Oh, how I love time lapse video of the sky! I always peer closely, trying to recognize stars, constellations, galaxies, and other land(sky?)marks. This is more of a challenge for me when the view shows the southern sky, but it’s a whole lot easier when the videographer annotates the video itself… as in this breathtaking video called Under the Namibian Sky:
[Set it to HD and make it full screen for the full effect.]
The video is 13 minutes long, so I won’t blame you for scrolling through it. But there’s a lot to see, and most of it is labeled for you!
Namibia is located at about 20° south latitude, so for us northerners there are some odd things, most especially the Sun setting from right to left! Up here, when you face south and/or west, the Sun moves from left to right. But when you’re upside down, things are backwards.
… or even upside-down, as the video helpfully notes when Orion comes into view. That always gets me (I saw it for myself when I visited Australia a few years ago, and it truly freaked me out). Some other things to note: keep your eyes open at the 7:20 mark for a meteor with a persistent train, and for the repeated sight of the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds (labeled SMC and LMC in the video): dwarf companion galaxies to our Milky Way.
This really makes me long for another visit down below the equator. I have no idea when or even if that might happen again, but if it does, I’ll make sure I have their skies firmly planted in my brain. Simply viewing the heavens is a wonderful experience, but knowing what you’re seeing adds a whole dimension to it. I think understanding is always an added benefit while experiencing.
Tip o’ the lens cap to LRTimelapse on G+.
[I suppose this post has a PG-13 rating. Not for language or nudity, but for what may be a (humorously) disturbing image for some folks. Be ye fairly warned, says I.]
So the European Southern Observatory took the Very Large Telescope, pointed it at NGC 1929 — a cluster of stars 180,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud — and got this amazing picture:
[Click to ennebulenate, or grab the huger 1780 x 1780 pixel version.]
I was all set to talk about how this huge bubble — over 300 light years across! — is being blown into the gas surrounding the cluster by the combined mighty winds of the stars inside it, young massive stars that live short, violent lives that end in short, violent deaths, and how this will compress the gas further and induce even more star formation, but how in the meantime they’re flooding the gas with powerful ultraviolet radiation that’s lighting up the gas precisely like a neon sign, and how amazingly detailed this image is despite the cluster and gas being in another galaxy at a distance of nearly 2 quintillion kilometers…
The good folks at the
Space Telescope Science Institute European Space Agency just released this gorgeous Hubble picture of the globular cluster NGC 1806:
Wow! I actually cropped it a bit and shrank it to get it to fit correctly on the blog, so click it to see it in all its 3741 x 2303 pixel glory.
Globular clusters are spherical collections of hundreds of thousands and even sometimes millions of stars, held together by their mutual gravity. The stars orbit every which-way, and I like to think of them as stellar beehives. The clusters as a whole orbit galaxies on long paths that sometimes take them well away from their parent galaxy, so we see them scattered across the sky.
NGC 1806 is actually part of another galaxy: the Large Magellanic Cloud (or LMC to those in the know), an irregular smear of a billion or so stars that orbits the Milky Way itself as a satellite galaxy. Given that this means the globular cluster is something like 170,000 light years away — 1.7 quintillion km, or a quintillion miles — it’s a pretty clear picture!
Ever wanted to see a Tarantula up close? Up really close? Here’s your chance!
[Click to hugely enarachnidate, or grab the atomically-mutated, 130 Mb, 9000 x 12000 pixel megaspider version here. But be ye fairly warned, says I: you'll lose your afternoon looking at it.]
That is a new image of the Tarantula Nebula (ha! Got you!) from the European Southern Observatory’s VISTA survey telescope in Chile. The telescope can see in the near-infrared, just outside the range of our human vision, and is being used to map a big chunk of the southern sky.
The Tarantula is a sprawling star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small companion galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Of course, "small" is a matter of perspective; the LMC is still tens of thousands of light years across and has several billion stars in it. From its distance of 180,000 light years, the LMC appears as a smudge in the sky to the unaided eyes of southern observers.
In astronomy terms the image above is huge; it covers a square degree of sky, several times the area of the full Moon! However, in real terms, if you lived in the southern hemisphere and went outside on a clear night, you could block out the entire region of the picture with the tip of one finger held at arm’s length.