Members Can Post Anonymously On This Site
3 min read
December’s Night Sky Notes: A Flame in the Sky – the Orion Nebula
Orion constellation Stellarium Web by Kat Troche of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
It’s that time of year again: Winter! Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the clear, crisp sky offers spectacular views of various objects, the most famous of all being Orion the Hunter.
As we’ve previously mentioned, Orion is a great way to test your sky darkness. With the naked eye, you can easily spot this hourglass-shaped constellation. Known as an epic hunter in Greco-Roman antiqity, Orion and all its parts have many names and meanings across many cultures. In Egyptian mythology, this constellation represented the god Sah. The Babylonians referred to it as The Heavenly Shepard. In most cultures, it is Orion’s Belt that has many stories: Shen in Chinese folklore, or Tayamnicankhu in Lakota storytelling. But the Maya of Mesoamerica believed that part of Orion contained The Cosmic Hearth – the fire of creation.
1,500 light years away from Earth sits the star-forming region, and crown jewel of Orion – Messier 42 (M42), the Orion Nebula. Part of the “sword” of Orion, this 24 light year wide cloud of dust and gas sits below the first star in Orion’s Belt, Alnitak, and can easily be spotted with the naked eye under moderate dark skies. You can also use binoculars or a telescope to resolve more details, such as the Trapezium: four stars in the shape of a keystone (or baseball diamond). These young stars make up the core of this magnificent object.
Of course, it’s not just for looking at! M42 is easily one of the most photographed nebulae around, imaged by amateur astrophotographers, professional observatories and space telescopes alike. It has long been a place of interest for the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra X-ray Space Telescopes, with James Webb Space Telescope now joining the list in February 2023. Earlier this year, NASA and the European Space Agency released a new photo of the Orion Nebula taken from JWST’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), which allowed scientists to image this early star forming region in both short and long wavelengths.
These Webb images show a part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar. It is a region where energetic ultraviolet light from the Trapezium Cluster — located off the upper-left corner — interacts with dense molecular clouds. The energy of the stellar radiation is slowly eroding the Orion Bar, and this has a profound effect on the molecules and chemistry in the protoplanetary disks that have formed around newborn stars here. The largest image, on the left, is from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument. At upper right, the telescope is focused on a smaller area using Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument). A total of eighteen filters across both the MIRI and NIRCam instruments were used in these images, covering a range of wavelengths from 1.4 microns in the near-infrared to 25.5 microns in the mid-infrared.
At the very center of the MIRI area is a young star system with a planet-forming disk named d203-506. The pullout at the bottom right displays a combined NIRCam and MIRI image of this young system. Its extended shape is due to pressure from the harsh ultraviolet radiation striking it. An international team of astronomers detected a new carbon molecule known as methyl cation for the first time in d203-506.
ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), PDRs4ALL ERS Team But stars aren’t the only items visible here. In June 2023, JWST’s NIRCam and MIRI (mid-infrared instrument) imaged a developing star system with a protoplanetary disk forming around it. That’s right – a solar system happening in real time – located within the edges of a section called the Orion Bar. Scientists have named this planet-forming disk d203-506, and you can learn more about the chemistry found here. By capturing these objects in multiple wavelengths of light, astronomers now have even greater insight into what other objects might be hiding within these hazy hydrogen regions of our night sky. This technique is called Multi-spectral Imaging, made possible by numerous new space based telescopes.
In addition to the Night Sky Network Dark Sky Wheel, a fun activity you can share with your astronomy club would be Universe Discovery Guide: Orion Nebula, Nursery of Newborn Stars. This will allow you to explain to audiences how infrared astronomy, like JWST, helps to reveal the secrets of nebulae. Or you can use public projects like the NASA-funded MicroObservatory to capture M42 and other objects.
Stay tuned to learn more about what to spy in the Winter sky with our upcoming mid-month article!
3 min read
December’s Night Sky Notes: A Flame in the Sky – the Orion Nebula
View the full article
NASA / Michael DeMocker Artemis II NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Christina Koch of NASA, and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen view the core stage for the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on Nov. 16. The three astronauts, along with NASA’s Victor Glover, will launch atop the rocket stage to venture around the Moon on Artemis II, the first crewed flight for Artemis.
