The Light, the Dark, and the Dusty

This colorful skyscape spans about four full moons across nebula rich starfields along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy in the royal northern constellation Cepheus. Near the edge of the region’s massive molecular cloud some 2,400 light-years away, bright reddish emission region Sharpless (Sh) 155 is at the center of the frame, also known as the Cave Nebula. About 10 light-years across the cosmic cave’s bright walls of gas are ionized by ultraviolet light from the hot young stars around it. Dusty reflection nebulae, like vdB 155 to the right, and dense obscuring clouds of dust also abound on the interstellar canvas. Astronomical explorations have revealed other dramatic signs of star formation, including the bright reddish fleck of Herbig-Haro (HH) 168. Below and right of center, the Herbig-Haro object emission is generated by energetic jets from a newborn star. via NASA

The Gum Nebula Supernova Remnant

Because the Gum Nebula is the closest supernova remnant, it is actually hard to see. Spanning 40 degrees across the sky, the nebula appears so large and faint that it is easily lost in the din of a bright and complex background. The Gum Nebula is highlighted nicely in red emission toward the right of the featured wide-angle, single-image photograph taken in late May. Also visible in the frame are the Atacama Desert in Chile in the foreground, the Carina Nebula in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy running diagonally down from the upper left, and the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) galaxy. The Gum Nebula is so close that we are much nearer the front edge than the back edge, each measuring 450 and 1500 light years respectively. The complicated nebula lies in the direction of the constellations of Puppis and Vela. Oddly, much remains unknown about the Gum Nebula, including the timing and even number of supernova explosions that formed it. via NASA

Leonid Meteors Through Orion

Where will the next meteor appear? Even during a meteor shower, it is practically impossible to know. Therefore, a good way to enjoy a meteor shower is to find a place where you can sit comfortably and monitor a great expanse of dark sky. And it may be satisfying to share this experience with a friend. The meteor shower depicted was the 2022 Leonids which peaked earlier this month, and the view is from Hainan, China looking out over the South China Sea. Meteor streaks captured over a few hours were isolated and added to a foreground image recorded earlier. From this place and time, Leonid meteors that trace back to the constellation of Leo were seen streaking across other constellations including Orion. The bright red planet Mars appears near the top of the image. Bonding over their love of astronomy, the two pictured meteor enthusiasts, shown celebrating their common birthday this month, are now married. via NASA

Supernumerary Rainbows over New Jersey

Yes, but can your rainbow do this? After the remnants of Hurricane Florence passed over the Jersey Shore, New Jersey, USA in 2018, the Sun came out in one direction but something quite unusual appeared in the opposite direction: a hall of rainbows. Over the course of a next half hour, to the delight of the photographer and his daughter, vibrant supernumerary rainbows faded in and out, with at least five captured in this featured single shot. Supernumerary rainbows only form when falling water droplets are all nearly the same size and typically less than a millimeter across. Then, sunlight will not only reflect from inside the raindrops, but interfere, a wave phenomenon similar to ripples on a pond when a stone is thrown in. In fact, supernumerary rainbows can only be explained with waves, and their noted existence in the early 1800s was considered early evidence of light’s wave nature. via NASA

Saturn at Night

Saturn is still bright in planet Earth’s night skies. Telescopic views of the distant gas giant and its beautiful rings often make it a star at star parties. But this stunning view of Saturn’s rings and night side just isn’t possible from telescopes closer to the Sun than the outer planet. They can only bring Saturn’s day into view. In fact, this image of Saturn’s slender sunlit crescent with night’s shadow cast across its broad and complex ring system was captured by the Cassini spacecraft. A robot spacecraft from planet Earth, Cassini called Saturn orbit home for 13 years before it was directed to dive into the atmosphere of the gas giant on September 15, 2017. This magnificent mosaic is composed of frames recorded by Cassini’s wide-angle camera only two days before its grand final plunge. Saturn’s night will not be seen again until another spaceship from Earth calls. via NASA

NGC 6744: Extragalactic Close Up

Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across. That’s larger than the Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo, with its galactic disk tilted towards our line of sight. This Hubble close-up of the nearby island universe spans about 24,000 light-years or so across NGC 6744’s central region. The Hubble view combines visible light and ultraviolet image data. The giant galaxy’s yellowish core is dominated by the visible light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core are star-forming regions and young star clusters scattered along the inner spiral arms. NGC 6744’s young star clusters are bright at ultraviolet wavelengths, shown in blue and magenta hues. Spiky stars scattered around the frame are foreground stars and well within our own Milky Way. via NASA

Lynds Dark Nebula 1251

Stars are forming in Lynds Dark Nebula (LDN) 1251. About 1,000 light-years away and drifting above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, the dusty molecular cloud is part of a complex of dark nebulae mapped toward the Cepheus flare region. Across the spectrum, astronomical explorations of the obscuring interstellar clouds reveal energetic shocks and outflows associated with newborn stars, including the telltale reddish glow from scattered Herbig-Haro objects hiding in the image. Distant background galaxies also lurk on the scene, almost buried behind the dusty expanse. This alluring view spans over four full moons on the sky, or 35 light-years at the estimated distance of LDN 1251. via NASA

