Point your telescope toward the high flying constellation Pegasus and you can find this expanse of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies. NGC 7814 is centered in the pretty field of view that would almost be covered by a full moon. NGC 7814 is sometimes called the Little Sombrero for its resemblance to the brighter more famous M104, the Sombrero Galaxy. Both Sombrero and Little Sombrero are spiral galaxies seen edge-on, and both have extensive halos and central bulges cut by a thin disk with thinner dust lanes in silhouette. In fact, NGC 7814 is some 40 million light-years away and an estimated 60,000 light-years across. That actually makes the Little Sombrero about the same physical size as its better known namesake, appearing smaller and fainter only because it is farther away. In this telescopic view from July 17, NGC 7814 is hosting a newly discovered supernova, dominant immediately to the left of the galaxy’s core. Cataloged as SN 2021rhu, the stellar explosion has been identified as a Type Ia supernova, useful toward calibrating the distance scale of the universe.
What if you could see, separately, all the colors of the Ring? And of the surrounding stars? There’s technology for that. The featured image shows the Ring Nebula (M57) and nearby stars through such technology: in this case, a prism-like diffraction grating. The Ring Nebula is seen only a few times because it emits light, primarily, in only a few colors. The two brightest emitted colors are hydrogen (red) and oxygen (blue), appearing as nearly overlapping images to the left of the image center. The image just to the right of center is the color-combined icon normally seen. Stars, on the other hand, emit most of their light in colors all across the visible spectrum. These colors, combined, make a nearly continuous streak – which is why stars appear accompanied by multicolored bars. Breaking object light up into colors is scientifically useful because it can reveal the elements that compose that object, how fast that object is moving, and how distant that object is.
Thor not only has his own day (Thursday), but a helmet in the heavens. Popularly called Thor’s Helmet, NGC 2359 is a hat-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor’s Helmet is about 30 light-years across. In fact, the cosmic head-covering is more like an interstellar bubble, blown with a fast wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble’s center. Known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. NGC 2359 is located about 15,000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Great Overdog. This remarkably sharp image is a mixed cocktail of data from broadband and narrowband filters, capturing not only natural looking stars but details of the nebula’s filamentary structures. The star in the center of Thor’s Helmet is expected to explode in a spectacular supernova sometime within the next few thousand years.
China conducted a clandestine first test flight of a reusable suborbital vehicle Friday as a part of development of a reusable space transportation system.
The vehicle launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center Friday and later landed at an airport just over 800 kilometers away at Alxa League in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) announced.
No images nor footage nor further information, such as altitude, flight duration or propulsion systems, were provided. The CASC release stated however that the vehicle uses integrated aviation and space technologies and indicates a vertical takeoff and horizontal landing (VTHL) profile.
What does the Andromeda galaxy look like in ultraviolet light? Young blue stars circling the galactic center dominate. A mere 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, really is just next door as large galaxies go. Spanning about 230,000 light-years, it took 11 different image fields from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) satellite telescope to produce this gorgeous portrait of the spiral galaxy in ultraviolet light in 2003. While its spiral arms stand out in visible light images, Andromeda’s arms look more like rings in ultraviolet. The rings are sites of intense star formation and have been interpreted as evidence that Andromeda collided with its smaller neighboring elliptical galaxy M32 more than 200 million years ago. The Andromeda galaxy and our own comparable Milky Way galaxy are the most massive members of the Local Group of galaxies and are projected to collide in several billion years – perhaps around the time that our Sun’s atmosphere will expand to engulf the Earth.
Point your telescope at tonight’s first quarter Moon. Along the terminator, the shadow line between night and day, you might find these two large craters staring back at you with an owlish gaze. Alphonsus (left) and Arzachel are ancient impact craters on the north eastern shores of Mare Nubium, the lunar Sea of Clouds. The larger Alphonsus is over 100 kilometers in diameter. A low sun angle highlights the crater’s sharp 1.5 kilometer high central peak in bright sunlight and dark shadow. Scouting for potential Apollo moon landing sites, the Ranger 9 spacecraft returned closeup photographs of Alphonsus before it crashed in the crater just northeast (left) of its central mountain in 1965. Alpetragius, between Alphonsus and Arzachel, is the small crater with the deeply shadowed floor and overly large central peak.
