Beautiful Cosmic Disorientation

This Hubble image shows how young, energetic, massive stars illuminate and sculpt their birthplace with powerful winds and searing ultraviolet radiation. In this Hubble portrait, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away. The image is nicknamed the “Cosmic Reef,” because it resembles an undersea world. The sparkling centerpiece of NGC 2014 is a grouping of bright, hefty stars, each 10 to 20 times more massive than our Sun. The stars’ ultraviolet radiation heats the surrounding dense gas. The massive stars also unleash fierce winds of charged particles that blast away lower-density gas, forming the bubble-like structures seen on the right. The stars’ powerful stellar winds are pushing gas and dust to the denser  left side of the nebula, where it is piling up, creating a series of dark ridges bathed in starlight. The blue areas in NGC 2014 reveal the glow of oxygen, heated to nearly 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit by the blast of ultraviolet light. The cooler, red gas indicates the presence of hydrogen and nitrogen. By contrast, the seemingly isolated blue nebula at lower left (NGC 2020) has been created by a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas  was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material. The image, taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, commemorates the Earth-orbiting observatory’s 30 years in space.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack published a wonderful video titled “Disorientation” just over a year ago that combines cosmic images with her poem of the same name. I found out about the video while watching another terrific video commemorating the Hubble Telescope’s 30 anniversary on the It’s Ok To Be Smart channel, titled “Fly Through a…… Continue reading Beautiful Cosmic Disorientation

Neil deGrasse Tyson and I’m thinking about the laptop bag

Bursts of pink and red, dark lanes of mottled cosmic dust, and a bright scattering of stars — this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows part of a messy barred spiral galaxy known as NGC 428. It lies approximately 48 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). Although a spiral shape is still just about visible in this close-up shot, overall NGC 428’s spiral structure appears to be quite distorted and warped, thought to be a result of a collision between two galaxies. There also appears to be a substantial amount of star formation occurring within NGC 428 — another telltale sign of a merger. When galaxies collide their clouds of gas can merge, creating intense shocks and hot pockets of gas and often triggering new waves of star formation. NGC 428 was discovered by William Herschel in December 1786. More recently a type Ia supernova designated SN2013ct was discovered within the galaxy by Stuart Parker of the BOSS (Backyard Observatory Supernova Search) project in Australia and New Zealand, although it is unfortunately not visible in this image. This image was captured by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Image Processing competition by contestants Nick Rose and the Flickr user penninecloud. Links: Nick Rose’s image on Flickr Penninecloud’s image on Flickr

I became a Neil deGrasse Tyson fan when I watched the series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” which I loved. deGrasse Tyson has a really interesting YouTube channel called “StarTalk Radio” which I just subscribed to and which you may also want to watch if you are into astrophysics.