"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
From the photographer: “Planet Jupiter (upper right) and bright star Betelgeuse (at Orion’s shoulder, middle top) over Jumerka mountain, Arta, Greece.”
Image credit & copyright: Stavros Hios
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve very high angular resolution. The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language. The telescopes form an array which is complemented by four movable Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) of 1.8 m aperture. (Wikipedia)
Messier 6 and comet Siding Spring
This looks like a near miss but the greenish coma and tail of Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) are really 2,000 light-years or so away from the stars of open cluster Messier 6. They do appear close together though, along the same line-of-sight in this gorgeous October 9th skyscape toward the constellation Scorpius. Still, on Sunday, October 19th this comet really will be involved in a near miss, passing within only 139,500 kilometers of planet Mars. That’s about 10 times closer than any known comet flyby of planet Earth, and nearly one third the Earth-Moon distance. While an impact with the nucleus is not a threat the comet’s dust, moving with a speed of about 56 kilometers per second relative to the Red Planet, and outskirts of its gaseous coma could interact with the thin Martian atmosphere. Of course, the comet’s close encounter will be followed intently by spacecraft in Martian orbit and rovers on the surface.
Image credit & copyright: Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST)
Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a tiny, faint galaxy — one of the farthest galaxies ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away.
This galaxy offers a peek back to the very early formative years of the universe and may just be the tip of the iceberg.
“This galaxy is an example of what is suspected to be an abundant, underlying population of extremely small, faint objects that existed about 500 million years after the big bang, the beginning of the universe,” explained study leader Adi Zitrin of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “The discovery is telling us galaxies as faint as this one exist, and we should continue looking for them and even fainter objects, so that we can understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved over time.”
The galaxy was detected by the Frontier Fields program, an ambitious three-year effort that teams Hubble with NASA’s other great observatories — the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory — to probe the early universe by studying large galaxy clusters. These clusters are so massive their gravity deflects light passing through them, magnifying, brightening, and distorting background objects in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. These powerful lenses allow astronomers to find many dim, distant structures that otherwise might be too faint to see.
The discovery was made using the lensing power of the mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster, which produced three magnified images of the same, faint galaxy. Each magnified image makes the galaxy appear 10 times larger and brighter than it would look without the zooming qualities of the cluster.
The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across — 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy— and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. And the galaxy forms about one star every three years, whereas the Milky Way galaxy forms roughly one star per year. However, given its small size and low mass, Zitrin said the tiny galaxy actually is rapidly evolving and efficiently forming stars.
The astronomers believe galaxies such as this one are probably small clumps of matter that started to form stars and shine, but do not yet have a defined structure. It is possible Hubble is only detecting one bright clump magnified due to the lensing. This would explain why the object is smaller than typical field galaxies of that time.
Zitrin’s team spotted the galaxy’s gravitationally multiplied images using near-infrared and visible-light photos of the galaxy cluster taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. But they needed to measure how far away it was from Earth.
Usually, astronomers can determine an object’s distance based on how far its light has been stretched as the universe slowly expands. Astronomers can precisely measure this effect through spectroscopy, which characterizes an object’s light. But the gravitationally-lensed galaxy and other objects found at this early time period are too far away and too dim for spectroscopy, so astronomers use an object’s color to estimate its distance. The universe’s expansion reddens an object’s color in predictable ways, which scientists can measure.
Zitrin’s team performed the color-analysis technique and took advantage of the multiple images produced by the gravitational lens to independently confirm the group’s distance estimate. The astronomers measured the angular separation between the three magnified images of the galaxy in the Hubble photos. The greater the angular separation due to lensing, the farther away the object is from Earth.
To test this concept, the astronomers compared the three magnified images with the locations of several other closer, multiply-imaged background objects captured in Hubble images of Pandora’s cluster. The angular distance between the magnified images of the closer galaxies was smaller.
