The Crab Nebula

In 1054, observers around the world reported the appearance of a “new star” in the direction of the constellation Taurus. The remnant of that supernova is called the Crab Nebula, and it is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar. The pulsar was formed when the massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field in the Crab generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.

This composite image of the nebula was created with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue and white), the Hubble Space Telescope (purple), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink).

Image Credit: NASA

A Magnetic Cigar

This is a composite image of the Cigar Galaxy (aka M82), a starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. It combines visible starlight (gray) and a tracing of hydrogen gas (red) from the Kitt Peak Observatory, with near-infrared and mid-infrared starlight and dust (yellow) from SOFIA (a NASA telescope mounted on 747 which does infrared astronomy flying above most of the atmosphere) and the Spitzer Space Telescope.. A magnetic field detected by SOFIA shows up in the image as streamlines which seem to follow the outflows (red) generated by the burst of star formation in the nucleus of the galaxy.

Image Credits: NASA / SOFIA / E. Lopez-Rodriguez and Spitzer / J. Moustakas et al.

Infrared Orion

orion_spitzerR600hThe Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery 1,500 light-years from here. This false-color infrared view is about 40 light-years across and was assembled using data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Looking at the nebula in visible light shows many newly-formed stars. This infrared image also shows the nebula’s many protostars still in the process of formation. They show up in the red areas of the image. One of the red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left is and odd protostar cataloged as HOPS 68. It wasrecently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

Image Credit: NASA

A “Young” Supernova Remnant

g306_wideAstronomers estimate that a supernova explosion occurs perhaps a couple of times a century in the Milky Way. The expanding blast wave and hot stellar debris slowly dissipate over hundreds of thousands of years, eventually mixing with and becoming indistinguishable from interstellar gas. The Swift satellite uncovered the previously unknown remains of a shattered star during an X-ray survey of the galaxy’s central regions. The new object, named G306.3-0.9 after it’s coordinates in the sky,is among the youngest of the 300+ known supernova remnants in the Milky Way. Analysis indicates that G306.3–0.9 is probably less than 2,500 years old. That would make it one of the 20 youngest supernova remnants identified.

This composite image of G306.3–0.9 (the blob in the lower left) was stitched together using data from Chandra X-ray observations (blue), infrared data acquired by the Spitzer Space Telescope (red and cyan) and radio observations (purple) from the Australia Telescope Compact Array.

G306_Swift_XRTjpgThe image on the left was taken in February, 2011, using Swift’s X-ray Telescope as part of the Galactic Plane Survey. The dots in the image indicate where X-rays struck the detector. Despite this short 8.5-minute exposure, the extended circular patch of G306.3–0.9 stands out quite nicely.

Image Credits: NASA

Brown Dwarf

BrownDwarfThis animation shows the coldest brown dwarf found to date. It also the fourth closest system to our Sun. WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is a very dim object that was noticed because of its rapid motion across the sky. It first showed up in two infrared images taken six months apart in 2010 by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE (the orange triangles). Two more images of the object were taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2013 and 2014 (green triangles). Because the two satellites are in different orbits, their data could be used to calculate the distance to the brown dwarf: 7.2 light-years. The Spitzer data were used to show that the body appears to be roughly the same temperature as the Earth’s North Pole (-48 to -13 °C).

Image Credit: NASA