The iconic but elderly Hubble Space Telescope appears to have been resurrected again after a shutdown of more than a month following a computer glitch. Science has learned that following a switch from the operating payload control computer to a back-up device over the past 24 hours, Hubble’s operators have re-established communications with all the telescope’s instruments and plan to return them to normal operations today.
“Hubble is back!” Tom Brown, head of the Hubble mission office, emailed to staff at the Science Telescope Science Institute (STScI) at at 5.56 this morning. “I am excited to watch Hubble get back to exploring the universe.”
The problems started on 13 June when the payload computer that controls the science instruments and monitors their health spotted an error in communications with the instruments and put them into safe mode. Hubble’s operators initially thought that a memory module was at fault but switching to one of three back-up modules produced the same error. Various other devices were investigated and ruled out as the problem when the error persisted.
What happens when a black hole destroys a neutron star? Analyses indicate that just such an event created gravitational wave event GW200115, detected in 2020 January by LIGO and Virgo observatories. To better understand the unusual event, the featured visualization was created from a computer simulation. The visualization video starts with the black hole (about 6 times the Sun’s mass) and neutron star (about 1.5 times the Sun’s mass) circling each other, together emitting an increasing amount of gravitational radiation. The picturesque pattern of gravitational wave emission is shown in blue. The duo spiral together increasingly fast until the neutron star becomes completely absorbed by the black hole. Since the neutron star did not break apart during the collision, little light escaped – which matches the lack of an observed optical counterpart. The remaining black hole rings briefly, and as that dies down so do the emitted gravitational waves. The 30-second time-lapse video may seem short, but it actually lasts about 1000 times longer than the real merger event.
What has happened to Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Vast sections of this strange world are dark brown, while others are as bright white. The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon. Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut. To help better understand this seemingly painted moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers in 2007. Iapetus is pictured here in 3D. A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size. The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike. Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon’s equator and is less than a meter thick. A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice sublimates. An initial coating of dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons.
Warp drives in Einstein’s general theory of relativity provide a unique mechanism for manned interstellar travel. It is well-known that the classical superluminal soliton spacetimes require negative energy densities, likely sourced by quantum processes of the uncertainty principle. It has even been claimed by few that negative energy densities are a requirement of superluminal motion. However, recent studies suggest this may not be the case. A general decomposition of the defining variables and the corresponding decomposition of the Eulerian energy are studied. A geometrical interpretation of the Eulerian energy is found, shedding new light on superluminal solitons generated by realistic energy distributions. With this new interpretation, it becomes a relatively simple matter to generate solitonic configurations, within a certain subclass, that respect the positive energy constraint. Using this newfound interpretation, a superluminal solitonic spacetime is presented that possesses positive semi-definite energy. A modest numerical analysis is carried out on a set of example configurations, finding total energy requirements four orders of magnitude smaller than the solar mass. Extraordinarily, the example configurations are generated by purely positive energy densities, a tremendous improvement on the classical configurations. The geometrical interpretation of the Eulerian energy thus opens new doors to generating realistic warp fields for laboratory study and potential future manned interstellar travel.
This image shows the globular cluster NGC 6380, which lies around 35 000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Scorpio (The Scorpion). The very bright star at the top of the image is HD 159073, which is only around 4000 light-years from Earth, making it a much nearer neighbour to Earth than NGC 6380. This image was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which, as its name suggests, has a wide field of view, meaning that it can image relatively large areas of the sky in enormous detail.
NGC 6380 is not a particularly exciting name, but it indicates that this cluster is catalogued in the New General Catalogue (NGC), which was originally compiled in 1888. This cluster has, however, been known by many other names. It was originally discovered by James Dunlop in 1826, and he rather immodestly named it Dun 538. Eight years later, in 1834, it was independently rediscovered by John Herschel and he (similarly immodestly) went on to name it H 3688. The cluster was re-rediscovered in 1959 in Paris by Pişmiş, who catalogued it as Tonantzintla 1 — and who, to continue the pattern, also referred to it as Pişmiş 25. In addition to its colourful history of rediscovery, up until the 1950s NGC 6380 was thought to be an open cluster. It was A. D. Thackeray who realised that it was in fact a globular cluster. Nowadays, this cluster is reliably recognised in widely available catalogues as a globular cluster, and referred to simply as NGC 6380.
