December 27, 2017

Recycling Cassiopeia A

Massive stars in our Milky Way Galaxy live spectacular lives. Collapsing from vast cosmic clouds, their nuclear furnaces ignite and create heavy elements in their cores. After a few million years, the enriched material is blasted back into interstellar space where star formation can begin anew. The expanding debris cloud known as Cassiopeia A is an example of this final phase of the stellar life cycle. Light from the explosion which created this supernova remnant would have been first seen in planet Earth's sky about 350 years ago, although it took that light about 11,000 years to reach us. This false-color Chandra X-ray Observatory image shows the still hot filaments and knots in the Cassiopeia A remnant. High-energy emission from specific elements has been color coded, silicon in red, sulfur in yellow, calcium in green and iron in purple, to help astronomers explore the recycling of our galaxy's star stuff - Still expanding, the blast wave is seen as the blue outer ring. The sharp X-ray image, spans about 30 light-years at the estimated distance of Cassiopeia A. The bright speck near the center is a neutron star, the incredibly dense, collapsed remains of the massive stellar core. via NASA

December 26, 2017

The Horsehead Nebula

One of the most identifiable nebulae in the sky, the Horsehead Nebula in Orion, is part of a large, dark, molecular cloud. Also known as Barnard 33, the unusual shape was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late 1800s. The red glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left. Streams of gas leaving the nebula are funneled by a strong magnetic field. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula's base are young stars just in the process of forming. Light takes about 1,500 years to reach us from the Horsehead Nebula. The featured image was taken with the large 3.6-m Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, USA. via NASA

December 25, 2017

Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232

Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Leading theories indicate that even greater amounts of matter are invisible, in a form we don't yet know. This pervasive dark matter is postulated, in part, to explain the motions of the visible matter in the outer regions of galaxies. via NASA

December 23, 2017

SpaceX Rocket Launch Plume over California

What's happened to the sky? On Friday, the photogenic launch plume from a SpaceX rocket launch created quite a spectacle over parts of southern California and Arizona. Looking at times like a giant space fish, the impressive rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California, was so bright because it was backlit by the setting Sun. Lifting off during a minuscule one-second launch window, the Falcon 9 Heavy rocket successfully delivered to low Earth orbit ten Iridium NEXT satellites that are part of a developing global communications network. The plume from the first stage is seen on the right, while the soaring upper stage rocket is seen at the apex of the plume toward the left. Several good videos of the launch were taken. The featured image was captured from Orange County, California, in a 2.5 second duration exposure. via NASA

December 22, 2017

Phaethon s Brood

Based on its well-measured orbit, 3200 Phaethon (sounds like FAY-eh-thon) is recognized as the source of the meteroid stream responsible for the annual Geminid meteor shower. Even though most meteor showers' parents are comets, 3200 Phaethon is a known and closely tracked near-Earth asteroid with a 1.4 year orbital period. Rocky and sun-baked, its perihelion or closest approach to the Sun is well within the orbit of innermost planet Mercury. In this telescopic field of view, the asteroid's rapid motion against faint background stars of the heroic constellation Perseus left a short trail during the two minute total exposure time. The parallel streaks of its meteoric children flashed much more quickly across the scene. The family portrait was recorded near the Geminid meteor shower's very active peak on December 13. That was just before 3200 Phaethon's historic December 16 closest approach to planet Earth. via NASA

December 21, 2017

Solstice Sun and Milky Way

Welcome to December's solstice, first day of winter in the north and summer for the southern hemisphere. Astronomical markers of the seasons, solstice and equinox dates are based on the Sun's place in its annual journey along the ecliptic, through planet Earth's sky. At this solstice, the Sun reaches its maximum southern declination of -23.5 degrees today at 16:28 UTC, while its right ascension coordinate on the celestial sphere is 18 hours. That puts the Sun in the constellation Sagittarius in a direction near the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, if you could see today's Solstice Sun against faint background stars and nebulae (that's really hard to do, especially in the daytime ...) your view might look something like this composited panorama. To make it, images of our fair galaxy were taken under dark Namibian night skies, then stitched together in a panoramic view. From a snapshot made on December 21, 2015, the Sun was digitally overlayed as a brilliant star at today's northern winter solstice position, close to the center of the Milky Way. via NASA

