Globular clusters have always been one of my favorite astronomical objects. These balls of stars — sometimes hundreds of thousands strong — are easy targets through a small telescope and are fun and beautiful to see.
But when you train a big space telescope on them, well, their beauty is magnified spectacularly:
You really want to click that to get the very beefy 4000 x 4000 pixel (11 Mb) version. It’ll knock your socks off!
This Hubble image shows NGC 6934, an ancient ball of stars located about 50,000 light years away. Globular clusters are made of stars that are bound to each other gravitationally and orbiting the center on a myriad different paths — think of it as a beehive except with a hundred thousand bees each a million kilometers across. There are about 150 of these guys orbiting the Milky Way, each a dozen or so light years across and containing upwards of a million stars. NGC 6934 is pretty typical of its class, but its great distance dims it to near-obscurity. If it were as close as M 13 or Omega Centauri — both roughly half as far as NGC 6934 — it would be heralded as a gem of the night sky.
Globulars are old. We think they form all at once, with all the stars being born at the same time. Read More
I sometimes think I’ve seen everything there is in the sky, with nothing new left to see.
Then I get a rude — but welcome — wake-up call.
[Click to enspiralnate.]
When I first saw this picture, my reactions, in order, were:
1) What the frak is that?
followed immediately by
2) This must be a fake!
But it’s not fake. It’s real, and it’s the dying gasp of a very, very strange star system.
The name of this thing is AFGL 3068. It’s been known as a bright infrared source for some time, but images just showed it as a dot. This Hubble image using the Advanced Camera for Surveys reveals an intricate, delicate and exceedingly faint spiral pattern. It’s so faint no one has ever detected it before!
So what’s going on here? First off, this is not a spiral galaxy! Read More