What’s happening to these spiral galaxies? Although details remain uncertain, there sure seems to be a titanic battle going on. The upper galaxy is labelled UGC 1810 by itself, but together with its collisional partners is known as Arp 273. The overall shape of the UGC 1810 — in particular its blue outer ring — is likely a result of wild and violent gravitational interactions. The blue color of the outer ring at the top is caused by massive stars that are blue hot and have formed only in the past few million years. The inner part of the upper galaxy — itself an older spiral galaxy — appears redder and threaded with cool filamentary dust. A few bright stars appear well in the foreground, unrelated to colliding galaxies, while several far-distant galaxies are visible in the background. Arp 273 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation of Andromeda. Quite likely, UGC 1810 will devour its galactic sidekicks over the next billion years and settle into a classic spiral form.
Can a lighthouse illuminate a galaxy? No, but in the featured image, gaps in light emanating from the Jose Ignacio Lighthouse in Uruguay appear to match up nicely, although only momentarily and coincidently, with dark dust lanes of our Milky Way Galaxy. The bright dot on the right is the planet Jupiter. The central band of the Milky Way Galaxy is actually the central spiral disk seen from within the disk. The Milky Way band is not easily visible through city lights but can be quite spectacular to see in dark skies. The featured picture is actually the addition of ten consecutive images taken by the same camera from the same location. The images were well planned to exclude direct light from the famous lighthouse.
How do stars form? To help find out, astronomers created this tantalizing false-color composition of dust clouds and embedded newborn stars in infrared wavelengths with WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The cosmic canvas features one of the closest star forming regions, part of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex some 400 light-years distant near the southern edge of the pronounceable constellation Ophiuchus. After forming along a large cloud of cold molecular hydrogen gas, young stars heat the surrounding dust to produce the infrared glow. Stars in the process of formation, called young stellar objects or YSOs, are embedded in the compact pinkish nebulae seen here, but are otherwise hidden from the prying eyes of optical telescopes. An exploration of the region in penetrating infrared light has detected emerging and newly formed stars whose average age is estimated to be a mere 300,000 years. That’s extremely young compared to the Sun’s age of 5 billion years. The prominent reddish nebula at the lower right surrounding the star Sigma Scorpii is a reflection nebula produced by dust scattering starlight. This view from WISE, released in 2012, spans almost 2 degrees and covers about 14 light-years at the estimated distance of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud.
Grand tidal streams of stars seem to surround galaxy NGC 5907. The arcing structures form tenuous loops extending more than 150,000 light-years from the narrow, edge-on spiral, also known as the Splinter or Knife Edge Galaxy. Recorded only in very deep exposures, the streams likely represent the ghostly trail of a dwarf galaxy – debris left along the orbit of a smaller satellite galaxy that was gradually torn apart and merged with NGC 5907 over four billion years ago. Ultimately this remarkable discovery image, from a small robotic observatory in New Mexico, supports the cosmological scenario in which large spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, were formed by the accretion of smaller ones. NGC 5907 lies about 40 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Draco.
A star cluster around 2 million years young surrounded by natal clouds of dust and glowing gas, M16 is also known as The Eagle Nebula. This beautifully detailed portrait of the region was made with groundbased narrow and broadband image data. It includes cosmic sculptures made famous in Hubble Space Telescope close-ups of the starforming complex. Described as elephant trunks or Pillars of Creation, dense, dusty columns rising near the center are light-years in length but are gravitationally contracting to form stars. Energetic radiation from the cluster stars erodes material near the tips, eventually exposing the embedded new stars. Extending from the ridge of bright emission at lower left is another dusty starforming column known as the Fairy of Eagle Nebula. M16 lies about 7,000 light-years away, an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes in a nebula rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake).
On November 11, 2019 the Sun was mostly quiet, experiencing a minimum in its 11 year cycle of activity. In fact, the only spot visible was actually planet Mercury, making a leisurely 5 1/2 hour transit in front of the calm solar disk. About 1/200th the apparent diameter of the Sun, the silhouette of the solar system’s inner most planet is near center in this sharp, full Sun snapshot. Taken with a hydrogen alpha filter and safe solar telescope, the image also captures prominences around the solar limb, the glowing plasma trapped in arcing magnetic fields. Of course, only inner planets Mercury and Venus can transit the Sun to appear in silhouette when viewed from planet Earth. Following its transit in 2016, this was Mercury’s 4th of 14 transits across the solar disk in the 21st century. The next transit of Mercury will be on November 13, 2032.