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.

ALMA – Atacama Large Millimeter Array

Colliding Antennae Galaxies. ALMA Left, Hubble Right.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: ESO / Alberto Milani

Thousands of scientists from around the world have competed to be among the first few researchers to explore some of the darkest, coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the cosmos with this new astronomical tool.

Thus opens the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announcement that the ALMA observatory is open for business.

At present, only 12 of the eventual 66 millimeter wavelength radio antennas were used to produce the image above, left. Moreover, the antennas were at most 125 meters apart. When the observatory is running at full capacity, some of the radio antennas will be 16 kilometers apart.

Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, noted that:

Even in this very early phase ALMA already outperforms all other submillimetre arrays. Reaching this milestone is a tribute to the impressive efforts of the many scientists and engineers in the ALMA partner regions around the world who made it possible.

Initially, 900 proposals were received for this new telescope, which is nine times the usual submission for a new telescope. Three of the proposed observations are detailed below:

David Wilner at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was accepted and his team targets the star AU Microscopii, 33 light years away and only 1% the age of our Sun. The goal is to visualize the “birth ring” of planetismals around this young star. He is looking for clumps of material in the asteroid region that are markers of unseen planets.

Simon Casassus, from the University of Chile, is searching the debris disc of HD142527, a young star that is 400 light-years away. This distant solar systems contains dust, gas, and rocks surrounding the star. The hunt is on for frozen water and organic molecules. The disc contains enough material for a dozen Jupiters, but the most interesting feature is a very wide gap in which there may be one or more giant gas planets.

Heino Falcke, an astronomer at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands is looking at Sagittarius A* and the black hole four million times the mass of our Sun. The goal is to image the gas clouds caught up in the immense gravitational pull of the black hole. Falcke notes that, “This will let us study this monster’s messy feeding habits. We think that some of the gas may be escaping its grip, at close to the speed of light.”

Below, we see some of the radio antennas deployed on the desert floor at Atacama.

Antennas on the Atacama Desert.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA)

Lyman Alpha Blob

Alpha Lyman Blob by the European Southern Observatory
Image Credit: ESO / M. Hayes

The European Southern Observatory‘s Very Large Telescope has returned images and data from a vast cloud of glowing gas at the edge of the observable universe. The paper appears in Nature: “Central Powering of the Largest Lyman-alpha Nebula is Revealed by Polarized Radiation”. The object is a “Lyman-alpha-blob” and has entire galaxies embedded in it.

The Object in the paper is known as LAB-1 and was discovered in 2000. It has a diameter of 300,000 light years (our Milky Way is 100,000 light years across). LAB-1 has several primordial galaxies inside, including one with an active core (quasar).

There have been two competing theories about the light emitted by these distant (11-12 billion light years) objects. One idea is that the collapsing gas clouds making up a blob creates the energy that is radiated. A second theory is that the blob is large enough to contain one or more galaxies, which provide the energy needed to shine so brightly. The paper provides evidence for this latter theory.

The Black Hole in Centaurus A

Centaurus A
Jets Powered by the Black Hole in Centaurus A
Image Credit:
X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.
Submillimeter: MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.
Optical: ESO/WFI

Centaurus A (NGC 5128), is a radio galaxy about 10-16 million light years from Earth. The image above is a newly released composite view of the powerful jets created by the galaxy’s massive black hole.

The image combined three sets of observations. X-rays (colored blue) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, submillimeter data (colored orange) from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile and visible light data from the Wide Field Imager on the Max-Planck/ESO 2.2 m telescope.

The jet in the upper left extends about 13,000 light years away from the black hole.