Red Heart of the Scorpion on the Horizon


Image Credit & Copyright: Jared Blash.

This image comes to us from Jared Blash and it was taken under the dark skies of Maine’s jagged coastline.  The Milky Way galaxy in this image stands tall like a pillar as the light of a hundred billion stars light the nighttime skies.  I find the detail in this image just fantastic as the dust lanes and star colors really stand out with the light shining from behind.  On the horizon you can see the red heart of the scorpion; red supergiant Antares in the constellation Scorpius shows the way south.

The absolute best time to image the Milky Way is during the summer months which run roughly from April through September (for northern hemisphere observers).  During these months, the core of the Milky Way reaches its highest point in the sky all year and that reveals to us, the core of the galaxy and the amazing objects within.

I really hope that you enjoy this image and please check out more of Jared’s work as you will not be disappointed.

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ISS & Moon Bid Atlantis Farewell

15-155Image Credit & Copyright: NASA.

As promised on Instagram, here’s that incredible image of STS-132 undocking with the stunning visual of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Moon beyond Atlantis’s tail.  Note in this image that even at this distance, the Moon is still larger than station.  This image was taken on this day, May 23, in 2010.

NASA page for this image:

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Like Never Seen Before


Image & Video Credit & Copyright: NASA & Roscosmos.

May 23, 2011; As Soyuz TMA-20 undocked from the ISS to return the crew of Expedition 27 home to Earth they captured for the first time, a Space Shuttle (STS-134 Endeavour) while docked to the ISS.  The three crewmembers; cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli backed away from ISS; Nespoli filmed the view for record.

NASA STS-134 Mission Gallery:


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Vela Supernova Remnant (Zoom)


Images Credit & Copyright: Credit is displayed with the individual images with links to all at the bottom of the post.

The Vela Supernova Remnant is one of the truly awe inspiring locations in the southern sky. Being very large it’s difficult to observe visually but when captured via long exposure night sky imagery, a whole new picture comes to light. Let’s take a walk through this 55 light year diameter remnant of what was once a star before exploding in one of the most violent acts that the universe has to offer some 12,000 years ago near the dawn of written history. The vela region is very complex and not as clear cut as you might think. For example, the Vela SNR lies within the Gum Nebula (Gum 12); this region is also believed to be a supernova that exploded roughly a million years ago. As we progress, more surprises will reveal themselves to us.

The image above that I headlined this post with was captured by night sky superstar, Robert Gendler. This 30 frame mosaic contains 60 hours of exposure time to generate enough light for us to see this breathtaking region in detail.

The  oddly shaped Pencil Nebula (NGC 2736) is pictured in this image from  ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This nebula is a small part of a  huge remnant left over after a supernova explosion that took place about  11 000 years ago. The image was produced by the Wide Field Imager on  the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.


Let’s get close to this debris field and have a look around. As we do so, see if you can spot these individual features in the full mosaic. I’m going to kick off this tour with NGC 2736 or as it’s popularly known; The Pencil Nebula. This 0.8 light year-long seemingly rolling cloud of debris was impacted by the initial blast and superheated. It has long since cooled yet still hot enough to be visible in images such as this. Moving at a speed of 400,000 mph (650,000 kph), in a single human generation we will be able to detect visually that the pencil has changes locations slightly. This object sometimes goes by the name of Herschel’s Ray as it was discovered by John Herschel in 1835 from South Africa. This image was captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) La Silla in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

This wide-field view captures the spectacular celestial landscape around the central object Gum 15. Among many other objects the star cluster NGC 2671 is visible a little to the lower left of centre and at the lower right of the image some of the filaments forming part of the Vela Supernova Remnant can be seen. This view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.


This richly detailed new view from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the star formation region Gum 15. This little-known object is located in the constellation of Vela (The Sails), some 3000 light-years from Earth. The glowing cloud is a stunning example of an HII region. It also has a similarity to a more famous HII region, the Trifid Nebula (Messier 20).


Next we move to the region centered on the little Gum 15 with the much larger and dimmer Gum 14 at the upper right and the bright Gum 17 at the bottom left. The second image here is a closeup of Gum 15. What role do these regions play in the Vela Supernova Remnant?….well, none.

At roughly 3,000 light years away they’re not affiliated with the Vela SNR and what’s more; they’re not destructive but instead they’re actually HII star forming emission nebulae. At the center of little Gum 15 is the open star cluster Collinder 197 and its brightest member, HD 74804. What about the big fella, Gum 14 at the top right of this image? Yep, that’s an HII star forming emission nebula as well. Also within Gum 14 are Herbig-Haro objects as well as the reflection nebula NGC 2626. The prominent member of this star group is the supergiant HD 73882.

We close by focusing our attention to the bottom left of this image and yet another star forming HII region; Gum 17. This region is believed to be at a distance of about 1,200 light years. That’s if you fall into the camp of those who think that the open star cluster Trumpler 10 is associated with the nebula. If youre in the camp that associates the nebula to star HD 75759, you would place Gum 17 at a distance of 3,200 light years. If you look closely just outside of Gum 17 in the direction of the smaller Gum 15 you can distinguish the open star cluster NGC 2671 and also see little planetary nebula K2-15 just below Gum 17 near the bottom of the image. &

NGC 2547 is a southern open cluster in Vela, discovered by Abbe Lacaille in 1751-1752 from South Africa.


