Lenticular Galaxy NGC 4111

Lens-shaped galaxies have characteristics astronomers see in elliptical and spiral galaxies

The elegant simplicity of NGC 4111, seen here in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, hides a more violent history than you might think. NGC 4111 is a lenticular, or lens-shaped, galaxy, lying about 50 million light-years from us in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). Lenticular galaxies are an intermediate type of galaxy between an elliptical and a spiral. They host aged stars like ellipticals and have a disk like a spiral. However, that’s where the similarities end: they differ from ellipticals because they have a bulge and a thin disk, but are different from spirals because lenticular discs contain very little gas and dust, and do not feature the many-armed structure that is characteristic of spiral galaxies. In this image we see the disc of NGC 4111 edge-on, so it appears as a thin sliver of light on the sky. At first sight, NGC 4111 looks like a fairly uneventful galaxy, but there are unusual features that suggest it is not such a peaceful place. Running through its centre, at right angles to the thin disc, is a series of filaments, silhouetted against the bright core of the galaxy. These are made of dust, and astronomers think they are associated with a ring of material encircling the galaxy’s core. Since it is not aligned with the galaxy’s main disc, it is possible that this polar ring of gas and dust is actually the remains of a smaller galaxy that was swallowed up by NGC 4111 long ago.
The elegant simplicity of NGC 4111, seen here in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. 

Space news (lenticular galaxies) – 50 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs) –

This Hubble Space Telescope image of lenticular galaxy NGC 4111 shows an island universe with a more chaotic past than first thought. Lenticular or lens-shaped galaxies are labelled S0 on the Hubble Tuning Fork and are classified as a transitional type between spiral and elliptical galaxies.

Lenticular galaxies host older stars as observed in elliptical galaxies and include a disc as seen in spiral galaxies. However, they have a bulge and thin disc, which hasn’t been observed in elliptical galaxies. They also don’t have arms and the gas and dust detected in spiral galaxies.

NGC 4111 appears as a thin sliver of lights in this image because Hubble’s viewing the edge of the galaxy. At first glance, this island universe looks relatively quiet, but there are regions suggesting a more chaotic past. Pillars of dark filaments silhouetted against the bright core of the galaxy and running through the centre at right angles to the thin disc. Dark filaments of dust and gas astronomers associate with a ring of material orbiting its core.

This ring of orbiting material isn’t aligned with the main disc of NGC 4111, which has astrophysicists thinking it could be the remains of a smaller galaxy it collided with long ago. Considering the possible mass and volume of this past meal, indigestion probably isn’t unexpected. 

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Read about the stellar object called the Red Rectangle, star system HD 44179.

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Read about astronomers observing the merging of two galaxies into galaxy NGC 6052.

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Giant Star Blows Hubble a Bubble of Hot Gas

To celebrate 26th solar orbit of Hubble Space Telescope

Space news (Interaction of young, massive stars with the environment) – 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia –

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To celebrate the 26th year of the Hubble Space Telescope’s journey to the beginning of space and time NASA released this image of the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635). The outer edge of the bubble is a stellar wind of hot gas moving at over 4 million miles per hour. A stellar wind that slams into and heats dense regions of cold gas on the outer edge of the bubble to varying temperatures. Heated gases that emit different colours, with oxygen near the star emitting blue light while light emitted by hydrogen and nitrogen combines to produce yellow, cooler pillars in the upper left of the image. Cooler pillars illuminated by strong ultraviolet radiation from the hot, massive star producing the bubble, which is similar to the iconic “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

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10 light-years across, the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635) is a study in violent processes at work and chaotic nature of the cosmos. Image Credit: Bernard Michaud

As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment. The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe-inspiring universe we live in,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, D.C. 

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The Bubble Nebula is one of three gas shells surrounding the supermassive star (BD+602522) at the center of this image. Credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

The outer edge of the Bubble Nebula’s around seven light years across, which is about the same distance as travelling to our nearest stellar neighbour Alpha Centauri one and a half times. The super-hot, massive star producing the hot stellar winds at the outer edge is about 45 times the mass of Sol. It appears in the ten o’clock position in this image, off-centre from the outer edge due to varying stellar winds.

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The Bubble Nebula. Image: NASA, Donald Walter (South Carolina State University), Paul Scowen and Brian Moore (Arizona State University)

Imagine the reaction of the discoverer of the Bubble Nebula, William Herschel, who in 1787 first observed this colourful celestial object, to this Hubble Space Telescope image. How would he react to discovering it’s created by an extremely bright, super-massive star turning hydrogen into helium at a furious rate? A star about four million years old that within the next 20 million years will detonate as a supernova. The possibilities would expand his mind much like the O-type star that created the Bubble Nebula. 

