Millions of Stars in Omega Centauri

Globular star cluster Omega Centauri, also known as NGC 5139, is 15,000 light-years away. The cluster is packed with about 10 million stars much older than the Sun within a volume about 150 light-years in diameter. It’s the largest and brightest of 200 or so known globular clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way galaxy. Though most star clusters consist of stars with the same age and composition, the enigmatic Omega Cen exhibits the presence of different stellar populations with a spread of ages and chemical abundances. In fact, Omega Cen may be the remnant core of a small galaxy merging with the Milky Way. Omega Centauri’s red giant stars (with a yellowish hue) are easy to pick out in this sharp, color telescopic view. [via NASA]
Anuncio publicitario

This was a sky to show the kids. Early this month the two brightest planets in the night sky, Jupiter and Venus, appeared to converge. At their closest, the two planets were separated by only about the angular width of the full moon. The spectacle occurred just after sunset and was seen and photographed all across planet Earth. The displayed image was taken near to the time of closest approach from Wiltingen, Germany, and features the astrophotographer, spouse, and their two children. Of course, Venus remains much closer to both the Sun and the Earth than Jupiter — the apparent closeness between the planets in the sky of Earth was only angular. Jupiter and Venus have passed and now appear increasingly far apart. Similar planetary convergence opportunities will eventually arise. In a few months, for example, Mars and Venus will appear to congregate just as the Sun sets. [via NASA]

Stars are forming in the Soul of the Queen of Aethopia. More specifically, a large star forming region called the Soul Nebula can be found in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia, whom Greek mythology credits as the vain wife of a King who long ago ruled lands surrounding the upper Nile river. Also known as Westerhout 5 (W5), the Soul Nebula houses several open clusters of stars, ridges and pillars darkened by cosmic dust, and huge evacuated bubbles formed by the winds of young massive stars. Located about 6,500 light years away, the Soul Nebula spans about 100 light years and is usually imaged next to its celestial neighbor the Heart Nebula (IC 1805). The featured image is a composite of exposures made in different colors: red as emitted by hydrogen gas, yellow as emitted by sulfur, and blue as emitted by oxygen. [via NASA]

What lies at the end of a rainbow? Something different for everyone. For the photographer taking this picture, for example, one end of the rainbow ended at a tree. Others nearby, though, would likely see the rainbow end somewhere else. The reason is because a rainbow’s position depends on the observer. The center of a rainbow always appears in the direction opposite the Sun, but that direction lines up differently on the horizon from different locations. This rainbow’s arc indicates that its center is about 40 degrees to the left and slightly below the horizon, while the Sun is well behind the camera and just above the horizon. Reflections and refractions of sunlight from raindrops in a distant storm in the direction of the rainbow are what causes the colorful bands of light. This single exposure image was captured in early January near Knight’s Ferry, California, USA. [via NASA]

What lies at the bottom of Hyperion’s strange craters? To help find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft that once orbited Saturn swooped past the sponge-textured moon and took images of unprecedented detail. A six-image mosaic from the 2005 pass, featured here in scientifically assigned colors, shows a remarkable world strewn with strange craters and an odd, sponge-like surface. At the bottom of most craters lies some type of unknown dark reddish material. This material appears similar to that covering part of another of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus, and might sink into the ice moon as it better absorbs warming sunlight. Hyperion is about 250 kilometers across, rotates chaotically, and has a density so low that it likely houses a vast system of caverns inside. [via NASA]

3D Bennu

Put on your red/blue glasses and float next to asteroid 101955 Bennu. Shaped like a spinning toy top with boulders littering its rough surface, the tiny Solar System world is about one Empire State Building (less than 500 meters) across. Frames used to construct this 3D anaglyph were taken by PolyCam on the OSIRIS_REx spacecraft on December 3, 2018 from a distance of about 80 kilometers. With a sample from the asteroid’s rocky surface on board, OSIRIS_REx departed Bennu’s vicinity in May of 2021 and is now enroute to planet Earth. The robotic spacecraft is scheduled to return the sample to Earth this September. [via NASA]

Orion and the Running Man

Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like The Great Nebula in Orion. Visible as a faint celestial smudge to the naked-eye, the nearest large star-forming region sprawls across this sharp telescopic image, recorded on a cold January night in dark skies from West Virginia, planet Earth. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula’s glowing gas surrounds hot, young stars. About 40 light-years across, it lies at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away within the same spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy as the Sun. Along with dusty bluish reflection nebula NGC 1977 and friends near the top of the frame, the eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of our galactic neighborhood’s wealth of star-forming material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant solar systems. [via NASA]

DART vs Dimorphos

On the first planetary defense test mission from planet Earth, the DART spacecraft captured this close-up on 26 September 2022, three seconds before slamming into the surface of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos. The spacecraft’s outline with two long solar panels is traced at its projected point of impact between two boulders. The larger boulder is about 6.5 meters across. While the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft had a mass of some 570 kilograms, the estimated mass of Dimorphos, the smaller member of a near-Earth binary asteroid system, was about 5 billion kilograms. The direct kinetic impact of the spacecraft measurably altered the speed of Dimorphos by a fraction of a percent, reducing its 12 hour orbital period around its larger companion asteroid 65803 Didymos by about 33 minutes. Beyond successfully demonstrating a technique to change an asteroid’s orbit that can prevent future asteroid strikes on planet Earth, the planetary-scale impact experiment has given the 150-meter-sized Dimorphos a comet-like tail of material. [via NASA]

Where have all the dim stars gone? From many places on the Earth including major cities, the night sky has been reduced from a fascinating display of thousands of stars to a diffuse glow through which only a few stars are visible. The featured map indicates the relative amount of light pollution that occurs across the Earth. The cause of the pollution is artificial light reflecting off molecules and aerosols in the atmosphere. Parts of the Eastern United States and Western Europe colored red, for example, have an artificial night sky glow over ten times that of the natural sky. In any area marked orange or red, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy is no longer visible. The International Dark Sky Association suggests common types of fixtures that provide relatively little amounts of light pollution. [via NASA]

Is this a spiral galaxy? No. Actually, it is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), the largest satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way Galaxy. The LMC is classified as a dwarf irregular galaxy because of its normally chaotic appearance. In this deep and wide exposure, however, the full extent of the LMC becomes visible. Surprisingly, during longer exposures, the LMC begins to resemble a barred spiral galaxy. The Large Magellanic Cloud lies only about 180,000 light-years distant towards the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado). Spanning about 15,000 light-years, the LMC was the site of SN1987A, the brightest and closest supernova in modern times. Together with the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), the LMC can be seen in Earth’s southern hemisphere with the unaided eye. [via NASA]