June 25, 2016

First Detection of Methyl Alcohol in a Planet-forming Disc

First Detection of Methyl Alcohol in a Planet-forming Disc

The organic molecule methyl alcohol (methanol) has been found by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the TW Hydrae protoplanetary disc. This is the first such detection of the compound in a young planet-forming disc. Methanol is the only complex organic molecule as yet detected in discs that unambiguously derives from an icy form. Its detection helps astronomers understand the chemical processes that occur during the formation of planetary systems and that ultimately lead to the creation of the ingredients for life.

The protoplanetary disc around the young star TW Hydrae is the closest known example to Earth, at a distance of only about 170 light-years. As such it is an ideal target for astronomers to study discs. This system closely resembles what astronomers think the Solar System looked like during its formation more than four billion years ago.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the most powerful observatory in existence for mapping the chemical composition and the distribution of cold gas in nearby discs. These unique capabilities have now been exploited by a group of astronomers led by Catherine Walsh (Leiden Observatory, the Netherlands) to investigate the chemistry of the TW Hydrae protoplanetary disc.

The ALMA observations have revealed the fingerprint of gaseous methyl alcohol, or methanol (CH3OH), in a protoplanetary disc for the first time. Methanol, a derivative of methane, is one of the largest complex organic molecules detected in discs to date. Identifying its presence in pre-planetary objects represents a milestone for understanding how organic molecules are incorporated into nascent planets.

Furthermore, methanol is itself a building block for more complex species of fundamental prebiotic importance, like amino acid compounds. As a result, methanol plays a vital role in the creation of the rich organic chemistry needed for life.

Catherine Walsh, lead author of the study, explains: “Finding methanol in a protoplanetary disc shows the unique capability of ALMA to probe the complex organic ice reservoir in discs and so, for the first time, allows us to look back in time to the origin of chemical complexity in a planet nursery around a young Sun-like star.”

Gaseous methanol in a protoplanetary disc has a unique importance in astrochemistry. While other species detected in space are formed by gas-phase chemistry alone, or by a combination of both gas and solid-phase generation, methanol is a complex organic compound which is formed solely in the ice phase via surface reactions on dust grains.

The sharp vision of ALMA has also allowed astronomers to map the gaseous methanol across the TW Hydrae disc. They discovered a ring-like pattern in addition to significant emission from close to the central star .

The observation of methanol in the gas phase, combined with information about its distribution, implies that methanol formed on the disc’s icy grains, and was subsequently released in gaseous form. This first observation helps to clarify the puzzle of the methanol ice–gas transition, and more generally the chemical processes in astrophysical environments.

Ryan A. Loomis, a co-author of the study, adds: “Methanol in gaseous form in the disc is an unambiguous indicator of rich organic chemical processes at an early stage of star and planet formation. This result has an impact on our understanding of how organic matter accumulates in very young planetary systems.”

This successful first detection of cold gas-phase methanol in a protoplanetary disc means that the production of ice chemistry can now be explored in discs, paving the way to future studies of complex organic chemistry in planetary birthplaces. In the hunt for life-sustaining exoplanets, astronomers now have access to a powerful new tool.

Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Explanation from: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1619/

H II Region NGC 2174

H II Region NGC 2174

NGC 2174 (also known as Monkey Head Nebula) is an H II emission nebula located in the constellation Orion and is associated with the open star cluster NGC 2175. It is thought to be located about 6,400 light-years away from Earth. The nebula may have formed through hierarchical collapse.

There is some equivocation in the use of the identifiers NGC 2174 and NGC 2175. These may apply to the entire nebula, to its brightest knot, or to the star cluster it includes. Burnham's Celestial Handbook lists the entire nebula as 2174/2175 and does not mention the star cluster. The NGC Project (working from the original descriptive notes) assigns NGC 2174 to the prominent knot at J2000 06h 09m 23.7s, +20° 39′ 34″ and NGC 2175 to the entire nebula, and by extension to the star cluster. Simbad uses NGC 2174 for the nebula and NGC 2175 for the star cluster.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NGC_2174

UGC 1281 & PGC 6700 Galaxies

UGC 1281 & PGC 6700

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 within galactic 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.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Luca Limatola
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1447a/

June 24, 2016

NASA's K2 Finds Newborn Exoplanet Around Young Star

Exoplanet Orbits Youthful Star

Astronomers have discovered the youngest fully formed exoplanet ever detected. The discovery was made using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission, as well as the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our Sun.

