A Laser Strike at the Galactic Center
Why are these people shooting a powerful laser into the center of our Galaxy? Fortunately, this is not meant to be the first step in a Galactic war. Rather, astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) site in Chile are trying to measure the distortions of Earth’s ever changing atmosphere. Constant imaging of high-altitude atoms excited by the laser — which appear like an artificial star — allow astronomers to instantly measure atmospheric blurring. This information is fed back to a VLT telescope mirror which is then slightly deformed to minimize this blurring. In this case, a VLT was observing our Galaxy’s center, and so Earth’s atmospheric blurring in that direction was needed. As for inter-galaxy warfare, when viewed from our Galaxy’s center, no casualties are expected. In fact, the light from this powerful laser would combine with light from our Sun to together appear only as bright as a faint and distant star.
Image Credit: Yuri Beletsky (ESO)
NGC 7714 is a spiral galaxy 100 million light-years from Earth — a relatively close neighbour in cosmic terms.
The galaxy has witnessed some violent and dramatic events in its recent past. Tell-tale signs of this brutality can be seen in NGC 7714’s strangely shaped arms, and in the smoky golden haze that stretches out from the galactic centre — caused by an ongoing merger with its smaller galactic companion NGC 7715, which is off the top of the frame of this image.
ESA/Hubble & NASA.
The Colorful Clouds of Rho Ophiuchi
The many spectacular colors of the Rho Ophiuchi (oh’-fee-yu-kee) clouds highlight the many processes that occur there. The blue regions shine primarily by reflected light. Blue light from the star Rho Ophiuchi and nearby stars reflects more efficiently off this portion of the nebula than red light. The Earth’s daytime sky appears blue for the same reason. The red and yellow regions shine primarily because of emission from the nebula’s atomic and molecular gas. Light from nearby blue stars - more energetic than the bright star Antares - knocks electrons away from the gas, which then shines when the electrons recombine with the gas. The dark brown regions are caused by dust grains - born in young stellar atmospheres - which effectively block light emitted behind them. The Rho Ophiuchi star clouds, well in front of the globular cluster M4 visible above on lower left, are even more colorful than humans can see - the clouds emits light in every wavelength band from the radio to the gamma-ray.
Image Credit & Copyright: Rafael Defavari
The picture shows Abell 2218, a rich galaxy cluster composed of thousands of individual galaxies. It sits about 2.1 billion light-years from the Earth (redshift 0.17) in the northern constellation of Draco. When used by astronomers as a powerful gravitational lens to magnify distant galaxies, the cluster allows them to peer far into the Universe. However, it not only magnifies the images of hidden galaxies, but also distorts them into long, thin arcs.
Several arcs in the image can be studied in detail thanks to Hubble’s sharp vision. Multiple distorted images of the same galaxies can be identified by comparing the shape of the galaxies and their colour. In addition to the giant arcs, many smaller arclets have been identified.
NASA, ESA, and Johan Richard (Caltech, USA)
Acknowledgement: Davide de Martin & James Long (ESA/Hubble)
Comet ISON Before and After
Sungrazing Comet ISON reached perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, yesterday, November 28, at 18:45 UT. The comet passed just over 1 million kilometers above the solar surface, a distance less than the diameter of the Sun. These two panels follow ISON before (right) and after its close approach, imaged by the LASCO instrument onboard the Sun staring SOHO spacecraft. Overwhelming sunlight is blocked by LASCO’s central occulting disk with a white circle indicating the Sun’s positon and scale. The bright comet is seen along its path at the bottom of the before panel, but something much fainter exits near the top of the after panel, potentially a dust tail reforming from the debris left from ISON’s perihelion passage.
Image Credit: NASA, SOHO
In the Shadow of Saturn
In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn drifted in giant planet’s shadow earlier this year and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a unique and celebrated view. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, Saturn’s expansive ring system appears as majestic as always even from this odd angle. Ring particles, many glowing only as irregular crescents, slightly scatter sunlight toward Cassini in this natural color image. Several moons and ring features are also discernible. Appearing quite prominently is Saturn’s E ring, the ring created by the unusual ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus and the outermost ring visible above. To the upper left, far in the distance, are the planets Mars and Venus. To the lower right, however, is perhaps the most wondrous spectacle of all: the almost invisible, nearly ignorable, pale blue dot of Earth.
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
The Jets of NGC 1097
Enigmatic spiral galaxy NGC 1097 shines in southern skies, about 45 million light-years away in the chemical constellation Fornax. Its blue spiral arms are mottled with pinkish star forming regions in this colorful galaxy portrait. They seem to have wrapped around a small companion galaxy below and left of center, about 40,000 light-years from the spiral’s luminous core. That’s not NGC 1097’s most peculiar feature, though. The very deep exposure hints of faint, mysterious jets, most easily seen to extend well beyond the bluish arms toward the lower right. In fact, four faint jets are ultimately recognized in optical images of NGC 1097. The jets trace an X centered on the galaxy’s nucleus, but probably don’t originate there. Instead, they could be fossil star streams, trails left over from the capture and disruption of a much smaller galaxy in the large spiral’s ancient past. A Seyfert galaxy, NGC 1097’s nucleus also harbors a supermassive black hole.
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh
By tracing radioactive material in the remains of a nearby exploded star, scientists have a new understanding of what happened in the star’s final moments and how similar explosions create the calcium, gold, iron and other elements spread throughout the cosmos. Read more
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of NGC 7049 in the constellation of Indus, in the southern sky. A family of globular clusters appears as glittering spots dusted around the galaxy halo. Astronomers study the globular clusters in NGC 7049 to learn more about its formation and evolution. The dust lanes, which appear as a lacy web, are dramatically backlit by the millions of stars in the halo of NGC 7049.
NASA, ESA and W. Harris (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada)
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