Galaxies

Virgo A and Jet

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This stunning image of a super-giant elliptical galaxy found in the constellation Virgo was taken with the FIU 24" telescope on 5/22/2016. This active galaxy is more than 53 million light years away and clearly shows an extended jet of material jutting out at about 7 o'clock in the picture. The current models involve a super-massive black hole (3.5x10^9 Solar masses) at the center of the galaxy feasting on stars and ejecting particles at speeds close to the speed of light out the rotational axis of the black hole. The jet extends out over 5,000 light years and is seen in radio frequencies even further out. The amazing thing is that it can be seen through the light polluted skies in Miami! IF only we could stop wasting energy through horrible, unthinking lighting, just imagine what we could see!

Trifid Nebula

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First Picture of the Week created

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Messier 51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy

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The Whirlpool galaxy, more formally referred to as the M51, is a grand-design spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is one of the most visible galaxies, requiring only binoculars to see, and is roughly 23 million light years away from earth. Its companion (the orange-yellow blob below it) is NGC 5195, a dwarf galaxy, connected to it by a tidal bridge. One of the “stars” on the upper right part of the galaxy is actually a supernova (SN 2011dh), recently discovered in 2011. These images were taken with the SARA KP telescope by Rumstay, Roberts, and Hermis on Jun 4th 2014. These images were reduced and color combined by Bobby Martinez and Dr. Webb.

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Centaurus A

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Within the Centaurus constellation is the, dully named, Centaurus A galaxy. At 10 to 16 million light years, Centaurus A is one of the closest galaxies to Earth and the fifth brightest in the night sky, making it an ideal subject of study for many Astronomers. It is also the closest active galaxy to Earth, meaning that at its center is a supermassive black hole. The current galaxy, as can be concluded from the flat disc like cloud, was formed from the result of a collision between two galaxies. Although not visible in the picture above, there are two relativistic jets (jets of plasma) perpendicular to the cloud that stretch over a million light years. These images were taken by the SARA South Telescope by Dr. James Webb and Gopal Bhatta on May 9th 2010 and color combined by Bobby Martinez.

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The Orion Nebula

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The Andromeda Nebula from FIU MMC Campus

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Here lies an up close image of the central region of the Andromeda Galaxy. The haze or glow that surrounds the large object in the image is actually part of the spiral galaxy, the bright core being a large star cluster. Visible within the constellation of Andromeda, the Andromeda Galaxy is our closest major galaxy at “only” 2.5 million light-years. Containing one trillion starts, over twice as many as the Milky Way, the galaxy stretches across 220,000 light-years. On a moonless night, even in areas with some light pollution, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye. One of the most interesting features of the Andromeda Galaxy, however, is that it is actually approaching our Milky Way Galaxy at 68 miles per second (110 km/s) and is expected to collide with the Milky Way in 4 billion years. Well, collide in the sense that the two galaxies will merge, the probability that any of the stars involved would actually collide individually is incredibly negligible. The initial images were taken by Dr. James Webb at the FIU Astroscience Center and color combined by Bobby Martinez

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The winner of the annual "Pretty Pictures Contest" The Meathook Galaxy NGC 2442

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The image above depicts NGC 2442, a galaxy located in the southern constellation of Volans, found approximately 50 million light-years from earth. It has two spiral arms which extend to a hook shape. The distortion of this galaxy could be due to an interaction with a smaller galaxy nearby, which may have also been responsible for the separation of HIPASS J0731-69 (a cloud of gas that is presumed to have been part of the galaxy) from NGC 2442. Dust trails and young blue star clusters can be found on the outer edges of the arm, with a supernova remnant found on the edge of the right spiral-arm of the galaxy in this image. The image was made with the SARA-South telescope at Cerro Tololo by Dr. Webb and reduced and color combined by Andres Medina and Jennifer Medina.