Cruising right along through this highly complex region we make a stop at the open star cluster NGC 2547. This cluster is 1,500 light years from Earth and believed to be only 30 million years old. As the ESO writeup put it; that may sound old but if our middle aged Sun were a 40 year old human, this cluster would only be a 3 month old baby. Again, though within line of sight, this cluster is independent of the Vela Supernova Remnant as it’s much more distant. At an apparent magnitude of about 5, have a go at this location with binoculars and it should easily reveal itself to you.


We move now to a Mike Sidonio image of the incredibly beautiful region of Gum 19. We see the filaments of the Vela SNR in this image seemingly hovering above Gum 19 like clouds creating the illusion of a peaceful, beautiful team. Well, like most objects constructed of baryonic matter in the universe, this region is a disaster waiting to happen. Once again we have to touch on distances first. The Vela filaments in this image reside about 3,000 light years away while Gum 19 is a much further 22,000 light years distant. This HII star forming region is dominated by a star known as V391 Velorum and it’s a variable blue supergiant that’s unstable and not expected to survive beyond the young age of 10 million years before self-detonating.


Here’s a region that I posted about recently; Herbig-Haro 47 (HH47). It’s a three trillion mile long jet of material being fired from a newborn star. The actual star in this image is hidden behind a gas and dust shroud near the left side of this image.

What is a Herbig-Haro (HH) Object?

While newborn stars are busy accreting material like knowledge in order to grow and be the best stars they can be; some of that material is being shot off into the surrounding cosmos from the stars polar regions or perpendicular to the plane of that star in a process called bipolar outflow. When the rapid jets of hot material that can reach many thousands of degrees Kelvin impacts the surrounding material (usually associated with Bok Globules or the same material that helped create the star) it heats that material and produces ionized gas which then renders the jets and shock wave aglow. As the gas that trails the hot shock wave cools, the electrons and ions recombine which in many images, can be seen as a second color within the shockwave itself.

The odd name comes from the two discoverer’s names; American astronomers George Herbig and Mexican astronomer Guillermo Haro. While much is known about these objects such as where they can be found and what they’re composed of, many fundamental questions remain. What causes the star to fire off these jets and what purpose do they serve, are questions that still need to be addressed. The going hypothesis is that they may be associated with the stars magnetic fields and that they may also actually help the stars formation by bleeding off excess angular momentum from the accreting material which would actually help slow and stabilize the system, allowing the protostar to successfully accrete into a successful star.

This deep image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the Vela pulsar, a neutron star that was formed when a massive star collapsed. In the upper right is a fast moving jet of particles produced by the pulsar. The pulsar is about 1,000 light years from Earth, and makes over 11 complete rotations every second. As the pulsar spins, it spews out a jet of charged particles that race out along the pulsar's rotation axis at about 70% of the speed of light. A movie shows dramatic changes in the jet, suggesting that the pulsar may be slowly wobbling, or precessing, as it spins. If this evidence is confirmed, it would be the first time that a neutron star has been found to be precessing. In this image the jet's shape is blurred because images at different times have been added together.


I really hope you’ve enjoyed our trip around the region known as the Vela Supernova Remnant as it’s a stunningly beautiful region which, as we all know by now was created by the detonation of a massive star. Before we leave, let’s take a look at this freak show. This alien-like structure is the leftovers of a star gone bang. What was once a massive star shining brightly has been transformed into something incredible; a pulsar. The Vela Pulsar actually resides deep within the Vela SNR so, around 1,000 light years away. A pulsar is a neutron star and neutron stars are created when a star goes supernova but instead of the core of the star becoming a black hole, the process is stopped at the door before it can become one. That leaves a pulsar; the most dense object in the universe aside from a black hole itself. It rotates, it rotates fast… fast you ask? The Vela Pulsar rotates 11 times per second, spewing out a jet of charged particles from its poles at 70% of the speed of light for almost a light year in each direction. Even more amazing, as they spin, angular momentum causes them to speed up and become extremely small and dense. They’re only about 12 miles across or about the diameter of a major city. Their material is so compact that a sugar cube sized cube of neutron material would weigh 100 million tons on Earth! The Vela pulsar is one of the brightest X-ray sources in the night sky. I will do a full post on this soon but in short, pulsars are neutron stars that rotate extremely fast and are highly magnetic. In this NASA Chandra image, the Vela Pulsar is hidden within the rings of this object, its jets easily visible.

Just to add a final bit of complexity to this region, as I said before, the Vela Supernova Remnant resides within the Gum Nebula (Gum 12) which stretches well into the constellation Puppis. Well, within line of sight of the Vela SNR is also the Puppis A SNR which is about four times further away or about 6,500 light years away.