The newfound planet, K2-33b, is a bit larger than Neptune and whips tightly around its star every five days. It is only 5 to 10 million years old, making it one of a very few newborn planets found to date.

"Our Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old," said Trevor David of Caltech in Pasadena, lead author of a new study published online June 20, 2016, in the journal Nature. "By comparison, the planet K2-33b is very young. You might think of it as an infant." David is a graduate student working with astronomer Lynne Hillenbrand, also of Caltech.

Planet formation is a complex and tumultuous process that remains shrouded in mystery. Astronomers have discovered and confirmed roughly 3,000 exoplanets so far; however, nearly all of them are hosted by middle-aged stars, with ages of a billion years or more. For astronomers, attempting to understand the life cycles of planetary systems using existing examples is like trying to learn how people grow from babies to children to teenagers, by only studying adults.

"The newborn planet will help us better understand how planets form, which is important for understanding the processes that led to the formation of Earth," said co-author Erik Petigura of Caltech.

Comparing K2-33 to our Solar System

The first signals of the planet's existence were measured by K2. The telescope's camera detected a periodic dimming of the light emitted by the planet's host star, a sign that an orbiting planet could be regularly passing in front of the star and blocking the light. Data from the Keck Observatory validated that the dimming was indeed caused by a planet, and also helped confirm its youthful age.

Infrared measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope showed that the system's star is surrounded by a thin disk of planetary debris, indicating that its planet-formation phase is wrapping up. Planets form out of thick disks of gas and dust, called protoplanetary disks, that surround young stars.

"Initially, this material may obscure any forming planets, but after a few million years, the dust starts to dissipate," said co-author Anne Marie Cody, a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "It is during this time window that we can begin to detect the signatures of youthful planets with K2."

A surprising feature in the discovery of K2-33b is how close the newborn planet lies to its star. The planet is nearly 10 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our Sun, making it hot. While numerous older exoplanets have been found orbiting very tightly to their stars, astronomers have long struggled to understand how more massive planets like this one wind up in such small orbits. Some theories propose that it takes hundreds of millions of years to bring a planet from a more distant orbit into a close one -- and therefore cannot explain K2-33b, which is quite a bit younger.

Young Star and Its Infant Planet

The science team says there are two main theories that may explain how K2-33b wound up so close to its star. It could have migrated there in a process called disk migration that takes hundreds of thousands of years. Or, the planet could have formed "in situ" -- right where it is. The discovery of K2-33b therefore gives theorists a new data point to ponder.

"After the first discoveries of massive exoplanets on close orbits about 20 years ago, it was immediately suggested that they could absolutely not have formed there, but in the past several years, some momentum has grown for in situ formation theories, so the idea is not as wild as it once seemed," said David.

"The question we are answering is: Did those planets take a long time to get into those hot orbits, or could they have been there from a very early stage? We are saying, at least in this one case, that they can indeed be there at a very early stage," he said.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Explanation from: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/nasas-k2-finds-newborn-exoplanet-around-young-star

The Cone Nebula

Cone Nebula

The Cone Nebula is an H II region in the constellation of Monoceros. It was discovered by William Herschel on December 26, 1785, at which time he designated it H V.27. The nebula is located about 830 parsecs or 2,700 light-years away from Earth. The Cone Nebula forms part of the nebulosity surrounding the Christmas Tree Cluster. The designation of NGC 2264 in the New General Catalogue refers to both objects and not the nebula alone.

The diffuse Cone Nebula, so named because of its apparent shape, lies in the southern part of NGC 2264, the northern part being the magnitude-3.9 Christmas Tree Cluster. It is in the northern part of Monoceros, just north of the midpoint of a line from Procyon to Betelgeuse.

The cone's shape comes from a dark absorption nebula consisting of cold molecular hydrogen and dust in front of a faint emission nebula containing hydrogen ionized by S Monocerotis, the brightest star of NGC 2264. The faint nebula is approximately seven light-years long (with an apparent length of 10 arcminutes), and is 2,700 light-years away from Earth.

The nebula is part of a much larger star-forming complex—the Hubble Space Telescope was used to capture images of forming stars in 1997.

