Happy Birthday Hubble!

hubble_in_orbit1Last month, the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 24th birthday. And in honor of this occasion, NASA has released a video entitled “Evaporating Peaks – Pillars in the Monkey Head Nebula”. This video, which showcases visible and infrared light views of a collection of pillars along one edge of the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174) is just the latest in series of simulations that attempt to recreate what it would be like to step into a major stellar body.

Like all nebulas, NGC 2174 is a star-forming region in which bright, newborn stars near the center of the nebula illuminate the surrounding gas, creating the brilliant images we see in the video. The radiation from these stars, combined with strong stellar winds, also erode areas of lower density gases, which in turn causes pockets of higher density gas to turn into visible formations. This is what leads to the creation of the pillars and peaks of gas that run along the inner edge of this roughly circular cloud.

The sequence begins with a view of the night sky near the constellation of Gemini and Orion and then zooms through observations from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 to reveal a Hubble Space Telescope visible light view of the top of this region of pillars.

universetoday.com, hubblesite.org

3D GIF of Rotating Nebula

click to see 3D animation

Pretty freakishly cool isn’t it? Personally, I never really got onto this GIF thing. It’s like, if it fits on the page and looks cool, it’s all good. However, this one was too cool to ignore. The brain-child of Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio, this GIF depicts IC 1396, a nebula where stars are born.

This nebula is a little over 2000 light years away, toward the constellation of Cepheus, and is well over a hundred light years across. Even at its tremendous distance, it’s wider than six full Moons in our sky. For some time, Metsävainio has been making impressive images of this nebula, but that didn’t seem to be enough for the erstwhile stargazer. And so, he began playing with 3D images in the hopes of creating a model of the structure of the nebula, one which showed it from different angles.

Granted, some have gone on record as saying this is more art than astronomy, and not all the features are one-hundred percent accurate. But the animation does give you a good sense of the nebula’s composition, as well as a glimpse of what the heart of a star-birthing nebula looks like. Notice the large blue star in the middle that is the ionizing source – i.e. the hot, young, massive star blasting out ultraviolet light which makes the nebula glow. The dark strands on the outside are filaments of dust which appear that way because absorb the visible light emitted from the center of the nebula.

The color pattern is also quite accurate, with blue on the inside and red without. This color change is due to the presence of oxygen gas within the cloud which glows blue because of its proximity to the central stars. Farther out, the starlight is too weak to make oxygen glow, so all you see is the ruddy glow from hydrogen. And fyi, that star is mu Cephei, a massive red supergiant which happens to be one of the most luminous stars in the Milky Way, possibly over 300,000 times more luminous than the Sun.

Pretty cool huh? Hat’s off to you Metsävainio. I can’t speak for everyone, but you’ve certainly blown my mind! Click on the photo to watch the animation, and if you want to download it, don’t be surprised if it takes a while. The damn thing is 7 megabytes!

Source: discovermagazine.com/badastronomy