Orion Spring

As spring comes to planet Earth’s northern hemisphere, familiar winter constellation Orion sets in early evening skies and budding trees frame the Hunter’s stars. The yellowish hue of cool red supergiant Alpha Orionis, the great star Betelgeuse, mingles with the branches at the top of this colorful skyscape. Orion’s alpha star is joined on the far right by Alpha Tauri. Also known as Aldebaran and also a giant star cooler than the Sun, it shines with a yellow light at the head of Taurus, the Bull. Contrasting blue supergiant Rigel, Beta Orionis, is Orion’s other dominant star though, and marks the Hunter’s foot below center. Of course, the sword of Orion hangs from the Hunter’s three blue belt stars near picture center, but the middle star in the sword is not a star at all. A slightly fuzzy pinkish glow hints at its true nature, a nearby stellar nursery visible to the unaided eye known as the Orion Nebula.

Image Credit &Copyright: Bill Dickinson

Astronomers On the Hunt for Exomoons That May Host Alien Life

The search for alien life doesn’t end within the boundaries of our solar system. Scientists are now search for moons orbiting alien planets that might play host to extraterrestrial life.

A new project called the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) is the first systematic search for exomoons, or moons that circle planets outside our solar system.HEK astronomers, led by David Kipping at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, simulate billions of possible star-planet-moon arrangements using NASA’s Pleiades Supercomputer.

They then compare the results with actual data taken with NASA’s Kepler telescope, which monitors the brightness of stars in an effort to find exoplanets that could harbor life. If one of the simulated combinations matches the Kepler data, that area warrants further exploration.

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Argentina: “This is a single 30 seconds exposure. Mountains have been illuminated by the raising Moon at first hidden behind the mountain to the right … hence the light and better than I expected exposure of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy,” says Greg Boratyn.

Hubble Spies Cosmic Dust Bunnies

Like dust bunnies that lurk in corners and under beds, surprisingly complex loops and blobs of cosmic dust lie hidden in the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 1316. This image made from data obtained with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the dust lanes and star clusters of this giant galaxy that give evidence that it was formed from a past merger of two gas-rich galaxies.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)
Source: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo0511a/

The Great Dane

This image shows the dome of the Danish 1.54-metre telescope that has been in operation at La Silla Observatory since 1979.

The telescope has been involved in several breakthrough astronomical observations including the discovery of merging neutron stars as the possible origin of gamma-ray bursts (eso0533) and finding an exoplanet only five times more massive than the Earth (eso0603).

Above the telescope, our home galaxy the Milky Way stretches across the sky with the bright central bulge aligned with the dome of the telescope.

In the background to the right you can spot the dome which once held theMarLy 1-metre telescope. The telescope saw first light in 1996 and was decommissioned in 2009. Before the MarLy, this dome hosted the 40-centimetre Grand Prisme Objectif, a photographic astrograph. In front of the MarLy dome, the enclosure of the small Marseille 0.36-metre telecopeis visible.