Star Birth and Death Seen Near the Beginning of Time

An artist's illustration of the Universe's first stars, called Population 3 stars. Pop 3 stars would have been much more massive than most stars today, and would have burned hot and blue. Their lifetimes would've been much shorter than stars like our Sun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Until recently, astronomers could not observe the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe. This occurred during what is known as the “Cosmic Dark Ages,” a period that took place between 380,000 and 1 billion years after the Big Bang. Thanks to next-generation instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), improved methods and software, and updates to existing observatories, astronomers are finally piercing the veil of this era and getting a look at how the Universe as we know it began.

This includes new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which obtained images of a stellar nursery inside a galaxy roughly 13.2 billion light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. This galaxy has a redshift value of more than 8.3, corresponding to when the Universe was less than 1 billion years old. The images discerned the sites of star formation and possible star death inside a nebula (MACS0416_Y1) located within this galaxy. This represents a major milestone for astronomy as this is the farthest distance such structures have been observed in our Universe.

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A Dying Red Giant Star has Thrown Out Giant Symmetrical Loops of Gas and Dust

A billowing pair of nearly symmetrical loops of dust and gas mark the death throes of an ancient red-giant star, as captured by the Gemini South telescope. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

The Gemini South telescope has captured a new image of the glowing nebula IC 2220. Nicknamed the Toby Jug Nebula, this object got its name because it looks like an old English jug. But no fun drinking games are happening here.

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New Images Reveal the Magnetic Fields in the Horsehead Nebula

Magnetic field detections overlaid on a two-color composite of Hubble Space Telescope image taken at two near-IR wavelengths (Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes). Black and orange segments show magnetic field orientations inferred from JCMT and Palomar Observatory. Credit: Hwang et al. 2023.

Located near the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii, the 15-meter (~49 ft) James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) at the East Asia Observatory (EAO) is the largest telescope in the world designed to operate exclusively in the submillimetre-wavelength. In 2018, Molokai’i High School alumna Mallory Go was awarded time with the JCMT under the Maunakea Scholars program. With the assistance of EAO astronomer Dr. Harriet Parsons, Go obtained unique images of the Horsehead Nebula in polarized light, which revealed the nebula’s magnetic fields.

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Prelude to a Supernova: The James Webb Captures a Rare Wolf-Rayet Star

The luminous, hot star Wolf-Rayet 124 (WR 124) is prominent at the centre of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s composite image combining near-infrared and mid-infrared wavelengths of light. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

Massive stars are sprinters. It might seem counterintuitive that stars 100 or 200 times more massive than our Sun could only survive for as few as 10 million years. Especially since smaller stars like our Sun can last 10 billion years. Massive stars have huge reservoirs of hydrogen to burn through, but their massive size means fusion eats through their hydrogen much more quickly.

These massive stars are destined to reach the finish line quickly and explode as supernovae. There’s no other conclusion for them. But before they explode, some of them become Wolf-Rayet stars. That stage doesn’t last long, and the James Webb Space Telescope caught one in the act.

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Hubble’s New View of the Tarantula Nebula

A snapshot of the Tarantula Nebula (also known as 30 Doradus) is the most recent Picture of the Week from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, C. Murray, E. Sabbi; Acknowledgment: Y. -H. Chu

The Tarantula Nebula, also called 30 Doradus, is the brightest star-forming region in our part of the galaxy. It’s in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and contains the most massive and hottest stars we know of. The Tarantula Nebula has been a repeat target for the Hubble since the telescope’s early years.

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Why Does the Butterfly Nebula Look Like This?

The Butterfly Nebula, as see by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

The Butterfly Nebula is changing, and astronomers are puzzled as to why these changes are occurring. Observations of this planetary nebula show dramatic changes in the butterfly’s ‘wings’ in just 11 years.

“I’ve been comparing Hubble images for years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Bruce Balick, a professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Washington.

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Astronomers Simulate the Cat’s Eye Nebula in 3D

In a recent study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of researchers led by Stanford University have produced the first computer-generated 3D model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, which unveiled a symmetric pair of rings that enclose the outer shell of the nebula. This study holds the potential for helping us better understanding the nebula’s makeup and how it formed, as the symmetric rings provides clues that they were formed from a precessing jet, which produces strong confirmation that a binary star exists at the nebula’s center.

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Latest Hubble Image Shows the Star-Forming Chamaeleon Cloud

This is a Hubble composite image of the Chamaeleon I cloud complex. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, K. Luhman and T. Esplin (Pennsylvania State University), et al., and ESO; Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Stars form inside vast collections of molecular hydrogen called molecular clouds, sometimes called stellar nurseries or star forming regions. Instabilities in the clouds cause gas to collapse in on itself, and when enough material gathers and the density reaches a critical stage, a star begins its life of fusion.

But molecular clouds aren’t always alone. They often exist in association with other clouds, and astronomers call these formations Cloud Complexes. The Chamaeleon Cloud Complex (CCC) is one of the closest active star forming regions to Earth. It’s further divided into three substructures called dark clouds, or dark nebula. They are Chamaeleon 1 (Cha1), Chamaeleon 2, and Chamaeleon 3.

NASA created a new composite image of Chamaeleon 1 based on Hubble images, and the vivid panorama brings Chamaeleon I to life.

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This is a Classic Example of a Reflection Nebula, Where the Reflected Light From Young Hot Stars Illuminates a Protostellar Cloud of Gas and Dust

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image captures a portion of the reflection nebula IC 2631 that contains a protostar, the hot, dense core of a forming star that is accumulating gas and dust. Image Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, and K. Stapelfeldt (Jet Propulsion Laboratory); Processing; Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

The interplay of energy and matter creates beautiful sights. Here on Earth, we enjoy rainbows, auroras, and sunsets and sunrises. But out in space, nature creates extraordinarily dazzling structures called nebulae that can span hundreds of light-years. Nebulae are probably the most beautiful objects out there.

While searching for young stars and their circumstellar disks, Hubble captured a classic reflection nebula.

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Apparently, This Nebula Looks Like Godzilla. Do you see it?

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope imaged this cloud of gas and dust. The colors represent different wavelengths of infrared light and can reveal such features as places where radiation from stars had heated the surrounding material. Any resemblance to Godzilla is purely imaginary. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve written often about how pareidolia — the human tendency to see faces or other features in random images — works its magic across the cosmos. There’s the famous face on Mars, Bigfoot on Mars, and even Han Solo on Mercury.

But now, just in time for Halloween, here’s a monster in a picture from the Spitzer Space Telescope. One astronomer sees Godzilla … or is it Cookie Monster?

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