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.

Unexpected Early Spiral Galaxy

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.

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

…billion years.

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

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.


Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has just released the image above showing Everything in the infrared spectrum. Approximately 560 million stars, galaxies, gas clouds, near-Earth asteroids and other objects are included in the image.

Visible in the image:

  • Large and Small Magellanic clouds to the bottom right
  • The Andromeda galaxy forms a small blue streak to the lower left
  • The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, only 130 light years away, above the galactic center

Black Hole in the Milky Way Galaxy Set to Devour Gas Cloud

Video Credit: ESO / MPE / M. Schartmann / L. Calçada

A cloud of gas is being pulled closer to the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of our galaxy, 27,000 light-years away. This unprecedented discovery is being monitored by an international team of scientists using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The cool cloud, composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with a mass three-times that of Earth, has been picking up speed, and by 2013, astronomers will hopefully see some fireworks. By then, the first wisps of gas should be sucked into the black hole’s event horizon causing the black hole to flare brightly.