December 18, 2017

The Spiral North Pole of Mars

Why is there a spiral around the North Pole of Mars? Each winter this pole develops a new outer layer about one meter thick composed of carbon dioxide frozen out of the thin Martian atmosphere. This fresh layer is deposited on a water-ice layer that exists year round. Strong winds blow down from above the cap's center and swirl due to the spin of the red planet -- contributing to Planum Boreum's spiral structure. The featured image is a perspective mosaic generated earlier this year from numerous images taken by ESA's Mars Express and elevations extracted from the laser altimeter aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor mission. New missions to Mars planned in the next few years include Insight with plans to drill into Mars, and ExoMars and the Mars 2020 Rover with plans to search for signs of microscopic Martian life -- past and present. via NASA

December 16, 2017

The Einstein Cross Gravitational Lens

Most galaxies have a single nucleus -- does this galaxy have four? The strange answer leads astronomers to conclude that the nucleus of the surrounding galaxy is not even visible in this image. The central cloverleaf is rather light emitted from a background quasar. The gravitational field of the visible foreground galaxy breaks light from this distant quasar into four distinct images. The quasar must be properly aligned behind the center of a massive galaxy for a mirage like this to be evident. The general effect is known as gravitational lensing, and this specific case is known as the Einstein Cross. Stranger still, the images of the Einstein Cross vary in relative brightness, enhanced occasionally by the additional gravitational microlensing effect of specific stars in the foreground galaxy. via NASA

December 15, 2017

A Wintry Shower

Four Geminids flash through northern skies in this wintry night skyscape. The bright fireball and 3 fainter meteors were captured in a single 10 second exposure, near the peak of December's Geminid meteor shower. Reflecting the fireball's greenish light, a partially frozen Lake Edith in Alberta Canada's Jasper National Park lies in the foreground, with the Canadian Rocky Mountains ranging along the northern horizon. Of course, the glacial lake is cold even in summer. But photographer Jack Fusco reports that he experienced -9 degree C temperatures that night while enjoying one of the most active meteor showers he's ever seen. via NASA

Geminids of the North

Earth's annual Geminid meteor shower did not disappoint as our fair planet plowed through dust from active asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Captured in this northern hemisphere nightscape, the meteors stream away from the shower's radiant in Gemini. To create the image, 37 individual frames recording meteor streaks were taken over period of 8.5 hours during the night of December 12/13. In the final composite they were selected and registered against the starry sky above a radio telescope dish of MUSER, a solar-dedicated radio telescope array at astronomically-named Mingantu Station in Inner Mongolia, China, about 400 kilometers from Beijing. Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major, shines brightly just above the radio dish and the Milky Way stretches toward the zenith. Yellowish Betelgeuse is a standout in Orion to the right of the northen Milky Way. The shower's radiant is at top left, high above the horizon near Castor and Pollux the twin stars of Gemini. The radiant effect is due to perspective as the parallel meteor tracks appear to converge in the distance. Gemini's meteors enter Earth's atmosphere traveling at about 22 kilometers per second. via NASA

December 11, 2017

Highlights of the Winter Sky

What's up in the sky this winter? The featured graphic gives a few highlights for Earth's northern hemisphere. Viewed as a clock face centered at the bottom, early winter sky events fan out toward the left, while late winter events are projected toward the right. Objects relatively close to Earth are illustrated, in general, as nearer to the cartoon figure with the telescope at the bottom center -- although almost everything pictured can be seen without a telescope. Highlights of this winter's sky include the Geminids meteor shower peaking this week, the constellation of Orion becoming notable in the evening sky, and many planets being visible before sunrise in February. As true in every season, the International Space Station (ISS) can be sometimes be found drifting across your sky if you know just when and where to look. via NASA

December 8, 2017

Stardust in Aries

This composition in stardust covers over 8 degrees on the northern sky. The mosaicked field of view is west of the familiar Pleiades star cluster, toward the zodiacal constellation Aries and the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. At right in the deep skyscape is bluish Epsilon Arietis, a star visible to the naked-eye and about 330 light-years away. Reflecting starlight in the region, dusty nebulae LBN762, LBN753, and LBN743 sprawl left to right across the field, but are likely some 1,000 light-years away. At that estimated distance, the cosmic canvas is over 140 light-years across. Near the edge of a large molecular cloud, their dark interiors can hide newly formed stars and young stellar objects or protostars from prying optical telescopes. Collapsing due to self-gravity, the protostars form around dense cores embedded in the molecular cloud. via NASA