Image Credit: NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA
Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cone_Nebula

Dwarf Galaxy DDO 68

Dwarf Galaxy DDO 68

Astronomers usually have to peer very far into the distance to see back in time, and view the Universe as it was when it was young. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy DDO 68, otherwise known as UGC 5340, was thought to offer an exception. This ragged collection of stars and gas clouds looks at first glance like a recently-formed galaxy in our own cosmic neighbourhood. But, is it really as young as it looks?

Astronomers have studied galactic evolution for decades, gradually improving our knowledge of how galaxies have changed over cosmic history. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has played a big part in this, allowing astronomers to see further into the distance, and hence further back in time, than any telescope before it — capturing light that has taken billions of years to reach us.

Looking further into the very distant past to observe younger and younger galaxies is very valuable, but it is not without its problems for astronomers. All newly-born galaxies lie very far away from us and appear very small and faint in the images. On the contrary, all the galaxies near to us appear to be old ones.

DDO 68, captured here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, was one of the best candidates so far discovered for a newly-formed galaxy in our cosmic neighbourhood. The galaxy lies around 39 million light-years away from us; although this distance may seem huge, it is in fact roughly 50 times closer than the usual distances to such galaxies, which are on the order of several billions of light years.

By studying galaxies of various ages, astronomers have found that those early in their lives are fundamentally different from those that are older. DDO 68 looks to be relatively youthful based on its structure, appearance, and composition. However, without more detailed modelling astronomers cannot be sure and they think it may be older than it lets on.

Elderly galaxies tend to be larger thanks to collisions and mergers with other galaxies that have bulked them out, and are populated with a variety of different types of stars — including old, young, large, and small ones. Their chemical makeup is different too. Newly-formed galaxies have a similar composition to the primordial matter created in the Big Bang (hydrogen, helium and a little lithium), while older galaxies are enriched with heavier elements forged in stellar furnaces over multiple generations of stars.

DDO 68 is the best representation yet of a primordial galaxy in the local Universe as it appears at first glance to be very low in heavier elements — whose presence would be a sign of the existence of previous generations of stars.

Hubble observations were carried out in order to study the properties of the galaxy’s light, and to confirm whether or not there are any older stars in DDO 68. If there are, which there seem to be, this would disprove the hypothesis that it is entirely made up of young stars. If not, it would confirm the unique nature of this galaxy. More complex modelling is needed before we can know for sure but Hubble's picture certainly gives us a beautiful view of this unusual object.

The image is made up of exposures in visible and infrared light taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Image Credit: NASA & ESA, A. Aloisi
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1421/

June 23, 2016

Artist’s impression of the Electric Wind of Venus

Electric Wind of Venus

This is an artist's concept of the electric wind at Venus. Rays represent the paths that oxygen and hydrogen ions take as they are pulled out of the upper atmosphere.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Lab, Krystofer Kim

The Heart Nebula

The Heart Nebula

The Heart Nebula, IC 1805, Sharpless 2-190, lies some 7500 light years away from Earth and is located in the Perseus Arm of the Galaxy in the constellation Cassiopeia. This is an emission nebula showing glowing gas and darker dust lanes. The nebula is formed by plasma of ionized hydrogen and free electrons.

The very brightest part of this nebula (the knot at the right) is separately classified as NGC 896, because it was the first part of this nebula to be discovered.

The galaxies Maffei 1 and Maffei 2 are nearby, although light extinction from the Milky Way makes them difficult to find and once they are found, difficult to define features within. Once thought to be part of our own Local Group, they are now known to be part of another nearby group, the IC 342/Maffei Group, the closest galaxy group to our own.

The nebula's intense red output and its configuration are driven by the radiation emanating from a small group of stars near the nebula's center. This open cluster of stars known as Melotte 15 contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, and many more dim stars that are only a fraction of our Sun's mass. The cluster used to contain a microquasar that was expelled millions of years ago.

Image Credit & Copyright: Simon Addis
Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_Nebula

Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy

Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy

The Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy, pictured in this image from the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, is a close neighbour of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Despite their proximity, both galaxies have very distinct histories and characters. This galaxy is much smaller, fainter and older than the Milky Way and appears here as a cloud of faint stars filling most of the picture.

Many other much more distant galaxies can be seen shining right through the sparse stars of the Sculptor Dwarf.

