Astronomy Picture of the Day for June 14

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 June 14

M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules

Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh  

 

 

Explanation: In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, “This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.” Of course, M13 is now modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Telescopic views reveal the spectacular cluster’s hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter, but approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. Along with the cluster’s dense core, the outer reaches of M13 are highlighted in this sharp color image. The cluster’s evolved red and blue giant stars show up in yellowish and blue tints.

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Astronomy Picture of the Day for April 9th

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 April 9
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Blue Straggler Stars in Globular Cluster M53
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA 

Explanation: If our Sun were part of M53, the night sky would glow like a jewel box of bright stars. M53, also known as NGC 5024, is one of about 250 globular clusters that survive in our Galaxy. Most of the stars in M53 are older and redder than our Sun, but some enigmatic stars appear to be bluer and younger. These young stars might contradict the hypothesis that all the stars in M53 formed at nearly the same time. These unusual stars are known as blue stragglers and are unusually common in M53. After much debate, blue stragglers are now thought to be stars rejuvenated by fresh matter falling in from a binary star companion. By analyzing pictures of globular clusters like the above image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers use the abundance of stars like blue stragglers to help determine the age of the globular cluster and hence a limit on the age of the universe. M53, visible with a binoculars towards the constellation of Bernice’s Hair (Coma Berenices), contains over 250,000 stars and is one of the furthest globulars from the center of our Galaxy.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Feb. 6th

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 6
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Dust of the Orion Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicolás Villegas 

Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula — dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear brown in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in red. Over the next few million years much of Orion’s dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Feb. 4th

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 4
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Comet Garradd and M92
Image Credit & Copyright: Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST) 

Explanation: Sweeping slowly through the constellation Hercules, Comet Garradd (C2009/P1) passed with about 0.5 degrees of globular star cluster M92 on February 3. Captured here in its latest Messier moment, the steady performer remains just below naked-eye visibility with a central coma comparable in brightness to the dense, well-known star cluster. The rich telescopic view from New Mexico’s, early morning skies, also features Garradd’s broad fan shaped dust tail and a much narrower ion tail that extends up and beyond the right edge of the frame. Pushed out by the pressure of sunlight, the dust tail tends to trail the comet along its orbit while the ion tail, blown by the solar wind, streams away from the comet in the direction opposite the Sun. Of course, M92 is over 25,000 light-years away. Comet Garradd is 12.5 light-minutes from planet Earth, arcing above the ecliptic plane.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for November 17th

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.

2011 November 17
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Pleiades to Hyades
Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo

 

Explanation: This cosmic vista stretches almost 20 degrees across the gentle constellation Taurus. It begins at the Pleiades and ends at the Hyades, two of the best known star clusters in planet Earth’s sky. At left, the lovely Pleiades star cluster is about 400 light-years away. In a familiar celestial scene, the cluster stars shine through dusty clouds that scatter blue starlight. At right, the V-shaped Hyades cluster looks more spread out compared to the compact Pleiades and lies much closer, 150 light-years distant. Of course, the Hyades cluster stars seem anchored by bright Aldebaran, a red giant star with a yellowish appearance. But Aldebaran actually lies only 65 light-years away, by chance along the line of sight to the Hyades cluster. Faint dust clouds found near the edge of the Taurus Molecular Cloud are also evident throughout the remarkable 12 panel mosaic. The wide field of view includes the youthful star T Tauri and Hind’s variable nebula about four degrees left of Aldebaran on the sky.