Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin and Robert Gendler

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Awesome! This is amazing picture of M66 comes from the Hubble Space Telescope. Spiral galaxies are so beautiful and M66 is no exception. It’s as big as the Milky Way and it’s 35 million light years away.

Head down to Bad Astronomy where the Bad Astronomer takes an artistic look at this image and covers all the details.

An aurora seen over the South Pole, from the ISS. Credit: Doug Wheelock, NASA.

From Doug Wheelock’s Twitpic page, an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS), comes this brilliant image of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) as seen from the ISS.

The northern (Aurora Borealis) and The southern (Aurora Australis) are caused when the charged particles (ions) from the Sun hit the Earth. The ions from the Sun excite the electrons of the atoms in the atmosphere which in turn emit a photon (light). Different atoms release light in different colours, the greenish colour seen here is emitted by oxygen atoms.

Doug Wheelock has some out of this world pictures on Twitpic page, check it out!

The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253) Credit: ESO

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WOW! Just take a minute to gaze at this spectacular image.

ESO has just released this beautiful image of The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253) there are a few foreground stars which belong to our galaxy.  This image  is taken by VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy), a 4-metre telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

NGC 253 is intermediate spiral galaxy, it’s quite close about 13 million light-years away, it can easily be seen with a good pair of binoculars as it’s one of the brightest galaxies in the sky and it is the brightest member of a small collection of galaxies called the Sculptor Group, one of the closest such groupings to our own Local Group of galaxies. Seen from Earth, the galaxy is almost edge on, with the spiral arms clearly visible in the outer parts, along with a bright core at its centre. There is intense star formation going on in this galaxy. NGC 253 is very dusty, this dust absorbs most of the visible-light coming from inside of the galaxy. But VISTA has no problems looking past this dust, instead of looking at the stuff in visible-light, VISTA looks at stuff in infrared-light. Infrared-light easily passes through the think dust clouds. The picture above is amazing, you can pick out individual stars thanks to the high resolution power of VISTA! It’s even more awesome if you download the gigantic 44MB file…It’s worth it!

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In the image above, you see the dust and gas which litters the galaxy in visible-light, just fades away to reveal a huge number of cooler stars. The majestic spiral arms look more defined in infrared. The thick dust clouds in the central part of the disc and allows a clear view of a prominent bar of stars across the nuclear region — a feature that is not seen in visible light pictures.

This video allows you to zoom in for a closer look. The sequence starts with a wide view of the southern sky far from the Milky Way. Only a few stars are visible, but then VISTA brings us in closer where the view shifts to the very detailed new infrared image of NGC 253 provided by the new telescope at Paranal. By observing in infrared light VISTA’s view is less affected by dust and reveals a myriad of cooler stars as well as a prominent bar of stars across the central region.

VISTA has allowed scientists to study the myriad of cool red giant stars in the halo that surrounds the galaxy, measuring the composition of some of NGC 253’s small dwarf satellite galaxies, and searching for as yet undiscovered new objects such as globular clusters and ultra-compact dwarf galaxies that would otherwise be invisible without the deep VISTA infrared images. Using the unique VISTA data they plan to map how the galaxy formed and has evolved.

So, these are not just pretty pictures, there is a lot of science behind them. VISTA is going to allow us to unlock hidden mysteries of the universe and provide us a lot of astonishing pictures in the process. Everybody wins!

No, dogs do not exist.

June 18, 2010

Posted by D. J. Grothe on Facebook

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has now been going on for 56 days. It has devastated the wildlife in the area. The damaged well has been leaking approximately 20,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil per day. On June 3rd BP lowered a new containment cap to catch some of the flow coming out from the damaged pipe. This cap, says BP is collecting 10,000 barrels of oil per day and transporting it to a tanker on the surface. No one knows the exact estimate but with 20,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil leaking per day -according to which estimate you follow-  this isn’t much.

As the oil surfaces on the ocean people are wondering how far it is going to travel.  Researchers National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have carried out a detailed simulation of the oil. This video animation of their simulation shows that the oil is going to spread out thousands of miles along the Atlantic coastline and the open ocean as soon as this summer.

Dr. Synte Peacock, an oceanographer at NCAR said in an interview in on that the simulations used a dye, and not oil. A dye would travel to the Atlantic Ocean, but oil would behave differently.

Her team thinks that it’s very likely that the oil will get into the Atlantic

If it does, she said, people shouldn’t expect oil to coat Atlantic beaches and wildlife. That’s because, over the months it would take to travel there – if it does travel there – some oil will evaporate, be eaten by microbes, and become diluted in sea water.

Dr. Peacock added that in all the possible scenarios and simulations that were tested, oil from the oil spill traveled outside of the Gulf within 6 months. But she added that it’s still unclear if or how the oil will affect beaches on the Atlantic Coast. That eventual outcome is partially dependent on local weather around the time the oil reaches a beach.

While the world has turned their attention to the FIFA World Cup, images like this are becoming more common throughout the Gulf of Mexico and they might appear in the Atlantic.

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)