Aurora destination

Following a solar storm that reached the Earth magnetic field, the dancing northern lights or aurora borealis fill the night sky, as captured in this all-sky fisheye view from Yellowknife in the northern Canada, known as one of the world’s best aurora watching destinations. Aurora, which is mostly seen from polar latitudes is produced by the collision of charged particles from Earth’s magnetosphere, mostly electrons but also protons and heavier particles, with atoms and molecules of Earth’s atmosphere (at altitudes above 80 km). The particles originate from the Sun and reach the Earth in the stream of solar wind.

Image credit & copyright: Kwon O Chul

Aurora destination

Following a solar storm that reached the Earth magnetic field, the dancing northern lights or aurora borealis fill the night sky, as captured in this all-sky fisheye view from Yellowknife in the northern Canada, known as one of the world’s best aurora watching destinations. Aurora, which is mostly seen from polar latitudes is produced by the collision of charged particles from Earth’s magnetosphere, mostly electrons but also protons and heavier particles, with atoms and molecules of Earth’s atmosphere (at altitudes above 80 km). The particles originate from the Sun and reach the Earth in the stream of solar wind.

Image credit & copyright: Kwon O Chul

(Source: twanight.org)

Ghost chasing

thepoemarian:

I am a space-wandering craft
Chasing an invisible comet,
Launched for a mock mission
And never reaching its summit. 
I am a probe looking for a star
From the time of its commencing,
One that never existed in the sky
Save for gravitational lensing. 
I search for evidence of water
On a moon too close to the Sun,
Fantasizing a habitable zone
When in fact there can be none. 
I misread a wobbling light
With an exoplanet in mind,
As I’m seeing a binary
While the two stars are aligned. 
Undetachable and fettered,
I’m hopelessly entangled—
When I know I’m not Rosetta
After Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Cosmic Crab nebula

The Crab Pulsar, a city-sized, magnetized neutron star spinning 30 times a second, lies at the center of this tantalizing wide-field image of the Crab Nebula. A spectacular picture of one of our Milky Way’s supernova remnants, it combines optical survey data with X-ray data from the orbiting Chandra Observatory. The composite was created as part of a celebration of Chandra’s 15 year long exploration of the high energy cosmos. Like a cosmic dynamo the pulsar powers the X-ray and optical emission from the nebula, accelerating charged particles to extreme energies to produce the jets and rings glowing in X-rays. The innermost ring structure is about a light-year across. With more mass than the Sun and the density of an atomic nucleus, the spinning pulsar is the collapsed core of the massive star that exploded, while the nebula is the expanding remnant of the star’s outer layers. The supernova explosion was witnessed in the year 1054.

Image credit: NASA, Chandra X-ray Observatory, SAO, DSS

Cosmic Crab nebula

The Crab Pulsar, a city-sized, magnetized neutron star spinning 30 times a second, lies at the center of this tantalizing wide-field image of the Crab Nebula. A spectacular picture of one of our Milky Way’s supernova remnants, it combines optical survey data with X-ray data from the orbiting Chandra Observatory. The composite was created as part of a celebration of Chandra’s 15 year long exploration of the high energy cosmos. Like a cosmic dynamo the pulsar powers the X-ray and optical emission from the nebula, accelerating charged particles to extreme energies to produce the jets and rings glowing in X-rays. The innermost ring structure is about a light-year across. With more mass than the Sun and the density of an atomic nucleus, the spinning pulsar is the collapsed core of the massive star that exploded, while the nebula is the expanding remnant of the star’s outer layers. The supernova explosion was witnessed in the year 1054.