December 7, 2017

Alpine Superga Moonset

December's Full Moon phase occurred near perigee, the closest point in its orbit around our fair planet. Big and bright, the fully illuminated lunar disk sets over rugged mountains in this early morningscape from Turin, Italy. Captured just before sunrise on the opposite horizon, scattered sunlight near the edge of Earth's shadow provides the beautiful reddish glow of the alpine peaks. Hills in the foreground are still in shadow. But the scattered sunlight just illuminates the dome and towers of Turin's historic Basilica of Superga on a hilltop near the lower right in the telephoto frame. via NASA

December 6, 2017

All the Eclipses of 2017

As seen from planet Earth, all the lunar and solar eclipses of 2017 are represented at the same scale in these four panels. The year's celestial shadow play was followed through four different countries by one adventurous eclipse chaser. To kick off the eclipse season, at top left February's Full Moon was captured from the Czech Republic. Its subtle shading, a penumbral lunar eclipse, is due to Earth's lighter outer shadow. Later that month the New Moon at top right was surrounded by a ring of fire, recorded on film from Argentina near the midpoint of striking annular solar eclipse. The August eclipse pairing below finds the Earth's dark umbral shadow in a partial eclipse from Germany at left, and the vibrant solar corona surrounding a totally eclipsed Sun from the western USA. If you're keeping score, the Saros numbers (eclipse cycles) for all the 2017 eclipses are at bottom left in each panel. via NASA

December 5, 2017

HH 666: Carina Dust Pillar with Jet

To some, it may look like a beehive harboring an evil bee. In reality, the featured Hubble image captures a cosmic pillar of dust, two-light years long, inside of which is Herbig-Haro 666 -- a young star emitting powerful jets. The structure lies within one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions, the Carina Nebula, shining in southern skies at a distance of about 7,500 light-years. The pillar's layered outline are shaped by the winds and radiation of Carina's young, hot, massive stars, some of which are still forming inside the nebula. A dust-penetrating view in infrared light better shows the two, narrow, energetic jets blasting outward from a still hidden infant star. via NASA

December 4, 2017

A Horizon with Blue and Red

What's happening on the horizon? The horizon itself, past a spinach field in Guatemala, shows not only trees but a large volcano: the Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire). The red glow at the top of the volcano is hot lava. But your eye may also be drawn to the blue circle above the horizon on the left. This circle surrounds the Moon and, together with other colors, is called a corona. A corona is caused by diffraction of light -- here moonlight -- by small water droplets in the Earth's intervening atmosphere. A break in the clouds on the right shows stars and even the planet Saturn far beyond the volcano. Although Volcán de Fuego frequently undergoes low-level activity, the astrophotographer considered himself lucky to capture the scene just during an explosive eruption in late September. via NASA

November 30, 2017

North America and the Pelican

Fans of our fair planet might recognize the outlines of these cosmic clouds. On the left, bright emission outlined by dark, obscuring dust lanes seems to trace a continental shape, lending the popular name North America Nebula to the emission region cataloged as NGC 7000. To the right, just off the North America Nebula's east coast, is IC 5070, whose profile suggests the Pelican Nebula. The two bright nebulae are about 1,500 light-years away, part of the same large and complex star forming region, almost as nearby as the better-known Orion Nebula. At that distance, the 6 degree wide field of view would span 150 light-years. This careful cosmic portrait uses narrow band images to highlight the bright ionization fronts and the characteristic red glow from atomic hydrogen gas. These nebulae can be seen with binoculars from a dark location. Look northeast of bright star Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus the Swan. via NASA

November 29, 2017

M33: Triangulum Galaxy

The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp composite image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 7 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe. via NASA

November 28, 2017

M42: The Great Orion Nebula

Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud. Many of the filamentary structures visible in the featured image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The featured image, taken last month, shows a two-hour exposure of the nebula in three colors. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years. via NASA

November 27, 2017

Juno Spots a Complex Storm on Jupiter

Some storms on Jupiter are quite complex. The swirling storm was captured late last month by the NASA's robotic Juno spacecraft currently orbiting the Solar System's largest planet. The featured image spans about 30,000 kilometers, making this storm system just about as wide as planet Earth. The disturbance rotates counter-clockwise and shows a cloud pattern that includes light-colored updrafts thought to be composed predominantly of ammonia ice. These light clouds are the highest up and even cast discernable shadows toward the right. Juno will continue to orbit and probe Jupiter over the next few years as it tries to return data that help us to better understand Jupiter's atmospheric water abundance and if the planet has a solid surface underneath these fascinating clouds. via NASA

