Our universe is vast and beautiful, containing many unexplored mysteries. Each day Nasa features a different picture with a detailed explanation to help us in our exploration of the cosmos!
NGC 3132: The Southern Ring Nebula
Explanation: It's the dim star, not the bright one, near the center of NGC 3132 that created this odd but beautiful planetary nebula. Nicknamed the Eight-Burst Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula, the glowing gas originated in the outer layers of a star like our Sun. In this reprocessed color picture, the hot purplish pool of light seen surrounding this binary system is energized by the hot surface of the faint star. Although photographed to explore unusual symmetries, it's the asymmetries that help make this planetary nebula so intriguing. Neither the unusual shape of the surrounding cooler shell nor the structure and placements of the cool filamentary dust lanes running across NGC 3132 are well understood.
A Redshift Lookup Table for our Universe
Explanation: How far away is "redshift six"? Although humans are inherently familiar with distance and time, what is actually measured for astronomical objects is redshift, a color displacement that depends on exactly how energy density has evolved in our universe. Now since cosmological measurements in recent years have led to a concordance on what energy forms pervade our universe, it is now possible to make a simple table relating observed cosmological redshift, labeled "z", with standard concepts of distance and time, including the extrapolated time since the universe began. One such table is listed above, where redshift z is listed in the first and last columns, while the corresponding universe age in billions of years is listed in the central column. To find the meaning of the rest of the columns, please read the accompanying technical paper. Although stars in our galaxy are effectively at cosmological redshift zero, the most distant supernovae seen occur out past redshift one, which the above chart shows occurred when the universe was approximately half its present age. By contrast, the most distant gamma-ray bursts yet observed occur out past redshift six, occurring when the universe was younger than one billion years old, less than 10 percent of its present age.
The Moon's Saturn
Explanation: Just days after sharing the western evening sky with Venus in 2007, the Moon moved on to Saturn - actually passing in front of the ringed planet Saturn when viewed in skies over Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Because the Moon and bright planets wander through the sky near the ecliptic plane, such occultation events are not uncommon, but they are dramatic, especially in telescopic views. For example, in this sharp image Saturn is captured emerging from behind the Moon, giving the illusion that it lies just beyond the Moon's bright edge. Of course, the Moon is a mere 400 thousand kilometers away, compared to Saturn's distance of 1.4 billion kilometers. Taken with a digital camera and 20 inch diameter telescope at the Weikersheim Observatory in southern Germany, the picture is a single exposure adjusted to reduce the difference in brightness between Saturn and the cratered lunar surface.
Earth at Twilight
Explanation: No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture actually is a single digital photograph taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles.
Comet of the North
Explanation: It looks like a double comet, but Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) is just offering skygazers a Messier moment. Outward bound and fading in this starry scene, the well-photographed comet is remarkably similar in brightness to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Tracking through northern skies just below the galaxy, the comet was captured as local midnight approached on April 3. Both comet and galaxy were visible to the eye and are immersed in the faint glow of northern lights. Our own Milky Way galaxy arcs over the snowy field near Tänndalen, Sweden. Double star cluster h and chi Persei can be spotted along the Milky Way's arc high above the comet/galaxy pair. Follow the arc to bright Deneb, alpha star of the constellation Cygnus, at the right edge of the frame.
M64: The Black Eye Galaxy
Explanation: This beautiful, bright, spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its heavy-lidded appearance in telescopic views. M64 is about 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. In fact, the Red Eye Galaxy might also be an appropriate moniker in this colorful composition of narrow and wideband images. The enormous dust clouds obscuring the near-side of M64's central region are laced with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But they are not this galaxy's only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems of stars, one in the inner 3,000 light-years and another extending to about 40,000 light-years and rotating in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation is likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies.
Comet PANSTARRS and the Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: Currently, comet PANSTARRS is passing nearly in front of the galaxy Andromeda. Coincidentally, both comet and galaxy appear now to be just about the same angular size. In physical size, even though Comet PANSTARRS is currently the largest object in the Solar System with a tail spanning about 15 times the diameter of the Sun, it is still about 70 billion times smaller than the Andromeda galaxy (M31). The above image was captured on March 30, near Syktyvkar, Russia. As C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) on the lower left recedes from the Sun and dims, it is returning to the northerly direction whence it came. When the comet will return is currently unknown, although humans may have merged with computers by then.