Travel into the Heart of a Cosmic Storm

This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This stormy scene shows a stellar nursery known as N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across. N159 contains many hot young stars. These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material. At the heart of this cosmic cloud lies the Papillon Nebula, a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity. This small, dense object is classified as a High-Excitation Blob, and is thought to be tightly linked to the early stages of massive star formation. N159 is located over 160 000 light-years away. It resides just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic1402), another massive star-forming complex within the LMC. It was previously imaged by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which also resolved the Papillon Nebula for the first time.
Electric-blue wisps of gas and young stars in early stages of star birth startle the senses in this stunning Hubble Space Telescope image. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (astrophysics: stellar nurseries; HII region N159) – 180,000 light-years from Earth deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) –

Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The stunning Hubble Space Telescope image seen above shows the heart of a cosmic maelstrom, glowing gas, and dark dust deep within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of many satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. This stormy region of space contains stellar nursery N159, an HII region over 150 light-years across with many hot young suns emitting intense ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet light causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow and torrential stellar winds carving ridges, arcs, and filaments out of surrounding gas and dust. 

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The Papillon Nebula is seen in the inset image in  the top right of the main image of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: M. Heydari-Malayeri(Paris Observatory) et al, WFPC2, HST, ESA, NASA

Early stages of star birth

Near the heart of this cosmic maelstrom lies the butterfly-shaped Papillon Nebula, a small, dense stellar object astronomers refer to as a High-Excitation Blob, they have linked to the early stages of the formation of a massive star. This region of space was first detected using Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

Image Credit & Copyright: Processing - Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data - Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory
The Tarantula Nebula Image Credit & Copyright: Processing – Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari Data – Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory

Nebula N159’s just south of the Tarantula Nebula (heic 1402), a star-forming region also imaged by Hubble’s WFPC2. Hidden within this region of space astronomers found several massive stars they’re currently studying looking for clues to the growth and evolution of the most massive stars in the galaxy. The image seen here was taken using the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. 

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Discover the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Learn more about High-Excitation Blobs.

 

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A Lonely, Wandering Hermit of a Galaxy

Tells astronomers a thing or two about star birth throughout the cosmos 

A mysterious hermit
Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Space news (astrophysics: irregular dwarf galaxies; the formation of new stars) – a lonely, undefined looking galaxy an estimated 4.2 million light-years from Earth, approximately 2.3 million light-years from Leo A –  

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The Sagittarius Dwarf Irregular Galaxy (SagDIG) is a metal-poor galaxy from the dawn of the cosmos. Almost as old as the universe, SagDIG is showing us things about the evolution of everything we see during our journey to the beginning of space and time. Spanning about 1,500 light-years, this ancient star wanderer is about 3.5 million light-years distant toward the constellation Sagittarius.

Astronomers think the chaotic, unusual looking smaller island universe seen in the Hubble Space Telescope image here hasn’t merged with any other galaxies lately. Classified as an irregular dwarf galaxy, UGC 4879 has no obvious form and lacks the magnificent whirl of a spiral galaxy or the coherence of an elliptical. Approximately 1.36 million parsecs from Earth this lonely, wandering hermit of a galaxy is showing astronomers new, interesting things about star birth in the universe

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Irregular dwarf galaxy Leo A seen here has a much more complicated formation history than astronomers first thought. The simple structure astrophysicists were expecting isn’t what we see here. Instead, Leo A shows hints of an evolution just as chaotic and unpredictable as larger island universes. 

Spectral data of UGC 4879 indicates radial velocities for different sections of the galaxy, which could indicate the presence of a stellar disk. This lonely, isolated wanderer is studied closely and intensely by astronomers because of its history of few interactions with other galaxies. This isolation makes it less complicated to piece together its history of star birth and an ideal laboratory for study. 

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Dwarf irregular galaxy NGC 1569 seen here underwent a brief starburst period about 25 million years ago. Hidden within the chaos are monstrous, gigantic supermassive stars and envelopes of gas expelled by huge stars that recently went supernova. Only 11 million light-years away in the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis and spanning 8,000 light-years, the blue, white hot young stars within are perfect for study. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/Hubble Heritage

Study of UGC 4879 indicates during the first 4 billion years after the beginning of the universe new stars were being born at a pretty fast rate. The next nine billion years of relative inactivity followed by a recent starburst about 1 billion years ago is a puzzle for astronomers. They continue to study this hermit of a galaxy hoping to find out more about both its history and the complex riddles of sun birth across the cosmos.  

