Observing

Seek out the celestial treasures within the Summer Triangle

24 July 2016 Ade Ashford

At the beginning of August, keen observers in the heart of the UK can celebrate the return of truly dark skies around 1am BST. But the naked-eye stars are out by 11pm, and if you cast your gaze two-thirds of the way from southeast horizon to overhead at this time you can see the so-called Summer Triangle in all its glory. Here’s our guide to some of the celestial highlights therein.

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The giant stars and the little fox

26 May 2016 Astronomy Now

This infrared image from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory shows the region known as Vulpecula OB1, a ‘stellar association’ in which a batch of truly giant ‘OB’ stars is being born 8,000 light-years away in the constellation of Vulpecula (The Little Fox). There is enough material here to build stars for millions of years to come.

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The icy blue wings of a bipolar planetary nebula

8 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Planetary nebulae such as Hen 2-437 form when an ageing low-mass star — such as the Sun — reaches the final stages of life. The star swells to become a red giant, before casting off its gaseous outer layers into space. Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula — the material ejected by the dying star has streamed out into space to create the two icy blue lobes pictured here.