Virtual Star Party – February 16, 2014: Fighting Crime while Transiting Jupiter!

Hosts: Fraser Cain & Scott Lewis

Astronomers: David Dickinson, Gary Gonella, James McGee, Tom Nathe, Mike Phillips, Mike Simmons, Roy Salisbury, Shahrin Ahmad

Views tonight: Horsehead Nebula, Flame Nebula, Europa Transit of Jupiter with Great Red Spot, a cluster of sunspots, Rosette Nebula, a near-Earth asteroid, a capture of Barnard’s Loop, Orion Nebula, M81, various telescopes of the astronomers, our moon, another transit of Jupiter by one of the moons, M67, NGC 2169-the “37” Cluster, our moon – full view, California Nebula.

We hold the Virtual Star Party every Sunday night as a live Google+ Hangout on Air. We begin the show when it gets dark on the West Coast. If you want to get a notification, make sure you circle the Virtual Star Party on Google+. You can watch on our YouTube channel or here on Universe Today.

Orion’s Secret Fire Dance

The Great Orion Nebula has captivated observers for at least four hundred years, but the ancient Mayans may have known about its secrets long before then. According to legend, the nebula might have been the smoke situated between the “Three Hearthstones” and the light of the emerging stars seen as the very embers of creation itself. Now the ESO-operated Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile has revealed what we cannot see. At wavelengths too long for human vision, this new image shows us an ancient fire dance painted in colors of cold interstellar dust.

As we know, deposits of gas and interstellar dust are virtual star factories. However, the very material which creates stars also masks them. So how do we peer behind the veil? The answer is to observe at alternative wavelengths of light. In this case, the submillimetre wavelength reveals what our eyes cannot see… dust grains igniting the view, even though they are just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. This makes the APEX telescope with its submillimetre-wavelength camera LABOCA, located at an altitude of 5000 metres above sea level on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, the perfect instrument to play the tune for this cold fire dance.

Take a look around the picture. It’s just a small portion of a vast complex known as the Orion Molecular Cloud. Wafting across hundreds of light years space some 1350 light years away, this rich arena of hot young stars, cold dust clouds and bright nebula is the epitome of stellar creation. The image reveals the submillimetre-wavelength glow in shades of orange and it is combined with visible light for a total visual experience. Note deep ribbons, sheets and bubbles… These are the product of gravitational collapse and the effects of stellar winds. Powerful stellar processes are at work here. The atmospheres of the stars are crafting the clouds much the same way a gentle breeze swirls the smoke from a fire.

Loading player…

Credit: ESO/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org), Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: movetwo

As beautiful as it is, there is still science behind the imagery. Astronomers have employed the data taken with ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, along with the APEX information, to aid them in their search for early star formation. At this point in time, the researchers have been able to verify more than a dozen candidate protostars – objects which appear far brighter at longer wavelengths rather than short. It’s a triumph for the researchers. These new observations could well be the youngest protostars so far observed and it brings astronomers just one step closer to witnessing the moment when a star ignites.

Original Story Source: ESO News Release.

Astrophoto: Beautiful New Look at the Orion Nebula

The enormous cloud of dust and gas that makes up the Orion Nebula is featured in this beautiful astrophoto. This image was a joint effort, with images taken by Gary Gonnella – a regular on our Virtual Star Parties – and image editing by Paul Hutchinson. Paul used the “Hubble Palette” – named for the Hubble Space Telescope and its capability of imaging in very narrow wavelengths of light using various filters. This enables astrophotographs to reveal details of objects in space that can’t be seen by the human eye. Here, the filters used produced different colors: were Hydrogen Alpha=Green, S=Red, O=Blue. Paul said he combined two exposures, a 1 minute and 10 second exposure, to reduce the blow-out in the bright center of the nebula. The results are striking!

Compare this great image to another image of the Orion Nebula, recently taken by the WISE telescope (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), below. Colors in this image represents specific infrared wavelengths. Blue represents light emitted at 3.4-micron wavelengths and cyan (blue-green) represents 4.6 microns, both of which come mainly from hot stars. Relatively cooler objects, such as the dust of the nebulae, appear green and red. Green represents 12-micron light and red represents 22-micron light.

The Orion Nebula as seen by the WISE telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
The Orion Nebula as seen by the WISE telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

The Orion nebula is part of the larger Orion molecular cloud complex, which also includes the Flame nebula. This region is actively making new stars.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Astrophoto: Just in Time for Halloween: Orion’s Bloody Massacre

The Orion Nebula, or M42 in a hybrid image of old DSLR data with new CCD images. Credit: Astrochuck on Flickr.