Image credit: NASA, Chandra X-ray Observatory, SAO, DSS

(Source: apod.nasa.gov)

ALMA Milky Way

This alluring all-skyscape was taken 5,100 meters above sea level, from the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. Viewed through the site’s rarefied atmosphere at about 50% sea level pressure, the gorgeous Milky Way stretches through the scene. Its cosmic rifts of dust, stars, and nebulae are joined by Venus, a brilliant morning star immersed in a strong band of predawn Zodiacal light. Still not completely dark even at this high altitude, the night sky’s greenish cast is due to airglow emission from oxygen atoms. Around the horizon the dish antenna units of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA, explore the universe at wavelengths over 1,000 times longer than visible light.

Image credit & copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)

ALMA Milky Way

This alluring all-skyscape was taken 5,100 meters above sea level, from the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. Viewed through the site’s rarefied atmosphere at about 50% sea level pressure, the gorgeous Milky Way stretches through the scene. Its cosmic rifts of dust, stars, and nebulae are joined by Venus, a brilliant morning star immersed in a strong band of predawn Zodiacal light. Still not completely dark even at this high altitude, the night sky’s greenish cast is due to airglow emission from oxygen atoms. Around the horizon the dish antenna units of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA, explore the universe at wavelengths over 1,000 times longer than visible light.

Image credit & copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)

(Source: apod.nasa.gov)

New mass map of a distant galaxy cluster is the most precise yet



Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have mapped the mass within a galaxy cluster more precisely than ever before. Created using observations from Hubble’s Frontier Fields observing programme, the map shows the amount and distribution of mass within MCS J0416.1–2403, a massive galaxy cluster found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun. The detail in this mass map was made possible thanks to the unprecedented depth of data provided by new Hubble observations, and the cosmic phenomenon known as strong gravitational lensing.
Measuring the amount and distribution of mass within distant objects in the Universe can be very difficult. A trick often used by astronomers is to explore the contents of large clusters of galaxies by studying the gravitational effects they have on the light from very distant objects beyond them. This is one of the main goals of Hubble’s Frontier Fields, an ambitious observing programme scanning six different galaxy clusters — including MCS J0416.1–2403, the cluster shown in this stunning new image.
Large clumps of mass in the Universe warp and distort the space-time around them. Acting like lenses, they appear to magnify and bend light that travels through them from more distant objects.
Despite their large masses, the effect of galaxy clusters on their surroundings is usually quite minimal. For the most part they cause what is known as weak lensing, making even more distant sources appear as only slightly more elliptical or smeared across the sky. However, when the cluster is large and dense enough and the alignment of cluster and distant object is just right, the effects can be more dramatic. The images of normal galaxies can be transformed into rings and sweeping arcs of light, even appearing several times within the same image. This effect is known as strong lensing, and it is this phenomenon, seen around the six galaxy clusters targeted by the Frontier Fields programme, that has been used to map the mass distribution of MCS J0416.1–2403, using the new Hubble data.
Using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, the astronomers identified 51 new multiply imaged galaxies around the cluster, quadrupling the number found in previous surveys and bringing the grand total of lensed galaxies to 68. Because these galaxies are seen several times this equates to almost 200 individual strongly lensed images which can be seen across the frame. This effect has allowed Jauzac and her colleagues to calculate the distribution of visible and dark matter in the cluster and produce a highly constrained map of its mass..
The total mass within MCS J0416.1-2403 — modelled to be over 650 000 light-years across — was found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun. This measurement is several times more precise than any other cluster map, and is the most precise ever produced. By precisely pinpointing where the mass resides within clusters like this one, the astronomers are also measuring the warping of space-time with high precision.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields

New mass map of a distant galaxy cluster is the most precise yet

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have mapped the mass within a galaxy cluster more precisely than ever before. Created using observations from Hubble’s Frontier Fields observing programme, the map shows the amount and distribution of mass within MCS J0416.1–2403, a massive galaxy cluster found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun. The detail in this mass map was made possible thanks to the unprecedented depth of data provided by new Hubble observations, and the cosmic phenomenon known as strong gravitational lensing.

