Enceladus

This moon is shining by the light of its planet. Specifically, a large portion of Enceladus pictured here is illuminated primarily by sunlight first reflected from the planet Saturn. The result is that the normally snow-white moon appears in the gold color of Saturn’s cloud tops. As most of the illumination comes from the image left, a labyrinth of ridges throws notable shadows just to the right of the image center, while the kilometer-deep canyon Labtayt Sulci is visible just below. The bright thin crescent on the far right is the only part of Enceladus directly lit by the Sun. The featured image was taken in 2011 by the robotic Cassini spacecraft during a close pass by by the enigmatic moon. Inspection of the lower left part of this digitally sharpened image reveals plumes of ice crystals thought to originate in a below-surface sea. via NASA https://ift.tt/J4tprfD

NGC 2626 along the Vela Molecular Ridge

Centered in this colorful cosmic canvas, NGC 2626 is a beautiful, bright, blue reflection nebula in the southern Milky Way. Next to an obscuring dust cloud and surrounded by reddish hydrogen emission from large H II region RCW 27 it lies within a complex of dusty molecular clouds known as the Vela Molecular Ridge. NGC 2626 is itself a cloud of interstellar dust reflecting blue light from the young hot embedded star visible within the nebula. But astronomical explorations reveal many other young stars and associated nebulae in the star-forming region. NGC 2626 is about 3,200 light-years away. At that distance this telescopic field of view would span about 30 light-years along the Vela Molecular Ridge. via NASA https://ift.tt/KRQAngX

Polaris and the Trail of Comet ZTF

Stars trace concentric arcs around the North Celestial Pole in this three hour long night sky composite, recorded with a digital camera fixed to a tripod on January 31, near Àger, Lleida, Spain. On that date Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was near its northernmost declination in planet Earth’s sky. That put the comet about 10 degrees from Earth’s North Celestial Pole making the comet’s position circumpolar, always above the horizon, from all locations on planet Earth at more than 10 degrees northern latitude. In the startrail image, the extension of Earth’s axis of rotation into space is at the left. North star Polaris traces the short, bright, concentric arc less than a degree from the North Celestial Pole. The trail of Comet ZTF is indicated at the right, its apparent motion mostly reflecting Earth’s rotation like the stars. But heading for its closest approach to planet Earth on February 1, the comet is also moving significantly with respect to the background stars. The diffuse greenish trail of Comet ZTF is an almost concentric arc mingled with startrails as it sweeps through the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis. via NASA https://ift.tt/QJCgGzO

Reflections on the 1970s

The 1970s are sometimes ignored by astronomers, like this beautiful grouping of reflection nebulae in Orion – NGC 1977, NGC 1975, and NGC 1973 – usually overlooked in favor of the substantial glow from the nearby stellar nursery better known as the Orion Nebula. Found along Orion’s sword just north of the bright Orion Nebula complex, these reflection nebulae are also associated with Orion’s giant molecular cloud about 1,500 light-years away, but are dominated by the characteristic blue color of interstellar dust reflecting light from hot young stars. In this sharp color image a portion of the Orion Nebula appears along the bottom border with the cluster of reflection nebulae at picture center. NGC 1977 stretches across the field just below center, separated from NGC 1973 (above right) and NGC 1975 (above left) by dark regions laced with faint red emission from hydrogen atoms. Taken together, the dark regions suggest the region’s popular moniker, the Running Man Nebula. At the estimated distance of Orion’s dusty molecular cloud this running man would be about 15 light-years across. via NASA https://ift.tt/B0OKP6N

Exploring the Habitable Worlds of TRAPPIST-1

Seven worlds orbit the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. A mere 40 light-years away, many of the exoplanets were discovered in 2016 using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) located in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and later confirmed with telescope including NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely all rocky and similar in size to Earth, and so compose one of the largest treasure troves of terrestrial planets ever detected around a single star. Because they orbit very close to their faint, tiny star they could also have regions where surface temperatures allow for the presence of ice or even liquid water, a key ingredient for life. Their tantalizing proximity to Earth makes them prime candidates for future telescopic explorations of the atmospheres of potentially habitable planets. All seven exoplanets appear in the featured illustration, which imagines a view from the most distant known world of this system, TRAPPIST-1h, as having a rocky landscape covered in ice. Meanwhile, in the imagined background, one of the system’s inner planets crosses in front of the dim, orange, nearly Jupiter-sized parent star. via NASA https://ift.tt/iVNxpQy

