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Making a Spectacle of Star Formation in Orion

Looking like a pair of eyeglasses only a rock star would wear, this nebula brings into focus a murky region of star formation. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope exposes the depths of this dusty nebula with its infrared vision, showing stellar infants that are lost behind dark clouds when viewed in visible light.

Best known as Messier 78, the two round greenish nebulae are actually cavities carved out of the surrounding dark dust clouds. The extended dust is mostly dark, even to Spitzer's view, but the edges show up in mid-wavelength infrared light as glowing, red frames surrounding the bright interiors. Messier 78 is easily seen in small telescopes in the constellation of Orion, just to the northeast of Orion's belt, but looks strikingly different, with dominant, dark swaths of dust. Spitzer's infrared eyes penetrate this dust, revealing the glowing interior of the nebulae.

The light from young, newborn stars are starting to carve out cavities within the dust, and eventually, this will become a larger nebula like the "green ring" imaged by Spitzer (see PIA14104).

A string of baby stars that have yet to burn their way through their natal shells can be seen as red pinpoints on the outside of the nebula. Eventually these will blossom into their own glowing balls, turning this two-eyed eyeglass into a many-eyed monster of a nebula.

This is a three-color composite that shows infrared observations from two Spitzer instruments. Blue represents 3.6- and 4.5-micron light, and green shows light of 5.8 and 8 microns, both captured by Spitzer's infrared array camera. Red is 24-micron light detected by Spitzer's multiband imaging photometer.

  • 946 days ago via site
  • 20

In, Around, Beyond Rings

A quartet of Saturn's moons, from tiny to huge, surround and are embedded within the planet's rings in this Cassini composition.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is in the background of the image, and the moon's north polar hood is clearly visible. See PIA08137 to learn more about that feature on Titan (3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers across). Next, the wispy terrain on the trailing hemisphere of Dione (698 miles, or 1,123 kilometers across) can be seen on that moon which appears just above the rings at the center of the image. See PIA10560 and PIA06163 to learn more about Dione's wisps. Saturn's small moon Pandora (50 miles, or 81 kilometers across) orbits beyond the rings on the right of the image. Finally, Pan (17 miles, or 28 kilometers across) can be seen in the Encke Gap of the A ring on the left of the image.

This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane.

The image was taken in visible blue light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 17, 2011. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) from Dione and at a Sun-Dione-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 27 degrees. Image scale is 8 miles (13 kilometers) per pixel on Dione.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org.

  • 946 days ago via site
  • 24

Just in time for the holidays, the folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, give us a glimpse of a heavenly angel—not literally one of the seraphim, of course, but an astronomical delight nonetheless. The two-lobed star-forming region, dubbed Sharpless 2-106, is located in an isolated part of our Milky Way galaxy nearly 2000 light-years from Earth. The bluish "wings" are lobes of super-hot gas illuminated by a monster star—dozens of times the mass of our sun—forming in the center of the still-expanding nebula. A dark ring of dust and gas circling the star (dark bands, center), material that may one day coalesce into a planetary system, acts like a belt, cinching the nebula into an hourglass shape. Observations of the nebula at purely infrared wavelengths reveal more than 600 brown dwarfs, so-called "failed stars" that each gives off more heat than it receives but lacks enough mass to ignite and produce nuclear fusion on its own.

  • 946 days ago via site
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