This view of the Orion Nebula makes it appear as a bloody mess! Astrochuck on Flickr said he’s been socked in with clouds and rain lately so took this opportunity to combine some older DSLR data with new CCD observations to create this stunning view of M42. Here are the specs:

QHY9M & Orion ED102CF refractor 10/21/2012 & 10/22/2012
L- 7×600
R-3×600
G-3×600
B-3×600
(5×2 seconds for the core area)

3/22/12
Canon T3 w/Astronomik Ha filter & ST-80T refractor 5×120,10×300,5×600 @iso 1600
6×60 w/crosshairs for diffraction spikes

Images acquired,aligned and stacked with Nebulosity V2.0, Guiding with Orion 50mm mini guider,SSAG and Phd. Combined & post processed with PS6 and StarTools.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Astronomers See Stars Changing Right Before Their Eyes in Orion Nebula

[/caption]

A gorgeous new image from the tag team effort of the Herschel and Spitzer Space telescopes shows a rainbow of colors within the Orion nebula. The different colors reflect the different wavelengths of infrared light captured by the two space observatories, and by combining their observations, astronomers can get a more complete picture of star formation. And in fact, astronomers have spotted young stars in the Orion nebula changing right before their eyes, over a span of just a few weeks!

Astronomers with Herschel mapped this region of the sky once a week for six weeks in the late winter and spring of 2011. Notice the necklace of stars strung across the middle of the image? Over just that short amount of time, a discernible change in the stars took place as they appeared to be rapidly heating up and cooling down. The astronomers wondered if the stars were actually maturing from being star embryos, moving towards becoming full-fledged stars.

To monitor for activity in protostars, Herschel’s Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer stared in long infrared wavelengths of light, tracing cold dust particles, while Spitzer took a look at the warmer dust emitting shorter infrared wavelengths. In this data, astronomers noticed that several of the young stars varied in their brightness by more than 20 percent over just a few weeks.

As this twinkling comes from cool material emitting infrared light, the material must be far from the hot center of the young star, likely in the outer disk or surrounding gas envelope. At that distance, it should take years or centuries for material to spiral closer in to the growing starlet, rather than mere weeks.

The astronomers said a couple of scenarios could account for this short span. One possibility is that lumpy filaments of gas funnel from the outer to the central regions of the star, temporarily warming the object as the clumps hit its inner disk. Or, it could be that material occasionally piles up at the inner edge of the disk and casts a shadow on the outer disk.

“Herschel’s exquisite sensitivity opens up new possibilities for astronomers to study star formation, and we are very excited to have witnessed short-term variability in Orion protostars,” said Nicolas Billot, an astronomer at the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) in Grenada, Spain who is preparing a paper on the findings along with his colleagues. “Follow-up observations with Herschel will help us identify the physical processes responsible for the variability.”

Source: NASA

Astrophoto: Purple Orion

[/caption]

This beautiful photo of the Orion Nebula was taken by Marco T. in Italy on January 25, 2012. It was taken with a Canon 500d, and a Skywatcher Black Diamond ED80 Pro
“Sum of 32 shots of 85 seconds at 800 iso and 10 darks,” Marco says. “From Rome so light pollution is high as always, temperature 2 degrees.”

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group, post in our Forum or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Astrophoto: A Mexican Orion

[/caption]

This stunning new image of the Orion Nebula has a bit of salsa to it! César Cantú of the Chiledog Observatory in Monterrey, Mexico took this image earlier this month. But he had to travel to Paredón, Coah in Mexico to escape the fog to get this great image. Here are the specs: Orion Atlas mount, 90mm Astrotech APO telescope camera; LRGB QSI540, 3 hours with 600 seconds subs. But the fog tried to follow, César told us. “The intention was 4 hours, but the fog did not allow it,” he said. See more of his great images at this website, Astronomía Y Astrofotografía.

Hidden Treasure Within the Orion Nebula

[/caption]

This dreamy look inside the Orion Nebula is the latest “Hidden Treasure” released by the European South Observatory, part of its contest for amateurs to sift through the mountain of data ESO has generated with their telescopes and create new images from old data. The data used for this image were selected by Igor Chekalin from Russia, and this was the seventh highest ranked entry in the competition; another of Igor’s images was the eventual overall winner.

The image is a composite of several exposures taken through a total of five different filters with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory, Chile.

The Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42, is a huge complex of gas and dust where massive stars are forming and is the closest such region to the Earth. The glowing gas is so bright that it can be seen with the unaided eye and is a fascinating sight through a telescope. Despite its familiarity and closeness there is still much to learn about this stellar nursery. It was only in 2007, for instance, that the nebula was shown to be closer to us than previously thought: 1,350 light-years, rather than about 1,500 light-years.

The data was originally used to find that the faint red dwarfs in the star cluster associated with the glowing gas radiate much more light than had previously been thought. But the data had not been made into a color image, until now.

ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition was created for anyone who enjoys making beautiful images of the night sky using real astronomical data.

Source: ESO

New VISTA of Orion

[/caption]

Oh-oh-oh Orion! The new VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) infrared survey telescope has used its huge field of view to show the full splendor of the Orion Nebula. With its infrared eyes, it has peered deeply into dusty regions that are normally hidden to expose the curious behavior of the very active young stars buried there.

