THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 November 22
Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)
Explanation: What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon's outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it faded. A stellar flash like this has never been seen before -- supernovas and novas expel matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the above image from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the bright flash. In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 October 25
Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester, A. Loll (ASU); Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)
Explanation: This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The above image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years at a distance of about 6000 Light Years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 October 17
Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Observatory)
Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of bright emission nebulae. In fact, narrow-band and broad-band image data are combined in this beautifully detailed composite to trace the pinkish emission nebulae, star forming HII regions, sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the galaxy's core. Historically of great interest to astronomers, 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 gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. Spanning over 50,000 light-years and a prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy. It is about 3 million light-years away.
Credit & Copyright: Robert Mikaelyan
Explanation: The brilliant fireball meteor captured in this snapshot was a startling visitor to Tuesday Oct 13th evening's twilight skies over the city of Groningen. In fact, sightings of the meteor, as bright as the Full Moon, were widely reported throughout the Netherlands and Germany at approximately 17:00 UT. Accompanied by sonic booms and rumbling sounds, the meteor was seen to break up into bright fragments, eventually leaving a persistent smoke-like trail. Even though there are bright fireball meteors in planet Earth's atmosphere every day, sightings of them are relatively rare because they more often occur over oceans and uninhabited areas and in the daytime too.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 September 25
Credit: ESO / Stéphane Guisard - Copyright: Stéphane Guisard
Explanation: From Sagittarius to Scorpius, the central Milky Way is a truly beautiful part of planet Earth's night sky. The gorgeous region is captured here, an expansive gigapixel mosaic of 52 fields spanning 34 by 20 degrees in 1200 individual images and 200 hours of exposure time. Part of ESO's Gigagalaxy Zoom Project, the images were collected over 29 nights with a small telescope under the exceptionally clear, dark skies of the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile. The breathtaking cosmic vista shows off intricate dust lanes, bright nebulae, and star clusters scattered through our galaxy's rich central starfields. Starting on the left, look for the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, the Cat's Paw, the Pipe dark nebula, and the colorful clouds of Rho Ophiuchi and Antares (right).
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 September 14
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Explanation: What is left over after stars collide? To help answer this question, astronomers have been studying the center of the most massive ball of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. In the center of globular cluster Omega Centauri, stars are packed in 10,000 times more densely than near our Sun. Pictured above, the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope has resolved the very center of Omega Centauri into individual stars. Visible are many faint yellow-white stars that are smaller than our Sun, several yellow-orange stars that are Red Giants, and an occasional blue star. When two stars collide they likely either combine to form one more massive star, or they stick, forming a new binary star system. Close binary stars interact, sometimes emitting ultraviolet or X-ray light when gas falls from one star onto the surface of a compact companion such as a white dwarf or neutron star. Two such binaries have now been located in Omega Centauri's center. The star cluster lies about 15,000 light-years away and is visible toward the constellation of Centaurus.
BELOW IS AN EARTH-BASED TELESCOPIC PHOTO OF MOST OF OMEGA CENTAURI
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY 2009 September 11
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this stunning image from the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. About 300 million light-years away, only four galaxies of the group are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The four interacting galaxies (NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317) have an overall yellowish cast and tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the bluish galaxy at the upper left (NGC 7320) is much closer than the others. A mere 40 million light-years distant, it isn't part of the interacting group. In fact, individual stars in the foreground galaxy can be seen in the sharp Hubble image, hinting that it is much closer than the others. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 August 23
Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Lee & H. Ford (Johns Hopkins U.)
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many of the brightest blue images are of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here typically appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. A blue smudge near the cluster center is likely another image of the same background galaxy. In all, a recent analysis postulated that at least 33 images of 11 separate background galaxies are discernable. This spectacular photo of galaxy cluster CL0024+1654 from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in November 2004.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 May 8
Credit & Copyright: R. Jay Gabany
Explanation: This colorful telescopic skyscape is filled with galaxies that lie nearly 250 million light-years away, the galaxies of the Perseus cluster. Their extended and sometimes surprising shapes are seen beyond a veil of foreground stars in our own Milky Way. Ultimately consisting of over a thousand galaxies, the cluster is filled with yellowish elliptical and lenticular galaxies, like those scattered throughout this view of the cluster's central region. Notably, at the large galaxy at the left is the massive and bizarre-looking NGC 1275. A prodigious source of high-energy emission, active galaxy NGC 1275 dominates the Perseus cluster, accreting matter as entire galaxies fall into it and feed the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. Of course, spiral galaxies also inhabit the Perseus cluster, including the small, face-on spiral NGC 1268, right of picture center. The bluish spot on the outskirts of NGC 1268 is supernova SN 2008fg. At the estimated distance of the Perseus galaxy cluster, this field spans about 1.5 million light-years.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 April 18
Credit & Copyright: Stephen Leshin
Explanation: NGC 1333 is seen in visible light as a reflection nebula, dominated by bluish hues characteristic of starlight reflected by dust. A mere 1,000 light-years distant toward the heroic constellation Perseus, it lies at the edge of a large, star-forming molecular cloud. This striking close-up view spans about 4 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 1313. It shows details of the dusty region along with hints of contrasting emission in red jets and glowing gas from recently formed stars. In fact, NGC 1333 contains hundreds of stars less than a million years old, most still hidden from optical telescopes by the pervasive stardust. The chaotic environment may be similar to one in which our own Sun formed over 4.5 billion years ago.
THE ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY FOR 2009 March 31
Credit: ESA, NASA, ESO, & Danny LaCrue
Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies huge bubbles of energetic gas, long filaments of dark dust, and unusually massive stars. In the center of this heart, is a knot of stars so dense that it was once thought to be a single star. This star cluster, labeled as R136 or NGC 2070, is visible just above the center of the above image and home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle wind blows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The above representative-color picture of this great LMC nebula details its tumultuous center. The Tarantula Nebula, also known as the 30 Doradus Nebula, is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio (STScI)
Explanation: To some it may look to some like a big space monster, but it is more big than monster. To others it may look like a grazing seahorse, but the dark object toward the image right is actually an inanimate pillar of smoky dust about 20 light years long. The curiously-shaped dust structure occurs in our neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud, in a star forming region very near the expansive Tarantula Nebula. The energetic nebula is creating a star cluster named NGC 2074 (NGC stands for New General Catalog), whose center is visible just off the top of the image in the direction of the neck of the seahorse. The above representative color image was taken last year by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in honor of Hubble's 100,000th trip around the Earth. As young stars in the cluster form, their light and winds will slowly erode the dust pillars away over the next million years.