M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
Find the Big Dipper and follow the handle away from the dipper's bowl until you get to the last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you'll come upon this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier's famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (bottom), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the eye, deep images like this one can reveal striking colors and the faint tidal debris around the smaller galaxy
Stars and Dust in Corona Australis
Blue dust clouds and young, energetic stars inhabit this telescopic vista, less than 500 light-years away toward the northern boundary of Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. The dust clouds effectively block light from more distant background stars in the Milky Way. But the striking complex of reflection nebulas cataloged as NGC 6726, 6727, and IC 4812 produce a characteristic blue color as light from the region's bright blue stars is reflected by the cosmic dust. The dust also obscures from view stars still in the process of formation. At the left, smaller yellowish nebula NGC 6729 bends around young variable star R Coronae Australis. Just below it, glowing arcs and loops shocked by outflows from embedded newborn stars are identified as Herbig-Haro objects. On the sky this field of view spans about one degree, corresponding to almost nine light-years at the estimated distance of the nearby star forming region. Explore the Universe: Random APOD Generator
Haumea of the Outer Solar System
One of the strangest objects in the outer Solar System has recently been found to have a ring. The object, named Haumea, is the fifth designated dwarf planet after Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and Makemake. Haumea's oblong shape makes it quite unusual. Along one direction, Haumea is significantly longer than Pluto, while in another direction Haumea has an extent very similar to Pluto, while in the third direction is much smaller. Haumea's orbit sometimes brings it closer to the Sun than Pluto, but usually Haumea is further away. Illustrated above, an artist visualizes Haumea as a cratered ellipsoid surrounded by a uniform ring. Originally discovered in 2003 and given the temporary designation of 2003 EL61, Haumea was renamed in 2008 by the IAU for a Hawaiian goddess. Besides the ring discovered this year, Haumea has two small moons discovered in 2005, named Hi'iaka and Namaka for daughters of the goddess.
GW170817: A Spectacular Multi-Radiation Merger Event Detected
Both gravitational and electromagnetic radiations have been detected in rapid succession for an explosive merging event for the first time. Data from the outburst fit well with a spectacular binary neutron-star death-spiral. The explosive episode was seen on August 17 in nearby NGC 4993, an elliptical galaxy only 130 million light years distant. Gravitational waves were seen first by the ground based LIGO and Virgo observatories, while seconds later the Earth-orbiting Fermi and INTEGRAL observatories detected gamma-rays, and hours after that Hubble and other observatories detected light throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. Pictured is an animated illustrative movie of the event's likely progenitors. The video depicts hot neutron stars as they spiral in toward each other and emit gravitational radiation. As they merge, a powerful jet extends that drives the short-duration gamma-ray burst, followed by clouds of ejecta and, over time, an optical supernova-type episode called a kilonova. This first coincident detection confirms that LIGO events can be associated with short-duration gamma-ray bursts. Such powerful neutron star mergers are thought to have seeded the universe with many heavy nuclei including the iodine needed for life and the uranium and plutonium needed for nuclear fission power. You may already own a souvenir of one of these explosions -- they are also thought to be the original creators of gold. Journal articles: Lists kept by LIGO and LCO.
On the Origin of Gold
Where did the gold in your jewelry originate? No one is completely sure. The relative average abundance in our Solar System appears higher than can be made in the early universe, in stars, and even in typical supernova explosions. Some astronomers have suggested, and many believe, that neutron-rich heavy elements such as gold might be most easily made in rare neutron-rich explosions such as the collision of neutron stars. Pictured here is an artist's illustration depicting two neutron stars spiraling in toward each other, just before they collide. Since neutron star collisions are also suggested as the origin of short duration gamma-ray bursts, it is possible that you already own a souvenir from one of the most powerful explosions in the universe. Editorial Note: This "best of" APOD ran previously on 2011 September 11. News Note: The next APOD will debut during an NSF discovery announcement and press briefing on Monday.
Familiar green and red tinted auroral emission floods the sky along the northern (top) horizon in this fish-eye panorama projection from September 27. On the mild, clear evening the Milky Way tracks through the zenith of a southern Alberta sky and ends where the six-day-old Moon sets in the southwest. The odd, isolated, pink and whitish arc across the south has come to be known as Steve. The name was given to the phenomenon by the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group who had recorded appearances of the aurora-like feature. Sometimes mistakenly identified as a proton aurora or proton arc, the mysterious Steve arcs seem associated with aurorae but appear closer to the equator than the auroral curtains. Widely documented by citizen scientists and recently directly explored by a Swarm mission satellite, Steve arcs have been measured as thermal emission from flowing gas rather than emission excited by energetic electrons. Even though a reverse-engineered acronym that fits the originally friendly name is Sudden Thermal Emission from Velocity Enhancement, his origin is still mysterious.
Under the Galaxy
The Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, stands above the southern horizon in this telephoto view from Las Campanas Observatory, planet Earth. In the dark September skies of the Chilean Atacama desert, the small galaxy has an impressive span of about 10 degrees or 20 Full Moons. The sensitive digital camera's panorama has also recorded a faint, pervasive airglow, otherwise invisible to the eye. Apparently bright terrestrial lights in the foreground are actually very dim illumination from the cluster of housing for the observatory astronomers and engineers. But the flattened mountain top along the horizon just under the galaxy is Las Campanas peak, home to the future Giant Magellan Telescope.
NGC 1365: Majestic Island Universe
Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the chemical constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax galaxy cluster. This impressively sharp color image shows intense star forming regions at the ends of the bar and along the spiral arms, and details of dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole.
Star Cluster NGC 362 from Hubble
If our Sun were near the center of NGC 362, the night sky would glow like a jewel box of bright stars. Hundreds of stars would glow brighter than Sirius, and in many different colors. Although these stars could become part of breathtaking constellations and intricate folklore, it would be difficult for planetary inhabitants there to see -- and hence understand -- the greater universe beyond. NGC 362 is one of only about 170 globular clusters of stars that exist in our Milky Way Galaxy. This star cluster is one of the younger globulars, forming likely well after our Galaxy. NGC 362 can be found with the unaided eye nearly in front of the Small Magellanic Cloud, and angularly close to the second brightest globular cluster known, 47 Tucanae. The featured image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help better understand how massive stars end up near the center of some globular clusters.
Milky Way and Zodiacal Light over Australian Pinnacles
What strange world is this? Earth. In the foreground of the featured image are the Pinnacles, unusual rock spires in Nambung National Park in Western Australia. Made of ancient sea shells (limestone), how these human-sized picturesque spires formed remains a topic of research. The panorama was taken last month. A ray of zodiacal light, sunlight reflected by dust grains orbiting between the planets in the Solar System, rises from the horizon near the image center. Arching across the top is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. The planets Jupiter and Saturn, as well as several famous stars are also visible in the background night sky. Free Download: The 2018 APOD Calendar