JADES-GS-z14-0: A New Farthest Object

What if we could see back to the beginning of the universe? We could see galaxies forming. But what did galaxies look like back then? These questions took a step forward recently with the release of the analysis of a James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) image that included the most distant object yet discovered. Most galaxies formed at about 3 billion years after the Big Bang, but some formed earlier. Pictured in the inset box is JADES-GS-z14-0, a faint smudge of a galaxy that formed only 300 million years after the universe started. In technical terms, this galaxy lies at the record redshift of z=14.32, and so existed when the universe was only one fiftieth of the its present age. Practically all of the objects in the featured photograph are galaxies.

The Colors of Saturn from Cassini

What creates Saturn’s colors? The featured picture of Saturn only slightly exaggerates what a human would see if hovering close to the giant ringed world. The image was taken in 2005 by the robot Cassini spacecraft that orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Here Saturn’s majestic rings appear directly only as a curved line, appearing brown, in part from its infrared glow. The rings best show their complex structure in the dark shadows they create across the upper part of the planet. The northern hemisphere of Saturn can appear partly blue for the same reason that Earth’s skies can appear blue — molecules in the cloudless portions of both planet’s atmospheres are better at scattering blue light than red. When looking deep into Saturn’s clouds, however, the natural gold hue of Saturn’s clouds becomes dominant. It is not known why southern Saturn does not show the same blue hue — one hypothesis holds that clouds are higher there. It is also not known why some of Saturn’s clouds are colored gold.

Lynds Dark Nebula 1251

Stars are forming in Lynds Dark Nebula (LDN) 1251. About 1,000 light-years away and drifting above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, LDN 1251 is also less appetizingly known as “The Rotten Fish Nebula.” The dusty molecular cloud is part of a complex of dark nebulae mapped toward the Cepheus flare region. Across the spectrum, astronomical explorations of the obscuring interstellar clouds reveal energetic shocks and outflows associated with newborn stars, including the telltale reddish glow from scattered Herbig-Haro objects hiding in the image. Distant background galaxies also lurk in the scene, almost buried behind the dusty expanse. This alluring view spans over four full moons on the sky, or 35 light-years at the estimated distance of LDN 1251.

Hubble’s NGC 1546

Returning to science operations on June 14, the Hubble Space Telescope used its new pointing mode to capture this sharp image of spiral galaxy NGC 1546. A member of the Dorado galaxy group, the island universe lies a mere 50 million light-years away. The galactic disk of NGC 1546 is tilted to our line-of-sight, with the yellowish light of the old stars and bluish regions of newly formed stars shining through the galaxy’s dust lanes. More distant background galaxies are scattered throughout this Hubble view. Launched in 1990, Hubble has been exploring the cosmos for more than three decades, recently celebrating its 34th anniversary.

Sandy and the Moon Halo

Last April’s Full Moon shines through high clouds near the horizon, casting shadows in this garden-at-night skyscape. Along with canine sentinel Sandy watching the garden gate, the wide-angle snapshot also captured the bright Moon’s 22 degree ice halo. But June’s bright Full Moon will cast shadows too. This month, the Moon’s exact full phase occurs at 01:08 UTC June 22. That’s a mere 28 hours or so after today’s June solstice (at 20:51 UTC June 20), the moment when the Sun reaches its maximum northern declination. Known to some as a Strawberry Moon, June’s Full Moon is at its southernmost declination, and of course will create its own 22 degree halos in hazy night skies.

NGC 6188: Dragons of Ara

Do dragons fight on the altar of the sky? Although it might appear that way, these dragons are illusions made of thin gas and dust. The emission nebula NGC 6188, home to the glowing clouds, is found about 4,000 light years away near the edge of a large molecular cloud, unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara (the Altar). Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. This impressively detailed image spans over 2 degrees (four full Moons), corresponding to over 150 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188.

Ou4: The Giant Squid Nebula

Squids on Earth aren’t this big. This mysterious squid-like cosmic cloud spans nearly three full moons on planet Earth’s sky. Discovered in 2011 by French astro-imager Nicolas Outters, the Squid Nebula’s bipolar shape is distinguished here by the telltale blue emission from doubly ionized oxygen atoms. Though apparently surrounded by the reddish hydrogen emission region Sh2-129, the true distance and nature of the Squid Nebula have been difficult to determine. Still, one investigation suggests Ou4 really does lie within Sh2-129 some 2,300 light-years away. Consistent with that scenario, the cosmic squid would represent a spectacular outflow of material driven by a triple system of hot, massive stars, cataloged as HR8119, seen near the center of the nebula. If so, this truly giant squid nebula would physically be over 50 light-years across.

Prominences and Filaments on the Active Sun

This colorized and digitally sharpened image of the Sun is composed of frames recording emission from hydrogen atoms in the solar chromosphere on May 15. Approaching the maximum of solar cycle 25, a multitude of planet-dwarfing active regions and twisting, snake-like solar filaments are seen to sprawl across the surface of the active Sun. Suspended in the active regions’ strong magnetic fields, the filaments of plasma lofted beyond the Sun’s edge appear as bright solar prominences. The large prominences seen near 4 o’clock, and just before 9 o’clock around the solar limb are post flare loops from two powerful X-class solar flares that both occurred on that day. In fact, the 4 o’clock prominence is associated with the monster active region AR 3664 just rotating off the Sun’s edge.

RCW 85

From the 1960 astronomical catalog of Rodgers, Campbell and Whiteoak, emission region RCW 85 shines in southern night skies between bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. About 5,000 light years distant, the hazy interstellar cloud of glowing hydrogen gas and dust is faint. But detailed structures along well-defined rims within RCW 85 are traced in this cosmic skyscape composed of 28 hours of narrow and broadband exposures. Suggestive of dramatic shapes in other stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are sculpted by energetic winds and radiation from newborn stars, the tantalizing nebula has been called the Devil’s Tower. This telescopic frame would span around 100 light-years at the estimated distance of RCW 85.

Messier 66 Close Up

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy Messier 66 lies a mere 35 million light-years away. The gorgeous island universe is about 100 thousand light-years across, similar in size to the Milky Way. This Hubble Space Telescope close-up view spans a region about 30,000 light-years wide around the galactic core. It shows the galaxy’s disk dramatically inclined to our line-of-sight. Surrounding its bright core, the likely home of a supermassive black hole, obscuring dust lanes and young, blue star clusters sweep along spiral arms dotted with the tell-tale glow of pinkish star forming regions. Messier 66, also known as NGC 3627, is the brightest of the three galaxies in the gravitationally interacting Leo Triplet.

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