November 24, 2017

Crossing Horizons

Follow this vertical panoramic view from horizon to horizon and your gaze will sweep through the zenith of a dark night sky over Pic du Midi mountaintop observatory. To make the journey above a sea of clouds, 19 single exposures were taken near the end of night on October 31 and assembled in a mercator projection that renders the two horizons flat. Begin at the top and you're looking east toward the upsidedown dome of the observatory's 1 meter telescope. It's easy to follow the plane of our Milky Way galaxy as it appears to emerge from the dome and angle down toward the far horizon. Just to its right, the sky holds a remarkable diffuse glow of zodiacal light along our Solar System's ecliptic plane. Zodiacal light and Milky Way with star clusters, cosmic dust clouds and faint nebulae, cross near the zenith. Both continue down toward the airglow in the west. They disappear near the western horizon at the bottom, beyond more Pic du Midi observatory domes and a tall communications relay antenna. via NASA

November 23, 2017

Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater

In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. This sharp image was taken by Cernan as he and Schmitt roamed the valley floor. The image shows Schmitt on the left with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater, near the spot where geologist Schmitt discovered orange lunar soil. The Apollo 17 crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than was returned from any of the other lunar landing sites. Forty five years later, Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk on the Moon. via NASA

November 22, 2017

Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka

Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, are the bright bluish stars from east to west (lower right to upper left) along the diagonal in this cosmic vista. Otherwise known as the Belt of Orion, these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. They lie from 800 to 1,500 light-years away, born of Orion's well-studied interstellar clouds. In fact, clouds of gas and dust adrift in this region have some surprisingly familiar shapes, including the dark Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula near Alnitak at the lower right. The famous Orion Nebula itself is off the right edge of this colorful starfield. This well-framed, 2-panel telescopic mosaic spans about 4 degrees on the sky. via NASA

November 19, 2017

Curiosity Rover Takes Selfie on Mars

Yes, but have you ever taken a selfie on Mars? The Curiosity rover on Mars has. This selfie was compiled from many smaller images -- which is why the mechanical arm holding the camera is not visible. (Although its shadow is!) Taken in mid-2015, the featured image shows not only the adventurous rover, but dark layered rocks, the light colored peak of Mount Sharp, and the rusting red sand that pervades Mars. If you look closely, you can even see that a small rock is stuck into one of Curiosity's aging wheels. Now nearing the end of 2017, Curiosity continues to explore the layers of sedimentary rocks it has discovered on Vera Rubin Ridge in order to better understand, generally, the ancient geologic history of Mars and, specifically, why these types of rocks exist there. via NASA

November 18, 2017

NGC 7822: Stars and Dust Pillars in Infrared

Young stars themselves are clearing out their nursery in NGC 7822. Within the nebula, bright edges and complex dust sculptures dominate this detailed skyscape taken in infrared light by NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. NGC 7822 lies at the edge of a giant molecular cloud toward the northern constellation Cepheus, a glowing star forming region that lies about 3,000 light-years away. The atomic emission of light by the nebula's gas is powered by energetic radiation from the hot stars, whose powerful winds and light also sculpt and erode the denser pillar shapes. Stars could still be forming inside the pillars by gravitational collapse, but as the pillars are eroded away, any forming stars will ultimately be cut off from their reservoir of star stuff. This field spans around 40 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 7822. via NASA

November 17, 2017

Friday the Moon Smiled

Friday, an old Moon smiled for early morning risers. Its waning sunlit crescent is captured in this atmospheric scene from clear skies near Bursa, Turkey, planet Earth. In the subtle twilight hues nearby celestial lights are Jupiter (top) and Venus shining close to the eastern horizon. But today, Saturday, the Moon will be new and early next week its waxing crescent will follow the setting Sun as it sinks in the west. Then, a young Moon's smile will join Saturn and Mercury in early evening skies. via NASA

November 15, 2017

The Tarantula Nebula is more than a thousand light-years in diameter, a giant star forming region within nearby satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 180 thousand light-years away. The largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies, the cosmic arachnid sprawls across this spectacular view composed with narrowband data centered on emission from ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Within the Tarantula (NGC 2070), intense radiation, stellar winds and supernova shocks from the central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136, energize the nebular glow and shape the spidery filaments. Around the Tarantula are other star forming regions with young star clusters, filaments, and blown-out bubble-shaped clouds. In fact, the frame includes the site of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A, right of center. The rich field of view spans about 1 degree or 2 full moons, in the southern constellation Dorado. But were the Tarantula Nebula closer, say 1,500 light-years distant like the local star forming Orion Nebula, it would take up half the sky. via NASA

