Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Hydrogen Clouds of M33
Image Data: Subaru Telescope (NAOJ), Hubble Space Telescope Image Processing: Robert Gendler
Additional Data: BYU, Robert Gendler, Johannes Schedler, Adam Block – Copyright: Robert Gendler, Subaru Telescope, NAOJ

Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies a mere 3 million light-years away. The galaxy’s inner 30,000 light-years or so are shown in this magnificent 25 panel telescopic mosaic. Based on image data from space and ground-based telescopes, the portrait of M33 shows off the galaxy’s reddish ionized hydrogen clouds or HII regions. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33’s giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous, massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. To enhance this image, broadband data was used to produce a color view of the galaxy and combined with narrowband data recorded through a hydrogen-alpha filter. That filter transmits the light of the strongest visible hydrogen emission line.

Tomorrow’s picture: pixels in space

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Molecular Clouds in the Carina Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble

Explanation: They are not alive — but they are dying. The unusual forms found in the Carina nebula, a few of which are featured here, might best be described as evaporating. Energetic light and winds from nearby stars are breaking apart the dark dust grains that make the iconic forms opaque. Ironically the figures, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds or bright rimmed globules, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them. The floating space structures pictured here by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope span a few light months. The Great Nebula in Carina itself spans about 30 light years, lies about 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Keel(Carina).

Tomorrow’s picture: galaxy in the local group

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Black Hole Safety Video
Video Credit: NASA‘s GSFC, SVS; Music: Prim and Proper from Universal Production Music

Explanation: If you were a small one-eyed monster, would you want to visit a black hole? Well the one in this video does — but should it? No, actually, but since our little friend is insistent on going, the video informs it what black holes really are, and how to be as safe as possible when visiting. Black holes are clumps of matter so dense that light cannot escape. Pairs of black holes, each several times the mass of our Sun, have recently been found to merge by detection of unusual gravitational radiation. The regions surrounding supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies can light up as stars that near them get shredded. The closest known black hole to the Earth is V616 Mon, which is about 3,300 light years away. The best way for our monster friend to stay safe, the video informs, is to not go too close.

Tomorrow’s picture: found floating in space

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Orion Rising over Brazil
Image Credit & Copyright: Carlos Fairbairn

Explanation: Have you seen Orion lately? The next few months will be the best for seeing this familiar constellation as it rises continually earlier in the night. However, Orion’s stars and nebulas won’t look quite as colorful to the eye as they do in this fantastic camera image. In the featured image, Orion was captured by camera showing its full colors last month over a Brazilian copal tree from Brazil‘s Central-West Region. Here the cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange hue as the brightest star on the far left. Otherwise, Orion’s hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the upper right, Bellatrix at the upper left, and Saiph at the lower right. Lined up in Orion’s belt (bottom to top) are Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka all about 1,500 light-years away, born of the constellation’s well studied interstellar clouds. And if a “star” toward the upper right Orion’s sword looks reddish and fuzzy to you, it should. It’s the stellar nursery known as the Great Nebula of Orion.

Tomorrow’s picture: unsafe horizons

Astronomy Picture of the Day

MyCn 18: The Engraved Hourglass Planetary Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble; Processing & License: Judy Schmidt

Explanation: Do you see the hourglass shape — or does it see you? If you can picture it, the rings of MyCn 18 trace the outline of an hourglass — although one with an unusual eye in its center. Either way, the sands of time are running out for the central star of this hourglass-shaped planetary nebula. With its nuclear fuel exhausted, this brief, spectacular, closing phase of a Sun-like star’s life occurs as its outer layers are ejected – its core becoming a cooling, fading white dwarf. In 1995, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to make a series of images of planetary nebulae, including the one featured here. Pictured, delicate rings of colorful glowing gas (nitrogen-red, hydrogen-green, and oxygen-blue) outline the tenuous walls of the hourglass. The unprecedented sharpness of the Hubble images has revealed surprising details of the nebula ejection process that are helping to resolve the outstanding mysteries of the complex shapes and symmetries of planetary nebulas like MyCn 18.

Tomorrow’s picture: orion treed

Astronomy Picture of the Day

An Analemma of the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Gyorgy Soponyai

Explanation: This week the equinox found the Sun near the middle, but not at the crossing point, of an analemma in its annual trek through planet Earth’s skies. In this scenic view, that graceful, figure-8-shaped curve was intentionally posed above the iconic Danube River and the capital city of Hungary. Looking south from Budapest’s Margaret Bridge it combines digital frames taken at exactly the same time of day (11:44 CET) on dates between 2018 September 24 and 2019 September 15. That puts the metropolitan Pest on the left, regal Buda on the right, and the positions of the Sun on the solstice dates at the top and bottom of the analemma curve. December’s near solstice Sun is just hidden behind a dramatic cloud bank.

Tomorrow’s picture: eye of the hourglass

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Annotated Galactic Center
Image Credit & Copyright: Miguel Claro (TWAN, Dark Sky Alqueva)

Explanation: The center of our Milky Way galaxy can be found some 26,000 light-years away toward the constellation Sagittarius. Even on a dark night, you can’t really see it though. Gaze in that direction, and your sight-line is quickly obscured by intervening interstellar dust. In fact, dark dust clouds, glowing nebulae, and crowded starfieds are packed along the fertile galactic plane and central regions of our galaxy. This annotated view, a mosaic of dark sky images, highlights some favorites, particularly for small telescope or binocular equipped skygazers. The cropped version puts the direction to the galactic center on the far right. It identifies well-known Messier objects like the Lagoon nebula (M8), the Trifid (M20), star cloud M24, and some of E.E. Barnard’s dark markings on the sky. A full version extends the view to the right toward the constellation Scorpius, in all covering over 20 degrees across the center of the Milky Way.

Tomorrow’s picture: analemma of the sun