Measuring the amount and distribution of mass within distant objects in the Universe can be very difficult. A trick often used by astronomers is to explore the contents of large clusters of galaxies by studying the gravitational effects they have on the light from very distant objects beyond them. This is one of the main goals of Hubble’s Frontier Fields, an ambitious observing programme scanning six different galaxy clusters — including MCS J0416.1–2403, the cluster shown in this stunning new image.

Large clumps of mass in the Universe warp and distort the space-time around them. Acting like lenses, they appear to magnify and bend light that travels through them from more distant objects.

Despite their large masses, the effect of galaxy clusters on their surroundings is usually quite minimal. For the most part they cause what is known as weak lensing, making even more distant sources appear as only slightly more elliptical or smeared across the sky. However, when the cluster is large and dense enough and the alignment of cluster and distant object is just right, the effects can be more dramatic. The images of normal galaxies can be transformed into rings and sweeping arcs of light, even appearing several times within the same image. This effect is known as strong lensing, and it is this phenomenon, seen around the six galaxy clusters targeted by the Frontier Fields programme, that has been used to map the mass distribution of MCS J0416.1–2403, using the new Hubble data.

Using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, the astronomers identified 51 new multiply imaged galaxies around the cluster, quadrupling the number found in previous surveys and bringing the grand total of lensed galaxies to 68. Because these galaxies are seen several times this equates to almost 200 individual strongly lensed images which can be seen across the frame. This effect has allowed Jauzac and her colleagues to calculate the distribution of visible and dark matter in the cluster and produce a highly constrained map of its mass..

The total mass within MCS J0416.1-2403 — modelled to be over 650 000 light-years across — was found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun. This measurement is several times more precise than any other cluster map, and is the most precise ever produced. By precisely pinpointing where the mass resides within clusters like this one, the astronomers are also measuring the warping of space-time with high precision.

Image credit: ESA/HubbleNASAHST Frontier Fields


Hubble finds three surprisingly dry exoplanets

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the sun — and have come up nearly dry.








The three planets, known as HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b, are between 60 and 900 light-years away from Earth and were thought to be ideal candidates for detecting water vapor in their atmospheres because of their high temperatures where water turns into a measurable vapor.
These so-called “hot Jupiters” are so close to their star they have temperatures between 1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the planets were found to have only one-tenth to one one-thousandth the amount of water predicted by standard planet-formation theories.
"Our water measurement in one of the planets, HD 209458b, is the highest-precision measurement of any chemical compound in a planet outside our solar system, and we can now say with much greater certainty than ever before that we’ve found water in an exoplanet," said Nikku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, England. "However, the low water abundance we have found so far is quite astonishing."
Madhusudhan, who led the research, said that this finding presents a major challenge to exoplanet theory. “It basically opens a whole can of worms in planet formation. We expected all these planets to have lots of water in them. We have to revisit planet formation and migration models of giant planets, especially “hot Jupiters,” and investigate how they’re formed.”
"There are so many things we still don’t know about exoplanets, so this opens up a new chapter in understanding how planets and solar systems form," said Drake Deming of the University of Maryland, who led one of the precursor studies. "The problem is that we are assuming the water to be as abundant as in our own solar system. What our study has shown is that water features could be a lot weaker than our expectations."

Image credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI) and N. Madhusudhan (UC)

Hubble finds three surprisingly dry exoplanets
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the sun — and have come up nearly dry.

The three planets, known as HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b, are between 60 and 900 light-years away from Earth and were thought to be ideal candidates for detecting water vapor in their atmospheres because of their high temperatures where water turns into a measurable vapor.

These so-called “hot Jupiters” are so close to their star they have temperatures between 1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the planets were found to have only one-tenth to one one-thousandth the amount of water predicted by standard planet-formation theories.

"Our water measurement in one of the planets, HD 209458b, is the highest-precision measurement of any chemical compound in a planet outside our solar system, and we can now say with much greater certainty than ever before that we’ve found water in an exoplanet," said Nikku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, England. "However, the low water abundance we have found so far is quite astonishing."

