manages the Swift Mission Operations Center, which controls Swift’s science and flight operations. Goddard manages Swift, which was launched in November 2004. The satellite is operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. International collaborators are in the United Kingdom and Italy, and the mission includes contributions from Germany and Japan.

Image Credit: NASA/Swift/S. Immler (Goddard) and M. Siegel (Penn State)

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MSH 11-62 Supernova Remnant

NASA – A long observation with Chandra of the supernova remnant MSH 11-62 reveals an irregular shell of hot gas, shown in red, surrounding an extended nebula of high energy X-rays, shown in blue.

Even though scientists have yet to detect any pulsations from the central object within MSH 11-62, the structure around it has many of the same characteristics as other pulsar wind nebulas. The reverse shock and other, secondary shocks within MSH 11-62 appear to have begun to crush the pulsar wind nebula, possibly contributing to its elongated shape. (Note: the orientation of this image has been rotated by 24 degrees so that north is pointed to the upper left.)

Image credit:  NASA/CXC/SAO/P. Slane et al.

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Fifteen Years of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory

NASA – This Chandra X-ray Observatory image of the Hydra A galaxy cluster was taken on Oct. 30, 1999, with the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) in an observation that lasted about six hours. Hydra A is a galaxy cluster that is 840 million light years from Earth. The cluster gets its name from the strong radio source, Hydra A, that originates in a galaxy near the center of the cluster. Optical observations show a few hundred galaxies in the cluster. Chandra X-ray observations reveal a large cloud of hot gas that extends throughout the cluster. The gas cloud is several million light years across and has a temperature of about 40 million degrees in the outer parts decreasing to about 35 million degrees in the inner region.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched into space fifteen years ago aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Since its deployment on July 23, 1999, Chandra has helped revolutionize our understanding of the universe through its unrivaled X-ray vision. Chandra, one of NASA’s current “Great Observatories,” along with the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope, is specially designed to detect X-ray emission from hot and energetic regions of the universe.

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO