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Category Archives: Deep Space Objects

These Cosmic “Ghosts” Are Some Of The Stranger Things In Our Galaxy

A portion of vdB 141, aka the “Ghost Nebula,” in the constellation Cepheus.

Looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, the eerie shapes seen here are part of a cloud of gas and dust located 1,470 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus. The transparent anthropomorphic figures with their outstretched “arms” are responsible for the structure’s spooky nickname: the “Ghost Nebula.”

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Antares is a Bug-Eyed Monster 700 Times Bigger Than Our Sun

Artist’s impression of Antares based on new observations by ESO’s VLTI. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

From a “mere” 93 million miles away we’re able to view the surface of our home star the Sun very well with telescopes on Earth and in space…you can even observe large sunspots with your unaided eye (with proper protection, of course.) But the surface details of other stars tens, hundreds, or thousands of light-years away can’t be so easily resolved from Earth. The details are just too fine and get lost in the brilliance of the stars themselves.

But astronomers have now produced the best image yet of the surface of another star beyond our Solar System. Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, located on a high plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert where the sky is some of the clearest and driest in the world, a team of scientists have mapped the movement of material in the atmosphere of Antares, a red supergiant star 700 times the size of our Sun that shines brightly in the heart of the constellation Scorpius. The observations enabled them to determine how material moves through Antares’ atmosphere and then construct an image of the star itself—the most accurate representation of another star besides the Sun.

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This Blazing Quasar Got Wave Motion Gunned Clear Out Of Its Galaxy

Hubble image of quasar 3C 186 racing out of from its host galaxy, 8 billion light-years away from Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Chiaberge (STScI and JHU).

Astronomers still have yet to directly capture an image of a black hole—they’re working on it—but they know where some of the largest ones are: inside the hearts of galaxies, where they power brilliant and powerful quasars whose light can be seen across the Universe. Some of these supermassive black holes (SMBs) can contain the mass of millions if not billions of Sun-sized stars and, when two galaxies happen to collide (which they often do) their respective resident SMBs can end up locked in an orbital embrace. As their spinning dance grows tighter and tighter they send out gravitational waves, rippling the very fabric of space and time itself (the LIGO experiment announced the first detection of these waves in 2016.) But if the gravitational waves are uneven, say because the two merging SMBs are of vastly different masses and/or individually spinning in different orientations (a possible but not common scenario) then the super-duper-supermassive black hole that results from the merger can end up getting one serious cosmic-scale kick after the event occurs and the waves shut off—perhaps a strong enough kick to send it hurtling out of the galaxy altogether.

That’s what astronomers think we’re witnessing here in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Did Ancient Supernovas Change Earth’s Climate?

Visible, infrared, and X-ray image of Kepler’s supernova remnant located about 13,000 light-years away. The bubble of ionized gas is about 30 light-years across. Credit: NASA, ESA, R. Sankrit and W. Blair (Johns Hopkins University).

Supernovas are some of the most powerful and energetic events in the entire Universe. When a dying star explodes you wouldn’t want to be anywhere nearby—fresh elements are nice and all, but the energy and radiation from a supernova would roast any planets within tens if not hundreds of light-years in all directions. Luckily for us we’re not in an unsafe range of any supernovas in the foreseeable future, but there was a time not very long ago (in geological terms) that these stellar explosions occurred nearby (in astronomical terms) and in 2016 scientists found the “smoking gun” evidence at the bottom of the ocean.

What’s more, the arrival of the iron-rich fallout from those stellar explosions seems to coincide with ancient global temperature changes*, the most recent dated near the start of the last major ice age which brought lower sea levels, widespread glaciation…and eventually the rise of the first modern humans.

Read more at Universe Today here: Nearby Supernovas Showered Earth With Iron

*Note: the changes in climate referred to here are not the same as the climate change we are witnessing today. Not only are we now seeing rapid warming of land and sea temperatures globally, but today’s forcings are the result of increasing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—not radioactive iron from exploding stars.

ESO Images NGC 1055, a Spiral Galaxy “On the Edge”

The spiral galaxy NGC 1055, imaged by ESO’s VLT (Credit: ESO)

The European Southern Observatory’s unimaginatively-named but incredibly powerful Very Large Telescope (VLT) located on a remote plateau high in the mountains of Chile’s Atacama Desert has captured a detailed view of NGC 1055, a spiral galaxy a little larger than our own located 55 million light-years away. On galactic scales this is relatively close by, and our edge-on perspective allows astronomers to determine the three-dimensional structure of this island of stars.

Spiral galaxies across the Universe can be found at all angles in relation to our viewpoint here on Earth. Some we see “face on,” which dramatically shows a spiral galaxy’s long, arcing arms and bright center but make it difficult to get a sense of true shape or variations in density. With NGC 1055 we see it “on edge,” without which it likely wouldn’t be known that it’s being tugged by one of its galactic neighbors.

Read the full story from ESO here: A Galaxy on the Edge

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