November 14, 2017

NGC 7789: Caroline's Rose

Found among the rich starfields of the Milky Way, star cluster NGC 7789 lies about 8,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cassiopeia. A late 18th century deep sky discovery of astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel, the cluster is also known as Caroline's Rose. Its flowery visual appearance in small telescopes is created by the cluster's nestled complex of stars and voids. Now estimated to be 1.6 billion years young, the galactic or open cluster of stars also shows its age. All the stars in the cluster were likely born at the same time, but the brighter and more massive ones have more rapidly exhausted the hydrogen fuel in their cores. These have evolved from main sequence stars like the Sun into the many red giant stars shown with a yellowish cast in this lovely color composite. Using measured color and brightness, astronomers can model the mass and hence the age of the cluster stars just starting to "turn off" the main sequence and become red giants. Over 50 light-years across, Caroline's Rose spans about half a degree (the angular size of the Moon) near the center of the wide-field telescopic image. via NASA

November 12, 2017

Comet Machholz Approaches the Sun

Why is Comet Maccholz so depleted of carbon-containing chemicals? Comet 96P/Machholz's original fame derives from its getting closer to the Sun than any other short period comet -- half as close as Mercury -- and doing so every five years. To better understand this unusual comet, NASA's Sun-monitoring SOHO spacecraft tracked the comet during its latest approach to the Sun in October. The featured image composite shows the tail-enhanced comet swooping past the Sun. The Sun's bright surface is hidden from view behind a dark occulter, although parts of the Sun's extended corona are visible. Neighboring stars dot the background. One hypothesis holds that these close solar approaches somehow cause Comet Machholz to shed its carbon, while another hypothesis posits that the comet formed with this composition far away -- possibly even in another star system. via NASA

November 11, 2017

A Happy Sky over Los Angeles

Sometimes, the sky may seem to smile over much of planet Earth. On this day in 2008, visible the world over, was an unusual superposition of our Moon and the planets Venus and Jupiter. Pictures taken at the right time show a crescent Moon that appears to be a smile when paired with the planetary conjunction of seemingly nearby Jupiter and Venus. Pictured here is the scene as it appeared from Mt. Wilson Observatory overlooking Los Angeles, California, USA after sunset on 2008 November 30. Highest in the sky and farthest in the distance is the planet Jupiter. Significantly closer and visible to Jupiter's lower left is Venus, appearing through Earth's atmospheric clouds as unusually blue. On the far right, above the horizon, is our Moon, in a waxing crescent phase. Thin clouds illuminated by the Moon appear unusually orange. Sprawling across the bottom of the image are the hills of Los Angeles, many covered by a thin haze, while LA skyscrapers are visible on the far left. Hours after the taking of this image, the Moon approached the distant duo, briefly eclipsed Venus, and then moved on. This week, another conjunction of Venus and Jupiter is occurring and is visible to much of planet Earth to the east just before sunrise. via NASA

November 10, 2017

A Colourful Moon

The Moon is normally seen in subtle shades of grey. But small, measurable color differences have been greatly exaggerated in this mosaic of high-resolution images captured near the Moon's full phase, to construct a multicolored, central moonscape. The different colors are recognized to correspond to real differences in the mineral makeup of the lunar surface. Blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while more orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. The intriguing Sea of Vapors, or Mare Vaporum, is below center in the frame with the sweeping arc of the lunar Montes Apenninus (Apennine Mountains) above it. The dark floor of 83 kilometer diameter Archimedes crater within the Sea of Rains, or Mare Imbrium, is toward the top left. Near the gap at the top of the Apennine's arc is the Apollo 15 landing site. Calibrated by rock samples returned by the Apollo missions, similar multicolor images from spacecraft have been used to explore the Moon's global surface composition. via NASA

November 9, 2017

Williamina Fleming s Triangular Wisp

Chaotic in appearance, these tangled filaments of shocked, glowing gas are spread across planet Earth's sky toward the constellation of Cygnus as part of the Veil Nebula. The Veil Nebula itself is a large supernova remnant, an expanding cloud born of the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the original supernova explosion likely reached Earth over 5,000 years ago. Blasted out in the cataclysmic event, the interstellar shock waves plow through space sweeping up and exciting interstellar material. The glowing filaments are really more like long ripples in a sheet seen almost edge on, remarkably well separated into the glow of ionized hydrogen atoms shown in red and oxygen in blue hues. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula now spans nearly 3 degrees or about 6 times the diameter of the full Moon. While that translates to over 70 light-years at its estimated distance of 1,500 light-years, this field of view spans less than one third that distance. Often identified as Pickering's Triangle for a director of Harvard College Observatory, the the complex of filaments is cataloged as NGC 6979. It is also known for its discoverer, astronomer Williamina Fleming, as Fleming's Triangular Wisp. via NASA