The SLS core stage, towering at 212 feet, is the backbone of the Moon rocket and includes two massive propellant tanks that collectively hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to help power the stage’s four RS-25 engines. NASA, Boeing, the core stage lead contractor, along with Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3Harris Technologies company and the RS-25 engines lead contractor, are in the midst of conducting final integrated testing on the fully assembled rocket stage. At launch and during ascent to space, the Artemis astronauts inside NASA’s Orion spacecraft will feel the power of the rocket’s four RS-25 engines producing more than 2 million pounds of thrust for a full eight minutes. The mega rocket’s twin solid rocket boosters, which flank either side of the core stage, will each add an additional 3.6 million pounds of thrust for two minutes.
NASA / Michael DeMocker The astronauts’ visit to Michoud coincided with the first anniversary of the launch of Artemis I. The uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion was the first in a series of increasingly complex missions for Artemis as the agency works to return humans to the lunar surface and develop a long-term presence there for discovery and exploration.
NASA is working to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon under Artemis. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the Orion spacecraft, advanced spacesuits and rovers, the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, and commercial human landing systems. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.
News Media Contact
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
View the full article
NASA / William R. Pogue Astronaut William R. Pogue, Skylab 4 pilot, recorded this wide scene of his crewmates, astronauts Edward G. Gibson (left), science pilot, and Jerry P. Carr (right), commander, on the other end of the orbital workshop on Feb. 1, 1974. Also in the frame are parts of three spacesuits, used on several EVA sessions during the third and final mission on the Skylab space station.
Skylab 4 launched on Nov. 16, 1973. Pogue, Gibson, and Carr were the first all-rookie crew since Gemini 8 in 1966. The crew continued the science program begun by the previous two Skylab crews, including biomedical investigations on the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body, Earth observations using the Earth Resources Experiment Package, and solar observations with instruments mounted on the Apollo Telescope Mount. Added to their science program were observations of the comet Kohoutek, discovered earlier in the year and predicted to make its closest approach to the Sun in December.
Watch a recap of Skylab’s legacy as a major stepping stone to the successful construction and operation of the International Space Station and future long-duration human missions to asteroids, Mars and other destinations.
Image Credit: NASA/William R. Pogue
View the full article
One of the first images captured by Euclid shows the Perseus cluster, a group of thousands of galaxies located 240 million light-years from Earth. The closest galaxies appear as swirling structures while hundreds of thousands of background galaxies are visible only as points of light.ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO The new images from the Euclid mission include a cluster of thousands of distant galaxies, demonstrating the spacecraft’s unique abilities.
The Euclid mission, which will investigate the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, released its first five science images Tuesday, Nov. 7 The observatory, led by ESA (European Space Agency) with NASA contributions, is scheduled to begin regular science operations in early 2024.
The new images include views of a large cluster of thousands of distant galaxies, close-ups of two nearby galaxies, a gravitationally bound group of stars called a globular cluster, and a nebula (a cloud of gas and dust in space where stars form) – all depicted in vibrant colors.
“The Euclid observatory will uncover a treasure trove of scientific discoveries that will be used across the world, including by U.S. scientists, for years to come,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together, NASA and ESA are paving the way for a new era of cosmology for NASA’s forthcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will build upon what Euclid learns and will additionally survey objects on the outskirts of our solar system, discover thousands of new planets, explore nearby galaxies, and more.”
The spiral galaxy IC 342, located about 11 million light-years from Earth, lies behind the crowded plane of the Milky Way: Dust, gas, and stars obscure it from our view. Euclid used its near-infrared instrument to peer through the dust and study it.ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO Euclid launched on July 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, then traveled nearly 1 million miles to its vantage point. Following a period of commissioning (testing of the instruments and other components), the space telescope is performing as expected.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California delivered critical hardware for one of the Euclid spacecraft’s instruments. In addition, NASA has established a U.S.-based Euclid science data center, and NASA-funded science teams will join other Euclid scientists in studying dark energy, galaxy evolution, and dark matter. The agency’s Nancy Grace Roman mission will also study dark energy – in ways that are complementary to Euclid. Mission planners will use Euclid’s findings to inform Roman’s dark energy work.
Surveying the Dark Universe
During its planned six-year mission, Euclid will produce the most extensive 3D map of the universe yet, covering nearly one-third of the sky and containing billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away from Earth.
