From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; August 31, 2015:

A Galactic Maelstrom

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and added to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later.

The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas is unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic centre. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96.

This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS Team;
Acknowledgement: R. Gendler

Trumpler 14 embedded in the Carina Nebula |

This colour-composite image of the Carina Nebula, made by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla, Chile, reveals exquisite details in the stars and dust of the region. The open star cluster Trumpler 14, a collection of very bright, young stars within the Carina Nebula, is marked with a red circle.

Several more well known astronomical objects can be seen in this wide field image: to the bottom left of the image is one of the most impressive binary stars in the Universe, Eta Carinae, with the famous Keyhole Nebula just adjacent to the star. A second open star cluster, Collinder 228 is also seen in the image, just below Eta Carinae.

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; December 29, 2014:

An Ancient Globule

This image captures the stunning NGC 6535, a globular cluster 22 000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent) that measures one light-year across.

Globular clusters are tightly bound groups of stars which orbit galaxies. The large mass in the rich stellar centre of the globular cluster pulls the stars inward to form a ball of stars. The word globulus, from which these clusters take their name, is Latin for small sphere.

Globular clusters are generally very ancient objects formed around the same time as their host galaxy. To date, no new star formations have been observed within a globular cluster, which explains the abundance of aging yellow stars in this image, most of them containing very few heavy elements.

NGC 6535 was first discovered in 1852 by English astronomer John Russell Hind. The cluster would have appeared to Hind as a small, faint smudge through his telescope. Now, over 160 years later, instruments like the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope allow us to capture the cluster close up and marvel at its contents in detail.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Gilles Chapdelaine.

Link: Gilles Chapdelaine’s image on Flickr;
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA;
Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; May 12, 2014:

Starbursts In The Wake Of A Fleeting Romance

This image shows galaxy NGC 4485 in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The galaxy is irregular in shape, but it hasn’t always been so. Part of NGC 4485 has been dragged towards a second galaxy, named NGC 4490 — which lies out of frame to the bottom right of this image.

Between them, these two galaxies make up a galaxy pair called Arp 269. Their interactions have warped them both, turning them from spiral galaxies into irregular ones. NGC 4485 is the smaller galaxy in this pair, which provides a fantastic real-world example for astronomers to compare to their computer models of galactic collisions. The most intense interaction between these two galaxies is all but over; they have made their closest approach and are now separating. The trail of bright stars and knotty orange clumps that we see here extending out from NGC 4485 is all that connects them — a trail that spans some 24 000 light-years.

Many of the stars in this connecting trail could never have existed without the galaxies’ fleeting romance. When galaxies interact hydrogen gas is shared between them, triggering intense bursts of star formation. The orange knots of light in this image are examples of such regions, clouded with gas and dust.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Kathy van Pelt, and won sixth prize in the “basic image searching” category.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Kathy van Pelt

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; July 13, 2015:

Uncovering the Secrets of the Quintuplet Cluster

Although this cluster of stars gained its name due to its five brightest stars, it is home to hundreds more. The huge number of massive young stars in the cluster is clearly captured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image.

The cluster is located close to the Arches Cluster and is just 100 light-years from the centre of our galaxy. The cluster’s proximity to the dust at the centre of the galaxy means that much of its visible light is blocked, which helped to keep the cluster unknown until its discovery in 1990, when it was revealed by observations in the infrared. Infrared images of the cluster, like the one shown here, allow us to see through the obscuring dust to the hot stars in the cluster.

The Quintuplet Cluster hosts two extremely rare luminous blue variable stars: the Pistol Star and the lesser known V4650 Sgr. If you were to draw a line horizontally through the centre of this image from left to right, you could see the Pistol Star hovering just above the line about one third of the way along it. The Pistol Star is one of the most luminous known stars in the Milky Way and takes its name from the shape of the Pistol Nebula that it illuminates, but which is not visible in this infrared image. The exact age and future of the Pistol Star are uncertain, but it is expected to end in a supernova or even a hypernova in one to three million years.

The cluster also contains a number of red supergiants. These stars are among the largest in the galaxy and are burning their fuel at an incredible speed, meaning they will have a very short lifetime. Their presence suggests an average cluster age of nearly four million years. At the moment these stars are on the verge of exploding as supernovae. During their spectacular deaths they will release vast amounts of energy which, in turn, will heat the material — dust and gas — between the other stars.

This observation shows the Quintuplet Cluster in the infrared and demonstrates the leap in Hubble’s performance since its 1999 image of same object.