Earthset from Orion

Eight billion people are about to disappear in this snapshot from space. Taken on November 21, the sixth day of the Artemis 1 mission, their home world is setting behind the Moon’s bright edge as viewed by an external camera on the outbound Orion spacecraft. The Orion was headed for a powered flyby that took it to within 130 kilometers of the lunar surface. Velocity gained in the flyby maneuver will be used to reach a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. That orbit is considered distant because it’s another 92,000 kilometers beyond the Moon, and retrograde because the spacecraft will orbit in the opposite direction of the Moon’s orbit around planet Earth. Orion will enter its distant retrograde orbit on Friday, November 25. Swinging around the Moon, Orion will reach a maximum distance (just over 400,000 kilometers) from Earth on Monday November 28 exceeding a record set by Apollo 13 for most distant spacecraft designed for human space exploration. via NASA

A Double Star Cluster in Perseus

Few star clusters this close to each other. Visible to the unaided eye from dark sky areas, it was cataloged in 130 BC by Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Some 7,000 light-years away, this pair of open star clusters is also an easy binocular target, a striking starfield in the northern constellation of the mythical Greek hero Perseus. Now known as h and chi Persei, or NGC 869 (above right) and NGC 884, the clusters themselves are separated by only a few hundred light-years and contain stars much younger and hotter than the Sun. In addition to being physically close together, the clusters’ ages based on their individual stars are similar – evidence that both clusters were likely a product of the same star-forming region. via NASA

The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

Stars can make beautiful patterns as they age — sometimes similar to flowers or insects. NGC 6302, the Butterfly Nebula, is a notable example. Though its gaseous wingspan covers over 3 light-years and its estimated surface temperature exceeds 200,000 degrees C, the aging central star of NGC 6302, the featured planetary nebula, has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in visible and ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is processed here to show off remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by oxygen (shown as blue), hydrogen (green), and nitrogen (red). NGC 6302 lies about 3,500 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years. via NASA

Airglow Ripples over Tibet

Why would the sky look like a giant target? Airglow. Following a giant thunderstorm over Bangladesh in late April, giant circular ripples of glowing air appeared over Tibet, China, as pictured here. The unusual pattern is created by atmospheric gravity waves, waves of alternating air pressure that can grow with height as the air thins, in this case about 90-kilometers up. Unlike auroras powered by collisions with energetic charged particles and seen at high latitudes, airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light in a chemical reaction. More typically seen near the horizon, airglow keeps the night sky from ever being completely dark. via NASA

Artemis 1 Moonshot

When the Artemis 1 mission’s Orion spacecraft makes its November 21 powered flyby of the Moon, denizens of planet Earth will see the Moon in a waning crescent phase. The spacecraft will approach to within about 130 kilometers of the lunar surface on its way to a distant retrograde orbit some 70,000 kilometers beyond the Moon. But the Moon was at last quarter for the November 16 launch and near the horizon in the dark early hours after midnight. It’s captured here in skies over Kennedy Space Center along with the SLS rocket engines and solid rocket boosters lofting the uncrewed Orion to space. Ragged fringes appearing along the bright edge of the sunlit lunar nearside are caused as pressure waves generated by the rocket’s passage change the index of refraction along the camera’s line of sight. via NASA

The Protostar within L1527

The protostar within dark cloud L1527 is a mere 100,000 years old, still embedded in the cloud of gas and dust that feeds its growth. In this NIRCam image from the James Webb Space Telescope, the dark band at the neck of the infrared nebula is a thick disk that surrounds the young stellar object. Viewed nearly edge-on and a little larger than our Solar System, the disk ultimately supplies material to the protostar while hiding it from Webb’s direct infrared view. The nebula itself is seen in stunning detail though. Illuminated by infrared light from the protostar, the hourglass-shaped nebula’s cavities are created as material ejected in the star-forming process plows through the surrounding medium. As the protostar gains mass it will eventually become a full-fledged star, collapsing and igniting nuclear fusion in its core. A likely analog to our own Sun and Solar System in their early infancy, the protostar within dark cloud L1527 lies some 460 light-years distant in the Taurus star-forming region. Webb’s NIRCam image spans about 0.3 light-years. via NASA

Planet Earth from Orion

A Space Launch System rocket left planet Earth on Wednesday, November 16 at 1:47am EST carrying the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 mission, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. Over an hour after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39B, one of Orion’s external video cameras captured this view of its new perspective from space. In the foreground are Orion’s Orbital Maneuvering System engine and auxillary engines, at the bottom of the European Service Module. Beyond one of the module’s 7-meter long extended solar array wings lies the spacecraft’s beautiful home world. The Artemis 1 mission will last almost four weeks, testing capabilities to enable human exploration of the Moon and Mars. The uncrewed Orion spacecraft is expected to fly by the Moon on November 21, performing a close approach to the lunar surface on its way to a retrograde orbit 70,000 kilometers beyond the Moon.   via NASA

