Shapley 1

Fine Ring NebulaThis is Shapley 1 (aka the Fine Ring Nebula), an unusual planetary nebula. Planetary nebulae form after some dying stars that have expanded into a red giant phase eject a shell of gas as they evolve into the next phase of their stellar evolution, white dwarfs. Most planetary nebulae are either spherical or elliptical in shape, or bipolar (featuring two symmetric lobes of material), but the Fine Ring Nebula looks like an almost perfectly circular ring. Astronomers believe that this unusually shaped planetary nebula was formed from a binary system. The interaction between the primary star and its orbiting companion shapes the ejected material.

The stellar object at the center of the Fine Ring Nebula appears to be a binary system, orbiting with a period of 2.9 days. Observations suggest that the binary pair is almost perfectly face-on from our vantage point, implying that the planetary nebula’s structure is aligned in the same way. Our point of view looks down on the torus (doughnut shape) of ejected material, leading to the strikingly circular ring shape in the image.

Image Credit: ESO

Thor’s Helmet

Thor's HelmentNGC 2359 (aka Thor’s Helmet) is an emission nebula in the constellation Canis Major. The nebula is about 15,000 light-years away and 30 light-years across. The central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. This image was taken by the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Image Credit: ESO

NGC 1807

NGC 1807 is a spiral galaxy about 80 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cetus. The apparent menacing red glow in this false color image actually corresponds to clouds of cold molecular gas, the raw material from which stars are made. The clouds were imaged in radio wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The bluish regions in the background reveal older, already formed stars, imaged by the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

Image Credit: ESO

Watch This Space

Coalsack_2These dark areas are small parts of a huge dark nebula known as the Coalsack, one of the better known dark objects “visible” to the naked eye. The nebula is located about 600 light-years away in the constellation of Crux (The Southern Cross). This huge, cold object forms a conspicuous silhouette against the brighter background of Milky Way, but over the next few million years, coalescing stars in the Coalsack will ignite, filling in the blank spots.

Image Credit: ESO

The Darkness Before Some Stars Form

What used to be considered holes in the sky is now known to astronomers as dark molecular clouds. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68 where a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark interiors of molecular clouds are some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to be born. In fact, Barnard 68 will probably collapse and form a new star system.

Image Credit: ESO

The Spare Tire Nebula

Spare TireWhen observed with a smaller amateur telescope, this particular planetary nebula looks like a ring of material, with a star shining in the middle of the hole. Hence, the of nickname IC 5148 is the Spare Tire Nebula. When viewed via the ESO’s New Technology Telescope, the nebula resembles ethereal blossom with layered petals.

IC 5148 is a planetary nebula located 3000 or so light-years away in the constellation of Grus (The Crane). It has a diameter of a couple of light-years and is still growing at over 50 km/s, making itone of the fastest expanding planetary nebulae known. As a star with a mass similar to or a few times more than that of our Sun approaches the end of its life, its outer layers are thrown off into space. The expanding gas is illuminated by the hot remaining core of the star at the center, forming the planetary nebula.

Image Credit: ESO

Messier 104

Sombero_esoMessier 104 (aka the Sombrero Galaxy) is a favorite sky view of mine. This picture was taken by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in 2000.

Image Credit: ESO / P. Barthel
Acknowledgments: Mark Neeser (Kapteyn Institute, Groningen) and Richard Hook (ST/ECF, Garching, Germany).

Caldwell 70

ngc 300Caldwell 70 (aka NGC 300) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor. It is one of the closest galaxies to the Local Group, and probably lies between us and a more distant group of galaxies, the Sculptor Group. The x-ray source at the core of NGC 300 is designated NGC 300 X-1. Astronomers speculate that NGC 300 X-1 is a new kind of binary Wolf-Rayet black hole system.

Image Credit: ESO

A Grand Design Galaxy

NGC 7424This galaxy is the beautiful multi-armed NGC 7424, seen almost directly face-on. It’s around 40 million light-years in the southern sky constellation Grus (the Crane). It’s an example of a “grand design” galaxy, intermediate in form between normal spirals and strongly barred galaxies; it has rather open arms with a small central region. Ten young massive star clusters whose size span the range from 1 to 200 light-years have been identified. NGC 7424 is approximately 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Because of its low surface brightness, this galaxy demands dark skies and a clear night to be observed in detail. When viewed in a small telescope, it appears as a large elliptical haze with no trace of the many beautiful filamentary arms with a multitude of branches revealed in this image taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Image Credit: ESO


Back in 2005, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched. Ten years later, it flew by Pluto, and our view of the planet sharpened from an almost-featureless blob to a world with mountains and plains. In a few days, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch a spacecraft to the metal-rich asteroid Psyche. In 2029, the Psyche orbiter will arrive at the asteroid, and our view will improve over the image above which was taken by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

Image Credit: ESO

Sunrise Over the ELT

This timelapse video show the Sun rising behind the construction site for the Extremely Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in the Altacama Desert in Chile. If you look carefully, you can just about make out a couple of sunspots on the Sun’s surface.

Video CreditL ESO

A Cosmic Prawn

The Prawn Nebula in close-upPrawn Nebula, IC 4628, is an emission nebula located around 6000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius.

Though the nebula stretches across 250 light-years, covering slice of sky four times the size of the full moon, it emits light primarily in wavelengths the human eye cannot detect. It is very faint as seen from Earth.

Image Credit: ESO

A Meathook and a Flying Fish

Distorted galaxy NGC 2442The distorted galaxy NGC 2442, also known as the Meathook Galaxy, is located some 50 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Volans (the Flying Fish). The galaxy’s two dusty spiral arms extending from its pronounced central bar give it a hook-like appearance. The galaxy’s distorted shape is most likely the result of a close encounter with a smaller, unseen galaxy.

Image Credit: ESO