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Irregular dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 seen here is undergoing an intense period of starburst, with young, blue-white stars being created at an amazing rate and pinkish star forming regions in this deep colour image. Only 12.5 million light-years away in Canes Venatici, the constellation of the Hunting Dogs, NGC 4449’s the first such galaxy to have an identified star stream in the lower right composed mainly of supermassive red giant stars. These types of galaxies are thought to have a significant dark matter halo, which is a chance for astronomers to study the dark side’s role in the evolution and formation of galaxies. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI 

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Learn more about irregular dwarf galaxies

Read a paper on the star formation history of irregular dwarf galaxy UGC 4879 here.

 

Astronomers Detect Swirls in Disk of Dust Surrounding Young Suns

In this computer generated simulation the spot X marks the location astronomers believe we might find a planet nearby. The two spiral arms are possibly produced by the movement of the unseen planet through the surrounding hot dust and gas. Image NASA/ESA/ESO/M
In this computer generated simulation, the spot X marks the location astronomers believe we might find a planet nearby. The two spiral arms are possibly produced by the movement of the unseen planet through the surrounding hot dust and gas. Image NASA/ESA/ESO/M

They believe could be evidence for young, massive planets orbiting new stars

Space news (November 23, 2015) –

Astronomers working with ground-based telescopes are proposing massive swirl designs viewed encircling newborn stars could betray the presence of infant planets. Opening the door to a new method of possibly detecting exoplanets orbiting stars and offering a look at the processes forming planets in the cosmos.

The human journey to the beginning of space and time has detected over 1,000 exoplanets around distant stars during the last few years. Detecting infant planets being formed around a nearby, young star enveloped by a circumstellar disk of gas and dust is a different story. Presently, astronomers can’t detect nascent planets embedded inside a vast, pancaked-shaped circumstellar disk. 

Those infant planets being formed around young stars could be detected based on the changes they make in the circumstellar disk is a new concept. A new concept based on computer modeling of the birth and evolution of massive disks of dust and gas surrounding young stars. Computer modeling conducted by two NASA Hubble Fellows, Zhaohuan Zhu of Princeton University and Ruobing Dong of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

It’s difficult to see suspected planets inside a bright disk surrounding a young star. Based on this study, we are convinced that planets can gravitationally excite structures in the disk. So if you can identify features in a disk and convince yourself those features are created by an underlying planet that you cannot see, this would be a smoking gun of forming planets,” Dong said.

This new planet-finding technique could be significant in the desire to find young, newly-formed planets and understanding the processes the cosmos uses to make them. This approach could be the piece of the puzzle astronomers have been looking for to help unwrap the mystery surrounding the formation of planets. A mystery planetary scientists have been studying in depth for years and one they would love to understand more about.

Computer models show gaps and rings in circumstellar disks could be unseen planets embedded in massive, light-absorbing clouds of gas and dust. Gaps and rings possibly swept clean by the gravity field of a planet or planets, which makes it difficult to determine their number, individual mass, or location.  

Astronomers using ground-based telescopes have imaged two massive spiral arms surrounding two newly-formed stars called SAO 205462 and MWC 758. They have also detected similar looking spiral features in nearby stars they’re currently studying to try to gain a better understanding of exactly what’s going on beneath the veil of gas and dust surrounding these distant celestial bodies. 

How they are created has been a big mystery until now.  Scientists had a hard time explaining these features,” Dong said. If the disks were very massive, they would have enough self-gravity to become unstable and set up wave-like patterns. But the disks around SAO 206462 and MWC 758 are probably just a few percent of the central star’s mass and therefore are not gravitationally unstable.

Additional computer models suggest the dynamics of disks surrounding newly-formed suns are altered by the radiation of a star as it moves through a disk with embedded planets. Computer modeling closely resembling the spiral structures imaged by astronomers points to mutual gravitational fields of newly-formed stars and surrounding disks interacting. This interaction creates regions surrounding newly-formed stars where the density of gas and dust increases until they form spiral waves. Spiral waves that are spread out over these regions by the varying rates of rotation of the disk around the newly-formed star. 