What will become of our Sun? The first hint of our Sun’s future was discovered inadvertently in 1764. At that time, Charles Messier was compiling a list of diffuse objects not to be confused with comets. The 27th object on Messier’s list, now known as M27 or the Dumbbell Nebula, is a planetary nebula, one of the brightest planetary nebulae on the sky – and visible toward the constellation of the Fox (Vulpecula) with binoculars. It takes light about 1000 years to reach us from M27, featured here in colors emitted by hydrogen and oxygen. We now know that in about 6 billion years, our Sun will shed its outer gases into a planetary nebula like M27, while its remaining center will become an X-ray hot white dwarf star. Understanding the physics and significance of M27 was well beyond 18th century science, though. Even today, many things remain mysterious about planetary nebulas, including how their intricate shapes are created.
A massive explosion from a previously unknown source—10 times more energetic than a supernova—could be the answer to a 13-billion-year-old Milky Way mystery.
Astronomers led by David Yong, Gary Da Costa and Chiaki Kobayashi from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) based at the Australian National University (ANU) have potentially discovered the first evidence of the destruction of a collapsed rapidly spinning star—a phenomenon they describe as a “magneto-rotational hypernova”.
The previously unknown type of cataclysm—which occurred barely a billion years after the Big Bang—is the most likely explanation for the presence of unusually high amounts of some elements detected in another extremely ancient and “primitive” Milky Way star.
That star, known as SMSS J200322.54-114203.3, contains larger amounts of metal elements, including zinc, uranium, europium and possibly gold, than others of the same age.
The international James Webb Space Telescope mission has successfully passed the final mission analysis review for its launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
This major milestone, carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Webb launch service provider Arianespace, confirms that the Ariane 5 rocket, the Webb spacecraft and the flight plan are set for launch. It also specifically provides the final confirmation that all aspects of the launch vehicle and spacecraft are fully compatible.
What would it look like to fly into the Orion Nebula? The exciting dynamic visualization of the Orion Nebula is based on real astronomical data and adept movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled representation based is based on infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. The perspective moves along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region’s giant molecular cloud. Orion’s valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The entire Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.
Tantalizing evidence has been uncovered for a mysterious population of “free-floating” planets, planets that may be alone in deep space, unbound to any host star. The results include four new discoveries that are consistent with planets of similar masses to Earth, published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The study, led by Iain McDonald of the University of Manchester, UK, (now based at the Open University, UK) used data obtained in 2016 during the K2 mission phase of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. During this two-month campaign, Kepler monitored a crowded field of millions of stars near the center of our Galaxy every 30 minutes in order to find rare gravitational microlensing events.
Do you see the horse’s head? What you are seeing is not the famous Horsehead nebula toward Orion but rather a fainter nebula that only takes on a familiar form with deeper imaging. The main part of the here imaged molecular cloud complex is a reflection nebula cataloged as IC 4592. Reflection nebulas are actually made up of very fine dust that normally appears dark but can look quite blue when reflecting the visible light of energetic nearby stars. In this case, the source of much of the reflected light is a star at the eye of the horse. That star is part of Nu Scorpii, one of the brighter star systems toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). A second reflection nebula dubbed IC 4601 is visible surrounding two stars to the right of the image center.
Wouldn’t it be fun if clouds were castles? Wouldn’t it be fun if the laundry on the bedroom chair was a superhero? Wouldn’t it be fun if rock mesas on Mars were interplanetary monuments to the human face? Clouds, though, are floating droplets of water and ice. Laundry is cotton, wool, or plastic, woven into garments. Famous Martian rock mesas known by names like the Face on Mars appear quite natural when seen more clearly on better images. Is reality boring? Nobody knows why some clouds make rain. Nobody knows if life ever developed on Mars. Nobody knows why the laundry on the bedroom chair smells like root beer. Scientific exploration can not only resolve mysteries, but uncover new knowledge, greater mysteries, and yet deeper questions. As humanity explores our universe, perhaps fun – through discovery – is just beginning.
Two research teams, using data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, have recently published results suggesting that what were thought to be subsurface lakes on Mars may not really be lakes at all.
In 2018, scientists working with data from the Mars Express orbiter announced a surprising discovery: Signals from a radar instrument reflected off the red planet’s south pole appeared to reveal a liquid subsurface lake. Several more such reflections have been announced since then.