July 30, 2016

Coral reef

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Coral reefs are diverse underwater ecosystems held together by calcium carbonate structures secreted by corals. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups. The polyps belong to a group of animals known as Cnidaria, which also includes sea anemones and jellyfish. Unlike sea anemones, corals secrete hard carbonate exoskeletons which support and protect the coral polyps. Most reefs grow best in warm, shallow, clear, sunny and agitated waters.

Often called "rainforests of the sea", shallow coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. They occupy less than 0.1% of the world's ocean surface, about half the area of France, yet they provide a home for at least 25% of all marine species, including fish, mollusks, worms, crustaceans, echinoderms, sponges, tunicates and other cnidarians. Paradoxically, coral reefs flourish even though they are surrounded by ocean waters that provide few nutrients. They are most commonly found at shallow depths in tropical waters, but deep water and cold water corals also exist on smaller scales in other areas.

Coral reefs deliver ecosystem services to tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection. The annual global economic value of coral reefs is estimated between US$29.8-375 billion. However, coral reefs are fragile ecosystems, partly because they are very sensitive to water temperature. They are under threat from climate change, oceanic acidification, blast fishing, cyanide fishing for aquarium fish, sunscreen use, overuse of reef resources, and harmful land-use practices, including urban and agricultural runoff and water pollution, which can harm reefs by encouraging excess algal growth.

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

The Omega Nebula (NGC 6618)

Omega Nebula (NGC 6618)

Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, these fantastic, undulating shapes lie within the stellar nursery known as M17, the Omega Nebula, some 5,500 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation Sagittarius. The lumpy features in the dense cold gas and dust are illuminated by stars off the upper left of the image and may themselves represent sites of future star formation. Colors in the fog of surrounding hotter material indicate M17's chemical make up. The predominately green glow corresponds to abundant hydrogen, with trace sulfur and oxygen atoms contributing red and blue hues. The picture spans about 3 light-years.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester (ASU)
Explanation from: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_768.html

Planetary Nebula Hubble 5

Planetary Nebula Hubble 5

Hubble 5 is a striking example of a 'butterfly' or bipolar (two-lobed) nebula. The heat generated by fast winds causes each of the lobes to expand, much like a pair of balloons with internal heaters. This observation was taken Sept. 9, 1997 by the Hubble telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. Hubble 5 is 2, 200 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA
Explanation from: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo9738f/

July 29, 2016

Earth seen from Saturn

Earth seen from SaturnEarth seen from SaturnEarth and Moon seen from SaturnEarth and Moon seen from Saturn

With giant Saturn hanging in the blackness and sheltering Cassini from the sun's blinding glare, the spacecraft viewed the rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world.

This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006. The full mosaic consists of three rows of nine wide-angle camera footprints; only a portion of the full mosaic is shown here. Color in the view was created by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared and clear filter images and was then adjusted to resemble natural color.

The mosaic images were acquired as the spacecraft drifted in the darkness of Saturn's shadow for about 12 hours, allowing a multitude of unique observations of the microscopic particles that compose Saturn's faint rings.

Ring structures containing these tiny particles brighten substantially at high phase angles: i.e., viewing angles where the sun is almost directly behind the objects being imaged.

During this period of observation Cassini detected two new faint rings: one coincident with the shared orbit of the moons Janus and Epimetheus, and another coincident with Pallene's orbit.

The narrowly confined G ring is easily seen here, outside the bright main rings. Encircling the entire system is the much more extended E ring. The icy plumes of Enceladus, whose eruptions supply the E ring particles, betray the moon's position in the E ring's left-side edge.

Interior to the G ring and above the brighter main rings is the pale dot of Earth. Cassini views its point of origin from over a billion kilometers (and close to a billion miles) away in the icy depths of the outer solar system.

Small grains are pushed about by sunlight and electromagnetic forces. Hence, their distribution tells much about the local space environment.

A second version of the mosaic view is presented here in which the color contrast is greatly exaggerated. In such views, imaging scientists have noticed color variations across the diffuse rings that imply active processes sort the particles in the ring according to their sizes.

Looking at the E ring in this color-exaggerated view, the distribution of color across and along the ring appears to be different between the right side and the left. Scientists are not sure yet how to explain these differences, though the difference in phase angle between right and left may be part of the explanation. The phase angle is about 179 degrees on Saturn.

The main rings are overexposed in a few places.

This view looks toward the unlit side of the rings from about 15 degrees above the ringplane.