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3C 279 from the Stocker Astroscience Center

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One of the most common questions I am asked during our tours of the observatory: “How far can you see with the 24” telescope from Miami?” To an astronomer, the question really is how faint can you see with the telescope. How far actually depends on the brightness of the source coupled with the limiting brightness of the sky due to light pollution in the Miami sky. However, you can translate this into distance by observing distant sources. We had observed Solar system objects such as Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and a comet which are relatively close objects. We even saw Pluto in the eyepiece which was about 4.2 billion kilometers! But in astronomical terms, that isn’t actually very far. We observed the Andromeda galaxy which is about 2.5 million light years away from Earth, that is 14,108,701,298,996,185,000 miles! That is pretty far, but the Andromeda galaxy is pretty bright. We observed a number of other galaxies. But in February, 2015, we collaborated with a group of astronomers in Europe to observe a distant quasar called S5 0716+71. We used the 24” telescope to observe the quasar which exhibits a redshift of z=0.30. Interpreting the redshift in the context of the Big Bang cosmology, the redshift converts to a distance of 8.3285 Gly (that’s giga-light years). If this is converted into miles, we get 2.99x10^22 miles (29,900,000,000,000,000,000,000 mi). That’s pretty far, but last month we took some images of a more distant quasar 3C279. We frequently observe this object and more distant objects with our research telescopes in Arizona and Chile. But could we see it in Miami? In Arizona and Chile, the telescopes are at altitudes of 7000 feet and 7200 feet in dark skies, but in Miami we are nearly at sea level and are immersed of one of the most light-polluted metropolitan areas in the USA. The distant quasar is pretty bright though! And our telescope is encased in a dome, shielded from most surrounding bright lights, the mount is very stable and capable of pointing accurately at the distant proto-galaxy for extended periods of time, and our CCD camera is ultra-sensitive and cooled to -30 degrees Centigrade. So we gave it a shot. The picture above is our picture of 3C279. Its distance from Earth is thought to be about (z=0.536) 5.9x10^22 miles or 59,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.0 miles. In light years, it is about 10.7 billion light years. That means that the light we observed left 3C279 over 10 billion years ago, nearly 5 billion years before the Sun formed! Ancient light indeed. Its brightness is 14.88+/-0.08 in the R-band. We actually imaged fainter stars around 15th magnitude on these plates. I have to also note the weather was not perfectly clear, so it is not site limited yet.

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M 31 - The Andromeda Galaxy nucleus from Miami

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A B/W image of the central bulge of the Andromeda Galaxy. The nearby Local Group galaxy is so large in angular size as seen from the Earth, that it completely fills or CCD field of view. The nucleus is overexposed so we can see the nebulosity surrounding it. Most of the point-like star images are stars in our galaxy. Imagine these stars are dust on the window, and the Galaxy is way, way beyond the window in the distance! The Andromeda galaxy is so bright it can be easily seen without a telescope or binoculars from a dark site here on Earth. Its distance is about 2.537 Million Light years away, so the light we captured on the evening of August 21, 2015 actually left Andromeda on August 21 2,534,985 BC! Andromeda is about 1.2 trillion Solar masses, larger than our Milky Way galaxy and is considered the nearest large spiral galaxy in our universe. We have a negative radial velocity with respect to it, meaning we are approaching it at a rate of about 300 Km/sec. The image was taken by James Webb and reduced by Daniel Puentes.

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Messier 81 - Bode's Galaxy

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Messier 81, also known as Bode’s Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy within Ursa Major that was discovered by both Johann Elert Bode in 1774 and Pierre Mechain in 1779. It wasn’t until 1781 that Charles Messier added the object to his famous catalogue, which has over 100 astronomical objects to date. The 6.8 apparent magnitude galaxy, which is just outside the limit of the human eye (but visible with binoculars and small telescopes), contains an active galactic nucleus with a supermassive black hole of 70 million solar masses, and also harbors regions of star formation along the arms. M81 is located 12 million light years away and has over 250 billion stars within its 90 light year diameter. This image is the product of four images, with red, green, and blue filters exposed for 180 seconds, and a luminance filter exposed for 60 seconds. They were taken by Dr. Webb with FIU’s Stocker AstroScience Center telescope on April 2, 2015, and were color combined by Gabriel Salazar.

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AO 0235+164

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This image highlights the fluctuation of blazar AO 0235+164 (shown within the red squares). Its brightness varied between V = 18.97 (0.1) on 10/9/2013 and V = 17.68 (.03) on 11/10/2015. Both the 2013 image, observed using the SARA North telescope, and the 2015 image, observed with the SARA South telescope, were taken and reduced by Dr. Webb through a Visual filter.

AO 0235+164 is a blazar located within the Aries constellation. A blazar is the very compact core of an active galaxy, composed of a supermassive black hole and accretion disk. Material accreting on to the black hole is redirected out of rotational axis in the form of relativistic jets. In the case of a blazar, a jet is pointed in the direction of the Earth. This object, at redshift 0.94, which is about 3077 megaparsecs (over 10 billion light years) away, was discovered during the Arecibo Occultation Survey between 1967 and 1970. It was classified as a BL Lactertae object after further observations in 1972. Dr. Webb and his colleagues have conducted their own research on AO 0235+164: Their observations indicate that apparent magnitude range over a fourteen year period from 1999-2014 is 15.4 (with 0.03 error) through 19.9 (with 0.6 error), with an average apparent magnitude of 17.8. Variation flares as great as 3.2 magnitudes have been observed.