Imagine the expression on his face as he views the thousands of startling images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of stellar objects across billions of light-years of space. The opening of his mind could probably be witnessed in his eyes and the expanding of his consciousness. He would fly about the universe on the edge of a bubble of hot gas and become one with the cosmos.

No better way to celebrate the 26th year of the space journey of one of the greatest and grandest telescopes ever conceived and constructed by humankind. 

Watch this YouTube video about the 26th anniversary of the space journey of the Hubble Space Telescope.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm472GqUQic

Zoom into the Bubble Nebula watching this NASA video.

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Dwarf Galaxy Leo A Shows an Unusual Star Formation Timescale

At first glance this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image seems to show an array of different cosmic objects, but the speckling of stars shown here actually forms a single body — a nearby dwarf galaxy known as Leo A. Its few million stars are so sparsely distributed that some distant background galaxies are visible through it. Leo A itself is at a distance of about 2.5 million light-years from Earth and a member of the Local Group of galaxies; a group that includes the Milky Way and the well-known Andromeda galaxy. Astronomers study dwarf galaxies because they are very numerous and are  simpler in structure than their giant cousins. However, their small size makes them difficult to study at great distances. As a result, the dwarf galaxies of the Local Group are of particular interest, as they are close enough to study in detail. As it turns out, Leo A is a rather unusual galaxy. It is one of the most isolated galaxies in the Local Group, has no obvious structural features beyond being a roughly spherical mass of stars, and shows no evidence for recent interactions with any of its few neighbours. However, the galaxy’s contents are overwhelmingly dominated by relatively young stars, something that would normally be the result of a recent interaction with another galaxy. Around 90% of the stars in Leo A are less than eight billion years old — young in cosmic terms! This raises a number of intriguing questions about why star formation in Leo A did not take place on the “usual” timescale, but instead waited until it was good and ready.
It’s hard to pick out a single, cohesive body of stars in this image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, but the array of cosmos objects seen make up the dwarf galaxy Leo A (Leo III). The millions of stars in this smaller galaxy are sparsely distributed enough for distant background galaxies to be visible.  

Nearly 90 percent of its stars were formed only 8 billion years ago, which is young in comparison to the majority of stars surveyed in the cosmos, so far

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Irregular dwarf galaxies like Leo A are thought to be the building blocks of larger galaxies like our own Milky Way. 

Space news (new star formation in dwarf galaxy Leo A, 2.54 million light-years from Earth) – It appears star formation in this smaller galaxy didn’t start until it was good and ready, which for astronomers poses a few puzzling questions –

Astronomers studying planetary formation in smaller dwarf galaxies sprinkled around the nearby cosmos have found something different about the process of star formation in a member of the Local Group of galaxies. This nearby group contains two large spiral galaxies, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy (M31), and about 30 galaxies in total. 

Dwarf galaxies are both more numerous in the cosmos and simpler in structure than larger spiral galaxies, but harder to study in most cases due to the extreme distances involved. In the case of closer dwarf galaxies, like Leo A, they’re easier to study in detail, but still hard to study due to their smaller size of around 10,000 light-years.

Astronomers studying dwarf galaxy Leo A also called UGC 5364 and LEDA 28868, have found no evidence of recent mergers with any of its neighbours. They have discovered, however, that nearly 90 percent of the stars in this smaller galaxy are younger than 8 billion years. This goes against the current theory that such a result would normally be due to a recent merger with another galaxy. A finding that has astronomers asking a puzzling question concerning star formation timescales in dwarf galaxies viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

Why is Leo A dominated by young stars, despite showing no signs of a recent merger with another galaxy?

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Other astronomers studying Leo A recently reported the discovery of an old stellar halo and sharp edge, along with a distribution of stars extending just beyond its gaseous envelope. This implies smaller galaxies with less mass and stars also develop complex structures like larger spiral galaxies. This challenges current galaxy evolution theory and our understanding of smaller island universes.

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A Proto-Planetary Nebula with a Distinctive Shape

Star system HD 44179 pumps out hot gas and other material to create the unusual structure known as the Red Rectangle 

The star HD 44179 is surrounded by an extraordinary structure known as the Red Rectangle. It acquired its moniker because of its shape and its apparent colour when seen in early images from Earth. This strikingly detailed new Hubble image reveals how, when seen from space, the nebula, rather than being rectangular, is shaped like an X with additional complex structures of spaced lines of glowing gas, a little like the rungs of a ladder. The star at the centre is similar to the Sun, but at the end of its lifetime, pumping out gas and other material to make the nebula, and giving it the distinctive shape. It also appears that the star is a close binary that is surrounded by a dense torus of dust — both of which may help to explain the very curious shape. Precisely how the central engine of this remarkable and unique object spun the gossamer threads of nebulosity remains mysterious. It is likely that precessing jets of material played a role. The Red Rectangle is an unusual example of what is known as a proto-planetary nebula. These are old stars, on their way to becoming planetary nebulae. Once the expulsion of mass is complete a very hot white dwarf star will remain and its brilliant ultraviolet radiation will cause the surrounding gas to glow. The Red Rectangle is found about 2 300 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn). The High Resolution Channel of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys captured this view of HD 44179 and the surrounding Red Rectangle nebula — the sharpest view so far. Red light from glowing Hydrogen was captured through the F658N filter and coloured red. Orange-red light over a wider range of wavelengths through a F625W filter was coloured blue. The field of view is about 25 by 20 arcseconds.
This high-resolution image of HD 44179 and surrounding Red Rectangle was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The best view of this unusually shaped proto-planetary nebula so far. 

