Category Archives: Astronomy

ESO: Images of the Cone Nebula, an immense star factory

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ESO images a wondrous star factory to mark 60 years of collaboration

The Cone Nebula is part of a star-forming region of space, NGC 2264, about 2500 light-years away. Its pillar-like appearance is a perfect example of the shapes that can develop in giant clouds of cold molecular gas and dust, known for creating new stars. This dramatic new view of the nebula was captured with the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), and released on the occasion of ESO’s 60th anniversary.

For the past 60 years the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has been enabling scientists worldwide to discover the secrets of the Universe. We mark this milestone by bringing you a spectacular new image of a star factory, the Cone Nebula, taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

On 5 October 1962 five countries signed the convention to create ESO. Now, six decades later and supported by 16 Member States and strategic partners, ESO brings together scientists and engineers from across the globe to develop and operate advanced ground-based observatories in Chile that enable breakthrough astronomical discoveries.​

On the occasion of ESO’s 60th anniversary we are releasing this remarkable new image of the Cone Nebula, captured earlier this year with one of ESO’s telescopes and selected by ESO staff. This is part of a campaign marking ESO’s 60th anniversary and taking place in late 2022, both on social media under the #ESO60years hashtag, and with local events in the ESO Member States and other countries.

In this new image, we see centre-stage the seven-light-year-long pillar of the Cone Nebula, which is part of the larger star-forming region NGC 2264 and was discovered in the late 18th century by astronomer William Herschel. In the sky, we find this horn-shaped nebula in the constellation Monoceros (The Unicorn), a surprisingly fitting name.

Located less than 2500 light-years away, the Cone Nebula is relatively close to Earth, making it a well-studied object. But this view is more dramatic than any obtained before, as it showcases the nebula’s dark and impenetrable cloudy appearance in a way that makes it resemble a mythological creature.

This image from the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) shows the region of the sky around the Cone Nebula. The nebulous area at the centre of the image is NGC 2264, an area of the sky that includes the Christmas Tree star cluster and the Cone Nebula below it (at the very centre of the frame).

The Cone Nebula is a perfect example of the pillar-like shapes that develop in the giant clouds of cold molecular gas and dust, known for creating new stars. This type of pillar arises when massive, newly formed bright blue stars give off stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation that blow away the material from their vicinity. As this material is pushed away, the gas and dust further away from the young stars gets compressed into dense, dark and tall pillar-like shapes. This process helps create the dark Cone Nebula, pointing away from the brilliant stars in NGC 2264.

In this image, obtained with the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) on ESO’s VLT in Chile, hydrogen gas is represented in blue and sulphur gas in red. The use of these filters makes the otherwise bright blue stars, that indicate the recent star formation, appear almost golden, contrasting with the dark cone like sparklers.

This image is just one example of the many stunning and awe-inspiring observations ESO telescopes have made in the past 60 years. While this one was obtained for outreach purposes, the overwhelming majority of ESO’s telescope time is dedicated to scientific observations that have allowed us to capture the first image of an exoplanet, study the black hole at the centre of our home galaxy, and find proof that the expansion of our Universe is accelerating.

Building on our 60 years of experience ​in astronomy development, discovery and cooperation, ​ESO continues to chart new territory for astronomy, technology and international collaboration. With our current facilities and ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), we will keep on addressing humanity’s biggest questions about the Universe ​and enabling unimaginable discoveries.​

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Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days
That Launched SpaceX

Night sky highlights for November 2022

** What’s Up: November 2022 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in November 2022?

A total lunar eclipse brings some magic to the morning sky on November 8th, and the Leonid meteors peak after midnight on November 18th, with some glare from a 35% full moon. In addition, enjoy pretty views on other days in November when the Moon visits planets Mars and Saturn, and bright star Spica.

0:00 Intro
0:10 Total lunar eclipse
1:25 Moon & planet highlights
2:16 Leonid meteor shower
3:15 Nov ember Moon phases

Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/skywatch….

** Tonight’s Sky: November – Space Telescope Science InstituteTonight’s Sky

In November, hunt for the fainter constellations of fall, including Pisces, Aries, and Triangulum. They will guide you to find several galaxies and a pair of white stars. Stay tuned for space-based views of spiral galaxy M74 and the Triangulum Galaxy, which are shown in visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light

** What to see in the night sky: November 2022BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel reveal the best things to see in the night sky this month, including observing Mars as it approaches opposition, catching Jupiter’s Galilean moons, the Leonid meteor shower, the Orion constellation, the Winter Triangle asterism and the Crab Nebula.

** Sky & Telescope’s Sky Tour Podcast – November 2022 – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Our monthly Sky Tour #astronomy #podcast provides an informative and entertaining 10-minute guided tour of the nighttime sky. Listen to the November episode and learn about the total #lunareclipse, check out three bright #planets in the evening sky, get the lowdown on a celestial queen, and get ready for three #meteor showers.

