Space photos of the week: The Galaxy Next Door


Contemplate the Great Magellanic Cloud! This mesmerizing meeting of blue gas neon-beer-sign near our Milky Way galaxy is full of new stars in formation. The European Southern Observatory's multidisciplinary exploratory tool captured this photo during its Digitized Sky Survey 2 and then created a colored composite image using data collected over several years. If you can divert your eyes from the big show in the upper right corner, look at the object in the center of the image: this blue cloud is LHA 120-N 180B, probably an active region of star formation.

Approaching a bit more with the Spectroscopic Explorer of Multiple Units, this colored nebula in the Great Magellanic Cloud seems to be bubbling with the formation of stars. As newborn stars grow, the instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope allows us to see glorious details of gas and dust being pushed into space.

Jupiter's atmosphere always has a showcase, namely the Great Red Spot, which appears from the upper left corner. However, the planet also has some other storms that are relatively new, such as the Oval BA, which rotates counterclockwise (but with a less impressive name).

At the confines of the Great Magellanic Cloud lies NGC 1466, this globular cluster of stars. Globular clusters like these are so immense that their own gravity holds them together; this one has a mass equivalent to 140,000 of our suns. Scientists are very interested in NGC 1466 because it is almost as old as the universe itself – 13.1 billion years. In addition, its luminous stars are fundamental to the cosmic distance ladder of astronomy, and its brightness is used as an indicator to measure the distances of astral objects.

NASA's Kepler mission to detect exoplanets was by far one of the most successful space missions in the last 20 years. This spacecraft discovered more than 2,600 planets orbiting other stars, fundamentally changing our perspective on our sense of uniqueness in the universe. The image of the Kepler Swan Song shows the starlight sprinkled along each rectangular grid. After running out of fuel and becoming unable to aim his telescope, Kepler was retired by NASA on October 30, 2018.

Have you ever wondered how a solar system is made? Well, the ESO ALO radio telescope in Chile can offer some answers. Consider this image of AS 209, which presents the so-called protoplanetary discs around a central star. These discs made of dust and gas are what remains of the star formation. Eventually, the theory goes, material in the discs begins to coalesce, becoming ever larger. Over millions of years, dust and bits turn into orbiting planets.


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