One of the most famous objects in the sky - the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant - will be on display like never before, thanks to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and a new project from the Smithsonian Institution. A new three-dimensional (3D) viewer, being unveiled this week, will allow users to interact with many one-of-a-kind objects from the Smithsonian as part of a large-scale effort to digitize many of the Institutions objects and artifacts.
Scientists have combined data from Chandra, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based facilities to construct a unique 3D model of the 300-year old remains of a stellar explosion that blew a massive star apart, sending the stellar debris rushing into space at millions of miles per hour. The collaboration with this new Smithsonian 3D project will allow the astronomical data collected on Cassiopeia A, or Cas A for short, to be featured and highlighted in an open-access program — a major innovation in digital technologies with public, education, and research-based impacts…
The Lagoon Nebula, M8 or NGC 6523. As one of the showpiece objects of the summer sky in the northern hemisphere, the Lagoon never rises very high from most locations north of the equator. This image of the Lagoon was imaged from Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Twenty hours of data were collected over several nights with seeing usually around 0.5” and occasionally as low as the mid 0.30”.
Those who are familiar with other images of the Lagoon nebula may note that this version shows more blue: most renditions of this nebula are decidedly reddish in character. However, the object’s altitude during much of the imaging – as high as 80 degrees – minimized the normal tendency for blue extinction that is commonly experienced when imaging objects closer to the horizon. The numerous dark Bok Globules associated with M8 are also readily apparent.
Jellyfish Nebula, the gas-filled remains of a distant stellar explosion, seems to swim away from remnants of its former home in a photo uploaded to Your Shot on November 2. Some 5,200 light-years away, the nebula is joined on its left by an “emission nebula,” a cloud of electrically charged gas thrown off an exploded star.
A witch appears to be screaming out into space in this new image from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE’s detectors.
The Witch Head nebula is estimated to be hundreds of light-years away in the Orion constellation, just off the famous hunter’s knee. WISE was recently “awakened” to hunt for asteroids in a program called NEOWISE. The reactivation came after the spacecraft was put into hibernation in 2011, when it completed two full scans of the sky, as planned.
This trio of ghostly images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the disembodied remains of dying stars called planetary nebulas. Planetary nebulas are a late stage in a sun-like star’s life, when its outer layers have sloughed off and are lit up by ultraviolet light from the central star. They come in a variety of shapes, as indicated by these three spooky structures. In all of the images, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.6 microns is rendered in blue, 4.5 microns in green, and 8.0 microns in red.
Exposed Cranium Nebula (left) - The brain-like orb called PMR 1 has been nicknamed the “Exposed Cranium” nebula by Spitzer scientists. This planetary nebula, located roughly 5,000 light-years away in the Vela constellation, is host to a hot, massive dying star that is rapidly disintegrating, losing its mass. The nebula’s insides, which appear mushy and red in this view, are made up primarily of ionized gas, while the outer green shell is cooler, consisting of glowing hydrogen molecules.
Ghost of Jupiter Nebula (middle) - The Ghost of Jupiter, also known as NGC 3242, is located roughly 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Hydra. Spitzer’s infrared view shows off the cooler outer halo of the dying star, colored here in red. Also evident are concentric rings around the object, the result of material being periodically tossed out in the star’s final death throes.
Little Dumbbell Nebula (right)This planetary nebula, known as NGC 650 or the Little Dumbbell, is about 2,500 light-years from Earth in the Perseus constellation. Unlike the other spherical nebulas, it has a bipolar or butterfly shape due to a “waist,” or disk, of thick material, running from lower left to upper right. Fast winds blow material away from the star, above and below this dusty disk. The ghoulish green and red clouds are from glowing hydrogen molecules, with the green area being hotter than the red.
Looking at this planetary nebula, formally dubbed M27 (but informally known as the Dumbbell Nebula), is the closest thing we have to looking through a time machine to witness the death of our mother star, the sun. (*spoiler alert* the future is grim)
Located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Vulpecula (the fox), M27 is one of the brightest and most spectacular planetary nebulae in the night sky. It – along with over 100 objects called the “Messier Objects” – were discovered by the famed astronomer Charles Messier all the way back in the 17th century.
The two primary colors in this bipolar planetary nebula are representations of the colors emitted by oxygen and hydrogen. After the sun can no longer fuse hydrogen into helium and the nuclear fusion process halts, the outer envelope of gas will be ejected into space, leaving behind a dense core about the size of Earth called a white-dwarf. The remaining gases will form something similar to this.