NAME: Vela Supernova Remnant. Pulsar

WHAT IS IT?: The remains of a star that exploded approximately 12,000 years ago near the dawn of written history.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 800 light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 55 light years in diameter and 8 degrees of the night sky or 16 x the diameter of the full moon.



WHERE IS IT (General): Constellation Vela (The Sails) within the Gum Nebula.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 08h 35m 20.60s / DEC -45° 10 35“.

Vela Supernova Remnant; Robert Gendler:

ESO Pencil Nebula:

ESO Gum 14 (RCW 27), Gum 15 (Collinder 197), Gum 17 (RCW 33):

ESO Gum 15 closeup:

ESO NGC 2547:

Gum 19; Mike Sidonio:

Hubblesite News Center HH47:

NASA CHANDRA Harvard; Vela Pulsar:

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Ariane 5 Dual Payload Launch Next Week

VA215 decollage ariane le 29/08/2013

Image Credit & Copyright: Arianespace launch of Ariane5 VA-215.  Live streaming links below.

LAUNCH ALERT: Wednesday, May 27 at 21:16 UTC (17:16 EDT) Arianespace will be launching the massive and beautiful Ariane 5 ECA Rocket (designated Flight VA223) with a dual payload of satellites. The Direct TV-15 satellite will supply direct to home television boradcasts for the United States. Sky Mexico 1 satellite will beam direct television programming to Central America, Maxico and the Caribbean. Launch will take place from Launch Site, Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-3 (ELA-3) at the Arianespace Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This will be the 79th launch of the Ariane 5 and its 2nd launch in 2015.

Arianespace, Ariane 5 Rocket: is a 2-stage expendable launch vehicle that comes in two variants (ECA & ES) and carries payloads weighing more than 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and over 20 metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO). Closing in on 100 launches (77), its 2 failures have earned it a place in history as an overall reliable heavy lift delivery system.

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OTV-4 & LightSail 1 Take Flight


Image & Video Credit & Copyright: United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Late Wednsday morning at 11:05 EDT, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) embarking upon its AFSPC-5 mission which entails the mysterious Boeing/USAF X-37B space plane. The Planetary Society also hitched a ride on this rocket as LightSail 1 was placed into orbit for testing.

My writeup on the X-37B mission:

My writeup on Planetary Society’s LiagtSail 1:

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When a Duck is Not a Duck

Globular  clusters are roughly spherical collections of extremely old stars, and  around 150 of them are scattered around our galaxy. Hubble is one of the  best telescopes for studying these, as its extremely high resolution  lets astronomers see individual stars, even in the crowded core. The  clusters all look very similar, and in Hubble’s images it can be quite  hard to tell them apart – and they all look much like NGC 411, pictured  here. And  yet appearances can be deceptive: NGC 411 is in fact not a globular  cluster, and its stars are not old. It isn’t even in the Milky Way. NGC  411 is classified as an open cluster. Less tightly bound than a  globular cluster, the stars in open clusters tend to drift apart over  time as they age, whereas globulars have survived for well over 10  billion years of galactic history. NGC 411 is a relative youngster — not  much more than a tenth of this age. Far from being a relic of the early  years of the Universe, the stars in NGC 411 are in fact a fraction of  the age of the Sun. The  stars in NGC 411 are all roughly the same age, having formed in one go  from one cloud of gas. But they are not all the same size. Hubble’s  image shows a wide range of colours and brightnesses in the cluster’s  stars. These tell astronomers many facts about the stars, including  their mass, temperature and evolutionary phase. Blue stars, for  instance, have higher surface temperatures than red ones. The  image is a composite produced from ultraviolet, visible and infrared  observations made by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. This filter set lets  the telescope “see” colours slightly further beyond red and the violet  ends of the spectrum.

Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…….it may still not be a duck?!! That’s the case here with NGC 411; a globular….well, an open star cluster roughly 200,000 light years distant in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). Ya, that’s fooled quite a few people over the last year or so because this object looks like one of the 150-ish globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s got the shape (roughly), size, ancient star color etc. but not only is this object not in our galaxy; the stars aren’t even old. Most globular clusters contain stars from 10 to 12 billion years old but the stars here are roughly 1.5 billion years old. That means they aren’t even half the age of the Sun, not even close.

There are exceptions to most rules but in the life of globular star clusters there are simply too many young blue stars here to be a globular. Blue stars are much larger thus burn through their fuel and die quickly. If this were a globular there simply wouldn’t be enough fuel left after the billions of years to create the masses of blue stars here. This is also where the age of this cluster comes is determined as well. By studying the bluest stars in the cluster it’s been determined that an age of 1.5 billion years seems genuine. Which, for all intents and purposes is pretty old for an open cluster.

NAME: New General Catalog 411, NGC 411.

WHAT IS IT?: Open star cluster.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 200,000 light years.

HOW OLD IS IT?: 1.5 billion years old.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: A pretty dim 11.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) in the constellation Tucana (The Toucan).

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 01h 07m 55,95s / DEC -71° 46′ 04,5″.

NASA page for this image:

ESA Hubble page on this object:

SIMBAD data page on this object:

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