Image Credit: ESO
Explanation from: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1536a/

June 22, 2016

Artist’s impression of the distant galaxy SXDF-NB1006-2

galaxy SXDF-NB1006-2

Many young bright stars are located in the galaxy and ionise the gas inside and around the galaxy. Green colour indicates the ionised oxygen detected by ALMA, whereas purple shows the distribution of ionised hydrogen detected by the Subaru Telescope.

Image Credit: NAOJ

Messier 16: The Eagle Nebula

Messier 16: The Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula (catalogued as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611, and also known as the Star Queen Nebula and The Spire) is a young open cluster of stars in the constellation Scutum, discovered by Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux in 1745-46. Both the "Eagle" and the "Star Queen" refer to visual impressions of the dark silhouette near the center of the nebula, an area made famous as the "Pillars of Creation" photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. The nebula contains several active star-forming gas and dust regions, including the Pillars of Creation.

Image Credit & Copyright: Jimmy Walker
Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Nebula

The stars of the Large Magellanic Cloud

The stars of the Large Magellanic Cloud

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the globular cluster NGC 1854, a gathering of white and blue stars in the southern constellation of Dorado (The Dolphinfish). NGC 1854 is located about 135 000 light-years away, in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of our closest cosmic neighbours and a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.

The LMC is a hotbed of vigorous star formation. Rich in interstellar gas and dust, the galaxy is home to approximately 60 globular clusters and 700 open clusters. These clusters are frequently the subject of astronomical research, as the Large Magellanic Cloud and its little sister, the Small Magellanic Cloud, are the only systems known to contain clusters at all stages of evolution. Hubble is often used to study these clusters as its extremely high-resolution cameras can resolve individual stars, even at the clusters’ crowded cores, revealing their mass, size and degree of evolution.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1625a/

Galactic Center of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Infrared

June 21, 2016

ALMA Observes Most Distant Oxygen Ever

Schematic diagram of the history of the Universe
Schematic diagram of the history of the Universe
A team of astronomers has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to detect glowing oxygen in a distant galaxy seen just 700 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant galaxy in which oxygen has ever been unambiguously detected, and it is most likely being ionised by powerful radiation from young giant stars. This galaxy could be an example of one type of source responsible for cosmic reionisation in the early history of the Universe.

Astronomers from Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and ESO have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe one of the most distant galaxies known. SXDF-NB1006-2 lies at a redshift of 7.2, meaning that we see it only 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Colour composite image of a portion of the Subaru XMM-Newton Deep Survey Field
Colour composite image of a portion of
the Subaru XMM-Newton Deep Survey Field
The team was hoping to find out about the heavy chemical elements present in the galaxy, as they can tell us about the level of star formation, and hence provide clues about the period in the history of the Universe known as cosmic reionisation.

“Seeking heavy elements in the early Universe is an essential approach to explore the star formation activity in that period,” said Akio Inoue of Osaka Sangyo University, Japan, the lead author of the research paper, which is being published in the journal Science. “Studying heavy elements also gives us a hint to understand how the galaxies were formed and what caused the cosmic reionisation,” he added.

In the time before objects formed in the Universe, it was filled with electrically neutral gas. But when the first objects began to shine, a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, they emitted powerful radiation that started to break up those neutral atoms — to ionise the gas. During this phase — known as cosmic reionisation — the whole Universe changed dramatically. But there is much debate about exactly what kind of objects caused the reionisation. Studying the conditions in very distant galaxies can help to answer this question.

Before observing the distant galaxy, the researchers performed computer simulations to predict how easily they could expect to see evidence of ionised oxygen with ALMA. They also considered observations of similar galaxies that are much closer to Earth, and concluded that the oxygen emission should be detectable, even at vast distances .

They then carried out high-sensitivity observations with ALMA and found light from ionised oxygen in SXDF-NB1006-2, making this the most distant unambiguous detection of oxygen ever obtained. It is firm evidence for the presence of oxygen in the early Universe, only 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Colour composite image of distant galaxy SXDF-NB1006-2
Colour composite image of distant galaxy SXDF-NB1006-2
Oxygen in SXDF-NB1006-2 was found to be ten times less abundant than it is in the Sun. “The small abundance is expected because the Universe was still young and had a short history of star formation at that time,” commented Naoki Yoshida at the University of Tokyo. “Our simulation actually predicted an abundance ten times smaller than the Sun. But we have another, unexpected, result: a very small amount of dust.”

