A Lucky Catch


This image was taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. It was part of a “snapshot” survey, observations that are fitted into Hubble’s schedule when possible, without any guarantee that the observation will take place. It was fortunate that the observation was made at all. This picture shows a little-known nebula IRAS 05437+2502 billowing among the bright stars and dark dust clouds that surround it.

The nebula is in the constellation of Taurus, close to the central plane of the Milky Way. Unlike many of Hubble’s targets, this object has not been studied in detail, and its exact nature is unclear. The faint cloud was originally discovered in 1983 by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), the first space telescope to survey the whole sky in infrared light. IRAS found a large number of new objects invisible from the ground.

Image Credit: ESA / NASA

North America


Nord_americaThe North America Nebula (aka NGC 7000) is an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus, close to Deneb, the bright star at the tail of the Swan. The remarkable shape of the nebula resembles that of the continent of North America, complete with a prominent Gulf of Mexico. It is sometimes incorrectly called the “North American Nebula”.

The nebula appears large (about 4X the area of the Moon) but very dim in the sky. It can’t be seen with the naked eye but is visible with good binoculars with a dark sky.

Image Credit: Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be

NGC 6604


This video pans across the region around star cluster NGC 6604. It’s derived from an image taken by the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope in Chile. The picture also shows the cluster’s associated nebula, a cloud of glowing hydrogen gas that is called Sh2-54.

Video Credit: ESO

A Nebula With No Name


ngc7027N7027lredsgNGC 7027 is one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, but it has never been given a common name. In a 6-in telescope at around 50x it appears as a relatively bright bluish star. This Hubble image above shows a bit more detail.

Before being studied via Hubble, NGC 7027 was thought to be a proto-planetary nebula with the central star too cool to ionize any of the gas. It is now known to be a planetary nebula in the earliest stage of its development with a central star is believed to have been about 3 to 4 times the mass of the Sun.

Image Credit: NASA

Sauron in Space?


Sauron in SpaceEven though it looks like it belongs atop the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, this fiery swirl is actually a planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67. It lies in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer) in the southern sky.

It is possible to see in this image of the nebula the various layers of material expelled by the central star. Each appears in a different color—red, orange, yellow, and green-tinted bands of gas are visible, with clear patches of at the center. Astronomers don’t fully understood how planetary nebulae form such a wide variety of shapes and structures. Some are spherical, some elliptical, others shoot material in waves from their polar regions, some look like hourglasses or figures of eight, and others resemble large, messy stellar explosions.

Image Credit: NASA

A Complex Nebula


ngc5189_hst_960When a star like our Sun dies, it will cast off its outer layers, usually into a simple overall shape—often a sphere, sometimes a double lobe, and sometimes a ring or a helix. In the case of planetary nebula NGC 5189 no such simple structure emerged. Astronomers trying to figure out why NGC 5189 turned out this was have been using the Hubble Space Telescope for detailed observations. Previous observations suggested the existence of multiple events of material outflow; a recent one created a bright but distorted torus running horizontally across image center. New results point toward the dying star being part of a binary star system. NGC 5189 spans about three light years and lies about 3,000 light years away toward the southern constellation of Musca (The Fly).

Image Credit: NASA

Reflecting Merope


Starlight is slowly destroying this wandering cloud of gas and dust seen in the Pleiades star cluster. The star Merope is just out of the frame on the left of this picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. During the past 100,000 years, part of the cloud has moved so close to Merope that the star’s light is having a very dramatic effect. The pressure of the light is repelling the dust in the reflection nebula, and the smaller dust particles are repelled more quickly. As a result, the cloud has become stratified, seeming to point toward Merope. The closest particles are the most massive and the least affected by the radiation pressure. This nebula will eventually be blown apart by starlight.

Image Credit: NASA