November 8, 2017

NGC 1055 Close up

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1055 is a dominant member of a small galaxy group a mere 60 million light-years away toward the aquatically intimidating constellation Cetus. Seen edge-on, the island universe spans over 100,000 light-years, a little larger than our own Milky Way. The colorful stars in this cosmic close-up of NGC 1055 are in the foreground, well within the Milky Way. But the telltale pinkish star forming regions are scattered through winding dust lanes along the distant galaxy's thin disk. With a smattering of even more distant background galaxies, the deep image also reveals a boxy halo that extends far above and below the central bluge and disk of NGC 1055. The halo itself is laced with faint, narrow structures, and could represent the mixed and spread out debris from a satellite galaxy disrupted by the larger spiral some 10 billion years ago. via NASA

November 7, 2017

NGC 2261: Hubble s Variable Nebula

What causes Hubble's Variable Nebula to vary? The unusual nebula featured here changes its appearance noticeably in just a few weeks. Discovered over 200 years ago and subsequently cataloged as NGC 2661, the remarkable nebula is named for Edwin Hubble, who studied it early last century. Fitting, perhaps, the featured image was taken by another namesake of Hubble: the Space Telescope. Hubble's Variable Nebula is a reflection nebula made of gas and fine dust fanning out from the star R Monocerotis. The faint nebula is about one light-year across and lies about 2500 light-years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monocerotis). The leading variability explanation for Hubble's Variable Nebula holds that dense knots of opaque dust pass close to R Mon and cast moving shadows onto the reflecting dust seen in the rest of the nebula. via NASA

November 6, 2017

The Prague Astronomical Clock

In the center of Prague there's a clock the size of a building. During the day, crowds gather to watch the show when it chimes in a new hour. The Prague Astronomical Clock's face is impressively complex, giving not only the expected time with respect to the Sun (solar time), but the time relative to the stars (sidereal time), the times of sunrise and sunset, the time at the equator, the phase of the Moon, and much more. The clock began operation in 1410, and even though much of its inner workings have been modernized several times, original parts remain. Below the clock is a nearly-equal sized, but static, solar calendar. Pictured, the Prague Astronomical Clock was photographed alone during an early morning in 2009 March. The Prague Astronomical Clock and the Old Town Tower behind it are currently being renovated once again, with the clock expected to be restarted in 2018 June. via NASA

November 4, 2017

A Year of Full Moons

Do all full moons look the same? No. To see the slight differences, consider this grid of twelve full moons. From upper left to lower right, the images represent every lunation from 2016 November through 2017 October, as imaged from Pakistan. The consecutive full moons are all shown at the same scale, so unlike the famous Moon Illusion, the change in apparent size seen here is real. The change is caused by the variation in lunar distance due to the Moon's significantly non-circular orbit. The dark notch at the bottom of the full moon of 2017 August is the shadow of the Earth -- making this a partial lunar eclipse. Besides the sometimes exaggerated coloring, a subtler change in appearance can also be noticed on close examination, as the Moon seems to wobble slightly from one full moon to the next. This effect, known as libration, is more dramatic and easier to see in this lunation video highlighting all of the ways that the Moon appears to change over a month (moon-th). via NASA

November 2, 2017

A 2017 U1: An Interstellar Visitor

Traveling at high velocity along an extreme hyperbolic orbit and making a hairpin turn as it swung past the Sun, the now designated A/2017 U1 is the first known small body from interstellar space. A point of light centered in this 5 minute exposure recorded with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands on October 28, the interstellar visitor is asteroid-like with no signs of cometary activity. Faint background stars appear streaked because the massive 4.2 meter diameter telescope is tracking the rapidly moving A/2017 U1 in the field of view. Astronomer Rob Weryk (IfA) first recognized the moving object in nightly Pan-STARRS sky survey data on October 19. A/2017 is presently outbound, never to return to the Solar System, and already only visible from planet Earth in large optical telescopes. Though an interstellar origin has been established based on its orbit, it is still unknown how long the object could have drifted among the stars of the Milky Way. But its interstellar cruise speed would be about 26 kilometers per second. By comparison humanity's Voyager 1 spacecraft travels about 17 kilometers per second through interstellar space. via NASA