Simulations also suggest that these spiral arms have rich information about the unseen planet, revealing not only its position but also its mass,” Zhu said. The simulations show that if there were no planet present, the disk would look smooth. To make the grand-scale spiral arms seen in the SAO 206462 and MWC 758 systems, the unseen planet would have to be bulky, at least 10 times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

The latest observations of newly-formed sun MWC 758, taken with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, show a protoplanetary disk with two spiral arms extending over 10 billion miles into space from the star. Image NASA/ESA/ESO/M
The latest observations of newly-formed sun MWC 758, taken with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, show a protoplanetary disk with two spiral arms extending over 10 billion miles into space from the star. Image NASA/ESA/ESO/M

There are many theories about how planets form but very little work based on direct observational evidence confirming these theories,” Dong said. “If you see signs of a planet in a disk right now, it tells you when, where, and how planets form.”

Study continues

Astronomers and planetary scientists will now continue their studies of newly-formed star systems and the processes the cosmos uses to create them. They’re planning on using current ground and space-based telescopes to study young star systems. In the years ahead they also use the James Webb Space Telescope to lift the veil of mystery surrounding the birth and evolution of stars in the universe.  

Read more about the things astronomers have discovered about the planet-forming region around stars.

Learn more about the regions around young stars.

Learn about the things astronomers have discovered around newly-formed main sequence stars like our Sol.

Learn more about planet formation here.

Discover the James Webb Space Telescope here.

Take a tour of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope here.

WISE Spies Asteroid Passing in Front of Telescope in Images of Tadpole Nebula

Along with two satellites orbiting Earth above WISE 

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Space news (November 09, 2015) – 12,000 light-years from Earth in the Auriga constellation –

A part of the universe full of young, hot stars only a million years old, the Tadpole nebula is one of the best and closest places to study the formation of new stars. At a distance of 12,000 light-years from Sol in the constellation of Auriga, the two tadpole-shaped pillars that give this region of space its name contain numerous new stars with as much as ten times the mass of our sun. Called Sim 129 and 130, the chaotic areas near the heads of these pillars are believed to harbor new stars and protostars in the process of forming.

The mosaic of images above taken by NASA’s WISE spacecraft showcases the Tadpole nebula, plus two slow moving satellites orbiting above WISE, and two slower moving asteroids traveling through the solar system.

Asteroid 1719 left a line of yellow-green tracks running across the image and pictured in the boxes near the center. Discovered in 1950, this ancient wanderer orbits in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and takes 4.3 years to orbit Sol. 

Asteroid 1992 UZ5 is also viewed traveling across the image and is highlighted in the boxes displayed at the upper left. Little data has been gathered on this ancient rock from the dawn of the solar system. Astronomers expect to know more about this visitor from the past in the years ahead.  

Highlighted in the off-center ovals near the center top and bottom right of the image are two satellites caught moving in front of WISE that appear as faint green trails.

You can learn more about asteroids from the dawn of the solar system here.

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Learn about mysterious ripples astronomers viewed moving across the planet-forming region of AU Microscopii.

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NASA Releases New View of Iconic Pillars of Creation in 3D

Revealing protostars and giant clouds of gas and dust where new stars were born

This visualisation of the three-dimensional structure of the Pillars of Creation within the star formation region Messier 16 (also called the Eagle Nebula) is based on new observations of the object using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The pillars actually consist of several distinct pieces on either side of the star cluster NGC 6611. In this illustration, the relative distance between the pillars along the line of sight is not to scale. Image Credit: European Southern Observatory
This visualization of the three-dimensional structure of the Pillars of Creation within the star formation region Messier 16 (also called the Eagle Nebula) is based on new observations of the object using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The pillars actually consist of several distinct pieces on either side of the star cluster NGC 6611. In this illustration, the relative distance between the pillars along the line of sight is not to scale.
Image Credit: European Southern Observatory

Space news (August 18, 2015) – 7,000 light-years away toward constellation Serpens (The Serpent); the iconic Pillars of Creation

Astronomers working with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) have released the first 3D image of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula (M16 or Messier 16).

 The iconic first image of the Pillars of Creation, to the left in the image below, was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, but the latest image shown on the right below is both bigger and shows new details. An immense jet from a young star, intense radiation and stellar winds from brilliant O and B type suns sculpture the dusty Pillars of Creation over time. Three million years in the future the pillars will be totally evaporated by these forces.
Undersea coral? Enchanted castles? Space serpents? These eerie, dark pillar-like structures are actually columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust that are also incubators for new stars. The pillars protrude from the interior wall of a dark molecular cloud like stalagmites from the floor of a cavern.

