In line with popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate the New Year, I'm showcasing a deep space object that's doing just that. Many of us have played with the Monster Bubble toy that makes regular bubbles look tiny. Well this one has them all beat. The bubble in the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635) is seven light years in diameter. It's caused by an expanding region of gas that's energized by intense stellar winds from a single star located to one side of its center. The reason for the offset is its stellar winds are plowing into a wall of gas and dust in one direction while expanding relatively freely in the opposite direction.
A star that can do this has to be very hot and very massive. It is 45 times the mass of our sun. The hot gas expelled from it slams into the cooler interstellar gas and dust nebula at 4 million miles per hour. This produces a shock wave so massive that it makes those from our most powerful nuclear bombs seem like tiny ripples on a still pond.
Gary Zientara operates Mount Sangre Observatory in Angel Fire, New Mexico.
Astronomical Calendar For January
January 10, Sunday: Jupiter-Saturn-Mercury Trio at Sunset. This threesome of bright planets will be low in the west-southwest only 15 minutes after sunset. Some sunlight will still be visible, but you should be able to see bright Jupiter and maybe Mercury too. You'll need binoculars to easily see all three planets within a 3-degree circle.
January 26, Tuesday: Mercury at highest point above western horizon. Speedy Mercury climbs higher in the sky just after sunset for most of January. On this late afternoon, it will be 12 degrees above the horizon at 5:45 PM before diving back down toward the Sun for the rest of January.
January 28, Thursday: Full Wolf Moon