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Messier 33: A near-by Local Group Galaxy

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Messier 33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy located 3 million light years away within in our Local Group. In the night sky, it can be found in the constellation Triangulum and can be seen in skies without light pollution, as the galaxy has an apparent magnitude of 5.7. With a diameter of about 60,000 light years, it happens to be the third largest Galaxy in the Local Group. For reference, the Milky Way Galaxy has about double that diameter and ten times the amount of stars that M33 has (400 billion to 40 billion). It was likely discovered by Giovanni Battista Hodierna prior to 1654. Charles Messier independently catalogued it as his 33rd object in 1746. The Triangulum Galaxy is special in several ways: for one, it does not contain a supermassive black hole. It also has a massive region of star formation known as NGC 604, which alone contains the third-most amount of young stars in our Local Group. This image is the result of four images, with one each from the red, green, blue, and illumination filters (exposed for 120 seconds). They were taken and reduced by Dr. Webb using the FIU Stocker AstroScience Center’s 24” telescope and were color combined by Daniel Puentes, Gabriel Salazar, and Debra Duval.

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The Nucleus of the Andromeda Galaxy from FIU

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The picture above is a color image of the central bulge of the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as Messier 31, which is home to over 1 trillion stars. This major spiral galaxy appears in the constellation Andromeda and is so bright (at apparent magnitude 3.44) it can be easily seen by the unaided eye from a dark site here on Earth. Located 2.537 Million Light years away, this is the closest major spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Andromeda is about 1.2 trillion Solar masses, larger than our Milky Way galaxy. Note the darker areas in the disk of the galaxy denoting dust lanes. The image was taken by Physics majors Daniel Puentes and Stephen Revesz with the FIU 24" telescope and FLI CCD camera. Much of the detail unfortunately is washed out by unshielded campus lighting around the observatory. M31 was taken at different exposures in the R, B, G, and L filter. The image was reduced and color combined by Daniel Puentes, Gabriel Salazar, and Stephen Revesz.

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Bode's Galaxy Imaged from MMC Campus

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M81, also known as Bode's Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy located around 12 million light years away from Earth. In the night sky, M81 is located in the constellation Ursa Major. M81 has an apparent magnitude of 6.94. M81 was discovered in 1774 by Johann Elert Bode, hence where the name comes from. In 1779, Pierre Mechain and Charles Messier reidentified the object, thus earning its place on the Messier catalog. The object was imaged by Physics major Daniel Puentes, using the 24" telescope at the Stocker Astroscience Center at Florida International University. The exposures ranged between 100 to 150 seconds in the R,B,G, and L filters. The image was reduced and color combined by Physics majors Daniel Puentes and Stephen Revesz using MIRA.

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Three Quarters of Hickson 44 Group, from the Stocker Astroscience Center

image The "Hickson 44" group is the 44th member of 100 different compact groups of galaxies known as the Hickson Compact Groups, compiled by Paul Hickson. HCg44 includes NGC3185 (not shown), NGC3187, NGC3190, and NGC3193. Hickson 44 lies about 100 million light years away, within the constellation Leo. This group shows gravitational interactions that appear to distort the edges of some members, such as the arms of NGC3190. NGC3190, a spiral galaxy, is the largest galaxy of the HGC44. It measures approximately 75,000 light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope in clear skies, as it has a magnitude of 11.1. This image also contains NGC3189, a diffuse nebula within the NGC3190 galaxy. Many have likely seen this galaxy, as it is one of the default Apple wallpapers. The other members of the Hickson 44 group shown in this image are NGC3193, an elliptical galaxy, and NGC3187, known for its distinctive by its S-shape. This is the final result of three images, one each from the red, green, and blue filters and all exposed for 120 seconds, taken by Stephen Revesz using the FIU Stocker AstroScience Center 24” telescope. They were further reduced and color combined by Stephen Revesz and Gabriel Salazar.

