New Camera Aboard APEX Gets First Light

And the “Cat’s Paw” was waiting to strike! In this exceptionally detailed image of star-forming region NGC 6334 we can get a sense of just how important new instrumentation can be. In this case it’s a new camera called ArTeMiS and it has just been installed on a 12-meter diameter telescope located high in the Atacama Desert. The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment – or APEX for short – operates at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, providing us with observations ranging between radio wavelengths and infrared light. These images give astronomers powerful new data to help them further understand the construction of the Universe.

Exactly what is ArTeMiS? The camera provides wide field views at submillimeter wavelengths. When added to APEX’s arsenal, it will substantially increase the amount of details a particular object has to offer. It has a detector array similar to a CCD camera – a new technology which will enable it to create wide-field maps of target areas with a greater amount of speed and a larger amount of pixels.

Like almost all new telescope projects, both personal and professional, the APEX team met up with “first light” problems. Although the ArTeMiS Camera was ready to go, the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate. According to the news release, very heavy snow on the Chajnantor Plateau had almost buried the building in which the scope operations are housed! However, the team was determined. Using a makeshift road and dodging snow drifts, the team and the staff at the ALMA Operations Support Facility and APEX somehow managed to get the camera to its location safely. Undaunted, they installed the ArTeMiS camera, worked the cryostat into position and locked the instrumentation down in its final position.

However, digging their way out of the snow wasn’t all the team had to contend with. To get ArTeMis on-line, they then had to wait for very dry weather since submillimeter wavelengths of light are highly absorbed by atmospheric moisture. Do good things come to those who wait? You bet. When the “magic moment” arrived, the APEX team was ready and the initial test observations were a resounding success. ArTeMiS quickly became the focus tool for a variety of scientific projects and commissioned observations. One of these projects was to image star-forming region NGC 6334 – the Cat’s Paw Nebula – in the southern constellation of Scorpius. Thanks to the new technology, the ArTeMiS image shows a superior amount of detail over earlier photographic observations taken with APEX.

What’s next for ArTeMiS? Now that the camera has been tested, it will be returned to Saclay in France to have even more detectors installed. According to the researchers: ” The whole team is already very excited by the results from these initial observations, which are a wonderful reward for many years of hard work and could not have been achieved without the help and support of the APEX staff.”

Original Story Source: ESO Public News Release.

Remastering a Cosmic Cat Print

Cat's Paw Nebula. Credit: ESO/R. Gendler & R.M. Hannahoe

Glowing red against a backdrop of stars, amateur astronomers have remastered one of the sky’s most distinctive nebulae, the Cat’s Paw Nebula.

In a stunning combination of data from amateur and professional telescopes, Robert Gendler and Ryan M. Hannahoe mixed their 60 hours of exposures of the nebula on a 0.4-meter telescope with existing images from the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. (See the original image.)

The result is nothing short of beautiful (zoom into all its nebular grandeur at StarryCritters.com). The Cat’s Paw Nebula, also known as NGC 6334, Gum 64 and the Bear Claw Nebula, is found about 5,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion. The nebula is one of the most active star-forming regions in the Milky Way Galaxy, spanning about 50 light-years, and contains thousands of new stars although most are hidden in the dense clouds of gas and dust. Blistering ultraviolet radiation from these stars excites hydrogen atoms within the star cloud causing it to glow with a characteristic red hue. English astronomer John Herschel first described the nebula in 1837 while observing from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Anyone using Adobe Photoshop might be familiar with the process used. By combining the luminance, or brightness, of the ESO image with color information from the pair’s long exposures, Gendler and Hannahoe were able to bring out more vibrant color, such as the faint blue nebulosity near the center of the nebula and surrounding some of the brighter stars. The image from the ESO telescope adds finer details.

Does anyone else see the similarity between the arched shape in the middle of the nebula with the Federation insignia from the popular television series Star Trek?

Image Credit: ESO/R. Gendler & R.M. Hannahoe

Stunning New Look at the Cat’s Paw Nebula

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This striking new image shows the vast cloud of gas and dust known as the Cat’s Paw Nebula or NGC 6334. This glowing nebula resembles a gigantic pawprint of a celestial cat out on an errand across the Universe. This complex region of gas and dust, where numerous massive stars are born, lies near the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, about 5500 light-years away. It covers an area on the sky slightly larger than the full Moon. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across.

This new portrait of the Cat’s Paw 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.

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.

Particularly striking is the red, intricate bubble in the lower right part of the image. This is most likely either a star expelling large amount of matter at high speed as it nears the end of its life or the remnant of a star that already has exploded.

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.

Click here to see videos that pan and zoom into this stunning new image.