November 1, 2017

NGC 891 vs Abell 347

Distant galaxies lie beyond a foreground of spiky Milky Way stars in this telescopic field of view. Centered on yellowish star HD 14771, the scene spans about 1 degree on the sky toward the northern constellation Andromeda. At top right is large spiral galaxy NGC 891, 100 thousand light-years across and seen almost exactly edge-on. About 30 million light-years distant, NGC 891 looks a lot like our own Milky Way with a flattened, thin, galactic disk. Its disk and central bulge are cut along the middle by dark, obscuring dust clouds. Scattered toward the lower left are members of galaxy cluster Abell 347. Nearly 240 million light-years away, Abell 347 shows off its own large galaxies in the sharp image. They are similar to NGC 891 in physical size but located almost 8 times farther away, so Abell 347 galaxies have roughly one eighth the apparent size of NGC 891. via NASA

Thors Helmet Emission Nebula

This helmet-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages is popularly called Thor's Helmet. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor's Helmet spans about 30 light-years across. In fact, the helmet is more like an interstellar bubble, blown as a fast wind -- from the bright star near the center of the bubble's blue-hued region -- sweeps through a surrounding molecular cloud. This star, a Wolf-Rayet star, is a massive and extremely hot giant star thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. Cataloged as NGC 2359, the emission nebula is located about 12,000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major). The sharp image, made using broadband and narrowband filters, captures striking details of the nebula's filamentary gas and dust structures. The blue color originates from strong emission from oxygen atoms in the nebula. via NASA

October 27, 2017

NGC 6369: The Little Ghost Nebula

Wraithlike NGC 6369 is a faint apparition in night skies popularly known as the Little Ghost Nebula. It was discovered by 18th century astronomer Sir William Herschel as he used a telescope to explore the medicinal constellation Ophiucus. Herschel historically classified the round and planet-shaped nebula as a Planetary Nebula. But planetary nebulae in general are not at all related to planets. Instead they are gaseous shrouds created at the end of a sun-like star's life, the dying star's outer layers expanding into space while its core shrinks to become a white dwarf. The transformed white dwarf star, seen near the center, radiates strongly at ultraviolet wavelengths and powers the expanding nebula's glow. Surprisingly complex details and structures of NGC 6369 are revealed in this tantalizing image composed from Hubble Space Telescope data. The nebula's main round structure is about a light-year across and the glow from ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms are colored blue, green, and red respectively. Over 2,000 light-years away, the Little Ghost Nebula offers a glimpse of the fate of our Sun, which could produce its own planetary nebula about 5 billion years from now. via NASA

October 26, 2017

Mirach s Ghost

As far as ghosts go, Mirach's Ghost isn't really that scary. Mirach's Ghost is just a faint, fuzzy galaxy, well known to astronomers, that happens to be seen nearly along the line-of-sight to Mirach, a bright star. Centered in this star field, Mirach is also called Beta Andromedae. About 200 light-years distant, Mirach is a red giant star, cooler than the Sun but much larger and so intrinsically much brighter than our parent star. In most telescopic views, glare and diffraction spikes tend to hide things that lie near Mirach and make the faint, fuzzy galaxy look like a ghostly internal reflection of the almost overwhelming starlight. Still, appearing in this sharp image just above and to the left of Mirach, Mirach's Ghost is cataloged as galaxy NGC 404 and is estimated to be some 10 million light-years away. via NASA

NGC 7635: Bubble in a Cosmic Sea

Adrift in a cosmic sea of stars and glowing gas the delicate, floating apparition left of center in this widefield view is cataloged as NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula. A mere 10 light-years wide, the tiny Bubble Nebula was blown by the winds of a massive star. It lies within a larger complex of interstellar gas and dust clouds found about 11,000 light-years distant, straddling the boundary between the parental constellations Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Included in the breathtaking vista is open star cluster M52 (lower left), some 5,000 light-years away. Above and right of the Bubble Nebula is an emission region identified as Sh2-157, also known as the Claw Nebula. Constructed from 47 hours of narrow-band and broad-band exposures, this image spans about 3 degrees on the sky. That corresponds to a width of 500 light-years at the estimated distance of the Bubble Nebula. via NASA

October 24, 2017

Where Your Elements Came From

The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life. The featured periodic table is color coded to indicate humanity's best guess as to the nuclear origin of all known elements. The sites of nuclear creation of some elements, such as copper, are not really well known and are continuing topics of observational and computational research. via NASA

