The New York Times has created an interactive feature tallying all of the exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler Telescope. You should really check out the link, because theirs is animated, and much bigger, and completely awesome.
This comes after news of Kepler’s detection of a new multiplanet system, with not one but two planets in the habitable zone (original research paper). Doesn’t mean that either of them would, could, or should have life, but put a check mark next to criteria #1 for biology.
This brings us to a total of 871 confirmed exoplanets, which is a drop in a drop in a drop in the bucket for how many are estimated to be out there.
Bonus: Find out more about how astrobiologists calculate the odds of extraterrestrial civilizations in this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart: The Odds of Finding Life and Love.
Hubble and the Horsehead, Then and Now
The clouds of stellar gas almost jump right out of my screen! It’s a far cry from the view of the nebula that we’re used to, in the bottom image. Phil Plait has a great description of what you’re seeing at Bad Astronomy:
Just off the top of the Hubble picture is the bright star system Sigma Orionis, composed of five incredibly luminous stars. Combined, they shine with the power of over 75,000 Suns! They are responsible for heating and exciting the gas behind the Horsehead.
The Horsehead itself is the site of ongoing star formation. The dense gas and dust inside the nebula is collapsing to form stars, and, at the same time, the edges are being eroded away by the fierce ultraviolet light of Sigma Orionis. The top of the Horsehead is acting a bit like a shield, protecting the material beneath it, which is why it’s taken on that umbrella-like shape. You can see more sculpted pillars of material around the sides, too, like sandbars in a stream.
Well done, Hubble team. Keep up the good work. You’ve inspired millions.
A galaxy is not a comet
This gorgeous galaxy and comet portrait was recorded on 2002, April 5th in the skies over the Oriental Pyrenees near Figueres, Spain. From a site above 1,100 meters, astrophotographer Juan Carlos Casado used a guided time exposure, fast film, and a telephoto lens to capture the predicted conjunction of the bright Comet Ikeya-Zhang (right) and the Andromeda Galaxy (left). This stunning celestial scene would also have been a rewarding one for the influential 18th century comet hunter Charles Messier. While Messier scanned French skies for comets, he carefully cataloged positions of things which were fuzzy and comet-like in appearance but did not move against the background stars and so were definitely not comets. The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, is the 31st object in his famous not-a-comet catalog. Not-a-comet object number 110, a late addition to Messier’s catalog, is one of Andromeda’s small satellite galaxies, and can be seen here just below M31. Our modern understanding holds that the Andromeda galaxy is a large spiral galaxy some 2 million light-years distant.
Image credit: Juan Carlos Casado
The Arms of M106
The spiral arms of bright galaxy M106 sprawl through this remarkable multiframe portrait, composed of data from ground- and space-based telescopes. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 can be found toward the northern constellation Canes Venatici. The well-measured distance to M106 is 23.5 million light-years, making this cosmic scene about 80,000 light-years across. Typical in grand spiral galaxies, dark dust lanes, youthful blue star clusters, and pinkish star forming regions trace spiral arms that converge on the bright nucleus of older yellowish stars. But this detailed composite reveals hints of two anomalous arms that don’t align with the more familiar tracers. Seen here in red hues, sweeping filaments of glowing hydrogen gas seem to rise from the central region of M106, evidence of energetic jets of material blasting into the galaxy’s disk. The jets are likely powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole.
Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span
4. Multiwavelength composite image of the remnant of Tycho’s supernova, SN 1572.