NGC 660 is featured in this cosmic snapshot. Over 40 million light-years away and swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, NGC 660’s peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings strongly tilted from the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre-looking configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris eventually strung out in a rotating ring. The violent gravitational interaction would account for the myriad pinkish star forming regions scattered along NGC 660’s ring. The polar ring component can also be used to explore the shape of the galaxy’s otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660’s ring spans over 50,000 light-years.
Image Credit & Copyright: CHART32 Team,Processing - Johannes Schedler
1. Nebulae are a mixture of the gases hydrogen and helium, as well as dust and plasma.
2. The beautiful pictures of nebulae that the Hubble telescope
beams down are actually three different channels of black and white,
which are mixed and painted by scientists to produce the vibrant colors
we see in magazines and on television. (The layers are painted
according to the composition of the different gasses within the
3. The word nebula means “cloud” in Latin; indeed, nebulae are
space. Variously, the meaning has also been given to mean “mist”; it’s
fitting, because their varying appearances sometimes do look like a
cloud of mist.
4. The galaxy Andromeda was initially believed to be a nebula before
Edwin Hubble proved that Andromeda was actually a galaxy all its own in
the 1920’s. Before then, it was believed that other galaxies were
merely nebulas and that the universe only consisted of the Milky Way.
Framing a bright emission region, this telescopic view looks out along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the nebula rich constellation Cygnus the Swan. Popularly called the Tulip Nebula, the reddish glowing cloud of interstellar gas and dust is also found in the1959 catalog by astronomer Stewart Sharplessas Sh2-101. About 8,000 light-years distant and 70 light-years across the complex and beautiful nebula blossoms at the center of this composite image. Ultraviolet radiation from young energetic stars at the edge of the Cygnus OB3 association, including O star HDE 227018,ionizes the atoms and powers the emission from the Tulip Nebula. HDE 227018 is the bright star near the center of the nebula. Also framed in the field of view is microquasar Cygnus X-1, one of the strongest X-ray sources in planet Earth’s sky. Driven by powerful jets from a black hole accretion disk, its fainter visible curved shock front lies above and right, just beyond the cosmic Tulip’s petals.
“Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open
out under the sky. Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric
pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the
stars. There were practical calendar reasons of course but there was
more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be
unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with
thousands of twinkling stars. When it happens to me after all these
years it still takes my breath away.”
~ Carl Sagan
This image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), a highly efficient wide-field camera covering the optical and near-infrared parts of the spectrum. While this lovely image contains hundreds of distant stars and galaxies, one vital thing is missing ‘” the object Hubble was actually studying at the time!
This is not because the target has disappeared. The ACS actually uses two detectors: the first captures the object being studied '” in this case an open star cluster known as NGC 299 '” while the other detector images the patch of space just '˜beneath’ it. This is what can be seen here.
Technically, this picture is merely a sidekick of the actual object of interest '” but space is bursting with activity, and this field of bright celestial bodies offers plenty of interest on its own. It may initially seem to show just stars, but a closer look reveals many of these tiny objects to be galaxies. The spiral galaxies have arms curving out from a bright center. The fuzzier, less clearly shaped galaxies might be ellipticals. Some of these galaxies contain millions or even billions of stars, but are so distant that all of their starry residents are contained within just a small pinprick of light that appears to be the same size as a single star!
The bright blue dots are very hot stars, sometimes distorted into crosses by the struts supporting Hubble’s secondary mirror. The redder dots are cooler stars, possibly in the red giant phase when a dying star cools and expands.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble andamp; NASA
Text Credit: European Space Agency