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Messier 104, the Sombrero Galaxy from FIU

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Messier 104, also known as the Sombrero Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy located within the Virgo constellation. The 50,000 light year-across Sombrero, with a distance of about 29.3 million light years from Earth, is one of the largest galaxies in the Virgo cluster. Messier 104 was first discovered by Pierre Mechain on May 1871 and was written on one of Charles Messier’s personal lists, but was not included on the official published Messier catalogue as M104 until 1921. Since the Sombrero Galaxy has an apparent magnitude of 8-9, it can be observed with 3” aperture telescopes, although details such as the dustlane become apparent with telescopes of 4.5” aperture and greater. Our unique view of the Sombrero Galaxy, which is from 6 degrees south of its equatorial plane, as well as its extremely bright core, make this galaxy one of the most popular and distinguishable objects amongst astronomers. Research of Messier 104 indicates that the galaxy’s center may contain a supermassive black hole that is about 1 billion solar mases. This is the result of four images of the red, blue, green, and luminance filters, all exposed for 120 seconds. They were taken, reduced, and color combined by Stephen Revesz using FIU’s Stocker AstroScience ACE 24” telescope and MIRA Pro.

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Messier 64, the Black Eye Galaxy from FIU

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Messier 64, or commonly known as the Black Eye Galaxy or the Evil Eye Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy that can be located within the Coma Berenices constellation. The “Black Eye” in its name refers to the dark band of dust that obscured the galaxy’s bright central region. In fact the galaxy is actually composed of two counter-rotating disks, the inner disk containing most of the stars and dust, and the outer disk consisting largely of gas. At a distance over 17 million light years from earth the galaxy spans over 70,000 light years. Although catalogued by Charles Messier in 1780, its first known discovery is by Edward Pigott in 1779. The galaxy is easily observed and can be seen with the usage of small telescopes. This image is the result of four separate images taken with different wave-lengths filters by the Stocker AstroScience ACE 24” telescope and then reduced and color combined by Bobby Martinez using MIRA Pro.

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Messier 100

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Messier 100, which sadly lacks more creative nickname, is a spiral galaxy that can be located within the Coma Berenices constellation. It is approximately 107,000 light years in diameter and is 55 million light years from earth. Messier 100 is also classified as a starburst galaxy, which are galaxies with exceptionally high rate of star formations, with the majority of its star formation concentrated in its bright center. Once again this galaxy is named after Charles Messier for his observation of it in 1781 despite its first known observation being earlier, by Pierre Mechain a month prior.

This image is the result of four separate images taken with different wave-lengths filters by the Stocker AstroScience ACE 24” telescope and then reduced and color combined by Bobby Martinez using MIRA Pro.

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Messier 101

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Messier 101 is a spiral galaxy more commonly known as the Pinwheel Galaxy and can be seen within the Ursa Major constellation, otherwise known as the Big Dipper constellation. It was discovered by Pierre Mechain on March 27, 1781 and was then verified by Charles Messier as one of his final entries to his Messier Catalogue. As a spiral galaxy it is slightly unusual in the sense that it is viewed face-on from earth. The Pinwheel Galaxy is roughly 170,000 light years in diameter, which is comparable to the diameter of the Milky Way, and is 27 million light years away from earth. It can be observed using only a 3 inch telescope, and on dark moonless nights it can even be spotted with binoculars.

This image is the result of four separate images taken with different wave-lengths filters by the Stocker AstroScience ACE 24” telescope and then reduced and color combined by Bobby Martinez using MIRA Pro.

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Messier 82

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Messier 82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy, is an irregular starburst galaxy that can be located within the Ursa Major constellation. The first known discover was by Johann Elert Bode on December 31, 1774, though the galaxy was later rediscovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779 and then recorded by Charles Messier on 1781.. Its distinct web of clouds is a result of enormous hydrogen clouds blasting out from its central region of rapid star formation. The Cigar Galaxy is about 12 million light years away from earth and has a diameter of 37,000 light years. Its brightness allows for it to be visible even with a pair of binoculars as a thin streak of light.

This image is the result of four separate images taken with different wave-lengths filters by the Stocker AstroScience ACE 24” telescope and then reduced and color combined by Bobby Martinez using MIRA Pro.

Messier 74

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Messier 74 is a spiral galaxy that can be located within the Pisces constellation. This galaxy was discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1780 and then catalogued by Charles Messier. It is about 32 million light-years away from earth and spans 95,000 light-years in diameter. Unlike most spiral galaxies, Messier 74 is viewed face-on, making it ideal for professional astronomers to study spiral arm structure. However, the galaxy’s low surface brightness makes this one of the most difficult Messier Objects to observe for amateur astronomers.