Madhusudhan, who led the research, said that this finding presents a major challenge to exoplanet theory. “It basically opens a whole can of worms in planet formation. We expected all these planets to have lots of water in them. We have to revisit planet formation and migration models of giant planets, especially “hot Jupiters,” and investigate how they’re formed.”

"There are so many things we still don’t know about exoplanets, so this opens up a new chapter in understanding how planets and solar systems form," said Drake Deming of the University of Maryland, who led one of the precursor studies. "The problem is that we are assuming the water to be as abundant as in our own solar system. What our study has shown is that water features could be a lot weaker than our expectations."

Image credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI) and N. Madhusudhan (UC)

(Source: nasa.gov)

Ultra-deep astrophoto: 75 hours of the Antenna galaxies

75 hours of observing time allows for this ‘amateur’ view of the Antennae galaxies in the constellation Corvus. Look closely to see the myriad of distant background galaxies that show up in the image, as well.

Image credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen

Ultra-deep astrophoto: 75 hours of the Antenna galaxies

75 hours of observing time allows for this ‘amateur’ view of the Antennae galaxies in the constellation Corvus. Look closely to see the myriad of distant background galaxies that show up in the image, as well.

Image credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen

(Source: universetoday.com)

IC 4603: reflection nebula in Ophiuchius

Why does this starfield photograph resemble an impressionistic painting? The effect is created not by digital trickery but by large amounts of interstellar dust. Dust, minute globs rich in carbonand similar in size to cigarette smoke, frequently starts in the outer atmospheres of large, cool, evolved stars. The dust is dispersed as the star dies and grows as things stick to it in the interstellar medium. Dense dust clouds are opaque to visible light and can completely hide background stars. For less dense clouds, the capacity of dust to preferentially reflect blue starlight becomes important, effectively blooming the stars blue light out and marking the surrounding dust. Nebular gas emissions, typically brightest in red light, can combine to form areas seemingly created on an artist’s canvas. Photographed above is the central part of the nebula IC 4603 surrounding the bright star SAO 184376 (actually 8th magnitude) which mostly illuminates the blue reflection nebula. IC 4603 can be seen near the very bright star Antares (1st magnitude) toward the constellation of Ophiuchus.

Image credit & copyright: Rolf Olsen

IC 4603: reflection nebula in Ophiuchius

Why does this starfield photograph resemble an impressionistic painting? The effect is created not by digital trickery but by large amounts of interstellar dust. Dust, minute globs rich in carbonand similar in size to cigarette smoke, frequently starts in the outer atmospheres of large, cool, evolved stars. The dust is dispersed as the star dies and grows as things stick to it in the interstellar medium. Dense dust clouds are opaque to visible light and can completely hide background stars. For less dense clouds, the capacity of dust to preferentially reflect blue starlight becomes important, effectively blooming the stars blue light out and marking the surrounding dust. Nebular gas emissions, typically brightest in red light, can combine to form areas seemingly created on an artist’s canvas. Photographed above is the central part of the nebula IC 4603 surrounding the bright star SAO 184376 (actually 8th magnitude) which mostly illuminates the blue reflection nebula. IC 4603 can be seen near the very bright star Antares (1st magnitude) toward the constellation of Ophiuchus.

Image credit & copyright: Rolf Olsen

(Source: apod.nasa.gov)


A collection of supernova remnant images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory marking its 15th anniversary in space

Top, from left: the Crab Nebula, G292.0+1.8 and the Tycho’s Supernova Remnant. At bottom, 3C58.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

A collection of supernova remnant images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory marking its 15th anniversary in space

Top, from left: the Crab Nebula, G292.0+1.8 and the Tycho’s Supernova Remnant. At bottom, 3C58.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

(Source: universetoday.com)

