In an astronomical version of the search for the source of the Nile, astronomers now have strong evidence for the origin of the Magellanic Stream. This composite image shows the long ribbon of gas, discovered at radio wavelengths in the 1970s, in pinkish hues against an optical all-sky view across the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Both Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, dwarf satellite galaxies of the the Milky Way, are seen near the head of the stream at the right. Data from Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph were used to explore abundances of elements along sitelines to quasars that intersect the stream. The results indicate that most of the stream's material comes from the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Magellanic Stream is likely the result of gravitational tidal interactions between the two dwarf galaxies some 2 billion years ago, the Small Magellanic Cloud losing more material in the encounter because of its lower mass.
Using a small telescope to scan the skies on August 14, Japanese amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a "new" star within the boundaries of the constellation Delphinus. Indicated in this skyview captured on August 15 from Stagecoach, Colorado, it is now appropriately designated Nova Delphini 2013. Sagitta, the Arrow, points the way to the newcomer's location high in the evening sky, not far from bright star Altair and the asterism known to northern hemisphere skygazers as the Summer Triangle. The nova is reported to be easy to spot with binoculars, near the limit of naked-eye visibility under dark skies. In fact, previous deep sky charts do show a much fainter known star (about 17th magnitude) at the position of Nova Delphini, indicating this star's apparent brightness suddenly increased over 25,000 times. How does a star undergo such a cataclysmic change? The spectrum of Nova Delphini indicates it is a classical nova, an interacting binary star system in which one star is a dense, hot white dwarf. Material from a cool, giant companion star falls onto the surface of the white dwarf, building up until it triggers a thermonuclear event. The drastic increase in brightness and an expanding shell of debris is the result - but the stars are not destroyed! Classical novae are believed to recur when the flow of material onto the white dwarf resumes and produces another outburst.
This beautiful cosmic cloud is a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius. Eighteenth century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged the bright nebula as M8. Modern day astronomers recognize the Lagoon Nebula as an active stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years distant, in the direction of the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Hot stars in the embedded open star cluster NGC 6530 power the nebular glow. Remarkable features can be traced through this sharp picture, showing off the Lagoon's filaments of glowing gas and dark dust clouds. Twisting near the center of the Lagoon, the small, bright hourglass shape is the turbulent result of extreme stellar winds and intense starlight. The alluring color view was captured with a telescope and digital camera while M8 was high in dark, rural Argentina skies. At the nebula's estimated distance, the picture spans over 60 light-years.