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July 28th, 2015

Saturn’s Rings in UV


This is one image of a series of images of Saturn, as seen at many different wavelengths, when the planet’s rings were at their maximum tilt of 27 degrees toward Earth. Saturn experiences seasonal tilts away from and toward the Sun, much the same way Earth does. This happens over the course of its 29.5-year orbit. This means that approximately every 30 years, Earth observers can catch their best glimpse of Saturn’s South Pole and the southern side of the planet’s rings. Between March and April 2003, researchers took full advantage to study the gas giant at maximum tilt. They used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to capture detailed images of Saturn’s Southern Hemisphere and the southern face of its rings.

Credit: NASA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

Read more on Hubble site.

July 14th, 2015

New Horizons: Pluto probe enters key flyby phase

New Horizons is the first mission to the most mysterious object of our solar system – Pluto. It is about to reach Pluto to make a flyby of the farthest and smallest object. Scientists as well as people who are interested in space exploration are watching the New Horizons Pluto Flyby mission with bated breath.

It is expected that thanks to the mission we’ll get a few answers to the questions that we were all curious about. The probe will settle a decade-long debate on Pluto’s size and investigate not only Pluto but also its five moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

Most scientists compare the significance of this mission to Voyager 1 and 2 due to its role in exploring new horizons of our mankind.

This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before Tuesday’s moment of closest approach. The LORRI picture was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft at about 4 p.m. ET on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. This view has been colorized using imagery from New Horizons’ RALPH imager. NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI


Charon, Pluto’s largest moon

New Horizons image of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, taken July 11. Credits: NASA/ JHUAPL/ SWRI.

Pluto is also visible in the sky tonight, although you will need a telescope to see it . Use Star Walk to find Pluto in the night sky.


July 10th, 2015

Celestial Fireworks: Sheets of Debris From a Stellar Explosion

Resembling the puffs of smoke and sparks from a summer fireworks display in this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, these delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy. Hubble’s target was a supernova remnant within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a nearby, small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the southern hemisphere.

Denoted N 49, or DEM L 190, this remnant is from a massive star that died in a supernova blast whose light would have reached Earth thousands of years ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets are constructed from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in the Milky Way billions of years ago.

This seemingly gentle structure also harbors a very powerful spinning neutron star that may be the central remnant from the initial blast. It is quite common for the core of an exploded supernova star to become a spinning neutron star (also called a pulsar – because of the regular pulses of energy from the rotational spin) after the immediate shedding of the star’s outer layers. In the case of N 49, not only is the neutron star spinning at a rate of once every 8 seconds, it also has a super-strong magnetic field a thousand trillion times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. This places this star into the exclusive class of objects called “magnetars.”

On March 5, 1979, this neutron star displayed a historic gamma-ray burst episode that was detected by numerous Earth-orbiting satellites. Gamma rays have a million or more times the energy of visible light photons. The Earth’s atmosphere protects us by blocking gamma rays that originate from outer space. The neutron star in N 49 has had several subsequent gamma-ray emissions, and is now recognized as a “soft gamma-ray repeater.” These objects are a peculiar class of stars producing gamma rays that are less energetic than those emitted by most gamma-ray bursters.

The neutron star in N 49 is also emitting X-rays, whose energies are slightly less than that of soft gamma rays. High-resolution X-ray satellites have resolved a point source near the center of N 49, the likely X-ray counterpart of the soft gamma-ray repeater. Diffuse filaments and knots throughout the supernova remnant are also visible in X-ray. The filamentary features visible in the optical image represent the blast wave sweeping through the ambient interstellar medium and nearby dense molecular clouds.

Today, N 49 is the target of investigations led by Hubble astronomers You-Hua Chu from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Rosa Williams from the University of Massachusetts. Members of this science team are interested in understanding whether small cloudlets in the interstellar medium of the LMC may have a marked effect on the physical structure and evolution of this supernova remnant.

The Hubble Heritage image of N 49 is a color representation of data taken in July 2000, with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Color filters were used to sample light emitted by sulfur ([S II]), oxygen ([O III]), and hydrogen (H-alpha). The color image has been superimposed on a black-and-white image of stars in the same field also taken with Hubble.

Object Names: LMC N 49, DEM L 190

Image Type: Astronomical


Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Acknowledgment: Y.-H. Chu (UIUC), S. Kulkarni (Caltech), and R. Rothschild (UCSD)

July 8th, 2015

Out of This Whirl: the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and Companion Galaxy

The graceful, winding arms of the majestic spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194) appear like a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space. They are actually long lanes of stars and gas laced with dust.

This sharpest-ever image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, taken in January 2005 with the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, illustrates a spiral galaxy’s grand design, from its curving spiral arms, where young stars reside, to its yellowish central core, a home of older stars. The galaxy is nicknamed the Whirlpool because of its swirling structure.

The Whirlpool’s most striking feature is its two curving arms, a hallmark of so-called grand-design spiral galaxies. Many spiral galaxies possess numerous, loosely shaped arms which make their spiral structure less pronounced. These arms serve an important purpose in spiral galaxies. They are star-formation factories, compressing hydrogen gas and creating clusters of new stars. In the Whirlpool, the assembly line begins with the dark clouds of gas on the inner edge, then moves to bright pink star-forming regions, and ends with the brilliant blue star clusters along the outer edge.

Some astronomers believe that the Whirlpool’s arms are so prominent because of the effects of a close encounter with NGC 5195, the small, yellowish galaxy at the outermost tip of one of the Whirlpool’s arms. At first glance, the compact galaxy appears to be tugging on the arm. Hubble’s clear view, however, shows that NGC 5195 is passing behind the Whirlpool. The small galaxy has been gliding past the Whirlpool for hundreds of millions of years.

As NGC 5195 drifts by, its gravitational muscle pumps up waves within the Whirlpool’s pancake-shaped disk. The waves are like ripples in a pond generated when a rock is thrown in the water. When the waves pass through orbiting gas clouds within the disk, they squeeze the gaseous material along each arm’s inner edge. The dark dusty material looks like gathering storm clouds. These dense clouds collapse, creating a wake of star birth, as seen in the bright pink star-forming regions. The largest stars eventually sweep away the dusty cocoons with a torrent of radiation, hurricane-like stellar winds, and shock waves from supernova blasts. Bright blue star clusters emerge from the mayhem, illuminating the Whirlpool’s arms like city streetlights.

The Whirlpool is one of astronomy’s galactic darlings. Located 31 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs), the Whirlpool’s beautiful face-on view and closeness to Earth allow astronomers to study a classic spiral galaxy’s structure and star-forming processes.

Object Names: Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, NGC 5194/5

Image Type: Astronomical


Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

July 2nd, 2015

Star Walk Month of Astronomy 2015 Begins Now

For the stargazer in you

For the stargazer in you

Welcome to our 5th annual astronomy adventure! For one month starting now we will post astronomy questions and photo contests to challenge our friends and see who’s a true master of the night sky!

Prizes await winners and participants:

One Magnificent New Apple Watch
Free apps from Vito team
Star Walk T-Shirts

Stay tuned and watch for #StarWalkMoA2015 hashtag on Facebook and Twitter. May the force of knowledge be with you!

Team Star Walk