The Pillars of Creation are a stellar feature that is more common than people first assume. Similar structures and shapes have been and are quite frequently seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The columns of the Pillars of Creation were formed when intense radiation and stellar winds from huge, newly formed blue-white O and B suns blew away less dense material in the region of space surrounding them.

A study has shown the very top of the left pillar in the image is pointing toward us and sitting on top of another pillar behind nearby stellar cluster NGC 6611. This top portion of the left pillar is bearing the majority of withering radiation from nearby stars and this is why it looks brighter to our eyes compared to the other pillars.

I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space. We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution,” explained Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe. He and astronomer Jeff Hester, formerly of Arizona State University, led the original Hubble observations of the Eagle Nebula.

Scowen said. “The gas is not being passively heated up and gently wafting away into space. The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized, a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms, and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars’ strong winds and a barrage of charged particles, which are literally sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.   

The denser material left behind acted as a shield against the harsh, withering glare of nearby brilliant young stars, and formed the shape of the region. The dark “tails” or “elephant trunks” viewed as the dark body of the pillars point away from the intense radiation and stellar winds of nearby brilliant stars.

Now, astronomers plan on studying how newborn O and B stars in NGC 6611 influence the growth of further generations of stars. Previous studies have detected protostars forming within the clouds of NGC 6611. The latest study also provided evidence for protostars forming in the middle and left clouds of the Pillars of Creation and there are also probably other protostars and young stars hidden from view within the region.

Astronomers want to study star-forming regions like the Pillars of Creation in order to better understand the conditions in which stars like our own Sun formed. Current evidence points to the early solar system being bombarded with radioactive shrapnel from a nearby supernova. This indicates we formed in a star-forming region with young stars massive enough to produce powerful ionizing radiation like we see in the Eagle Nebula.

“That’s the only way the nebula from which the sun was born could have been exposed to a supernova that quickly, in the short period of time that represents, because supernovae only come from massive stars, and those stars only live a few tens of millions of years,” Scowen explained. “What that means is when you look at the environment of the Eagle Nebula or other star-forming regions, you’re looking at exactly the kind of nascent environment that our sun formed in.”

You can find out more about the MUSE here.

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Space Scientists Study Galactic Nursery Using Hubble Space Telescope

Irregular galaxy NGC 1140 starbursts at same rate as larger Milky Way

 Smaller irregular galaxies like NGC 1140 are of interest to astronomers studying the first galaxies to appear in our universe some 13.7 billions years ago because their composition is thought to be similar in nature to the early galactic building blocks that combined to make galaxies like our Milky Way.  Credits: NASA/Hubble

Smaller irregular galaxies like NGC 1140 are of interest to astronomers studying the first galaxies to appear in our universe some 13.7 billions years ago because their composition is thought to be similar in nature to the early galactic building blocks that combined to make galaxies like our Milky Way.
Credits: NASA/Hubble

Space news (July 29, 2015) – 60 million light-years away in constellation Eridanus

NASA space scientists recently viewed the dwarf galaxy NGC 1140 undergoing starburst, an intense, but brief period of star formation believed to be characteristic of the first galaxies born in the universe billions of years ago. 

Astronomers estimate during this starburst NGC 1140 will spawn a star like Sol every year, but knowledge concerning possible star-forming rates during starburst is rudimentary at this point. The bright, blue-white regions in the image above indicate the presence of young stars made up primarily of hydrogen and helium and fewer heavy metals than stars like Sol.

NASA space scientists plan on studying this irregular galaxy to gather data and facts concerning the evolution of the first galaxies to appear in the universe. The first galaxies born in the universe are much more distant in space-time, than galaxies like NGC 140, and therefore much harder to study. Studying this starburst is an opportunity for space scientists to learn more about the first galaxies to appear in the universe, without having to make a 13.77 billion year trip to the beginning of spacetime. 

To learn more about irregular galaxies go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission to the stars go here.

To read more about NGC 1140 go here.

Learn more about main sequence stars like Sol.

Learn more about Neptune-size exoplanets found in the cosmos.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.