The team was unable to detect any emission from carbon in the galaxy, suggesting that this young galaxy contains very little un-ionised hydrogen gas, and also found that it contains only a small amount of dust, which is made up of heavy elements. “Something unusual may be happening in this galaxy,” said Inoue. “I suspect that almost all the gas is highly ionised.”

The detection of ionised oxygen indicates that many very brilliant stars, several dozen times more massive than the Sun, have formed in the galaxy and are emitting the intense ultraviolet light needed to ionise the oxygen atoms.

The lack of dust in the galaxy allows the intense ultraviolet light to escape and ionise vast amounts of gas outside the galaxy. “SXDF-NB1006-2 would be a prototype of the light sources responsible for the cosmic reionisation,” said Inoue.

“This is an important step towards understanding what kind of objects caused cosmic reionisation,” explained Yoichi Tamura of the University of Tokyo. “Our next observations with ALMA have already started. Higher resolution observations will allow us to see the distribution and motion of ionised oxygen in the galaxy and provide vital information to help us understand the properties of the galaxy."

Explanation from: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1620/

Star-Forming Region N11B

Star-Forming Region N11B

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures the iridescent tapestry of star birth in a neighbouring galaxy in this panoramic view of glowing gas, dark dust clouds, and young, hot stars. The star-forming region, catalogued as N11B lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), located only 160,000 light-years from Earth. With its high resolution, the Hubble Space Telescope is able to view details of star formation in the LMC as easily as ground-based telescopes are able to observe stellar formation within our own Milky Way galaxy.

Our neighbourhood galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) lies in the Constellation of Dorado and is sprinkled with a number of regions harbouring recent and ongoing star formation. One of these star-forming region, N11B, is shown in this Hubble image. It is a subregion within a larger area of star formation called N11. N11 is the second largest star-forming region in LMC. It is only surpassed in the size and activity by "the king of stellar nurseries", 30 Doradus, located at the opposite side of LMC.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/HEIC
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0411a/

Active Galaxy Centaurus A

Galaxy Centaurus A

Resembling looming rain clouds on a stormy day, dark lanes of dust crisscross the giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Hubble's panchromatic vision, stretching from ultraviolet through near-infrared wavelengths, reveals the vibrant glow of young, blue star clusters and a glimpse into regions normally obscured by the dust.

The warped shape of Centaurus A's disk of gas and dust is evidence for a past collision and merger with another galaxy. The resulting shockwaves cause hydrogen gas clouds to compress, triggering a firestorm of new star formation. These are visible in the red patches in this Hubble close-up.

At a distance of just over 11 million light-years, Centaurus A contains the closest active galactic nucleus to Earth. The center is home for a supermassive black hole that ejects jets of high-speed gas into space, but neither the supermassive black hole or the jets are visible in this image.

This image was taken in July 2010 with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration
Explanation from: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2143.html

June 20, 2016



A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. They are often referred to as twisters or cyclones, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology, in a wider sense, to name any closed low pressure circulation. Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes, but they are typically in the form of a visible condensation funnel, whose narrow end touches the earth and is often encircled by a cloud of debris and dust. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), are about 250 feet (80 m) across, and travel a few miles (several kilometers) before dissipating. The most extreme tornadoes can attain wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour (480 km/h), stretch more than two miles (3 km) across, and stay on the ground for dozens of miles (more than 100 km).

Various types of tornadoes include the landspout, multiple vortex tornado, and waterspout. Waterspouts are characterized by a spiraling funnel-shaped wind current, connecting to a large cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud. They are generally classified as non-supercellular tornadoes that develop over bodies of water, but there is disagreement over whether to classify them as true tornadoes. These spiraling columns of air frequently develop in tropical areas close to the equator, and are less common at high latitudes. Other tornado-like phenomena that exist in nature include the gustnado, dust devil, fire whirls, and steam devil; downbursts are frequently confused with tornadoes, though their action is dissimilar.

Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica. However, the vast majority of tornadoes occur in the Tornado Alley region of the United States, although they can occur nearly anywhere in North America. They also occasionally occur in south-central and eastern Asia, northern and east-central South America, Southern Africa, northwestern and southeast Europe, western and southeastern Australia, and New Zealand. Tornadoes can be detected before or as they occur through the use of Pulse-Doppler radar by recognizing patterns in velocity and reflectivity data, such as hook echoes or debris balls, as well as through the efforts of storm spotters.

There are several scales for rating the strength of tornadoes. The Fujita scale rates tornadoes by damage caused and has been replaced in some countries by the updated Enhanced Fujita Scale. An F0 or EF0 tornado, the weakest category, damages trees, but not substantial structures. An F5 or EF5 tornado, the strongest category, rips buildings off their foundations and can deform large skyscrapers. The similar TORRO scale ranges from a T0 for extremely weak tornadoes to T11 for the most powerful known tornadoes. Doppler radar data, photogrammetry, and ground swirl patterns (cycloidal marks) may also be analyzed to determine intensity and assign a rating.

Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado

The Horsehead Nebula (IC 434)

The Horsehead Nebula (IC 434)

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the night sky, but this image draws the eye down to the creased and folded landscape of gas and dust at its base rather than focusing solely on the silhouette of the horse head.

Image Credit & Copyright: Bill Snyder
Explanation by: Royal Observatory Greenwich

Artist's Impression of the Supermassive Black Hole at the centre of a galaxy

Supermassive Black Hole at the centre of a galaxy

This artist’s impression shows the surroundings of a supermassive black hole, typical of that found at the heart of many galaxies. The black hole itself is surrounded by a brilliant accretion disc of very hot, infalling material and, further out, a dusty torus. There are also often high-speed jets of material ejected at the black hole’s poles that can extend huge distances into space. Observations with ALMA have detected a very strong magnetic field close to the black hole at the base of the jets and this is probably involved in jet production and collimation.

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1515a/

June 19, 2016

Galactic Center of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Infrared

Milky Way Galaxy in the Infrared

This dazzling infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy. In visible-light pictures, this region cannot be seen at all because dust lying between Earth and the galactic center blocks our view.

In this picture, old and cool stars are blue, while dust features lit up by blazing hot, massive stars are shown in a reddish hue. Both bright and dark filamentary clouds can be seen, many of which harbor stellar nurseries. The plane of the Milky Way's flat disk is apparent as the main, horizontal band of clouds. The brightest white spot in the middle is the very center of the galaxy, which also marks the site of a supermassive black hole.

The region pictured here is immense, with a horizontal span of 890 light-years and a vertical span of 640 light-years. Earth is located 26,000 light-years away, out in one of the Milky Way's spiral arms. Though most of the objects seen in this image are located at the galactic center, the features above and below the galactic plane tend to lie closer to Earth.

Scientists are intrigued by the giant lobes of dust extending away from the plane of the galaxy. They believe the lobes may have been formed by winds from massive stars.

This image is a mosaic of thousands of short exposures taken by Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), showing emissions from wavelengths of 3.6 microns (blue), 4.5 microns (green), 5.8 microns (orange), and 8.0 microns (red). The entire region was imaged in less than 16 hours.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)
Explanation from: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1540-ssc2006-02a-A-Cauldron-of-Stars-at-the-Galaxy-s-Center

Light and Shadow in the Carina Nebula

Carina Nebula

Previously unseen details of a mysterious, complex structure within the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372) are revealed by this image of the 'Keyhole Nebula, ' obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. The picture is a montage assembled from four different April 1999 telescope pointings with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which used six different colour filters. The picture is dominated by a large, approximately circular feature, which is part of the Keyhole Nebula, named in the 19th century by Sir John Herschel. This region, about 8000 light-years from Earth, is located adjacent to the famous explosive variable star Eta Carinae, which lies just outside the field of view toward the upper right. The Carina Nebula also contains several other stars that are among the hottest and most massive known, each about 10 times as hot, and 100 times as massive, as our Sun.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo0006a/

Mass map of galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1–2403 using strong and weak lensing

MACS J0416.1–2403

This image shows the galaxy MACS J0416.1–2403, one of six clusters targeted by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme.

The varying intensity of blue haze in this image is a mass map created by using new Hubble observations combined with the magnifying power of a process known as gravitational lensing.

Strong lensing gives a much more precise indication of the mass at the cluster’s core whilst weak lensing provides valuable information about the mass surrounding the cluster core.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1416c/