Lives and deaths of sibling stars
In this striking new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile young stars huddle together against a backdrop of clouds of glowing gas and lanes of dust. The star cluster, known as NGC 3293, would have been just a cloud of gas and dust itself about ten million years ago, but as stars began to form it became the bright group of stars we see here. Clusters like this are celestial laboratories that allow astronomers to learn more about how stars evolve.
This beautiful star cluster, NGC 3293, is found 8000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). This cluster was first spotted by the French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1751, during his stay in what is now South Africa, using a tiny telescope with an aperture of just 12 millimetres. It is one of the brightest clusters in the southern sky and can be easily seen with the naked eye on a dark clear night.
Star clusters like NGC 3293 contain stars that all formed at the same time, at the same distance from Earth and out of the same cloud of gas and dust, giving them the same chemical composition. As a result clusters like this are ideal objects for testing stellar evolution theory.
Most of the stars seen here are very young, and the cluster itself is less than 10 million years old. Just babies on cosmic scales if you consider that the Sun is 4.6 billion years old and still only middle-aged. An abundance of these bright, blue, youthful stars is common in open clusters like NGC 3293, and, for example, in the better known Kappa Crucis cluster, otherwise known as the Jewel Box or NGC 4755.
These open clusters each formed from a giant cloud of molecular gas and their stars are held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. But these forces are not enough to hold a cluster together against close encounters with other clusters and clouds of gas as the cluster’s own gas and dust dissipates. So, open clusters will only last a few hundred million years, unlike their big cousins, the globular clusters, which can survive for billions of years, and hold on to far more stars.
Despite some evidence suggesting that there is still some ongoing star formation in NGC 3293, it is thought that most, if not all, of the nearly fifty stars in this cluster were born in one single event. But even though these stars are all the same age, they do not all have the dazzling appearance of a star in its infancy; some of them look positively elderly, giving astronomers the chance to explore how and why stars evolve at different speeds.
Take the bright orange star at the bottom right of the cluster. This huge star, a red giant, would have been born as one of the biggest and most luminous of its litter, but bright stars burn out fast. As the star used up the fuel at its core its internal dynamics changed and it began to swell and cool, becoming the red giant we now observe. Red giants are reaching the end of their life cycle, but this red giant’s sister stars are still in what is known as the pre-main-sequence — the period before the long, stable, middle period in a star’s life. We see these stars in the prime of their life as hot, bright and white against the red and dusty background.

Image credit: ESO/G. Beccari

Lives and deaths of sibling stars

In this striking new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile young stars huddle together against a backdrop of clouds of glowing gas and lanes of dust. The star cluster, known as NGC 3293, would have been just a cloud of gas and dust itself about ten million years ago, but as stars began to form it became the bright group of stars we see here. Clusters like this are celestial laboratories that allow astronomers to learn more about how stars evolve.

This beautiful star cluster, NGC 3293, is found 8000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). This cluster was first spotted by the French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1751, during his stay in what is now South Africa, using a tiny telescope with an aperture of just 12 millimetres. It is one of the brightest clusters in the southern sky and can be easily seen with the naked eye on a dark clear night.

Star clusters like NGC 3293 contain stars that all formed at the same time, at the same distance from Earth and out of the same cloud of gas and dust, giving them the same chemical composition. As a result clusters like this are ideal objects for testing stellar evolution theory.

Most of the stars seen here are very young, and the cluster itself is less than 10 million years old. Just babies on cosmic scales if you consider that the Sun is 4.6 billion years old and still only middle-aged. An abundance of these bright, blue, youthful stars is common in open clusters like NGC 3293, and, for example, in the better known Kappa Crucis cluster, otherwise known as the Jewel Box or NGC 4755.

These open clusters each formed from a giant cloud of molecular gas and their stars are held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. But these forces are not enough to hold a cluster together against close encounters with other clusters and clouds of gas as the cluster’s own gas and dust dissipates. So, open clusters will only last a few hundred million years, unlike their big cousins, the globular clusters, which can survive for billions of years, and hold on to far more stars.

