Stars and Stripe


SN1006In 1006 A.D., observers from Africa to Europe to the Far East recorded the arrival of light from what is now called SN 1006, a tremendous supernova explosion of a white dwarf star nearly 7,000 light-years away. The supernova was probably the brightest star ever seen in recorded times. It surpassed Venus in the night time sky, only being outshone by the moon. It was visible during the day for weeks, and remained visible to the naked eye for at least two and a half years before fading away.

About 50 years ago, radio astronomers detected a nearly circular ring of material at the recorded position of the supernova. The ring was almost the same angular diameter as the full moon. The size of the remnant implied that the blast wave from the supernova had expanded at nearly 20 million miles per hour over the nearly 1,000 years since the explosion occurred.

Today, we know that SN 1006 has a diameter of nearly 60 light-years, and is still expanding at roughly 6 million miles per hour. Even at that speed, however, it takes observations years apart to detect significant outward motion of the shock wave. This Hubble image of a delicate ribbon of gas shows a very thin section of the supernova remnant. The location of the 1006 explosion is well out of the farme to the lower left. The shock wave is moving to the upper right.

Image Credit: NASA

The Backward Galaxy


backward galaxyThe Backward Galaxy (aka NGC4622) lies 111 million light years away in the constellation Centaurus. NGC 4622 is an example of a galaxy with leading spiral arms. In most spiral galaxies, the spiral arms trail; that is, the tips of the spiral arms are winding away from the center of the galaxy in the direction of the disk’s orbital rotation. In NGC4622, however, the outer arms are leading spiral arms; the tips of the spiral arms point towards the direction of disk rotation. This may be the result of a gravitational interaction between NGC 4622 and another galaxy or the result of a merger between NGC 4622 and a smaller object.

Image Credit: NASA

The Cartwheel Galaxy


Cartwheel GalaxyThe Cartwheel Galaxy (also known as ESO 350-40) is a lenticular and ring galaxy about 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor. The ring resulted from a collision between two galaxies that would have been observed for the first time on Earth at the beginning of the Jurassic Period 200 million years ago. What we see today took 200 million years to develop, based on rate analysis of expanding gases.

Image Credit: NASA

Three Moons


3MoonsThe Cassini spacecraft has sent us this family photo of three of Saturn’s moons that are different from each other. The largest of the three, Tethys is round and has a variety of terrains across its surface. Hyperion (to the upper-left of Tethys) is the “wild one” with a chaotic spin, and Prometheus (lower-left) is a tiny moon that busies itself shepherding the F ring.

Image Credit: NASA

A Colossal Interaction


An interacting colossusThis picture shows a galaxy known as NGC 6872 in the constellation of Pavo (The Peacock). Its unusual shape is caused by its interactions with the smaller galaxy called IC 4970 that can be seen just above it. The pair are roughly 300 million light-years away from Earth.

NGC 6872 measures over 500,000 light-years across. It’s the second largest spiral galaxy discovered thus far. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, measures around 100,000 light-years across.

The upper left spiral arm of NGC 6872 appears distorted and is filled with star-forming regions which appear blue on this Hubble image. That may have been be caused by IC 4970 recently (only about 130 million years ago) passing through this spiral arm. Astronomers have noted that NGC 6872 seems to be relatively sparse in terms of free hydrogen, which is the basis material for new stars. It is probable that if it weren’t for its interactions with IC 4970, NGC 6872 might not have been able to produce these new bursts of star formation.

Image Credit: NASA / ESA