Face-on spiral galaxy NGC 3982
NGC 3982 is located about 68 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. The galaxy spans about 30,000 light-years, one-third of the size of our Milky Way galaxy. This colour image is composed of exposures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The observations were taken between March 2000 and August 2009. The rich colour range comes from the fact that the galaxy was photographed invisible and near-infrared light. Also used was a filter that isolates hydrogen emission that emanates from bright star-forming regions dotting the spiral arms.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
A stellar womb shaped and destroyed by its ungrateful offspring
The little-known cloud of cosmic gas and dust called Gum 15 is the birthplace and home of hot young stars. Beautiful and deadly, these stars mould the appearance of their mother nebula and, as they progress into adulthood, will eventually also be the death of her.
This image was taken as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme using the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. It shows Gum 15, located in the constellation of Vela (The Sails), some 3000 light-years from Earth. This glowing cloud is a striking example of an HII region. Such clouds form some of the most spectacular astronomical objects we can see; for example the Eagle Nebula (which includes the feature nicknamed “The Pillars of Creation”), the great Orion Nebula, and this less famous example, Gum 15.
Hydrogen (H) is the most common element in the Universe, and can be found in virtually every environment investigated by astronomers. HII regions are different because they contain substantial amounts of ionised hydrogen — hydrogen atoms that have been stripped of their electrons through high energy interactions with ultraviolet photons — particles of light. As the ionised hydrogen nuclei recapture electrons they release light at different characteristic wavelengths. It is one of these that gives nebulae such as Gum 15 their reddish glow — a glow which astronomers call hydrogen alpha (Hα).
In HII regions the ionising photons come from the young hot stars within the region, and Gum 15 is no exception. At the centre of this image you can see one of the culprits: the star HD 74804, the brightest member of a cluster of stars known as Collinder 197.
The clumpy, irregular appearance that enhances this nebula’s beauty is not unusual for a HII region and is again a result of the stars within. HII regions have diverse shapes because the distribution of stars and gas inside them is so irregular. Adding to Gum 15’s interesting shape are the forked dark patch of obscuring dust visible in the centre of this image and some dim blue reflection structures crossing it. This dust feature makes the nebula resemble a larger and fainter version of the better known Trifid Nebula (Messier 20), although in this case the name Bifid Nebula might be more apposite.
An HII region like this one might give birth to thousands of stars over a period of several million years. Some of these stars cause it to glow and sculpt its shape, and it is these stars that will eventually destroy it. Once the newly minted stars have passed through their infant stages, strong winds of particles will stream away from these large stars, sculpting and dispersing the gases around them, and when the most massive of these stars begin to die, Gum 15 will die with them. Some stars are so large that they will go out with a bang, exploding as supernovae and dispersing the regions last traces of HII, leaving behind just a cluster of infant stars.
Image credit: ESO
M16 and the Eagle Nebula
A star cluster around 2 million years young, M16 is surrounded by natal clouds of dust and glowing gas also known as The Eagle Nebula. This beautifully detailed image of the region includes cosmic sculptures made famous in Hubble Space Telescope close-ups of the star forming complex. Described as elephant trunks or Pillars of Creation, dense, dusty columns rising near the center are light-years in length but are gravitationally contracting to form stars. Energetic radiation from the cluster stars erodes material near the tips, eventually exposing the embedded new stars. Extending from the left edge of the frame is another dusty starforming column known as the Fairy of Eagle Nebula. M16 and the Eagle Nebula lie about 7,000 light-years away, an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes in a nebula rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake).
Image credit & copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, Univ. Arizona
The view from on high
As seen on the National Geographic News the Milky Way galaxy lights up the night above two ALMA radio telescopes in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The altitude—5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level—allows for exceptional visibility. The Southern Cross constellation (Crux) is visible to the left of the radio telescope in the foreground; Saturn is the brightest orb of light halfway down the image to the right.
Image credit & copyright: Babak A. Tafreshi
At the Edge of NGC 2174
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
This fantastic skyscape lies near the edge of NGC 2174 a star forming region about 6,400 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation of Orion. It follows mountainous clouds of gas and dust carved by winds and radiation from the region’s newborn stars, now found scattered in open star clusters embedded around the center of NGC 2174, off the top of the frame. Though star formation continues within these dusty cosmic clouds they will likely be dispersed by the energetic newborn stars within a few million years. Recorded at infrared wavelengths by the Hubble Space Telescope, the interstellar scene spans about 6 light-years.
Inside the Flame nebula
The Flame Nebula stands out in this optical image of the dusty, crowded star forming regions toward Orion’s belt, a mere 1,400 light-years away. X-ray data from the Chandra Observatory and infrared images from the Spitzer Space Telescope can take you inside the glowing gas and obscuring dust clouds though. The image will reveal many stars of the recently formed, embedded cluster NGC 2024, ranging in age from 200,000 years to 1.5 million years young. The X-ray/infrared composite image overlay spans about 15 light-years across the Flame’s center. The X-ray/infrared data also indicate that the youngest stars are concentrated near the middle of the cluster. That’s the opposite of the simplest models of star formation for the stellar nursery. They predict star formation to begin first in the denser center and progressively move outward toward the edges leaving the older stars, not the younger ones, in the center of the Flame Nebula.
Image credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech;
X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/ K.Getman, E.Feigelson, M.Kuhn & the MYStIX team