See also

** What’s in the Night Sky November 2022 #WITNS | Lunar Eclipse | Leonid Meteor Shower – Alyn Wallace

00:00 Intro
00:59 Northern Hemisphere Night Sky
02:12 Southern Hemisphere Night Sky
03:36 Full Moon
03:46 Lunar Eclipse
04:40 Northern Taurids
05:40 Leonids
06:46 #WITNS Winners

** Night Sky Notebook November 2022Peter Detterline

What’s happening in the sky for November 2022.

** See also:

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Stellaris: People of the Stars

ESO: VLT captures the vast cloudy remains of the Vela supernova remnant

A report for the Halloween season from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ESO captures the ghost of a giant star

This image shows a spectacular view of the orange and pink clouds that make up what remains after the explosive death of a massive star — the Vela supernova remnant. This detailed image consists of 554 million pixels, and is a combined mosaic image of observations taken with the 268-million-pixel OmegaCAM camera at the VLT Survey Telescope, hosted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory.  OmegaCAM can take images through several filters that each let the telescope see the light emitted in a distinct colour. To capture this image, four filters have been used, represented here by a combination of magenta, blue, green and red. The result is an extremely detailed and stunning view of both the gaseous filaments in the remnant and the foreground bright blue stars that add sparkle to the image.

A spooky spider web, magical dragons or wispy trails of ghosts? What do you see in this image of the Vela supernova remnant? This beautiful tapestry of colours shows the ghostly remains of a gigantic star, and was captured here in incredible detail with the VLT Survey Telescope, hosted at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Paranal site in Chile.

The wispy structure of pink and orange clouds is all that remains of a massive star that ended its life in a powerful explosion around 11 000 years ago. When the most massive stars reach the end of their life, they often go out with a bang, in an outburst called a supernova. These explosions cause shock waves that move through the surrounding gas, compressing it and creating intricate thread-like structures. The energy released heats the gaseous tendrils, making them shine brightly, as seen in this image.

In this 554-million-pixel image, we get an extremely detailed view of the Vela supernova remnant, named after the southern constellation Vela (The Sails). You could fit nine full Moons in this entire image, and the whole cloud is even larger. At only 800 light-years away from Earth, this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest known to us.

As it exploded, the outermost layers of the progenitor star were ejected into the surrounding gas, producing the spectacular filaments that we observe here. What remains of the star is an ultra-dense ball in which the protons and electrons are forced together into neutrons — a neutron star. The neutron star in the Vela remnant, placed slightly outside of this image to the upper left, happens to be a pulsar that spins on its own axis at an incredible speed of more than 10 times per second.

Dive into the details of the Vela supernova remnant with these 12 highlights, each showing a different intricate part of the beautiful pink and orange gaseous clouds and the bright stars in the foreground and background.

This image is a mosaic of observations taken with the wide-field camera OmegaCAM at the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), hosted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The 268-million-pixel camera can take images through several filters that let through light of different colours. In this particular image of the Vela remnant, four different filters were used, represented here by a combination of magenta, blue, green and red.

The VST is owned by The National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, INAF, and with its 2.6-metre mirror it is one of the largest telescopes dedicated to surveying the night sky in visible light. This image is an example from such a survey: the VST Photometric Hα Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge (VPHAS+). For over seven years, this survey has mapped a considerable portion of our home galaxy, allowing astronomers to better understand how stars form, evolve and eventually die.

This image shows the process of going from the raw data captured by a telescope to a stunning astronomical image like the one featured here, showing the Vela supernova remnant as seen with the VLT Survey Telescope (VST). The detector registers the light collected by the telescope. OmegaCAM, the camera attached to the VST, has an array of 32 detectors covering a large field of view. The raw images contain artefacts and instrumental signatures such as dead pixels, shadows, or luminosity variations among detectors. These need to be corrected before the images can be used for scientific purposes. Astronomers correct these effects using calibration data. This process of going from raw to science-ready data is called ‘data reduction’. When an astronomical object is larger than the field of view one needs to stitch together  different images, typically called a mosaic. This also allows us to fill in the gaps in between the detectors.  The brightness of the background can vary among different parts of the mosaic, especially if they were observed on different nights, because of changes in the phase of the Moon and other effects. For instance, the upper-left corner of image 4 is darker than the rest of the image. By comparing overlapping areas between different images this can be corrected for. The mosaiced image is visually inspected, and any residual artefacts are corrected for. This includes, for example, imperfect seams between adjacent images. Astronomical detectors don’t capture colour images. Instead, several images are taken separately through filters that let through light of different wavelengths. These images are then assigned different colours and combined into a final colour image. The final colour image.

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ESO: VLT detects heaviest element ever found in an exoplanet atmosphere

A new report from European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Heaviest element yet detected in an exoplanet atmosphere

This artist’s impression shows an ultra-hot exoplanet, a planet beyond our Solar System, as it is about to transit in front of its host star. When the light from the star passes through the planet’s atmosphere, it is filtered by the chemical elements and molecules in the gaseous layer. With sensitive instruments, the signatures of those elements and molecules can be observed from Earth. Using the ESPRESSO instrument of ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have found the heaviest element yet in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, barium, in the two ultra-hot Jupiters WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), astronomers have discovered the heaviest element ever found in an exoplanet atmosphere — barium. They were surprised to discover barium at high altitudes in the atmospheres of the ultra-hot gas giants WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b — two exoplanets, planets which orbit stars outside our Solar System. This unexpected discovery raises questions about what these exotic atmospheres may be like.

