The Hubble Space Telescope has produced one of the best views yet of nearby spiral galaxy Messier 106. Located a little over 20 million light-years away, practically a neighbour by cosmic standards, Messier 106 is one of the brightest and nearest spiral galaxies to our own.
At its heart, as in most spiral galaxies, is a supermassive black hole, but this one is particularly active. Unlike the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, which pulls in wisps of gas only occasionally, Messier 106’s black hole is actively gobbling up material.
As the gas spirals towards the black hole, it heats up and emits powerful radiation. Part of the emission from the centre of Messier 106 is produced by a process that is somewhat similar to that in a laser - although here the process produces bright microwave radiation.
The galaxy has another startling feature - instead of two spiral arms, it appears to have four. Although the second pair of arms can be seen in visible light images as ghostly wisps of gas, as in this image, they are even more prominent in observations made outside of the visible spectrum, such as those using X-ray or radio waves. Unlike the normal arms, these two extra arms are made up of hot gas rather than stars.
The tangle of clouds and stars that lie in Orion’s sword is showcased in a new, expansive view from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The constellation appears tranquil and still to the naked eye, but lying in its sword, at what appears to be a slightly fuzzy star, is a turbulent cauldron of stellar birth.
WISE scanned the whole sky in infrared light, capturing this vast view of the dynamic region, called the Orion nebula. The telescope picked up the infrared glow from dust heated by newborn stars. The colors green and red highlight this warmed dust, while the white regions are the hottest. Massive stars burned through the dust, carving out cavities, the largest of which is seen at the center of the picture.
Astronomers think that our sun was probably born in a similar cloud some five billion years ago. Over time, the cloud would have dispersed and the stars would have drifted apart, leaving us more isolated in space. The crowded newborn stars in the Orion nebula are less than 10 million years old — billions of years from now, they will likely spread out.
The Hubble Space Telescope has produced a time-lapse movie of a mysterious protostar that behaves like a flashing light. Every 25.34 days, the object, designated LRLL 54361, unleashes a burst of light which propagates through the surrounding dust and gas. This is only the third time this phenomenon has been observed, and it is the most powerful such beacon seen to date. It is also the first to be seen associated with a light echo.
This image shows an object known as HH 151, a bright jet of glowing material trailed by an intricate, orange-hued plume of gas and dust. It is located some 460 light-years away in the constellation of Taurus (The Bull), near to the young, tumultuous star HL Tau.
In the first few hundred thousand years of life, new stars like HL Tau pull in material that falls towards them from the surrounding space. This material forms a hot disc that swirls around the coalescing body, launching narrow streams of material from its poles. These jets are shot out at speeds of several hundred kilometres per second and collide violently with nearby clumps of dust and gas, creating wispy, billowing structures known as Herbig-Haro objects — like HH 151 seen in the image above.
Such objects are very common in star-forming regions. They are short-lived, and their motion and evolution can actually be seen over very short timescales, on the order of years. They quickly race away from the newly-forming star that emitted them, colliding with new clumps of material and glowing brightly before fading away.
Gerhard Hüdepohl captured this spectacular image of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) during the testing of a new laser for the VLT 14 February 2013. It will be used as a vital part of the Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF), which allows astronomers to correct for most of the disturbances caused by the constant movement of the atmosphere in order to create much sharper images. Nevertheless, is hard not to think of it as a futuristic laser cannon being pointed towards some kind of distant space invader.