Cosmic Clouds in Cygnus

These cosmic clouds of gas and dust drift through rich star fields along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the high flying constellation Cygnus. They’re too faint to be seen with the unaided eye though, even on a clear, dark night. Image data from a camera and telephoto lens using narrowband filters was used to construct this 10 degree wide field of view. The deep mosaic reveals a region that includes star forming dust clouds seen in silhouette against the characteristic glow of atomic hydrogen and oxygen gas. NGC 6888 is the standout emission nebula near the top. Blown by winds from an massive Wolf-Rayet star it’s about 25 light-years across and known as the Crescent Nebula. A faint bluish curl just below center in the frame is also the signature of a Wolf-Rayet star. Burning fuel at a prodigious rate and near the end of their stellar lives, both stars will ultimately go out with a bang in a spectacular supernova explosion. Toward the right, a massive, young O type star powers the glow of Sh2-101, the Tulip Nebula. [via NASA]

Ship Tracks over the Pacific Ocean

What are those unusual streaks? Some images of planet Earth show clear bright streaks that follow the paths of ships. Known as ship tracks, these low and narrow bands are caused by the ship’s engine exhaust. Water vapor condenses around small bits of exhaust known as aerosols, which soon grow into floating water drops that efficiently reflect sunlight. Ship tracks were first discovered in 1965 in Earth images taken by NASA’s TIROS satellites. Multiple ship tracks are visible across the featured image that was captured in 2009 over the Pacific Ocean by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. Inspired by ship-tracks, some scientists have suggested deploying a network of floating buoys in the worlds’ oceans that spray salt-aerosol containing sea-water into the air so that, with the help of the wind, streams of sunlight-reflecting clouds would also form. Why do this? These human-made clouds could reflect so much sunlight they might help fight global warming. [via NASA]

NGC 6188: Dragons of Ara

Do dragons fight on the altar of the sky? Although it might appear that way, these dragons are illusions made of thin gas and dust. The emission nebula NGC 6188, home to the glowing clouds, is found about 4,000 light years away near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara (the Altar). Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas, visible toward the lower right, is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region’s massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164’s striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star near the bottom edge. This impressively wide field of view spans over 2 degrees (four full Moons), corresponding to over 150 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188. [via NASA]

Milky Way Galaxy Doomed: Collision with Andromeda Pending

Will our Milky Way Galaxy collide one day with its larger neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy? Most likely, yes. Careful plotting of slight displacements of M31’s stars relative to background galaxies on recent Hubble Space Telescope images indicate that the center of M31 could be on a direct collision course with the center of our home galaxy. Still, the errors in sideways velocity appear sufficiently large to admit a good chance that the central parts of the two galaxies will miss, slightly, but will become close enough for their outer halos to become gravitationally entangled. Once that happens, the two galaxies will become bound, dance around, and eventually merge to become one large elliptical galaxy — over the next few billion years. Pictured here is a combination of images depicting the sky of a world (Earth?) in the distant future when the outer parts of each galaxy begin to collide. The exact future of our Milky Way and the entire surrounding Local Group of Galaxies is likely to remain an active topic of research for years to come. [via NASA]

Two Black Holes Dancing in 3C 75

What’s happening at the center of active galaxy 3C 75? The two bright sources at the center of this composite x-ray (blue)/ radio (pink) image are co-orbiting supermassive black holes powering the giant radio source 3C 75. Surrounded by multimillion degree x-ray emitting gas, and blasting out jets of relativistic particles the supermassive black holes are separated by 25,000 light-years. At the cores of two merging galaxies in the Abell 400 galaxy cluster they are some 300 million light-years away. Astronomers conclude that these two supermassive black holes are bound together by gravity in a binary system in part because the jets’ consistent swept back appearance is most likely due to their common motion as they speed through the hot cluster gas at about 1200 kilometers per second. Such spectacular cosmic mergers are thought to be common in crowded galaxy cluster environments in the distant universe. In their final stages, the mergers are expected to be intense sources of gravitational waves. [via NASA]

Tau Herculids from Space

On May 31 tens of parallel meteor streaks were recorded in this 8 degree wide field of view of planet Earth’s limb from space. The image is one of a series of 5 minute long observations by the orbiting Yangwang-1 space telescope. It was captured at 03:43 UT, near the peak of the Tau Herculid meteor shower. As predicted, the meteor shower was an active one this year, caused as Earth swept through a relatively dense stream of debris from disintegrating Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, but was lacking bright meteors. Nearly all of the Tau Herculid meteors in the Yangwang-1 image are too faint to be detected by groundbased instruments. But on that date patient earthbound skywatchers under clear skies still enjoyed a memorable showing of the Tau Herculids. [via NASA]

A 10 000 Kilometer Galactic Bridge

With this creative astro-collaboration you can follow the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy as it bridges northern and southern hemisphere skies. To construct the expansive composite nightscape, skies over Observatorio El Sauce in Chile (top) were imaged on the same date but 6 hours later than the skies over the Saint-Veran observatory in the French Alps. The 6 hour time-lag allowed Earth’s rotation to align the Milky Way above domes at the two sites. All exposures were made with similar cameras and lenses mounted on simple tripods. A faint greenish airglow is visible in the dark Chilean sky that also features the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds near the observatory dome. In the French Alps light pollution is apparent, but the distant Andromeda Galaxy can still be spotted near the horizon in the northern night. On planet Earth the two observatories are separated by about 10,000 kilometers. [via NASA]

Lunar Occultation of Venus

On May 27 Venus rose as the morning star, near the waning crescent Moon in a predawn sky already full of planets. It was close on the sky to the Moon’s crescent and a conjunction of the second an third brightest celestial beacons were enjoyed by skygazers around the world. But seen from locations along a track through southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean the Moon actually passed in front of Venus in a lunar occultation. In this animated gif the 75 percent illuminated disk of Venus approaches and just begins to disappear behind the sunlit southwestern lunar limb. The telescopic frames used to construct it were captured from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean around 4:50am local time, with the Moon and Venus very close to the eastern horizon. At the time Venus was over 180 million kilometers from Reunion Island, compared to a lunar distance of a mere 400 thousand kilometers or so. About 50 minutes later Venus emerged from behind the Moon. [via NASA]

Tau Herculids Meteors over Kitt Peak Telescopes

It wasn’t the storm of the century — but it was a night to remember. Last night was the peak of the Tau Herculids meteor shower, a usually modest dribble of occasional meteors originating from the disintegrating Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. This year, calculations showed that the Earth might be passing through a particularly dense stream of comet debris — at best creating a storm of bright meteors streaking out from the constellation of Hercules. What actually happened fell short of a meteor storm, but could be called a decent meteor shower. Featured here is a composite image taken at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, USA accumulated over 2.5 hours very late on May 30. Over that time, 19 Tau Herculids meteors were captured, along with 4 unrelated meteors. (Can you find them?) In the near foreground is the Bok 2.3-meter Telescope with the 4.0-meter Mayall Telescope just behind it. Next year, the annual Tau Herculids are expected to return to its normal low rate, with the next active night forecast for 2049. [via NASA]