“The puzzling and counterintuitive part is: why is there such a heavy element in the upper layers of the atmosphere of these planets?”

says Tomás Azevedo Silva, a PhD student at the University of Porto and the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA) in Portugal who led the study published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b are no ordinary exoplanets. Both are known as ultra-hot Jupiters as they are comparable in size to Jupiter whilst having extremely high surface temperatures soaring above 1000°C. This is due to their close proximity to their host stars, which also means an orbit around each star takes only one to two days. This gives these planets rather exotic features; in WASP-76 b, for example, astronomers suspect it rains iron.

But even so, the scientists were surprised to find barium, which is 2.5 times heavier than iron, in the upper atmospheres of WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b.

“Given the high gravity of the planets, we would expect heavy elements like barium to quickly fall into the lower layers of the atmosphere,”

explains co-author Olivier Demangeon, a researcher also from the University of Porto and IA.

“This was in a way an ‘accidental’ discovery,” says Azevedo Silva. “We were not expecting or looking for barium in particular and had to cross-check that this was actually coming from the planet since it had never been seen in any exoplanet before.”

The fact that barium was detected in the atmospheres of both of these ultra-hot Jupiters suggests that this category of planets might be even stranger than previously thought. Although we do occasionally see barium in our own skies, as the brilliant green colour in fireworks, the question for scientists is what natural process could cause this heavy element to be at such high altitudes in these exoplanets.

​​“At the moment, we are not sure what the mechanisms are,”

explains Demangeon.

This illustration shows a night-side view of the exoplanet WASP-76 b. The ultra-hot giant exoplanet has a day side where temperatures climb above 2400 degrees Celsius, high enough to vaporise metals. Strong winds carry iron vapour to the cooler night side where it condenses into iron droplets. To the left of the image, we see the evening border of the exoplanet, where it transitions from day to night.

In the study of exoplanet atmospheres ultra-hot Jupiters are extremely useful. As Demangeon explains:

“Being gaseous and hot, their atmospheres are very extended and are thus easier to observe and study than those of smaller or cooler planets”.

Determining the composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere requires very specialised equipment. The team used the ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s VLT in Chile to analyse starlight that had been filtered through the atmospheres of WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b. This made it possible to clearly detect several elements in them, including barium.

These new results show that we have only scratched the surface of the mysteries of exoplanets. With future instruments such as the high-resolution ArmazoNes high Dispersion Echelle Spectrograph (ANDES), which will operate on ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), astronomers will be able to study the atmospheres of exoplanets large and small, including those of rocky planets similar to Earth, in much greater depth and to gather more clues as to the nature of these strange worlds.

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Night sky highlights for October 2022

** What’s Up: October 2022 Skywatching Tips from NASA – NASA JPL

What are some skywatching highlights in October 2022?
Enjoy giant planets Jupiter and Saturn all night throughout the month. Then watch as Mars begins its retrograde motion, moving westward each night instead of eastward, for the next few months. Finally, check out the Orionid meteors overnight on Oct. 20.

0:00 Intro
0:11 Evenings with Jupiter & Saturn
0:37 Mars’ retrograde motion
2:07 Orionid meteor shower
3:04 October Moon phases

Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/skywatch…

** Tonight’s Sky: October – Space Telescope Science InstituteTonight’s Sky

Crisp, clear October nights are full of celestial showpieces. Find Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek myth, to pinpoint dense globular star clusters and galaxies, and keep watching for space-based views of M15, NGC 7331, and the Andromeda Galaxy.

** What to see in the night sky: October 2022BBC Sky at Night Magazine

What’s in the night sky tonight? Get ready for Mars opposition, make the most of Uranus (and prepare for a lunar occultation at the end of the year), observe Neptune following its September opposition, see Jupiter’s Galilean moons, take in the Orionid meteor shower and admire the Summer Triangle asterism.

** Sky & Telescope’s Sky Tour Podcast – October 2022 – Sky & Telescope Youtube

Our monthly Sky Tour #astronomy #podcast provides an informative and entertaining 10-minute guided tour of the nighttime sky. Listen to the October episode and give #Jupiter a really close look, learn what #Andromeda and #Pegasus have in common, circle around the pole #star #Polaris, and watch for #meteors shed by #Halley’s #Comet

See also

** What’s in the Night Sky October 2022 #WITNSAlyn Wallace

00:00 Intro
00:54 Squarespace
01:38 Northern Hemisphere Night Sky
03:22 Southern Hemisphere Night Sky
04:53 Close Approaches
05:13 Full Moon
05:23 Draconids
06:03 Southern Taurids
07:05 Orionids
07:46 Partial Eclipse
08:24 Lunar Occultation Uranus
08:59 #WITNS Winners

** Night Sky Notebook October 2022Peter Detterline

** See also:

=== Amazon Ads ===

Celestron
70mm Travel Scope
Portable Refractor Telescope
Fully-Coated Glass Optics
Ideal Telescope for Beginners
BONUS Astronomy Software Package

==

Stellaris: People of the Stars