Links: Arches cluster
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; November 24, 2014:

A Slashing Smudge Across The Sky

The galaxy cutting dramatically across the frame of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a slightly warped dwarf galaxy known as UGC 1281. Seen here from an edge-on perspective, this galaxy lies roughly 18 million light-years away in the constellation of Triangulum (The Triangle).

The bright companion to the lower left of UGC 1281 is the small galaxy PGC 6700, officially known as 2MASX J01493473+3234464. Other prominent stars belonging to our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and more distant galaxies can be seen scattered throughout the sky.

The side-on view we have of UGC 1281 makes it a perfect candidate for studies into how gas is distributed withingalactic halos — the roughly spherical regions of diffuse gas extending outwards from a galaxy’s centre. Astronomers have studied this galaxy to see how its gas vertically extends out from its central plane, and found it to be a quite typical dwarf galaxy. However, it does have a slightly warped shape to its outer edges, and is forming stars at a particularly low rate.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.


CreditESA/Hubble & NASA;
Acknowledgement: Luca Limatola

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; June 30, 2014:

A Fossil In The Making

Discovered by astronomer William Herschel in the late 1700s, NGC 201 is a barred spiral galaxy similar to our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It lies 200 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster), and is invisible to the naked eye.

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 201 shows the galaxy in striking detail, capturing the bright centre and the barred spiral arms — arms that do not start directly from the galactic centre, but instead seem to be offset and stem from a “bar” of stars cutting through the middle of the galaxy.

Along with three of its closest galactic neighbours (outside the frame), NGC 201 belongs to a group known as the HCG 7 compact galactic group. Hickson Compact Groups (HCG) are relatively small and isolated systems containing a handful of bright, compact galaxies that lie close to one another. As the galaxies within these groups move closer together they interact strongly, dragging galactic material out into space and distorting the structure of the other group members.

Eventually, all the galaxies within one HCG will merge together. Simulations have shown that within a billion years, the galaxies within one HCG have merged to form a giant fossil galaxy. It is possible that this is the final fate of all galactic groups.

A version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA;
Acknowledgement: Luca Limatola

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; July 27, 2015:

The Long Goodbye

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star’s demise is still quite lengthy by our standards, lasting tens of thousands of years!

The star’s agony has culminated in a wonderful planetary nebula known as NGC 6565, a cloud of gas that was ejected from the star after strong stellar winds pushed the star’s outer layers away into space. Once enough material was ejected, the star’s luminous core was exposed and it began to produce ultraviolet radiation, exciting the surrounding gas to varying degrees and causing it to radiate in an attractive array of colours. These same colours can be seen in the famous and impressive Ring Nebula (Messier 57), a prominent example of a nebula like this one.

Planetary nebulae are illuminated for around 10 000 years before the central star begins to cool and shrink to become a white dwarf. When this happens, the star’s light drastically diminishes and ceases to excite the surrounding gas, so the nebula fades from view.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures basic image competition by contestant Matej Novak.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: M. Novak

From SpaceTelescope.Org Picture Of The Week; July 7, 2014:

A Galaxy With A Glowing Heart

This view, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows a nearby spiral galaxy known as NGC 1433. At about 32 million light-years from Earth, it is a type of very active galaxy known as a Seyfert galaxy — a classification that accounts for 10% of all galaxies. They have very bright, luminous centres comparable to that of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Galaxy cores are of great interest to astronomers. The centres of most, if not all, galaxies are thought to contain a supermassive black hole, surrounded by a disc of infalling material.

NGC 1433 is being studied as part of a survey of 50 nearby galaxies known as the Legacy ExtraGalactic UV Survey (LEGUS). Ultraviolet radiation is observed from galaxies, mainly tracing the most recently formed stars. In Seyfert galaxies, ultraviolet light is also thought to emanate from the accretion discs around their central black holes. Studying these galaxies in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum is incredibly useful to study how the gas is behaving near the black hole. This image was obtained using a mix of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light.

LEGUS will study a full range of properties from a sample of galaxies, including their internal structure. This Hubble survey will provide a unique foundation for future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope(JWST) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA has already caught unexpected results relating to the centre of NGC 1433, finding a surprising spiral structure in the molecular gas close to the centre of NGC 1433. The astronomers also found a jet of material flowing away from the black hole, extending for only 150 light-years — the smallest such molecular outflow ever observed in a galaxy beyond our own.

Links: Black Holes and Revelations (Space Scoop);
CreditESA/Hubble & NASA;
Acknowledgements: D. Calzetti (UMass) and the LEGUS Team