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.

New Hotspot Identified For Star Birth

A nebula named after a cat’s paw may be a stealthy spot for a lot of star birth. New observations of NGC 6334 revealed fainter stars than ever before seen, leading astronomers to believe there could be many star babies within the nebula.

You can see the results in the false-color picture above: red for new observations with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Extremely Wide-Field Infrared Imager (NEWFIRM), green for the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope and red for the Herschel Space Telescope that recently ended its mission.

“The observations acquired with NEWFIRM allowed us to identify and separate out the large number of contaminating sources, including background galaxies and cool stellar giants in the galactic plane to obtain a more complete census of the newly-formed stars,” stated Lori Allen, an NOAO team member.

Astronomers caught a glimpse of a future star just as it is being born out of the surrounding gas and dust, in a star-forming region similar to the one pictured above. (Spitzer Space Telescope image of DR21 in Infrared) Credit: A. Marston (ESTEC/ESA) et al., JPL, Caltech, NASA
Astronomers caught a glimpse of a future star just as it is being born out of the surrounding gas and dust, in a star-forming region similar to the one pictured above. (Spitzer Space Telescope image of DR21 in Infrared) Credit: A. Marston (ESTEC/ESA) et al., JPL, Caltech, NASA

A team led by Sarah Willis, a Ph.D. student at Iowa State University, recorded the stars they saw. Brightness ranged to about equivalent to our sun, to those that are a million times fainter. Then the scientists performed an extrapolation to determine how many lower-mass stars within the region.

“This is analogous to saying that if we observe the adult population in a town, we can estimate how many children live in the town, even if we can’t see them. In this way, the team can derive an estimate of the total number of stars in the region, and the efficiency with which stars are forming,” the NOAO stated.

Stars are often born in nebulas such as NGC 6334. Universe Today wrote a special feature on how stars are born a little while ago, and we also have covered starbirth regions such as this one and this one.

Source: National Optical Astronomy Observatory

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