Image Credit: Bill Snyder from Bill Snyder Photography
As described by NASA, “Are stars better appreciated for their art after they die? Actually, stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. In the case of low-mass stars like our Sun and M2-9 pictured above, the stars transform themselves from normal stars to white dwarfs by casting off their outer gaseous envelopes. The expended gas frequently forms an impressive display called a planetary nebula that fades gradually over thousand of years. M2-9, a butterfly planetary nebula 2100 light-years away shown in representative colors, has wings that tell a strange but incomplete tale. In the center, two stars orbit inside a gaseous disk 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The expelled envelope of the dying star breaks out from the disk creating the bipolar appearance.”
The nebula, formally cataloged NGC 6543, is pictured here in a detailed view from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Though the Cat’s Eye Nebula was one of the first planetary nebulae to be discovered, it is one of the most complex such nebulae seen in space. A planetary nebula forms when Sun-like stars gently eject their outer gaseous layers that form bright nebulae with amazing and confounding shapes.
In 1994, Hubble first revealed NGC 6543’s surprisingly intricate structures, including concentric gas shells, jets of high-speed gas, and unusual shock-induced knots of gas.
As if the Cat’s Eye itself isn’t spectacular enough, this image taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) reveals the full beauty of a bull’s eye pattern of eleven or even more concentric rings, or shells, around the Cat’s Eye. Each ‘ring’ is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky — that’s why it appears bright along its outer edge.
Observations suggest the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1,500-year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells, each of which contain as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined (still only one percent of the Sun’s mass). These concentric shells make a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star. The view from Hubble is like seeing an onion cut in half, where each skin layer is discernible.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the planetary nebula IC 289, located in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia. Formerly a star like our Sun, it is now just a cloud of ionised gas being pushed out into space by the remnants of the star’s core, visible as a small bright dot in the middle of the cloud.
Weirdly enough, planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. Early observers, when looking through small telescopes, could only see undefined, smoky forms that looked like gaseous planets — hence the name. The term has stuck even though modern telescopes like Hubble have made it clear that these objects are not planets at all, but the outer layers of dying stars being thrown off into space…
Stars like the Sun can become remarkably photogenic at the end of their life. A good example is NGC 2392, which is located about 4,200 light years from Earth. NGC 2392, (nicknamed the “Eskimo Nebula”) is what astronomers call a planetary nebula. This designation, however, is deceiving because planetary nebulas actually have nothing to do with planets. The term is simply a historic relic since these objects looked like planetary disks to astronomers in earlier times looking through small optical telescopes.
Instead, planetary nebulas form when a star uses up all of the hydrogen in its core—an event our Sun will go through in about five billion years. When this happens, the star begins to cool and expand, increasing its radius by tens to hundreds of times its original size. Eventually, the outer layers of the star are carried away by a 50,000 kilometer per hour wind, leaving behind a hot core…
The “wingspan” of the butterfly nebula stretches over 3 light-years. The butterfly nebula is a planetary nebula, a misleading term — in fact, this gorgeous cloud of gas and dust is the remnants of a dying star about 4,000 light-years away from Earth. Hubble captured this image of the dusty butterfly in 2009.
This image was obtained with the wide-field view of the Mosaic camera on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. HFG1 is a planetary nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia. It was produced by a binary star system (V664 Cas) that is moving rapidly through our Galaxy. The star is moving towards the upper-right of the image. As HFG1 plows through the interstellar medium, a bluish bowshock is produced; and a red trail of gas is left behind in its wake. The image was generated with observations in the Hydrogen alpha (red) and Oxygen [OIII] (blue) filters. In this image, North is down and East is to the right.
Famous Space Pillars feel the Heat of Star’s Explosion
by Whitney Clavin
The three iconic space pillars photographed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 might have met their demise, according to new evidence from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
A new, striking image from Spitzer shows the intact dust towers next to a giant cloud of hot dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a star that exploded, or went supernova. Astronomers speculate that the supernova’s shock wave could have already reached the dusty towers, causing them to topple about 6,000 years ago. However, because light from this region takes 7,000 years to reach Earth, we won’t be able to capture photos of the destruction for another 1,000 years or so.
Spitzer’s view of the region shows the entire Eagle nebula, a vast and stormy community of stars set amid clouds and steep pillars made of gas and dust, including the three well-known “Pillars of Creation.”…