Cassini was approximately 2.2 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Saturn when the images in this mosaic were taken. Image scale on Saturn is about 260 kilometers (162 miles) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Explanation from: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08329

Spiral Galaxy Messier 81

Spiral Galaxy Messier 81

Messier 81 (also known as NGC 3031 or Bode's Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size and active galactic nucleus (which harbors a 70 million M☉ supermassive black hole), Messier 81 has been studied extensively by professional astronomers. The galaxy's large size and relatively high brightness also make it a popular target for amateur astronomers.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Snowflake Cluster

Snowflake Cluster

Like cascading snowflakes in the interstellar night, the strange shapes and textures of the stars in the Snowflake Cluster abound in the Cone Nebula. These patterns result from the tumultuous unrest that accompanies the formation of the open cluster of stars known as NGC 2264. Bright stars from the cluster dot the field and they soon heat up and destroy the gas and dust mountains in which they formed. One such dust mountain is the famous Cone Nebula, visible in the above image on the left, pointing toward a bright star near the center of the field.

Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, P. S. Teixeira (CfA)
Explanation from: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_982.html

July 28, 2016

Earth and Moon seen by Galileo spacecraft from 4 million miles away

Earth and Moon

On December 16, 1992, 8 days after its encounter with Earth, the Galileo spacecraft looked back from a distance of about 6.2 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) to capture this remarkable view of the Moon in orbit about Earth. The composite photograph was constructed from images taken through visible (violet, red) and near-infrared (1.0-micron) filters. The Moon is in the foreground; its orbital path is from left to right. Brightly colored Earth contrasts strongly with the Moon, which reacts only about one-third as much sunlight as our world. To improve the visibility of both bodies, contrast and color have been computer enhanced. At the bottom of Earth's disk, Antarctica is visible through clouds. The Moon's far side can also be seen. The shadowy indentation in the Moon's dawn terminator--the boundary between its dark and lit sides--is the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest and oldest lunar impact features. This feature was studied extensively by Galileo during the first Earth flyby in December 1990.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Explanation from: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00134

The Ring Nebula

Ring Nebula

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope finds a delicate flower in the Ring Nebula, as shown in this image. The outer shell of this planetary nebula looks surprisingly similar to the delicate petals of a camellia blossom. (A planetary nebula is a shell of material ejected from a dying star.) Located about 2,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, the Ring Nebula is also known as Messier Object 57 and NGC 6720. It is one of the best examples of a planetary nebula and a favorite target of amateur astronomers.

The "ring" is a thick cylinder of glowing gas and dust around the doomed star. As the star begins to run out of fuel, its core becomes smaller and hotter, boiling off its outer layers. Spitzer's infrared array camera detected this material expelled from the withering star. Previous images of the Ring Nebula taken by visible-light telescopes usually showed just the inner glowing loop of gas around the star. The outer regions are especially prominent in this new image because Spitzer sees the infrared light from hydrogen molecules. The molecules emit the infrared light that they have absorbed ultraviolet radiation from the star or have been heated by the wind from the star.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA
Explanation from: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_679.html

Digitized Sky Survey Image of the Eagle Nebula

Eagle Nebula

This image is a colour composite of the Eagle Nebula (M 16) made from exposures from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2). The field of view is approximatelly 3.8 x 3.3 degrees.

Image Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2, Davide De Martin

July 27, 2016

Supernova Remnant N49

Supernova Remnant N49

This is a composite image of N49, the brightest supernova remnant in optical light in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The Chandra X-ray image (blue) shows million-degree gas in the center. Much cooler gas at the outer parts of the remnant is seen in the infrared image from Spitzer (red). While astronomers expected that dust particles were generating most of the infrared emission, the study of this object indicates that much of the infrared is instead generated in heated gas.

The unique filamentary structure seen in the optical image by Hubble (white & yellow) has long set N49 apart from other well understood supernova remnants, as most supernova remnants appear roughly circular in visible light. Recent mapping of molecular clouds suggests that this supernova remnant is expanding into a denser region to the southeast, which would cause its asymmetrical appearance. This idea is confirmed by the Chandra data. Although X-rays reveal a round shell of emission, the X-rays also show brightening in the southeast, confirming the idea of colliding material in that area.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/S.Kulkarni et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/UIUC/Y.H.Chu & R.Williams et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R.Gehrz et al.
Explanation from: http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2006/n49/

Star-forming region Gum 29

Star-forming region Gum 29

This image shows the star-forming region Gum 29 which surrounds star cluster Westerlund 2.

Some of the heftiest stars in Westerlund 2 are carving deep cavities in material surrounding them by unleashing torrents of ultraviolet light and high speed streams of charged particles, known as stellar winds. These are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born and are responsible for the weird and wonderful shapes of the clouds of gas and dust in this image.

The brightest stars in this image are Milky Way foreground stars not associated with Westerlund 2.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1509d/

Dwarf Galaxy ESO 540-030

Dwarf Galaxy ESO 540-030

Peering into the depths of space, the sharp-eyed NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the nearby but faint dwarf galaxy ESO 540-030. This object itself appears as a huge swarm of dim stars, but ESO 540-030 is actually just one point of interest in the picture.