Despite some evidence suggesting that there is still some ongoing star formation in NGC 3293, it is thought that most, if not all, of the nearly fifty stars in this cluster were born in one single event. But even though these stars are all the same age, they do not all have the dazzling appearance of a star in its infancy; some of them look positively elderly, giving astronomers the chance to explore how and why stars evolve at different speeds.

Take the bright orange star at the bottom right of the cluster. This huge star, a red giant, would have been born as one of the biggest and most luminous of its litter, but bright stars burn out fast. As the star used up the fuel at its core its internal dynamics changed and it began to swell and cool, becoming the red giant we now observe. Red giants are reaching the end of their life cycle, but this red giant’s sister stars are still in what is known as the pre-main-sequence — the period before the long, stable, middle period in a star’s life. We see these stars in the prime of their life as hot, bright and white against the red and dusty background.

Image credit: ESO/G. Beccari

(Source: eso.org)

s-c-i-guy:

South Pole of Neptune
The South Pole of Neptune as taken by Voyager 2
source

s-c-i-guy:

South Pole of Neptune

The South Pole of Neptune as taken by Voyager 2

source

(via christinetheastrophysicist)


Chandra celebrates 15th anniversary: Crab Nebula







In 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers and others around the world noticed a new bright object in the sky. This “new star” was, in fact, the supernova explosion that created what is now called the Crab Nebula. At the center of the Crab Nebula is an extremely dense, rapidly rotating neutron star left behind by the explosion. The neutron star, also known as a pulsar, is spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles, producing the expanding X-ray nebula seen by Chandra. In this new image, lower-energy X-rays from Chandra are red, medium energy X-rays are green, and the highest-energy X-rays are blue.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

Chandra celebrates 15th anniversary: Crab Nebula

In 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers and others around the world noticed a new bright object in the sky. This “new star” was, in fact, the supernova explosion that created what is now called the Crab Nebula. At the center of the Crab Nebula is an extremely dense, rapidly rotating neutron star left behind by the explosion. The neutron star, also known as a pulsar, is spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles, producing the expanding X-ray nebula seen by Chandra. In this new image, lower-energy X-rays from Chandra are red, medium energy X-rays are green, and the highest-energy X-rays are blue.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

(Source: nasa.gov)

What does the Apollo 11 Moon landing site look like today?


Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?
The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.


Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

What does the Apollo 11 Moon landing site look like today?

Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?

The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

(Source: universetoday.com)

Hubble traces the halo of a galaxy more accurately than ever before



Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have probed the extreme outskirts of the stunning elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. The galaxy’s halo of stars has been found to extend much further from the galaxy’s centre than expected and the stars within this halo seem to be surprisingly rich in heavy elements. This is the most remote portion of an elliptical galaxy ever to have been explored.
There is more to a galaxy than first meets the eye. Extending far beyond the bright glow of a galaxy’s centre, the swirling spiral arms, or the elliptical fuzz, is an extra component: a dim halo of stars sprawling into space.
These expansive halos are important components of a galaxy. The halo of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, preserves signatures of both its formation and evolution. Yet, we know very little about the halos of galaxies beyond our own as their faint and spread-out nature makes exploring them more difficult. Astronomers have so far managed to detect very few starry halos around other galaxies.
Now, by utilising the unique space-based location of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and its sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3, a team of astronomers has probed the halo surrounding the prominent giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A, also known as NGC 5128, to unprecedented distances. They have found that its halo spreads far further into space than expected and does so in an unexpected form.
"Tracing this much of a galaxy’s halo gives us surprising insights into a galaxy’s formation, evolution, and composition," says Marina Rejkuba of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, lead author of the new Hubble study."We found more stars scattered in one direction than the other, giving the halo a lopsided shape — which we hadn’t expected!"
Along the galaxy’s length the astronomers probed out 25 times further than the galaxy’s radius — mapping a region some 450 000 light-years across. For the width they explored along 295 000 light-years, 16 times further than its “effective radius”. These are large distances if you consider that the main visible component of the Milky Way is around 120 000 light-years in diameter. In fact, the diameter of the halo probed by this team extends across 4 degrees in the sky — equivalent to eight times the apparent width of the Moon.
Alongside their unexpected uneven distribution, the stars within the halo also showed surprising properties relating to the proportion of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium found in the gas that makes up the stars. While the stars within the haloes of the Milky Way and other nearby spirals are generally low in heavy elements, the stars within Centaurus A’s halo appear to be rich in heavy elements, even at the outermost locations explored.
The small quantity of heavy elements in the stellar haloes of large spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, is thought to originate from the way that the galaxies formed and evolved, slowly pulling in numerous small satellite galaxies and taking on their stars. For Centaurus A, the presence of stars rich in heavy elements in such remote locations suggests a single past merger with a large spiral galaxy. This event would have ejected stars from the spiral galaxy’s disc and these are now seen as part of Centaurus A’s outer halo.