Comet ZTF Visiting Inner Solar System with Unusual Antitail

Comet ZTF has a distinctive shape. The now bright comet visiting the inner Solar System has been showing not only a common dust tail, ion tail, and green gas coma, but also an uncommonly distinctive antitail. The antitail does not actually lead the comet — it is just that the head of the comet is seen superposed on part of the fanned-out and trailing dust tail. The giant dirty snowball that is Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has now passed its closest to the Sun and tomorrow will pass its closest to the Earth. The main panel of the featured triple image shows how Comet ZTF looked last week to the unaided eye under a dark and clear sky over Cáceres, Spain. The top inset image shows how the comet looked through binoculars, while the lower inset shows how the comet looked through a small telescope. The comet is now visible all night long from northern latitudes but will surely fade from easy observation during the next few weeks. via NASA https://ift.tt/RcDfpWI

Spectacular Volcanic Eruptions of Villarrica Volcano, Chile

Chile’s Villarrica volcano emits steam and other volcanic gases in this photo taken from the International Space Station on Jan. 17, 2023. The gases come from a series of minor explosions—called Strombolian eruptions—that have been ongoing at Villarrica since October 2022. via NASA https://ift.tt/c0RPSCF

The Ancient Survivors of the Milky Way: NGC 635513

Globular clusters once ruled the Milky Way. Back in the old days, back when our Galaxy first formed, perhaps thousands of globular clusters roamed our Galaxy. Today, there are less than 200 left. Over the eons, many globular clusters were destroyed by repeated fateful encounters with each other or the Galactic center. Surviving relics are older than any Earth fossil, older than any other structures in our Galaxy, and limit the universe itself in raw age. There are few, if any, young globular clusters left in our Milky Way Galaxy because conditions are not ripe for more to form. The featured image shows a Hubble Space Telescope view of 13-billion year old NGC 6355, a surviving globular cluster currently passing near the Milky Way’s center. Globular cluster stars are concentrated toward the image center and highlighted by bright blue stars. Most other stars in the frame are dimmer, redder, and just coincidently lie near the direction to NGC 6355. via NASA https://ift.tt/OLoJupD

Comet ZTF over Mount Etna

Comet-like plumes are blowing over the volcanic peaks of Mount Etna in this wintry mountain-and-skyscape from planet Earth. The stacked and blended combination of individual exposures recorded during the cold night of January 23, also capture naked-eye Comet ZTF just above Etna’s snowy slopes. Of course increasing sunlight and the solar wind are responsible for the comet’s greenish coma and broad dusty tail. This weekend Comet ZTF is dashing across northern skies between north star Polaris and the Big Dipper. From a dark site you can only just spot it as a fuzzy patch though. That’s still an impressive achievement if you consider you are gazing at a visitor from the distant Oort cloud with your own eyes. But binoculars or a small telescope will make for an even more enjoyable view of this Comet ZTF in the coming days. via NASA https://ift.tt/dmkhIue

Comet ZTF: Orbital Plane Crossing

The current darling of the northern night, Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is captured in this telescopic image from a dark sky location at June Lake, California. Of course Comet ZTF has been growing brighter in recent days, headed for its closest approach to Earth on February 1. But this view was recorded on January 23, very close to the time planet Earth crossed the orbital plane of long-period Comet ZTF. The comet’s broad, whitish dust tail is still curved and fanned out away from the Sun as Comet ZTF sweeps along its orbit. Due to perspective near the orbital plane crossing, components of the fanned out dust tail appear on both sides of the comet’s green tinted coma though, to lend Comet ZTF a visually striking (left) anti-tail. Buffeted by solar activity the comet’s narrower ion tail also streams away from the coma diagonally to the right, across the nearly three degree wide field of view. via NASA https://ift.tt/bskq6yo

Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622

To some, the dark shape looks like a mythical boogeyman. Scientifically, Lynds’ Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only visible in long telescopic exposures of the region. In contrast, the brighter reflection nebula vdB 62 is more easily seen just above and to the right of center in the featured image. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard’s Loop, a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. With swept-back outlines, the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to lie at a similar distance, perhaps 1,500 light-years away. At that distance, this 2-degree wide field of view would span about 60 light-years. Young stars do lie hidden within the dark expanse and have been revealed in Spitzer Space Telescope infrared images. via NASA https://ift.tt/VNkRLTG