Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hoag's Object: A Strange Ring Galaxy

Saturn, Titan, Rings, and Haze

The Eskimo Nebula from Hubble and Chandra

Atacama's Cloudy Night

Storm clouds do sometimes come to Chile's Atacama desert, known as the driest place on Earth. These washed through the night sky just last month during the winter season, captured in this panoramic view. Drifting between are cosmic clouds more welcome by the region's astronomical residents though, including dark dust clouds in silhouette against the crowded starfields and nebulae of the central Milky Way. Below and right of center lies the Large Magellanic Cloud, appropriately named for its appearance in starry southern skies. City lights about 200 kilometers distant still glow along the horizon at the right, while bright star Canopus shines above them in the cloudy sky.

Moon Over Andromeda

The Great Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda (aka M31), a mere 2.5 million light-years distant, is the closest large spiral to our own Milky Way. Andromeda is visible to the unaided eye as a small, faint, fuzzy patch, but because its surface brightness is so low, casual skygazers can't appreciate the galaxy's impressive extent in planet Earth's sky. This entertaining composite image compares the angular size of the nearby galaxy to a brighter, more familiar celestial sight. In it, a deep exposure of Andromeda, tracing beautiful blue star clusters in spiral arms far beyond the bright yellow core, is combined with a typical view of a nearly full Moon. Shown at the same angular scale, the Moon covers about 1/2 degree on the sky, while the galaxy is clearly several times that size. The deep Andromeda exposure also includes two bright satellite galaxies, M32 and M110 (bottom).

Tropic of Cancer

This intriguing monument can be found in Taiwan between the cities of Hualian and Taitong. Split into two sides, it straddles a special circle of latitude on planet Earth, near 23.5 degrees north, known as the Tropic of Cancer. Points along the Tropic of Cancer are the northernmost locations where the Sun can pass directly overhead, an event that occurs once a year during the northern hemisphere's summer solstice. The latitude that defines the Tropic of Cancer corresponds to the tilt of planet Earth's rotation axis with respect to its orbital plane. The name refers to the zodiacal constellation Cancer the Crab. Historically the Sun's position was within Cancer during the northern summer solstice, but because of the precession of Earth's axis, that solstice Sun is currently within the boundaries of Taurus. In this starry night scene the otherwise all white structure is colored by city lights, with its orange side just south of the Tropic of Cancer and the white side just north. Of course, there is a southern hemisphere counterpart of the Tropic of Cancer. It's called the Tropic of Capricorn.

Twisting with NGC 3718

A careful look at this colorful cosmic snapshot reveals a surprising number of galaxies both near and far toward the constellation Ursa Major. The most striking is NGC 3718, the warped spiral galaxy near picture center. NGC 3718's spiral arms look twisted and extended, mottled with young blue star clusters. Drawn out dust lanes obscure its yellowish central regions. A mere 150 thousand light-years to the right is another large spiral galaxy, NGC 3729. The two are likely interacting gravitationally, accounting for the peculiar appearance of NGC 3718. While this galaxy pair lies about 52 million light-years away, the remarkable Hickson Group 56 can also be seen clustered above NGC 3718, near the top of the frame. Hickson Group 56 consists of five interacting galaxies and lies over 400 million light-years away. This picture was chosen as the overall winner in the 2013 David Malin Astrophotography Competition.