October 20, 2017

Lynds Dark Nebula 183

Beverly Lynds Dark Nebula 183 lies a mere 325 light-years away, drifting high above the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. Obscuring the starlight behind it when viewed at optical wavelengths, the dark, dusty molecular cloud itself seems starless. But far infrared explorations reveal dense clumps within, likely stars in the early stages of formation as enhanced regions of the cloud undergo gravitational collapse. One of the closest molecular clouds, it is seen toward the constellation Serpens Caput. This sharp cosmic cloud portrait spans about half a degree on the sky. That's about 3 light-years at the estimated distance of Lynds Dark Nebula 183. via NASA

October 19, 2017

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

Find the Big Dipper and follow the handle away from the dipper's bowl until you get to the last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you'll come upon this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier's famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (bottom), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the eye, deep images like this one can reveal striking colors and the faint tidal debris around the smaller galaxy via NASA

October 17, 2017

Haumea of the Outer Solar System

One of the strangest objects in the outer Solar System has recently been found to have a ring. The object, named Haumea, is the fifth designated dwarf planet after Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and Makemake. Haumea's oblong shape makes it quite unusual. Along one direction, Haumea is significantly longer than Pluto, while in another direction Haumea has an extent very similar to Pluto, while in the third direction is much smaller. Haumea's orbit sometimes brings it closer to the Sun than Pluto, but usually Haumea is further away. Illustrated above, an artist visualizes Haumea as a cratered ellipsoid surrounded by a uniform ring. Originally discovered in 2003 and given the temporary designation of 2003 EL61, Haumea was renamed in 2008 by the IAU for a Hawaiian goddess. Besides the ring discovered this year, Haumea has two small moons discovered in 2005, named Hi'iaka and Namaka for daughters of the goddess. via NASA

October 15, 2017

On the Origin of Gold

Where did the gold in your jewelry originate? No one is completely sure. The relative average abundance in our Solar System appears higher than can be made in the early universe, in stars, and even in typical supernova explosions. Some astronomers have suggested, and many believe, that neutron-rich heavy elements such as gold might be most easily made in rare neutron-rich explosions such as the collision of neutron stars. Pictured here is an artist's illustration depicting two neutron stars spiraling in toward each other, just before they collide. Since neutron star collisions are also suggested as the origin of short duration gamma-ray bursts, it is possible that you already own a souvenir from one of the most powerful explosions in the universe. via NASA

October 14, 2017

All Sky Steve

Familiar green and red tinted auroral emission floods the sky along the northern (top) horizon in this fish-eye panorama projection from September 27. On the mild, clear evening the Milky Way tracks through the zenith of a southern Alberta sky and ends where the six-day-old Moon sets in the southwest. The odd, isolated, pink and whitish arc across the south has come to be known as Steve. The name was given to the phenomenon by the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group who had recorded appearances of the aurora-like feature. Sometimes mistakenly identified as a proton aurora or proton arc, the mysterious Steve arcs seem associated with aurorae but appear closer to the equator than the auroral curtains. Widely documented by citizen scientists and recently directly explored by a Swarm mission satellite, Steve arcs have been measured as thermal emission from flowing gas rather than emission excited by energetic electrons. Even though a reverse-engineered acronym that fits the originally friendly name is Sudden Thermal Emission from Velocity Enhancement, his origin is still mysterious. via NASA

October 12, 2017

NGC 1365: Majestic Island Universe

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the chemical constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax galaxy cluster. This impressively sharp color image shows intense star forming regions at the ends of the bar and along the spiral arms, and details of dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole. via NASA

October 11, 2017

Star Cluster NGC 362 from Hubble

If our Sun were near the center of NGC 362, the night sky would glow like a jewel box of bright stars. Hundreds of stars would glow brighter than Sirius, and in many different colors. Although these stars could become part of breathtaking constellations and intricate folklore, it would be difficult for planetary inhabitants there to see -- and hence understand -- the greater universe beyond. NGC 362 is one of only about 170 globular clusters of stars that exist in our Milky Way Galaxy. This star cluster is one of the younger globulars, forming likely well after our Galaxy. NGC 362 can be found with the unaided eye nearly in front of the Small Magellanic Cloud, and angularly close to the second brightest globular cluster known, 47 Tucanae. The featured image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help better understand how massive stars end up near the center of some globular clusters. via NASA