NGC 6302: The Butterfly Nebula

The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth’s night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. The Hubble image data is reprocessed here, showing off the remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star’s dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2NK2cdH
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A Charioteer s Comet

Still racing across planet Earth’s night skies, Comet Iwamoto (C/2018 Y1) shares this pretty telescopic field of view with stars and nebulae of northern constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. Captured on February 27, Iwamoto’s greenish coma and faint tail appear between a complex of reddish emission nebulae and open star cluster M36 (bottom right). The reddish emission is light from hydrogen gas ionized by ultraviolet radiation from hot stars near the region’s giant molecular cloud some 6,000 light-years distant. The greenish glow from the comet, less than 5 light-minutes away, is predominantly emission from diatomic carbon molecules fluorescing in sunlight. M36, one of Auriga’s more familiar star clusters, is also a background object far beyond the Solar System, about 4,000 light-years away. Comet Iwamoto passed closest to Earth on February 12 and is outward bound in a highly elliptical orbit that will carry it beyond the Kuiper belt. With an estimated orbital period of 1,317 years it should return to the inner Solar System in 3390 AD. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2IJyruy

Sharpest Ultima Thule

On January 1, New Horizons swooped to within 3,500 kilometers of the Kuiper Belt world known as Ultima Thule. That’s about 3 times closer than its July 2015 closest approach to Pluto. The spacecraft’s unprecedented feat of navigational precision, supported by data from ground and space-based observing campaigns, was accomplished 6.6 billion kilometers (over 6 light-hours) from planet Earth. Six and a half minutes before closest approach to Ultima Thule it captured the nine frames used in this composite image. The most detailed picture possible of the farthest object ever explored, the image has a resolution of about 33 meters per pixel, revealing intriguing bright surface features and dark shadows near the terminator. A primitive Solar System object, Ultima Thule’s two lobes combine to span just 30 kilometers. The larger lobe, referred to as Ultima, is recently understood to be flattened like a fluffy pancake, while the smaller, Thule, has a shape that resembles a dented walnut. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2UjlMQ4

Simulation TNG50: A Galaxy Cluster Forms

How do clusters of galaxies form? Since our universe moves too slowly to watch, faster-moving computer simulations are created to help find out. A recent effort is TNG50 from IllustrisTNG, an upgrade of the famous Illustris Simulation. The first part of the featured video tracks cosmic gas (mostly hydrogen) as it evolves into galaxies and galaxy clusters from the early universe to today, with brighter colors marking faster moving gas. As the universe matures, gas falls into gravitational wells, galaxies forms, galaxies spin, galaxies collide and merge, all while black holes form in galaxy centers and expel surrounding gas at high speeds. The second half of the video switches to tracking stars, showing a galaxy cluster coming together complete with tidal tails and stellar streams. The outflow from black holes in TNG50 is surprisingly complex and details are being compared with our real universe. Studying how gas coalesced in the early universe helps humanity better understand how our Earth, Sun, and Solar System originally formed. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2XxA5CW

The Expanding Echoes of Supernova 1987A

Can you find supernova 1987A? It isn’t hard — it occurred at the center of the expanding bullseye pattern. Although this stellar detonation was first seen in 1987, light from SN 1987A continued to bounce off clumps of interstellar dust and be reflected to us even many years later. Light echoes recorded between 1988 and 1992 by the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT) in Australia are shown moving out from the position of the supernova in the featured time-lapse sequence. These images were composed by subtracting an LMC image taken before the supernova light arrived from later LMC images that included the supernova echo. Other prominent light echo sequences include those taken by the EROS2 and SuperMACHO sky monitoring projects. Studies of expanding light echo rings around other supernovas have enabled more accurate determinations of the location, date, and symmetry of these tremendous stellar explosions. Yesterday marked the 32nd anniversary of SN 1987A: the last recoded supernova in or around our Milky Way Galaxy, and the last to be visible to the unaided eye. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2VhAEPi

NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge

Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy’s bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565’s thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view, with neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 at the upper right. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2It0o9C

Reflections on vdB 9

Centered in a well-composed celestial still life, pretty, blue vdB 9 is the 9th object in Sidney van den Bergh’s 1966 catalog of reflection nebulae. It shares this telescopic field of view, about twice the size of a full moon on the sky, with stars and dark, obscuring dust clouds in the northerly constellation Cassiopeia. Cosmic dust is preferentially reflecting blue starlight from embedded, hot star SU Cassiopeiae, giving vdB 9 the characteristic bluish tint associated with a classical reflection nebula. SU Cas is a Cepheid variable star, though even at its brightest it is just too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. Still Cepheids play an important role in determining distances in our galaxy and beyond. At the star’s well-known distance of 1,540 light-years, this cosmic canvas would be about 24 light-years across. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2TajiGo