APOD: NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide (5/17/22)

© Capture: Greg Turgeon Processing: Kiko Fairbairn

Astronomers turn detectives when trying to figure out the cause of startling sights like NGC 1316. Investigations indicate that NGC 1316 is an enormous elliptical galaxy that started, about 100 million years ago, to devour a smaller spiral galaxy neighbor, NGC 1317, just on the upper right. Supporting evidence includes the dark dust lanes characteristic of a spiral galaxy, and faint swirls and shells of stars and gas visible in this wide and deep image. One thing that >remains unexplained is the unusually small globular star clusters, seen as faint dots on the image. Most elliptical galaxies have more and brighter globular clusters than NGC 1316. Yet the observed globulars are too old to have been created by the recent spiral collision. One hypothesis is that these globulars survive from an even earlier galaxy that was subsumed into NGC 1316. Another surprising attribute of NGC 1316, also known as Fornax A, is its giant lobes of gas that glow brightly in radio waves.

© Benjamin Barakat

APOD: Milky Way over French Alp Hoodoos (5/16/22)

Real castles aren’t this old. And the background galaxy is even older. Looking a bit like an alien castle, the pictured rock spires are called hoodoos and are likely millions of years old. Rare, but found around the world, hoodoos form when dense rocks slow the erosion of softer rock underneath. The pictured hoodoos survive in the French Alps and are named Demoiselles Coiffées — which translates to English as “Ladies with Hairdos”. The background galaxy is part of the central disk of our own Milky Way galaxy and contains stars that are typically billions of years old. The photogenic Cygnus sky region — rich in dusty dark clouds and red glowing nebulas — appears just above and behind the hoodoos. The featured image was taken in two stages: the foreground was captured during the evening blue hour, while the background was acquired from the same location later that night.

© Marcella Giulia Pace

What color is the Moon? It depends on the night. Outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, the dark Moon, which shines by reflected sunlight, appears a magnificently brown-tinged gray. Viewed from inside the Earth’s atmosphere, though, the moon can appear quite different. The featured image highlights a collection of apparent colors of the full moon documented by one astrophotographer over 10 years from different locations across Italy. A red or yellow colored moon usually indicates a moon seen near the horizon. There, some of the blue light has been scattered away by a long path through the Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes laden with fine dust. A blue-colored moon is more rare and can indicate a moon seen through an atmosphere carrying larger dust particles. What created the purple moon is unclear — it may be a combination of several effects. The last image captures the total lunar eclipse of 2018 July — where the moon, in Earth’s shadow, appeared a faint red — due to light refracted through air around the Earth. Today there is not only another full moon but a total lunar eclipse visible to observers in North and South America — an occurrence that may lead to some unexpected lunar colorings.

APOD: Colors of the Moon (5/15/22)

There’s a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Stars are observed to orbit a very massive and compact object there known as Sgr A* (say “sadge-ay-star”). But this just released radio image (inset) from planet Earth’s Event Horizon Telescope is the first direct evidence of the Milky Way’s central black hole. As predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, the four million solar mass black hole’s strong gravity is bending light and creating a shadow-like dark central region surrounded by a bright ring-like structure. Supporting observations made by space-based telescopes and ground-based observatories provide a wider view of the galactic center’s dynamic environment and an important context for the Event Horizon Telescope’s black hole image. The main panel image shows the X-ray data from Chandra and infrared data from Hubble. While the main panel is about 7-light years across, the Event Horizon Telescope inset image itself spans a mere 10 light-minutes at the center of our galaxy, some 27,000 light-years away.

APOD: The Milky Way’s Black Hole (5/13/22)

APOD: Gravity’s Grin (5/11/22)

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published over 100 years ago, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that’s what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group’s two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group’s total distribution of gravitational mass. Of course, that gravitational mass is dominated by dark matter. The two large elliptical “eye” galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.

APOD: NGC 6334: The Cat’s Paw Nebula (5/10/22)

Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat’s Paw Nebula visible toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat’s Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula and cataloged as NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured here is a deep field image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula in light emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. Explore Your Universe: Random APOD Generator

© Stefan Steve Bemmerl

© Tara Mostofi

APOD: Firefall by Moonlight (5/7/22)

On certain dates in February, an elusive firefall can be spotted at sunset in Yosemite National Park, when water flows, the weather cooperates and the direction to the setting Sun is just right. Often photographed from vantage points below, at the right moment the park’s seasonal Horsetail Fall is isolated in the shadows of the steep walls of El Capitan. Then, still illuminated with rays of reddened sunlight the waterfall briefly takes on a dramatic, fiery appearance. But a Horsetail firefall can be photographed by moonlight too. Even more elusive by moonlight, the firefall effect can also be seen when a bright Moon sets at the right direction along the western horizon. And skies were clear enough for this well-planned imaging of an ephemeral Horsetail firefall, lit by a bright gibbous Moon setting in the early morning hours of April 15.

This cosmic skyscape features glowing gas and dark dust clouds along side the young stars of NGC 3572. A beautiful emission nebula and star cluster it sails far southern skies within the nautical constellation Carina. Stars from NGC 3572 are toward top center in the telescopic frame that would measure about 100 light-years across at the cluster’s estimated distance of 9,000 light-years. The visible interstellar gas and dust is part of the star cluster’s natal molecular cloud. Dense streamers of material within the nebula, eroded by stellar winds and radiation, clearly trail away from the energetic young stars. They are likely sites of ongoing star formation with shapes reminiscent of the Tadpoles of IC 410 better known to northern skygazers. In the coming tens to hundreds of millions of years, gas and stars in the cluster will be dispersed though, by gravitational tides and by violent supernova explosions that end the short lives of the massive cluster stars.

APOD: NGC 3572 and the Southern Tadpoles (5/6/22)

© Carlos Taylor

Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years away, toward the northern springtime constellation Leo. Relatively bright in planet Earth’s sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65. It’s hard to overlook in this colorful cosmic portrait though. Spanning some 50,000 light-years the galaxy sports characteristic patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust, pink star forming regions, and clusters of young, blue stars. This deep image also finds NGC 3521 embedded in fainter, gigantic, bubble-like shells. The shells are likely tidal debris, streams of stars torn from satellite galaxies that have undergone mergers with NGC 3521 in the distant past.

© Mark Hanson

APOD: NGC 3521: Galaxy in a Bubble (5/5/22)