The galaxy NGC 6822 is located 1.6 million light-years from Earth. Euclid was able to capture this view of the entire galaxy and its surroundings in high resolution in about one hour, which isn’t possible with ground-based telescopes or targeted telescopes (such as NASA’s Webb) that have narrower fields of view.ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO To do this, Euclid needs a wide field of view, which enabled these new images covering a relatively large area. In this way, Euclid differs from targeted observatories like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope that focus on a smaller area of the sky at any one time but typically offer higher-resolution images. Wide-field observatories like Euclid can observe large sections of the sky much faster than targeted telescopes. In addition, Euclid has high resolution compared to previous survey missions, which means it will be able to see more galaxies in each image than previous telescopes.
For example, Euclid’s wide view was able to capture the entirety of the Perseus galaxy cluster, and many galaxies beyond it, in just one image. Located 240 million light-years from Earth, Perseus is among the most massive structures known in the universe. Euclid’s full survey will ultimately cover an area 30,000 times larger than this image.
The Horsehead Nebula, also known as Barnard 33, is part of the Orion constellation. About 1,375 light-years away, it is the closest giant star-forming region to Earth. With Euclid, which captured this image, scientists hope to find many dim and previously unseen Jupiter-mass planets in their celestial infancy, as well as baby stars. Full image here.ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO The telescope’s survey approach is necessary to study dark energy, the mysterious driver behind our universe’s accelerating expansion. While gravity should pull everything in the universe together, everything is instead moving apart faster and faster. “Dark energy” is the term scientists use for this unexplained expansion.
To study the phenomenon, scientists will map the presence of another cosmic mystery, dark matter. This invisible substance can be observed only by its gravitational effect on “regular” matter and objects around it, like stars, galaxies, and planets. Dark matter is five times more common in the cosmos than regular matter, so if dark energy’s expansive influence on the universe has changed over time, the change should be recorded in how dark matter is distributed on large scales across the universe, and Euclid’s 3D map should capture it.
This sparkly image shows Euclid’s view of a globular cluster – a collection of gravitationally bound stars that don’t quite form a galaxy – called NGC 6397. No other telescope can capture an entire globular cluster in a single observation and distinguish so many stars within it.ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO “Euclid’s first images mark the beginning of a new era of studying dark matter and dark energy,” said Mike Seiffert, Euclid project scientist at JPL. “This is the first space telescope dedicated to dark universe studies, and the sheer scale of the data we’re going to get out of this will be unlike anything we’ve had before. These are big mysteries, so it’s exciting for the international cosmology community to see this day finally arrive.”
NASA’s Roman mission will study a smaller section of sky than Euclid, but it will provide higher-resolution images of hundreds of millions of galaxies and peer deeper into the universe’s past, providing complementary information. Scheduled to launch by May 2027.
The data from the new Euclid images is now available to the scientific community, and scientific papers analysing that data are expected to follow. As the mission progresses, Euclid’s bank of data will grow. New batches will be released once per year and will be available to the global scientific community via the Astronomy Science Archives hosted at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain.
More About the Mission
Euclid is a European mission, built and operated by ESA, with contributions from NASA. The Euclid Consortium – consisting of more than 2,000 scientists from 300 institutes in 13 European countries, the U.S., Canada, and Japan – is responsible for providing the scientific instruments and scientific data analysis. ESA selected Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor for the construction of the satellite and its service module, with Airbus Defence and Space chosen to develop the payload module, including the telescope. NASA provided the detectors of the Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer, NISP. Euclid is a medium-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision Programme.
News Media Contacts
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA Headquarters, Washington
ESA Media Relations
Last Updated Nov 07, 2023 Related Terms
Astrophysics Dark Matter & Dark Energy Euclid Galaxies, Stars, & Black Holes Galaxies, Stars, & Black Holes Research Jet Propulsion Laboratory Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Stars The Universe Explore More
5 min read NASA’s Curiosity Rover Clocks 4,000 Days on Mars
Article 19 hours ago 5 min read NASA Telescopes Discover Record-Breaking Black Hole
Article 21 hours ago 3 min read Hubble Tangos with a Dancer in Dorado
This vibrant Hubble Space Telescope image features the spiral galaxy NGC 1566, sometimes informally referred…
Article 4 days ago View the full article
By European Space Agency
Although the Crab Nebula is one of the best-studied supernova remnants, questions about its progenitor, the nature of the explosion, and the composition of its ejecta still remain unanswered. The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope is on the case as it sleuths for any clues that remain within the supernova remnant. Webb’s infrared sensitivity, combined with data previously collected by other telescopes, is offering astronomers a more comprehensive understanding of the still-expanding scene.
View the full article
Check out these Videos