The Tadpole

The_TadpoleWhen I was a kid, one of the pleasures of spring was going to the creek and catching tadpoles. This bright blue tadpole seems to swim through the inky blackness of space. Catalogued as IRAS 20324+4057, “The Tadpole” is a clump of gas and dust giving birth to a bright protostar, one of the earliest steps in building a star.

There are multiple protostars in the tadpole’s head; the glowing yellow one in this image is the most luminous and massive. When this protostar has gathered together enough mass from its surroundings, it will become a fully-fledged young star.

The intense blue glow is caused by intense ultraviolet radiation from nearby stars. Pressure from that UV sculpts the tail into a long, wiggly shape. The Tadpole spans roughly a light-year from head to tail-tip, and contains gas with about four times the mass of the Sun.

Image Credit: NASA / ESA

Surveyor 3 and Apollo 12

Surveyor3_Apollo12On 17 April, 1967, NASA launched the Surveyor 3 spacecraft on a mission to the lunar surface. 2-1/2 years later, it was visited by Apollo 12 Commander Charles Conrad Jr. and astronaut Alan L. Bean, who took this picture. The Apollo 12 Lunar Module is visible in the background at right. It landed about 600 feet from Surveyor 3 in the Ocean of Storms. Using a surface sampler to study the lunar soil, Surveyor 3 conducted experiments to see how the lunar surface would support the weight of an Apollo lunar module. This moon lander, which was the second of the Surveyor series to make a soft landing on the moon, also gathered information on the lunar soil’s radar reflectivity and thermal properties. It transmitted more than 6,000 photographs of its surroundings back to Earth. The camera and several other pieces of equipment were removed from Surveyor 3 and brought back to Earth for examination.

Image Credit: NASA

Gum 41

Gum 41In the middle of this little-known nebula called Gum 41, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation causing the surrounding hydrogen to glow a characteristic red. The nebula is located 7300 light-years from Earth. Australian astronomer Colin Gum discovered it on photographs taken at the Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, and included it in his catalogue of 84 emission nebulae, published in 1955. Gum 41 is actually one small part of a bigger structure called the Lambda Centauri Nebula, also known by the more exotic name of the Running Chicken Nebula.

Image Credit: ECO

New Moon?

new_moonThe Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that might be a new moon. It may also provide clues about the formation of some of the planet’s known moons.

Images taken with Cassini‘s narrow angle camera show disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s A ring, the outermost of the planet’s large, bright rings. One of the disturbances is an arc about 1,200 km long and 10 km wide that is roughly 20 percent brighter than the surrounding ring.

The object is not expected to grow any larger, and may even be falling apart, but the process of its formation and outward movement in the ring aids in our understanding of how Saturn’s icy moons, including the cloud-wrapped Titan and ocean-holding Enceladus, may have formed in more massive rings long ago. It also provides insight into how Earth and other planets in our solar system may have formed and migrated away from the Sun.

Image Credit: NASA

Bonus Internet Astronomy

The eclipse last night was a dud here in Westminster. It was overcast and drizzling. The moon broke through the clouds for a couple of minutes just as the eclipse began, and hid behind the clouds. A large patch of the the clouds did turn reddish as it was backlit by the moon while the eclipse was total.

The seeing was better in Texas, and Black Betty has sent this picture.Bloodmoon 4

A Horsehead of a Different Color

This video presents a visualization of the Horsehead Nebula as seen in infrared light. The central Hubble image has been augmented by ground-based observations from the European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). The stars distributed in the three-dimensional environment in an approximate and statistical manner. While it’s no 100%-accurate, the computer graphics are intended to be scientifically reasonable.

The Horsehead Nebula is a dark cloud of dense gas and dust located just below Orion’s belt. Visible light shows a strong silhouette resembling a horse’s head as used for a knight in chess. As seen at left with infrared light we can see more deeply into the clouds, revealing a more complex scene. The warm parts of the clouds glow in infrared light, and a dark and relatively featureless scene is revealed as a glowing gaseous landscape.

Video Credit: NASA

Omega Centauri

omega centauriOmega Centauri is the brightest and largest globular cluster of stars in the sky. This picture shows the central part only. The cluster is actually much larger than the field reproduced here; at a distance of about 16,500 light-years, the diameter of the field shown is about 90 light-years. There are hundreds of thousands of stars in the picture. Omega Centauri is in excess of 5 million solar masses, making it by far the most massive cluster of this type on the Milky Way galaxy.

