Swift Ultraviolet Image Gallery

M81 - UVOT
M81 Image from the Ultra Violet/Optical Telescope (UVOT)
Image Credit: NASA / Swift / E. Hoversten, Penn State University (PSU)

M81 - SDSS
M81 Image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)
Image Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)

NASA and Penn State University have released new images from the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer. The ability to see exquisite details in the ultraviolet is illustrated in the images above.

At left, is a three-filter (uvw1, uvm2 and uvw2) ultraviolet image of Messier 81, a spiral galaxy 12 million light-years away in the Ursa Major constellation. At right is a visible image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. M81’s companion galaxy, Holmberg IX, is barely visible in the optical, but its young stars shine brightly in the ultraviolet.

Swift carries three instruments for detailed observations of gamma ray bursts. The X-ray Telescope (XRT) and the UV/Optical Telescope (UVOT) were built by Penn State, Leicester University and the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (both in England) and at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera (in Italy). The third instrument is the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT). Swift was launched into a low-Earth orbit on a Delta 7320 rocket on November 20, 2004.

Tiny Galaxy Observed 420 Million Years After the Big Bang

MACS 0647-JD
Hubble Image of Very Young Dwarf Galaxy MACS0647-JD
Image Credit: NASA / ESA / M. Postman / D. Coe (STScI) / CLASH Team.

NASA has released an image of a newly discovered galaxy that is the youngest object seen so far. The young dwarf galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is only 600 light-years across and is seen only 420 million years after the Big Bang (13.3 Billion light-years away from Earth).

The galaxy is tiny. For comparison, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy companion to the Milky Way, is 14,000 light-years wide. Our Milky Way is 150,000 light-years across.

The image above is a composite taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC 3) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys ( ACS) on 5 October and 29 November 2011. The work was done by the Cluster Lensing And Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) team.

The Pencil Nebula

Pencil Nebula
The Pencil Nebula Imaged by the ESO Wide Field Imager
Image Credit: ESO

The European Southern Observatory has released new images of the Pencil Nebula taken by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope.

The nebula is only 800 light years from Earth, and changes position in the night sky within a human lifetime.

Click on the image to see a wide field view of the nebula and its environment.

Unexpected Early Spiral Galaxy

Spiral
Composite of BX442 from Hubble Space Telescope and Keck Telescope in Hawaii
Image Credit: David Law; Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Only one galaxy with a redshift (z) greater than 2 (about 10 billion years ago) has been observed, but may be a merger viewed at an odd angle.

Now, astronomers report in the 19 July issue of Nature the discovery of a primordial galaxy (Q2343-BX442) at z = 2.18 with three distinct spiral arms.

The images were from the Hubble Space Telescope Wide-Field Camera 3 (HST/WFC3), and BX442 was the only galaxy with a spiral shape among the 306 galaxies surveyed at this depth (z between 1.5 and 3.6). A small companion was observed, and the astronomers note that the collision of such a companion with BX442 can produce the spiral arms that are observed. If this is the case, they expect the galaxy to relax into a more primitive shape within the next 100 million years.

Herschel Space Telescope and the Vela C Star Forming Region

Vela
Vela and the Butterfly
Image Credit: ESA / PACS & SPIRE Consortia, T. Hill, F. Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA / IRFU – CNRS / INSU – Uni. Paris Diderot, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium

The European space Agency (ESA) has released images of the Vela Nebula taken by the Herschel Infrared Space Telescope.

The bright butterfly shaped region is a stellar nursery, with a string of bright, hot stars along its body. These massive stars are destined to explode as supernovae within the next 10 million years.

Strung out all along this region of the nebula are wispy filaments with protostars embedded within them.

The image was mapped using Herschel instruments PACS and SPIRE at wavelengths of 70, 160, and 250 microns, corresponding to the blue, green and red channels, respectively. North is to the right and east is up.

Andromeda and The Milky Way – Collision in 3, 2, 1…

…billion years.

Today
Looking From Our Milky Way toward the Andromeda Galaxy
Image Credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

With a small telescope, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy as a thin disk near the top of the image, and just off to the left side of the Milky Way, which stretches from top to bottom.

Thanks to the four refurbishing missions by the Space Shuttle, NASA has been able to gather extended data on the motion of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way. Based in this data, we now know how and when the two galaxies will collide.

Below, Andromeda and the Milky Way move closer, pass each other in a burst of star formation due to the tidal disruption, and eventually coalesce into an Elliptical Galaxy.