“These measurements imply that, given the large angular separation between the three images of our background galaxy, the object must lie very far away,” Zitrin explained. “It also matches the distance estimate we calculated, based on the color-analysis technique. So we are about 95 percent confident this object is at a remote distance, at redshift 10, a measure of the stretching of space since the big bang. The lensing takes away any doubt that this might be a heavily reddened, nearby object masquerading as a far more distant object.”
Astronomers have long debated whether such early galaxies could have provided enough radiation to warm the hydrogen that cooled soon after the big bang. This process, called reionization, is thought to have occurred 200 million to 1 billion years after the birth of the universe. Reionization made the universe transparent to light, allowing astronomers to look far back into time without running into a “fog” of cold hydrogen.
Image credit: NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI)
Auroral corona over Norway
Higher than the highest mountain lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. Somewhat uncommon, an auroral corona appears as a center point for a surrounding display and may occur when an aurora develops directly overhead, or when auroral rays are pointed nearly toward the observer. This picturesque but brief green and purple aurora exhibition occurred last month high above Kvaløya, Tromsø, Norway. TheSessøyfjorden fjord runs through the foreground, while numerous stars are visible far in the distance.
Image credit & copyright: Harald Albrigtsen
The Orion Deepfield
Credit: Robert Gendler Astropics
Construction secrets of a galactic metropolis
Astronomers have used the APEX telescope to probe a huge galaxy cluster that is forming in the early Universe and revealed that much of the star formation taking place is not only hidden by dust, but also occurring in unexpected places. This is the first time that a full census of the star formation in such an object has been possible.
Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the Universe held together by gravity but their formation is not well understood. The Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings have been studied for twenty years, using ESO and other telescopes, and is thought to be one of the best examples of a protocluster in the process of assembly, more than ten billion years ago.
But Helmut Dannerbauer (University of Vienna, Austria) and his team strongly suspected that the story was far from complete. They wanted to probe the dark side of star formation and find out how much of the star formation taking place in the Spiderweb Galaxy cluster was hidden from view behind dust.
The team used the LABOCA camera on the APEX telescope in Chile to make 40 hours of observations of the Spiderweb Cluster at millimetre wavelengths — wavelengths of light that are long enough to peer right through most of the thick dust clouds. LABOCA has a wide field and is the perfect instrument for this survey.
Carlos De Breuck (APEX project scientist at ESO, and a co-author of the new study) emphasises: “This is one of the deepest observations ever made with APEX and pushes the technology to its limits — as well as the endurance of the staff working at the high-altitude APEX site, 5050 metres above sea level.”
The APEX observations revealed that there were about four times as many sources detected in the area of the Spiderweb compared to the surrounding sky. And by carefully comparing the new data with complementary observations made at different wavelengths they were able to confirm that many of these sources were at the same distance as the galaxy cluster itself and must be parts of the forming cluster.
Helmut Dannerbauer explains: “The new APEX observations add the final piece needed to create a complete census of all inhabitants of this mega star city. These galaxies are in the process of formation so, rather like a construction site on Earth, they are very dusty.”
But a surprise awaited the team when they looked at where the newly detected star formation was taking place. They were expecting to find this star formation region on the large filaments connecting galaxies. Instead, they found it concentrated mostly in a single region, and that region is not even centred on the central Spiderweb Galaxy in the protocluster.
Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Earth and Mars captured together in one photo from lunar orbit
Rosetta mission selfie at 16 km
Using the CIVA camera on Rosetta’s Philae lander, the spacecraft have snapped a ‘selfie’ at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from a distance of about 16 km from the surface of the comet. The image was taken on 7 October and captures the side of the Rosetta spacecraft and one of Rosetta’s 14 m-long solar wings, with the comet in the background.
Two images with different exposure times were combined to bring out the faint details in this very high contrast situation. The comet’s active ‘neck’ region is clearly visible, with streams of dust and gas extending away from the surface.
Image credit & copyright: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula found in the constellation of Taurus. At it’s center lies a neutron star 28-30km across, that emits radiation from gamma rays to radio waves. It is not visible to the naked eye, but can be seen using a telescope or binoculars.