ESO 540-030 is just over 11 million light-years distant, and is part of the Sculptor group of galaxies. This collection is the closest neighbour to our own Local Group of galaxies that includes the Milky Way. Due to its proximity the Sculptor group contains some of the brightest galaxies in the southern skies, although ESO 540-030 is not one of these; dwarf galaxies generally have low surface brightness, which make observations difficult.

Hubble has captured a snapshot of galaxy types in the background, with spirals, barred spirals, ellipticals and irregulars on display. Careful examination of this picture should allow examples of each galaxy type to be found. Some galaxies lie directly behind ESO 540-030, increasing the challenge. As well as the galaxies there are also five bright stars, which are much closer to us than the galaxies. The telltale diffraction spikes — four sharp lines of light emanating at 90 degree angles, caused by light diffracting in the telescope — are unmistakable signs of the stars in the picture.

Cataloguing galaxy types is an important task for scientists attempting to understand more about how our Universe evolved. Our own eyes are excellent tools for this, as participants of the Galaxy Zoo Hubble project will confirm.

This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through a yellow-orange filter (F606W, coloured blue) were combined with images taken in the near-infrared (F814W, coloured red). The total exposure times were 4480 s and 3360 s, respectively and the field of view is about 3.1 arcminutes across.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1135a/

July 26, 2016

The Cat's Paw Nebula

The Cat's Paw Nebula

The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) is a vast region of star formation. This new portrait of NGC 6334 was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen. NGC 6334 lies about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across.

NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy and has been extensively studied by astronomers. The nebula conceals freshly minted brilliant blue stars — each nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and born in the last few million years. The region is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust, making them difficult to study. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.

The nebula appears red because its blue and green light are scattered and absorbed more efficiently by material between the nebula and Earth. The red light comes predominantly from hydrogen gas glowing under the intense glare of hot young stars.

Image Credit: ESO
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1003a/

The UGC 5497 Galaxy

dwarf galaxy UGC 5497

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this view of the dwarf galaxy UGC 5497, which looks a bit like salt dashed on black velvet in this image.

The object is a compact blue dwarf galaxy that is infused with newly formed clusters of stars. The bright, blue stars that arise in these clusters help to give the galaxy an overall bluish appearance that lasts for several million years until these fast-burning stars explode as supernovae.

UGC 5497 is considered part of the M 81 group of galaxies, which is located about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major (The Great Bear). UGC 5497 turned up in a ground-based telescope survey back in 2008 looking for new dwarf galaxy candidates associated with Messier 81.

According to the leading cosmological theory of galaxy formation, called Lambda Cold Dark Matter, there should be far more satellite dwarf galaxies associated with big galaxies like the Milky Way and Messier 81 than are currently known. Finding previously overlooked objects such as this one has helped cut into the expected tally — but only by a small amount.

Astrophysicists therefore remain puzzled over the so-called "missing satellite" problem.

The field of view in this image, which is a combination of visible and infrared exposures from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, is approximately 3.4 by 3.4 arcminutes.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1224a/

Artist’s impression of a hot Jupiter exoplanet in the star cluster Messier 67

Artist’s impression of a hot Jupiter exoplanet in the star cluster Messier 67

This artist’s impression shows a hot Jupiter planet orbiting close to one of the stars in the rich old star cluster Messier 67, in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab). Astronomers have found far more planets like this in the cluster than expected. This surprise result was obtained using a number of telescopes and instruments, among them the HARPS spectrograph at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The denser environment in a cluster will cause more frequent interactions between planets and nearby stars, which may explain the excess of hot Jupiters.

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Explanation from: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1621a/

July 25, 2016

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies 10Canadian Rockies 11Canadian Rockies 12

The Canadian Rockies comprise the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains. They are the eastern part of the Canadian Cordillera, which is a system of multiple ranges of mountains which runs from the Canadian Prairies to the Pacific Coast. The Canadian Rockies mountain system comprises the southeastern part of this system, laying between the Interior Plains of Alberta and Northeastern British Columbia on the east to the Rocky Mountain Trench of BC on the west. The southern end borders Idaho and Montana of the USA. In geographic terms the boundary is at the Canada/US border, but in geological terms it might be considered to be at Marias Pass in northern Montana. The northern end is at the Liard River in northern British Columbia.

The Canadian Rockies have numerous high peaks and ranges, such as Mount Robson (3,954 m (12,972 ft)) and Mount Columbia (3,747 m (12,293 ft)). The Canadian Rockies are composed of shale and limestone. Much of the range is protected by national and provincial parks, several of which collectively comprise a World Heritage Site.