1.37 Billion
The Andromeda Galaxy Is Clearly Visible 1.37 Billion Years in the Future

2.06 Billion
2.06 Billion Years in the Future, Andromeda Dominates the Night Sky

3.49 Billion
3.49 Billion Years in the Future, Andromeda Dominates the Night Sky

3.78 Billion
Tidal Disruption Begins to Distort the Galaxies at 3.78 Billion Years

3.86 Billion
With Tidal Disruption Comes a Massive Outburst of Star Formation

3.98 Billion
Massive Distortion of Both Galaxies Occurs as They Pass Around 3.98 Billion Years

4.60 Billion
Star Formation has Begun on a Massive Scale 4.60 Billion Years

5.83 Billion
After Another Billion Years, Massive Stars Have Gone Nova

7.00 Billion
The Two Central Regions of the Galaxies Have Coalesced into an Elliptical Galaxy

NuSTAR Rides Pegasus to Orbit

NuSTAR
“Stargazer” L-1011 Aircraft with NuSTAR Prior to Take Off – T-105 minutes
Image Credit: NASA TV / UStream

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this morning 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is currently scheduled for 9:00 AM Phoenix time (16:00 UTC), with a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTC). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/nustar/multimedia/index.html.

At 7:25 AM Phoenix time, we are 1 hour and 35 minutes from launch.

NuSTAR X-RAY Observatory Set for Launch on Wednesday

NuSTAR
Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this coming Wednesday 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is scheduled for a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTV). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at http://www.nasa.gov/nustar.

The launch vehicle is an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus will be launched from a Lockheed L-1011, named “Stargazer” (below), flying at 40,000 feet. The aircraft has already moved from Vandenberg Air Force base to the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The “Stargazer”, Pegasus and NuSTAR will take off and fly to 40,000 feet. Five seconds after drop the Pegasus will ignite and put NuSTAR into a low Earth orbit

Stargazer
Stargazer with Pegasus XL Landing on the Kwajalein Atoll
Image Credit: Orbital Sciences

Check out the NASA Press Release about the NuSTAR mission.

The short summary:

  • First observatory to focus high energy X-rays
  • 10 times the resolution and 100 times the sensitivity of previous spacecraft
  • Coordinate observations with Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Use new mirror and detector technology that was developed in NASA’s basic research program
  • Study large and small black holes, near and far
  • Focus high energy X-rays images (see below)
  • Use nested shell mirrors with 133 in each of two optic units
  • Use state of the art detectors and a 10-meter mast that connects the detectors to the nested mirrors

Focus
Illustration of the Focusing Power of the NuSTAR X-Ray Observatory
Image Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech

Older observations on the upper left versus NuSTAR resolution in the lower right.

Saturn Plasma and Enceladus Plumes

Enceladus
Plumes from the South Pole of Enceladus
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Plumes of water and other gases from Enceladus, one of Saturn’s large moons, is now thought to be the source of the dusty plasma circling Saturn. The gases react with the magnetic field of Saturn, stripping electrons from the atoms and molecules. In addition, nano-particles are formed mixed in the plasma. The new results (“Charged nanograins in the Enceladus plume“) have been published in this month’s Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics:

There have been three Cassini encounters with the south-pole eruptive plume of Enceladus for which the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) had viewing in the spacecraft ram direction. In each case, CAPS detected a cold dense population of heavy charged particles having mass-to-charge (m/q) ratios up to the maximum detectable by CAPS (∼104 amu/e). These particles are interpreted as singly charged nanometer-sized water-ice grains. Although they are detected with both negative and positive net charges, the former greatly outnumber the latter, at least in the m/q range accessible to CAPS. On the most distant available encounter (E3, March 2008) we derive a net (negative) charge density of up to ∼2600 e/cm3 for nanograins, far exceeding the ambient plasma number density, but less than the net (positive) charge density inferred from the RPWS Langmuir probe data during the same plume encounter. Comparison of the CAPS data from the three available encounters is consistent with the idea that the nanograins leave the surface vents largely uncharged, but become increasingly negatively charged by plasma electron impact as they move farther from the satellite. These nanograins provide a potentially potent source of magnetospheric plasma and E-ring material.

Kepler Mission Extension

2321 Planets
2321 Potential Planet Discoveries by Kepler Space Observatory
Image Credit: NASA Ames / Wendy Stenzel

The Kepler mission, discoverer of 2,321 possible planets around stars in the region near Cygnus (star map) in our Milky Way galaxy, has been extended through 2016 based on a recommendation from the Agency’s Senior Review (pdf document)

Also, Kepler has discovered 2,165 eclipsing binary stars. Binary stars for when most of the mass of the solar system ring condenses or accretes into a single body with enough mass to ignite a fusion reaction, rather than several Jupiter and Neptune sized objects with some rocky planets.

The Kepler Mission has a Quick Guide, which explains the workings of the observatory.

Kepler Systems
Multi-Planet Systems Discovered by the Kepler Space Observatory (not to scale)
Image Credit: NASA Ames / Dan Fabrycky, UC Santa Cruz

The above diagram illustrates the multi-planet systems found by Kepler. The maps represent the relative sizes of the systems and the relative size of the planets in each system. They are not scaled in relation to the central star.