The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.
IC 2574: Coddington’s Nebula Dwarf galaxy IC 2574 shows clear evidence of intense star forming activity in its telltale pinkish regions of glowing hydrogen gas. Just as in spiral galaxies, the turbulent star-forming regions in IC 2574 are churned by stellar winds and supernova explosions spewing material into the galaxy’s interstellar medium and triggering further star formation. A mere 12 million light-years distant, IC 2574 is part of the M81 group of galaxies, seen toward the northern constellation Ursa Major. Also known as Coddington’s Nebula, the lovely island universe is about 50,000 light-years across, discovered by American astronomer Edwin Coddington in 1898.
This image of 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula, in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) was taken with the Curtis Schmidt telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile, as part of the Magellanic Cloud Emission Line Survey (MCELS) project. The Tarantula Nebula is a giant star-forming region, where energy from hot, young stars in the region creates dramatic voids and filaments in the surrounding gas. Located 160,000 light-years distant in the southern constellation Dorado, the LMC is considered the closest large galaxy to Earth. Because of the proximity and low foreground absorption of the LMC, it is an ideal laboratory both for studies of individual HII regions, supernova remnants, and superbubbles, and for investigations of global properties using samples of these objects. MCELS is designed to provide uniform datasets in optical emission lines that are necessary to conduct this research. The MCELS observations toward the 30 Doradus region have been used to investigate the physical properties of the HII region, examine the physical conditions of supernova remnants in the field, and study the large-scale structure of the ionized gas. This color image was produced using three separate exposures taken in hydrogen (red), sulfur (green), and oxygen (blue) filters. Caption: NOAO. Please read Conditions of Use before downloading. S. POINTS, C. SMITH, R. LEITON, C. AGUILERA AND NOAO/AURA/NSF
I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly - or ever - gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.
The Carina–Sagittarius Arm (also known as Sagittarius Arm or Sagittarius–Carina Arm, labeled -I) is generally thought to be a minor spiral arm of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
Each spiral arm is a long, diffuse curving streamer of stars that radiates out from the galactic center. These gigantic structures are often composed of billions of stars and thousands of gas clouds. [**]
Space Engine is a program that allows you to explore the cosmos at your leisure, from faraway galaxies to nearby worlds. Space Engine:
Is free to download and play.
Recreates a cubic 10x10x10 gigaparsec area of the known universe that’s open to exploration from corner to corner.
Contains a large catalogue of actual astronomical objects, including galaxies, stars, planets, dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and black holes, with more intended to be added in the future.
Procedurally generates galaxies, stars, planets, moons, and other objects not known to us according to reasonable probabilities. When exploring, you never quite know what you’re going to find.
Includes 10,000 catalogued galaxies, possibly billions more procedural galaxies, many trillions of stars, and even more planets and moons to explore. You can spend your entire lifetime looking at every single star system and never even make it to the next galaxy.
Gives you the ability to travel through space at any speed from 1 meter per second to 1 gigaparsec per second, allowing you to swing across superclusters, leap through galaxies, warp between stars, hop between planets, and glide over moons.
Presents the cosmos with stunning graphics and detail, from the gravitational lensing of black holes and neutron stars to the shadows of rings across planetary atmospheres.
Space Engine is also a work in progress and is still in the process of being updated. It also requires a powerful PC to run well and is prone to crashes which may be mostly fixed by using the “interleaved” LoaderMode and restarting the program often.
All things considered, Space Engine is a wonderful piece of software and will no doubt lead to many hours lost in space.
NGC 7293, better known as the Helix nebula, is the nearest example of a planetary nebula, which is the eventual fate of a star, like our own Sun, as it approaches the end of its life. As it runs out of fuel, the star expels its outer envelope of gas outward to form a nebula like the Helix. Images: different views of NGC 7293. Credit: ESA, NASA, ESO.
The caterpillar-shaped knot, called IRAS 20324+4057, is a protostar in a very early evolutionary stage. It is still in the process of collecting material from an envelope of gas surrounding it. However, that envelope is being eroded by the radiation from Cygnus OB2. Protostars in this region should eventually become young stars with final masses about one to ten times that of our Sun, but if the eroding radiation from the nearby bright stars destroys the gas envelope before the protostars finish collecting mass, their final masses may be reduced.
This image of IRAS 20324+4057 is a composite of Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys data taken in green and infrared light in 2006, and ground-based hydrogen data from the Isaac Newton Telescope in 2003, as part of the IPHAS H-alpha survey. The object lies 4,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.
Floating at the centre of this new Hubble image is a lidless purple eye, staring back at us through space. This ethereal object, known officially as [SBW2007] 1 but sometimes nicknamed SBW1, is a nebula with a giant star at its centre. The star was originally twenty times more massive than our Sun, and is now encased in a swirling ring of purple gas, the remains of the distant era when it cast off its outer layers via violent pulsations and winds.
But the star is not just any star; scientists say that it is destined to go supernova! 26 years ago, another star with striking similarities went supernova — SN 1987A. Early Hubble images of SN 1987A show eerie similarities to SBW1. Both stars had identical rings of the same size and age, which were travelling at similar speeds; both were located in similar HII regions; and they had the same brightness. In this way SBW1 is a snapshot of SN1987a’s appearance before it exploded, and unsurprisingly, astronomers love studying them together.
At a distance of more than 20 000 light-years it will be safe to watch when the supernova goes off. If we are very lucky it may happen in our own lifetimes…
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: Nick Rose