Space news (Old, sun-like stars near the end of their days) – 2,300 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn) – 

Two reasons astronomers study old, sun-like stars near the end of their days is to learn more about Sol, and its final days. Star system HD 44179‘s an older star system that began pumping out hot gas and other material into space starting about 14,000 years ago to create the unusual X-shaped structure seen in the image above. Near the end of its lifespan, astronomers believe this star system is a close binary, with the star at the centre of the image being a sun-like star surrounded by dense dust.

NASA astronomers first observed the unusual shape and colour of HD 44179 using ground-based telescopes. It was these observations and shots like the Hubble Space Telescope image seen below that first inspired viewers to call it the Red Rectangle. This image revealed a wealth of new features hidden in the nebula that ground-based telescopes can’t see through Earth’s chaotic atmosphere.

HD 44179 is an unusual example of what astronomers call a proto-planetary nebula. Older, sun-like stars on their way to becoming planetary nebulae, once they finish expelling material a smaller, very hot white dwarf star will remain. The ultraviolet radiation they emit will flood into the nebula and strike the surrounding gas and cause it to glow, creating a planetary nebula.

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Read about the blast recently observed coming from the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy Pictor A.

Read about the supermassive black hole found lurking at the center of galaxy NGC 4845.

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Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 4394

One of the most common types of island universes viewed during our journey

Space news (The Hubble Tuning Fork: barred spiral galaxies) – 55 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair) –

Hubble spies NGC 4394
These arms are peppered with young blue stars, dark filaments of cosmic dust, and bright, fuzzy regions of active star formation. At the centre of NGC 4394 lies a region of ionised gas known as a LINER. LINERs are active regions that display a characteristic set of emission lines in their spectra

First documented in the western world by German-British astronomer William Herschel, barred spiral galaxy NGC 4394 is a member of the most common type of galaxy viewed in the Galaxy Zoo. Estimated by astronomers to be 55 million light-years from Sol, toward the constellation of Coma Berenices, this island universe is considered a member of the Virgo Cluster. 

The prototypical barred spiral galaxy, NGC 4394 has bright spiral arms sprouting from the ends of a bar cutting through its middle bulge. Sprinkled with blue, young stars its spiral arms contain fuzzy regions where stars are being formed and dark filaments of cosmic dust. Near the center of this island universe lies a region of ionized gas known as a low-ionization nuclear emission-line region (LINER). An active region displaying a specific set of emission lines in its spectra, a LINER contains mainly weakly ionized atoms of oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur.

LINERS have been viewed relatively often during the human journey to the beginning of space and time and they’re starting to piece together their puzzle. Astronomers still need to figure out where the energy comes from to ionize the gas. Presently astronomers believe it could be due to the influence of the supermassive black hole or extreme levels of star formation. In the case of NGC 4394, gas from a nearby galaxy has likely flowed into its central region, providing a new source to fuel the process, either way.

You can learn more about galaxies with a LINER here.

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Europa Spacecraft

Set to blast off sometime in the 2020s

Space news (The search for life beyond Earth) – An artist’s rendition of the Europa spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this artists rendering of the Europa spacecraft, which is set to head to Jupiter sometime in the 2020s. The Europa Mission spacecraft configuration in early 2016 is shown in this image. The final spacecraft configuration at launch could easily be different, so stay tuned here for more news. The position of Jupiter in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft are also off in this drawing

Two large solar arrays are shown extending from the sides of the Europa spacecraft to which the ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached in this artist’s rendition. On the side of the craft, a saucer-shaped high gain antenna is depicted next to a magnetometer boom. On the forward section is a remote-sensing palette with the remaining science instruments.

The Europa Mission profile has a very capable, radiation-resistant spacecraft traveling to Jupiter, where it enters into a long, looping orbit of the giant planet in order to perform at least 45 repeated flybys of Europa at altitudes ranging from 1700 miles to 16 miles (2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers above its surface. Planetary scientists want to take a closer look at the evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. An ocean of liquid water that could be the habitat of alien lifeforms we want to get to know better. 

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Explore Europa.

Read about the next generation Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

Learn more about the recent observation of gravitational waves by LIGO.

Learn about Gosek Henge a 7,000-year-old solar observatory.