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IC 405: The Flaming Star Nebula

Posted by Specola • Posted on 01/07/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Rippling dust and gas lanes give the Flaming Star Nebula its name. The orange and purple colors of the nebula are present in different regions and are created by different processes. The bright star AE Aurigae, visible toward the image left, is so hot it is blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from surrounding gas. When a proton recaptures an electron, red light is frequently emitted (depicted here in orange). The purple region's color is a mix of this red light and blue light emitted by AE Aurigae but reflected to us by surrounding dust. The two regions are referred to as emission nebula and reflection nebula, respectively. Pictured here in the Hubble color palette, the Flaming Star Nebula, officially known as IC 405, lies about 1500 light years distant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga).

Photo by Eric Coles

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The Changing Surface of Fading Betelgeuse

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/17/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Besides fading, is Betelgeuse changing its appearance? Yes. The famous red supergiant star in the familiar constellation of Orion is so large that telescopes on Earth can actually resolve its surface -- although just barely. The two featured images taken with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope show how the star's surface appeared during the beginning and end of last year. The earlier image shows Betelgeuse having a much more uniform brightness than the later one, while the lower half of Betelgeuse became significantly dimmer than the top. Now during the first five months of 2019 amateur observations show Betelgeuse actually got slightly brighter, while in the last five months the star dimmed dramatically. Such variability is likely just normal behavior for this famously variable supergiant, but the recent dimming has rekindled discussion on how long it may be before Betelgeuse does go supernova. Since Betelgeuse is about 700 light years away, its eventual supernova -- probably thousands of years in the future -- will likely be an amazing night-sky spectacle, but will not endanger life on Earth.

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NGC 2392: Double-Shelled Planetary Nebula

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/16/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

To some, this huge nebula resembles a person's head surrounded by a parka hood. In 1787, astronomer William Herschel discovered this unusual planetary nebula: NGC 2392. More recently, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the nebula in visible light, while the nebula was also imaged in X-rays by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The featured combined visible-X ray image, shows X-rays emitted by central hot gas in pink. The nebula displays gas clouds so complex they are not fully understood. NGC 2392 is a double-shelled planetary nebula, with the more distant gas having composed the outer layers of a Sun-like star only 10,000 years ago. The outer shell contains unusual light-year long orange filaments. The inner filaments visible are being ejected by strong wind of particles from the central star. The NGC 2392 Nebula spans about 1/3 of a light year and lies in our Milky Way Galaxy, about 3,000 light years distant, toward the constellation of the Twins (Gemini).

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Carina Nebula Close Up

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/15/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region's central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds in a field of view nearly 20 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic and violently variable Eta Carinae, a star system with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. In the processed composite of space and ground-based image data a dusty, two-lobed Homunculus Nebula appears to surround Eta Carinae itself just below and left of center. While Eta Carinae is likely on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

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