Why you need to look so carefully at Hubble's stunning new image for Halloween

The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating Halloween by releasing new images of a spooky “orange eye” peeking out from a cosmic cloud.

The eye in question is CW Leonis, the carbon star in the constellation Leo, Leo.

Look closely at the main image above, and you’ll see that CW Leonis itself is not only an incredible sight, but around it there are countless galaxies far away.

Why is CW Leonis orange? Why shroud it? And what happens with all those galaxies? Interpretation opens the eye…

What is a carbon star?

It is a red giant star whose atmosphere contains more carbon than oxygen. While many stars in the night sky can appear white, yellow, blue and orange to the naked eye or through binoculars/telescopes, few are as reddish as carbon stars.

They look this way because red giant stars stopped generating energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium and instead converted helium nuclei into carbon.

All that carbon makes its way into the massive star’s outer layers, through which only reddish light – which has a longer wavelength – can penetrate.

What is CW Leonis and where?

About 400 light-years away from us in the constellation of Leo, CW Leonis is a carbon star with a mass a few times the mass of the Sun that has expanded to hundreds of times its size. It is now surrounded by an extremely turbulent cloud of sooty dust.

CW Leonis, our closest carbon star, is showing unexplained rays of starlight — very visible in this new image — that has changed shape in the last 15 years. This is the blink of an eye from an astrological standpoint. It is thought that it may have a binary star.

However, zoom in on the main image and you will see something else incredible – galaxies. Dozens of them.

The lion and the “galactic world”

Between the bright stars Denebola and Leo’s Regulus is Leo – roughly the location of CW Leonis – there is a cluster of galaxies. That’s because when you’re staring in the direction of Leo, you’re looking in the opposite direction to the center of the Milky Way – you’re looking at appropriate deep space.

The M96 or Leo I galaxy cluster is a group of about nine galaxies located about 30 million light-years from Earth. It’s all just a small part of what’s known as the “Local Cluster” of galaxies close to our home, the Milky Way.

I wish you a clear sky and wide eyes.

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