Astronomy Picture of the Day for February 3rd

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 February 3
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Inside the Eagle Nebula
Credit: Far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium;
X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC/XMM-Newton-SOC/Boulanger 

Explanation: In 1995, a now famous picture from the Hubble Space Telescope featured Pillars of Creation, star forming columns of cold gas and dust light-years long inside M16, the Eagle Nebula. This remarkable false-color composite image revisits the nearby stellar nursery with image data from the orbiting Herschel Space Observatory and XMM-Newton telescopes. Herschel’s far infrared detectors record the emission from the region’s cold dust directly, including the famous pillars and other structures near the center of the scene. Toward the other extreme of the electromagnetic spectrum, XMM-Newton’s X-ray vision reveals the massive, hot stars of the nebula’s embedded star cluster. Hidden from Hubble’s view at optical wavelengths, the massive stars have a profound effect, sculpting and transforming the natal gas and dust structures with their energetic winds and radiation. In fact, the massive stars are short lived and astronomers have found evidence in the image data pointing to the remnant of a supernova explosion with an apparent age of 6,000 years. If true, the expanding shock waves would have destroyed the visible structures, including the famous pillars. But because the Eagle Nebula is some 6,500 light-years distant, their destruction won’t be witnessed for hundreds of years.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Jan. 15th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 January 15
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Infrared Portrait of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI 

Explanation: Cosmic dust clouds ripple across this infrared portrait of our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. In fact, the remarkable composite image from the Herschel Space Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope show that dust clouds fill this neighboring dwarf galaxy, much like dust along the plane of the Milky Way itself. The dust temperatures tend to trace star forming activity. Spitzer data in blue hues indicate warm dust heated by young stars. Herschel’s instruments contributed the image data shown in red and green, revealing dust emission from cooler and intermediate regions where star formation is just beginning or has stopped. Dominated by dust emission, the Large Magellanic Cloud’s infrared appearance is different from views in optical images. But this galaxy’s well-known Tarantula Nebula still stands out, easily seen here as the brightest region to the left of center. A mere 160,000 light-years distant, the Large Cloud of Magellan is about 30,000 light-years across.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Sept. 14th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

Herschel’s Cocoon
Credit: ESA, SPIRE & PACS Consortia, Doris Arzoumanian (CEA Saclay), et al. 

Explanation: In this remarkable infrared skyscape of interstellar clouds adrift in the high flying constellation Cygnus, the eye is drawn to the Cocoon Nebula. Also known as IC5146, the dusty star forming region is shown in blue hues in the Herschel Space Observatory false color image, at wavelengths more than 100 times longer than visible red light. And while visible light images show the Cocoon nebula at the end of long dark nebula Barnard 168, Hershel’s infrared view finds the cosmic Cocoon punctuating a trail of filamentary clouds of glowing dust. The filaments have widths that suggest they are formed as shockwaves from exploding stars travel through the medium, sweeping up and compressing the interstellar dust and gas. Herschel data also indicate stars are forming along the dusty filaments. The Cocoon Nebula itself is about 15 light-years wide and 4,000 light-years away.