In the Arms of NGC 1097

Spiral galaxy NGC 1097 shines in southern skies, about 45 million light-years away in the heated constellation Fornax. Its blue spiral arms are mottled with pinkish star forming regions in this colorful galaxy portrait. They seem to have wrapped around a small companion galaxy above and right of center, about 40,000 light-years from the spiral’s luminous core. That’s not NGC 1097’s only peculiar feature, though. This very deep exposure hints of faint, mysterious jets, seen to extend well beyond the bluish arms. In fact, four faint jets are ultimately recognized in optical images of NGC 1097. The jets trace an X centered on the galaxy’s nucleus, but probably don’t originate there. Instead, they could be fossil star streams, trails left over from the capture and disruption of a much smaller galaxy in the large spiral’s ancient past. A Seyfert galaxy, NGC 1097’s nucleus also harbors a supermassive black hole. via NASA

Wolfs Cave Nebula

The mysterious blue reflection nebula found in catalogs as VdB 152 or Ced 201 really is very faint. It lies at the tip of the long dark nebula Barnard 175 in a dusty complex that has also been called Wolf’s Cave. At the center of this deep telescopic view, the cosmic apparitions are nearly 1,400 light-years away along the northern Milky Way in the royal constellation Cepheus. Interstellar dust in the region blocks light from background stars and scatters light from the embedded bright star, giving the end nebula its characteristic blue color. Though stars do form in molecular clouds, this star seems to have only accidentally wandered into the area, as its measured velocity through space is very different from the cloud’s velocity. At the image bottom is the planetary nebula Dengel-Hartl 5, while red glowing gas from an ancient supernova remnant is also visible along the image’s right side. via NASA

NGC 7380: The Wizard Nebula

What powers are being wielded in the Wizard Nebula? Gravitation strong enough to form stars, and stellar winds and radiations powerful enough to create and dissolve towers of gas. Located only 8,000 light years away, the Wizard nebula, featured here, surrounds developing open star cluster NGC 7380. Visually, the interplay of stars, gas, and dust has created a shape that appears to some like a fictional medieval sorcerer. The active star forming region spans 100 about light years, making it appear larger than the angular extent of the Moon. The Wizard Nebula can be located with a small telescope toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus). Although the nebula may last only a few million years, some of the stars being formed may outlive our Sun. via NASA

Flying Saucer Crash Lands in Utah Desert

A flying saucer from outer space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being tracked by radar and chased by helicopters. The year was 2004, and no space aliens were involved. The saucer, pictured here, was the Genesis sample return capsule, part of a human-made robot Genesis spaceship launched in 2001 by NASA itself to study the Sun. The unexpectedly hard landing at over 300 kilometers per hour occurred because the parachutes did not open as planned. The Genesis mission had been orbiting the Sun collecting solar wind particles that are usually deflected away by Earth’s magnetic field. Despite the crash landing, many return samples remained in good enough condition to analyze. So far, Genesis-related discoveries include new details about the composition of the Sun and how the abundance of some types of elements differ across the Solar System. These results have provided intriguing clues into details of how the Sun and planets formed billions of years ago. via NASA

Eclipse in the City

A darker Moon sets over Manhattan in this night skyscape. The 16 frame composite was assembled from consecutive exposures recorded during the November 8 total lunar eclipse. In the timelapse sequence stars leave short trails above the urban skyline, while the Moon remains immersed in Earth’s shadow. But the International Space Station was just emerging from the shadow into the sunlit portion of its low Earth orbit. As seen from New York City, the visible streak of this ISS flyover starts near a star in Taurus and tracks right to left, through the belt of Orion and over Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major. Gaps along the bright trail of the fast moving orbital outpost (and an aircraft flying closer to the horizon) mark the time between individual exposures in the sequence. The trail of bright planet Mars is at the top of the frame. Pleiades star cluster trails are high over the eclipsed Moon and Empire State Building. via NASA

Blood Moon, Ice Giant

On November 8 the Full Moon turned blood red as it slid through Earth’s shadow in a beautiful total lunar eclipse. During totality it also passed in front of, or occulted, outer planet Uranus for eclipse viewers located in parts of northern America and Asia. For a close-up and wider view these two images were taken just before the occultation began, captured with different telescopes and cameras from the same roof top in Shanghai, China. Normally very faint compared to a Full Moon, the tiny, pale, greenish disk of the distant ice giant is just to the left of the Moon’s edge and about to disappear behind the darkened, red lunar limb. Though only visible from certain locations across planet Earth, lunar occultations of planets are fairly common. But for this rare “lunar eclipse occultation” to take place, at the time of the total eclipse the outer planet had to be both at opposition and very near the ecliptic plane to fall in line with Sun, Earth, and Moon. via NASA