Sep 292015

Some of the most photogenic objects in the universe are planetary nebulae. As a star runs low on the fuel it uses to power its fusion furnace, the star starts to shed the outer layers of its atmosphere. The gas is expelled into space at several kilometers per second. This will ultimately bare the star’s core. Now classified as a white dwarf the core is no longer creating energy. Once exposed, the core’s remaining heat energizes the surrounding expelled gas causing it to glow. It is these glowing shells of gas that we call planetary nebula. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are several theories accounting for the varied shapes. Some appear to be shaped by the original star’s magnetic fields and some appear to be shaped by companions to the original star (planets or secondary stars).

In a relatively short time (10,000 years or so) the dwindling ultraviolet output fails to energize the increasingly distant shells of gas. Eventually, the planetary nebula dissipates and the white dwarf remains alone and spends the rest of its existence slowly cooling, becoming less and less visible.

Known as the Dumbbell Nebula due to the brightest portion’s pinched shape, this planetary nebula is located in the northern constellation Vulpecula (The Little Fox) at an estimated distance of 1360 ly. It is the first planetary nebula discovered, being cataloged by Charles Messier in 1764. Viewed under dark skies, it is bright enough and large enough to be seen with binoculars. This image is sixty 60 second exposures through a Hydrogen Alpha filter.

M 27 (Dumbbell Nebula) [Ha:60x60s]

M 27 (Dumbbell Nebula) [Ha:60x60s]

The same image stretched further and viewed as a negative reveals an additional more distant shell of gas.

inv_lvl_crv_dcv_ddp_crp_M 27

 Posted by at 23:46
Jul 262015

This globular cluster is located in the constellation Delphinus (the Dolphin) at a distance of 135,000 LYs. That distance is 5 times the distance from the Sun to the center of our galaxy. The clusters great distance and very eccentric orbit may indicate it was captured from one of the many dwarf galaxies that the Milky Way captured during its lifetime. Note the numerous background galaxies visible.

NGC 7006 [C:35x30s]

NGC 7006 [C:35x30s]

Chart generated using Cartes du Ciel

Chart generated using Cartes du Ciel

 Posted by at 16:17
Jul 012015

The NMSU All-Sky camera captured a bright object Monday at 0528 (UTC). At first glance I thought it was an airplane but what looked like a contrail was disappearing way too quickly. When two different objects became visible it was apparent to me that it was space debris. Notice the object initially becomes visible through breaks in the clouds along the tree line on the southern horizon.

After traversing the entire sky it appears to do the same at the roof line at the northern horizon. The American Meteor Society web page has over 150 reports of an event at the same time as the video time hack. Their initial identification is the earlier than anticipated reentry of a soviet rocket body.

 Posted by at 21:41
Jun 202015

NGC 6218 (M 12) [C:60X30s]

NGC 6218 (M 12) [C:60X30s]

Described by Charles Messier as a “nebula without stars”, this globular cluster was discovered by him in 1764. This cluster in located in the constellation Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer). It is about 15,700 lys from Earth and ancient in the extreme with an estimated age of 12.6 billion years.

Notice the two adjacent galaxies peeking through the cluster at about 8 o’clock just outside the central condensation. I’ve been able to identify the larger and brighter of the two as PGC 1103219.

 Posted by at 20:15
Jun 092015

Long identified as a tightly grouped open star cluster, spectroscopic analysis in the 1970’s showed this group of stars is a loosely grouped globular cluster. It is located in the constellation Sagitta (The Arrow) and is about 13,000 light-years from the Sun. At that distance, the cluster is about 27 light-years in diameter.

NGC 6838 (M 71)

NGC 6838 (M 71)[C:52x30s]

This image shows the cluster viewed through the disk of the Milky Way. Software analysis detects over 12,000 stars in the image.

 Posted by at 00:59