Most stars with masses similar to that of our Sun will end their lives as white dwarfs — small, very dense, and hot bodies that slowly cool down over billions of years. On the way to this final phase of their lives the stars throw their atmospheres out into the space and create planetary nebulae, colourful glowing clouds of gas surrounding the small, bright stellar relics.
We can now see Rosetta’s goal, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko thanks to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the European Southern Observatory. The comet disappeared behind the sun last October and it is just now out of the glare enough to be seen.
They took the image above with ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Actually the image is several exposures stacked together. Think of it is adding all the images together to bring out the features. 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is small, around 3 x 5 km and it is about 740 million km / 460 million miles so it is very faint.
The new image suggests that 67P is beginning to emit gas and dust at a relatively large distance from the Sun – Colin Snodgrass from the MPS
The comet will become more visible to researchers as it gets closer.
ESA can actually keep tabs on Gaia visually. I think this is just amazing. Using the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile Gaia actually can be seen. It’s a very small satellite very far away, over a million times fainter than can be see with the human eye.
From the ESA caption:
To measure Gaia’s position in the sky, a network of small and medium telescopes are monitoring the spacecraft on a daily basis. This information is being fed into the orbit reconstruction being performed at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, yielding an accuracy of 150 m on Gaia’s position and of 2.5 mm/s on its motion.
These two images, taken about 6.5 minutes apart on 23 January, are the result of a close collaboration between ESA and the European Southern Observatory to observe Gaia.
Here is an image of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken on 05 Oct 2013. This is the comet ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft is destined to orbit. As far as I know this is the latest image of the comet.
The image was taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. We can see the comet with and without the background of stars.
The comet was about 500,000 km from Earth and heading behind the Sun from our perspective in its six and a half year orbit at the time. If you have about 15 minutes or so, I’d like to encourage you to visit ESA’s “Where is Rosetta“. This was fantastic look at Rosetta’s journey and gives a nice perspective into how much planning goes into a mission like this.
If you watch it from the begining, you will notice around late 2010 or early 2011 both the comet and Rosetta go “off screen”, click the “reset view” to zoom out to see it. I would suggest not hitting that link until then though as early on the orbits by Rosetta are pretty interesting as far as how the mission was set up to put the spacecaft in position to chase down Churyumov–Gerasimenko — it loses its flair zoomed out.
You can also move the slider along the time line if you are in a hurry.
A wonderful image of the Lagoon Nebula from the VLT Survey Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and operated by the ESO.
I enjoy the Lagoon, it’s low in my sky but I can see it (it can be seen with binoculars during the summer if you have a decent sky). Nothing like this though, but then I don’t have a 16,000 pixel-wide camera either.
Yes, 16,000 pixel-wide, to that end the best way to enjoy this image is to go to the large version at ESO (here is the direct link). The image is zoomable and is just amazing, if you have a few minutes to spare do check it out.
The Lagoon Nebula is also known as Messier 8, it is a giant cloud some 31 parsecs (100 light-years) across in the constellation Sagittarius about 1,500 parsecs (5,000 light-years away).
The star at the heart of this story is called Westerlund 1-26 or just W 26, it is about the biggest star we know of in our galaxy. It is some 1,500 + times the size of our sun! As the press release below tells, the star is in the process of dying, surly to become a black hole.
The star W 26 is part of a cluster of stars especially notable because of the large number of very massive stars.
The cluster was discovered in 1961 by Bengt Westerlund. The cluster was difficult to study for a long time because of dust and gas clouds and is one of the reasons distance estimates vary so much, last estimate I saw was a little over 4,900 pc, or around 16,000-light years.
The problem of the gas and dust doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for a very amazing telescope the VLT Survey Telescope. If the telescope isn’t cool enough, the camera on it, the OmegaCAM is incredible!
From the ESO (use this link to see the original image):
This new picture from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory shows the remarkable super star cluster Westerlund 1 (eso1034). This exceptionally bright cluster lies about 16 000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar). It contains hundreds of very massive and brilliant stars, all of which are just a few million years old — babies by stellar standards. But our view of this cluster is hampered by gas and dust that prevents most of the visible light from the cluster’s stars from getting to Earth.
ArTeMiS  is a new wide-field submillimetre-wavelength camera that will be a major addition to APEX’s suite of instruments and further increase the depth and detail that can be observed. The new generation detector array of ArTeMIS acts more like a CCD camera than the previous generation of detectors. This will let wide-field maps of the sky be made faster and with many more pixels.
Here is an image of PGC 10922. The ESA caption is below but for some other particulars that makes this Hubble view even more outstanding:
The galaxy is located at RA 02h 53m 35.9s and DEC -83d 08m 32s and it’s about 67.92 Mpc away (about 221 million light-years). It shines at a magnitude 13.7 and is small at around one (1) arc minute +/-.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of PGC 10922, an example of a lenticular galaxy — a galaxy type that lies on the border between ellipticals and spirals.
Seen face-on, the image shows the disk and tightly-wound spiral structures of dark dust encircling the bright center of the galaxy. There is also a remarkable outer halo of faint wide arcs or shells extending outwards, covering much of the picture. These are likely to have been formed by a gravitational encounter or even a merger with another galaxy. Some dust also appears to have escaped from the central structure and has spread out across the inner shells. An extraordinarily rich background of more remote galaxies can also be seen in the image.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the 3.58-meter New Technology Telescope (NTT) team up for a very nice look at a newborn star. The colors and filters are explained in the ESO caption below, you might get a better sense of them by going to the ESO website. While you are there you can get desktop versions of the image, it looks good on mine.
Unrelated Observing note: The full moon was quite orange when it was setting this morning. Apparently the color I am seeing is from smoke high in the atmosphere from the fires in western Canada, that according to the local weather guy. He’s good like that, even announces visible Hubble passes.
Here’s the ESO caption:
This unprecedented image of Herbig-Haro object HH 46/47 combines radio observations acquired with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) with much shorter wavelength visible light observations from ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT). The ALMA observations (orange and green, lower right) of the newborn star reveal a large energetic jet moving away from us, which in the visible is hidden by dust and gas. To the left (in pink and purple) the visible part of the jet is seen, streaming partly towards us.