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

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Infrared

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Infrared

Our Milky Way is a dusty place. So dusty, in fact, that we cannot see the center of the galaxy in visible light. But when NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope set its infrared eyes on the galactic center, it captured this spectacular view.Taken with just one of Spitzer's cameras (at a wavelength of 8 microns), the image highlights the region's exceptionally bright and dusty clouds, lit up by young massive stars. Individual stars can also be seen as tiny dots scattered throughout the dust. The mosaic shows a portion of the galactic center that stretches across a distance of 760 light-years.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)
Explanation from: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1546-ssc2006-02b1-Spitzer-8-0-micron-View-of-the-Milky-Way-Center

The North America Nebula (NGC 7000)

The North America Nebula (NGC 7000)

This view of the North America nebula combines both visible and infrared light observations, taken by the Digitized Sky Survey and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, respectively, into a single vivid picture.

The nebula is named after its resemblance to the North America content in visible light, which in this image is represented in blue hues. Infrared light, displayed here in red and green, can penetrate deep into the dust, revealing multitudes of hidden stars and dusty clouds. Only the very densest dust clouds remain opaque, like the dark bands seen in the "Gulf of Mexico" area.

Clusters of young stars (about one million years old) can be found throughout the image. Slightly older but still very young stars (about three to five million years) are also liberally scattered across the complex, with concentrations near the "head" region of the Pelican nebula, which is located to the right of the North America nebula (upper right, bluish portion of this picture).

In this combined view, the visible part of the spectrum from the Digitized Sky Survey is represented in blues and blue-green hues. The Spitzer component contains data from the infrared array camera. Light with a wavelength of 3.6 microns has been color-coded green; 4.5-micron light is orange; 5.8-micron and 8.0-micron light are red.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Rebull (SSC/Caltech)/D. De Martin
Explanation from: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/3516-ssc2011-03a3-North-America-Nebula-in-Different-Lights

July 24, 2016

Supernova G1.9+0.3

Youngest Supernova

Scientists have used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the NSF's Jansky Very Large Array to determine the likely trigger for the most recent supernova in the Milky Way.

Astronomers had previously identified G1.9+0.3 as the remnant of the most recent supernova in our Galaxy. It is estimated to have occurred about 110 years ago from the vantage point of Earth, in a dusty region of the Galaxy that blocked visible light from reaching Earth. This Chandra image shows G1.9+0.3 where low-energy X-rays are colored red, medium-energy X-rays are green, and a higher-energy band of X-rays is blue.

G1.9+0.3 belongs to the Type Ia category, an important class of supernovas exhibiting reliable patterns in their brightness that make them valuable tools for measuring the rate at which the universe is expanding. Most scientists agree that Type Ia supernovas occur when white dwarfs, the dense remnants of Sun-like stars that have run out of fuel, explode. However, there has been a debate over what triggers these white dwarf explosions. Two primary ideas are the accumulation of material onto a white dwarf from a companion star or the violent merger of two white dwarfs.

The researchers in this latest study applied a new technique that could have implications for understanding other Type Ia supernovas. They used archival Chandra and VLA data to examine how the expanding supernova remnant G1.0+0.3 interacts with the gas and dust surrounding the explosion. The resulting radio and X-ray emission provide clues as to the cause of the explosion. In particular, an increase in X-ray and radio brightness of the supernova remnant with time is expected only if a white dwarf merger took place, according to theoretical work.

This result implies that Type Ia supernovas are either all caused by white dwarf collisions, or are caused by a mixture of white dwarf collisions and the mechanism where the white dwarf pulls material from a companion star. It is important to identify the trigger mechanism for Type Ia supernovas because if there is more than one cause then the contribution from each can change over time, affecting their use as "standard candles" in cosmology.

Image Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Chakraborti et al.)
Explanation from: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2016/g19/

Dwarf Galaxy ESO 540-31

Dwarf Galaxy ESO 540-31

The glittering specks in this image, resembling a distant flock of flying birds, are the stars that make up the dwarf galaxy ESO 540-31. Captured in this new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the dwarf galaxy lies just over 11 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). The background of this image is full of many other galaxies, all located at vast distances from us.

Dwarf galaxies are the among the smaller and dimmer members of the galactic family, typically only containing around a few hundred million stars. Although this sounds like a large number, it is small when compared to spiral galaxies like our Milky Way, which are made up of hundreds of billions of stars.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Luca Limatola
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1336a/

Hubble's panoramic view of a star-forming region 30 Doradus

30 Doradus

30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighbourhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula resides 170 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

The image comprises one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos and includes observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, combined with observations from the European Southern Observatory’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope which trace the location of glowing hydrogen and oxygen.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, ESO
Explanation from: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1206a/