Image Credit: ESO

The Great Barred Spiral Galaxy

NGC 1365NGC 1365 is enormous. It is one of the largest galaxies known to astronomers—over 200,000 light-years across. This, plus the sharply defined bar of old stars across its structure is why it is also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy. Astronomers believe that the Milky Way, which is only half as big, may look very similar to this galaxy. The bright centre of the galaxy is thought to be caused by huge amounts of superhot gas ejected from the ring of material circling a central black hole. Young luminous hot stars, born in the interstellar clouds, give the arms their blue color. The bar and spiral pattern rotates, with one full turn taking about 350 million years. NGC 1365 is about 61 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax (the Furnace).

Image Credit: ESO

El Gordo

This video shows a close-up of the galaxy cluster ACT-CL J0102−4915 nicknamed El Gordo—the “big” or “fat one” in Spanish. It consists of two separate galaxy sub clusters about 7 billion light-years from Earth that are colliding at several million kilometres per hour. The animation was put together using images taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope and from the SOAR Telescope along with X-ray observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The X-ray image shows the hot gas in the cluster and is shown in blue. 

Video Credit: ESO / SOAR / NASA

Celestial Diamond Ring

Celestial Diamond RingESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula PN A66 33 (aka Abell 33). This beautiful blue bubble in space was created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, and it is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star. From the Earth’s point of view the pair bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring.

Image Credit: ESO

If We Could See IR

M83VisibleandIRj.pgThe picture on the left is galaxy M83 as we see it in visible light. The image on the right is what it would look like we could see infrared light as well. The visible light image was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile. The infrared image was taken with the HAWK-I instrument on the VLT at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. In infrared the dust that hides many stars is nearly transparent, making the spiral arms less dramatic but revealing a whole host of new stars that are otherwise invisible.

Image Credit: ESO

NGC 1316 and 1317

This video zooms in on a couple of galaxies starting from a wide spread of sky, including the familiar constellation of Orion (The Hunter) at the upper right and the Large Magellanic Cloud at the upper left. Its target are in constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), the contrasting pair of galaxies NGC 1316 and the smaller 1317. Although NGC 1317 appears to be relative unperturbed, its larger neighbour bears the scars of a turbulent history during which it has engulfed smaller galaxies.

Video Credit: ESO

Rendezvous With A Comet

This animation is a visualization of how comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will appear in Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow angle camera between May and August, 2014.  As the spacecraft approaches, the 4 km wide comet will expand from a fraction of a single pixel to well over 2000 pixels. That will yield a resolution of around 2 m per pixel, so large surface features will be visible.

The comet featured in this animation is an artist’s impression. It is shown to scale, but the shape and surface details are pure guesswork, and the real comet will be rotating during Rosetta’s approach. The spacecraft will eventually rendezvous with the comet.

The planets aren’t shown to scale.

Video Credit: ESA

A Solar Flare

The Sun threw off a mid-strenght M6.5 flare on 2 April. It peaked just after 14:00 UTC. This video from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the flare in two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light: 30.4 nm and 17.1 nm, color coded yellow and red, respectively.

Video Credit: NASA


THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms)  is a mission to investigate what causes auroras in the Earth’s atmosphere. The program is run by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and not by the agency just up the road that forgot to buy both vowels.

I have never had any connection to the program.

UPDATE—I found this attempted comment while taking my morning coffee break.TK201404041329ZOf course, the IP address doesn’t belong to Amazon.IPlookup20140404Not only that, it’s not actively assigned.NoMatch

Hi, Neal!

UPDATE—Ooooo! Struck a nerve, have we? This comment just came in attributed to my late mother.TK2014041542ZCan you say “desperation”?

Mars in Opposition

Water_ice_clouds_hanging_above_TharsisTomorrow, Mars will be in opposition to the Earth. That means that the planets’ orbits will be aligned so that Earth is directly between Mars and the Sun. Mars will be 180° opposite the Sun in the sky. It will rise in the east at sunset, appearing as a bright reddish star.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Encountering Hyperion

This movie is a record of the Cassini spacecraft’s first close brush with Hyperion, a chaotically tumbling moon of Saturn. The jagged outlines are indicators of large impacts chipping away at Hyperion’s shape as a sculptor does to marble. The moon is too small to have pulled itself round by its own gravity. Its unusual dimensions are 328 by 260 by 214 km.

Video Credit: NASA

Io’s True Colors

io_truecolorJupiter’s moon Io is one of the weirdest in the Solar System. It’s bright yellow, and this picture is an attempt to show how Io would appear to the average human eye. Io’s colors derive from sulfur and molten silicate rock. The moon’s is constantly being refreshed by a system of active volcanoes. Tides caused by Jupiter’s gravity stretch Io, and the resulting friction greatly heats Io’s interior, causing molten rock to explode through the surface. Io’s volcanoes are so active that they are effectively turning the whole moon inside out. Some of Io’s volcanic lava is so hot it glows in the dark.

Image Credit: NASA