VISTA is the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory. It is the largest survey telescope in the world and is dedicated to mapping the sky at infrared wavelengths. The large (4.1-metre) mirror, wide field of view and very sensitive detectors make VISTA a unique instrument. This dramatic new image of the Orion Nebula illustrates VISTA’s remarkable powers.

The Orion Nebula is about 1,350 light-years from Earth. Although spectacular when seen through an ordinary telescope, what can be seen using visible light is only a small part of a cloud of gas in which stars are forming. Most of the action is deeply embedded in dust clouds and to see what is really happening astronomers need to use telescopes with detectors sensitive to the longer wavelength radiation that can penetrate the dust. VISTA has imaged the Orion Nebula at wavelengths about twice as long as can be detected by the human eye.

Four highlights of the new VISTA image of Orion. Credit: ESO

On the upper-left, the central region of VISTA’s view of the Orion Nebula is shown, centered on the four dazzling stars of the Trapezium. A rich cluster of young stars can be seen here that is invisible in normal, visible light images. In the lower-right panel the part of the nebula to the north of the center is shown. Here there are many young stars embedded in the dust clouds that are only apparent because their infrared glow can penetrate the dust and be detected by the VISTA camera. Many outflows, jets and other interactions from young stars are apparent, seen in the infrared glow from molecular hydrogen and showing up as red blobs. On the upper-right, a region to the west of center is shown. Here the fierce ultraviolet light from the Trapezium is sculpting the gas clouds into curious wavy shapes. A distant edge-on spiral galaxy is also seen shining right through the nebula. At the lower-left a region south of the center is shown. Each extract covers a region of sky about nine arcminutes across.

All these features are of great interest to astronomers studying the birth and youth of stars.

Source: ESO

Hubble Captures Birth, Annihilation of Young Solar Systems in Orion Nebula

Looking deep inside the Orion Nebula, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning collection of protoplanetary disks – or proplyds – which are embryonic solar systems in the making. Using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), researchers have discovered 42 protoplanetary blobs, which are being illuminated by a bright star cluster. These disks, which sometimes appear like boomerangs, arrows, or space jellyfish, surround baby stars and are shedding light on the mechanism behind planet formation.

One of 42 new proplyds discovered in the Orion Nebula, 181-825 is one of the bright proplyds that lies relatively close to the nebula’s brightest star, Theta 1 Orionis C. Resembling a tiny jellyfish, this proplyd is surrounded by a shock wave that is caused by stellar wind from the massive Theta 1 Orionis C interacting with gas in the nebula.  Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO)
One of 42 new proplyds discovered in the Orion Nebula, 181-825 is one of the bright proplyds that lies relatively close to the nebula’s brightest star, Theta 1 Orionis C. It resembles a tiny jellyfish. Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO)

As newborn stars emerge from the nebula’s mixture of gas and dust, proplyds form around them. The center of the spinning disc heats up and becomes a new star, but remnants around the outskirts of the disc attract other bits of dust and clump together. This is the beginning of a solar system.

But not all proplyds face a bright and happy future, even in these beautiful images.

Bright star that illuminates some of the proplyds is both a blessing and a curse. The disks that lie close to the brightest star in the cluster (Theta 1 Orionis C) are being zapped by the star’s powerful emissions. The radiation that lights them up and makes them visible also threatens their very existence. As the disk material begins to heat, it is very likely to dissipate and dissolve, destroying the potential for planets to form. Some of these proplyds will be torn apart; however others will survive and perhaps evolve into planetary systems.

One of 42 new proplyds discovered in the Orion Nebula, 321-602 is one of the dark proplyds that lies relatively far from the nebula’s brightest star, Theta 1 Orionis C.  Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO)
One of 42 new proplyds discovered in the Orion Nebula, 321-602 is one of the dark proplyds that lies relatively far from the nebula’s brightest star, Theta 1 Orionis C. Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO)

Discs that are farther away do not receive enough energetic radiation from the star to heat up the gas and so they can only be detected as dark silhouettes against the background of the bright nebula, as the dust that surrounds these discs absorbs background visible light. By studying these silhouetted discs, astronomers are better able to characterize the properties of the dust grains that are thought to bind together and possibly form planets like our own.

A montage of 30 proplyds in the Orion Nebula.  Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO
A montage of 30 proplyds in the Orion Nebula. Credit: NASA/ESA and L. Ricci (ESO

The brighter discs are indicated by a glowing cusp in the excited material and facing the bright star, but which we see at a random orientation within the nebula, so some appear edge on, and others face on, for instance. Other interesting features enhance the look of these captivating objects, such as emerging jets of matter and shock waves.

It is rare to see proplyds in visible light, but the astronomers were able to use Hubble for this ambitious survey of the familiar and photogenic Orion Nebula.

Source: ESA