Image credit: NASA, ESA & M. Rejkuba (European Southern Observatory)

Hubble traces the halo of a galaxy more accurately than ever before

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have probed the extreme outskirts of the stunning elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. The galaxy’s halo of stars has been found to extend much further from the galaxy’s centre than expected and the stars within this halo seem to be surprisingly rich in heavy elements. This is the most remote portion of an elliptical galaxy ever to have been explored.

There is more to a galaxy than first meets the eye. Extending far beyond the bright glow of a galaxy’s centre, the swirling spiral arms, or the elliptical fuzz, is an extra component: a dim halo of stars sprawling into space.

These expansive halos are important components of a galaxy. The halo of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, preserves signatures of both its formation and evolution. Yet, we know very little about the halos of galaxies beyond our own as their faint and spread-out nature makes exploring them more difficult. Astronomers have so far managed to detect very few starry halos around other galaxies.

Now, by utilising the unique space-based location of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and its sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3, a team of astronomers has probed the halo surrounding the prominent giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A, also known as NGC 5128, to unprecedented distances. They have found that its halo spreads far further into space than expected and does so in an unexpected form.

"Tracing this much of a galaxy’s halo gives us surprising insights into a galaxy’s formation, evolution, and composition," says Marina Rejkuba of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, lead author of the new Hubble study."We found more stars scattered in one direction than the other, giving the halo a lopsided shape — which we hadn’t expected!"

Along the galaxy’s length the astronomers probed out 25 times further than the galaxy’s radius — mapping a region some 450 000 light-years across. For the width they explored along 295 000 light-years, 16 times further than its “effective radius”. These are large distances if you consider that the main visible component of the Milky Way is around 120 000 light-years in diameter. In fact, the diameter of the halo probed by this team extends across 4 degrees in the sky — equivalent to eight times the apparent width of the Moon.

Alongside their unexpected uneven distribution, the stars within the halo also showed surprising properties relating to the proportion of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium found in the gas that makes up the stars. While the stars within the haloes of the Milky Way and other nearby spirals are generally low in heavy elements, the stars within Centaurus A’s halo appear to be rich in heavy elements, even at the outermost locations explored.

The small quantity of heavy elements in the stellar haloes of large spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, is thought to originate from the way that the galaxies formed and evolved, slowly pulling in numerous small satellite galaxies and taking on their stars. For Centaurus A, the presence of stars rich in heavy elements in such remote locations suggests a single past merger with a large spiral galaxy. This event would have ejected stars from the spiral galaxy’s disc and these are now seen as part of Centaurus A’s outer halo.

Image credit: NASAESA & M. Rejkuba (European Southern Observatory)

thedemon-hauntedworld:

LHA 120-N11 in the Large Magellanic Cloud
Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA, ESA. Acknowledgement: Josh Lake

thedemon-hauntedworld:

LHA 120-N11 in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Credit: NASA, ESA. Acknowledgement: Josh Lake

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