Star Forming Region NGC 3582 without Stars

What’s happening in the Statue of Liberty nebula? Bright stars and interesting molecules are forming and being liberated. The complex nebula resides in the star forming region called RCW 57, and besides the iconic monument, to some looks like a flying superhero or a weeping angel. By digitally removing the stars, this re-assigned color image showcases dense knots of dark interstellar dust, fields of glowing hydrogen gas ionized by these stars, and great loops of gas expelled by dying stars. A detailed study of NGC 3576, also known as NGC 3582 and NGC 3584, uncovered at least 33 massive stars in the end stages of formation, and the clear presence of the complex carbon molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are thought to be created in the cooling gas of star forming regions, and their development in the Sun’s formation nebula five billion years ago may have been an important step in the development of life on Earth. via NASA

Star Trails and Lightning over the Pyrenees

The beauty in this image comes in layers. On the bottom layer is the picturesque village of Manlleu in Barcelona, Spain. The six-minute exposure makes car lights into streaks. The next layer is a mountain — Serra de Bellmunt — of Europe’s famous Pyrenees. Next up is a tremendous lightning storm emanating from a classically-shaped anvil cloud. The long exposure allowed for the capture of many intricate lightning bolts. Finally, at the top and furthest in the distance are stars. Here, the multi-minute exposure made stars into trails. The trailing effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth, and the curvature of the trails indicates their distance from the north spin pole of the Earth above. Taken after sunset in early June, the lightning storm soon moved off. The stars, though, will continue to circle the poll for as long as the Earth spins — surely billions of years into the future. via NASA

Analemma over the Callanish Stones

If you went outside at the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun’s position change? A more visual answer to that question is an analemma, a composite image taken from the same spot at the same time over the course of a year. The featured analemma was composed from images taken every few days at noon near the village of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, UK. In the foreground are the Callanish Stones, a stone circle built around 2700 BC during humanity’s Bronze Age. It is not known if the placement of the Callanish Stones has or had astronomical significance. The ultimate causes for the figure-8 shape of this and all analemmas are the tilt of the Earth axis and the ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. At the solstices, the Sun will appear at the top or bottom of an analemma. The featured image was taken near the December solstice and so the Sun appears near the bottom. Equinoxes, however, correspond to analemma middle points — not the intersection point. This coming Friday at 1:04 am (UT) — Thursday in the Americas — is the equinox (“equal night”), when day and night are equal over all of planet Earth. Many cultures celebrate a change of season at an equinox. via NASA

Perseverance in Jezero Crater s Delta

The Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z captured images to create this mosaic on August 4, 2022. The car-sized robot was continuing its exploration of the fan-shaped delta of a river that, billions of years ago, flowed into Jezero Crater on Mars. Sedimentary rocks preserved in Jezero’s delta are considered one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life and sites recently sampled by the rover, dubbed Wildcat Ridge and Skinner Ridge, are at lower left and upper right in the frame. The samples taken from these areas were sealed inside ultra-clean sample tubes, ultimately intended for return to Earth by future missions. Starting with the Pathfinder Mission and Mars Global Surveyor in 1997, the last 25 years of a continuous robotic exploration of the Red Planet has included orbiters, landers, rovers, and a helicopter from planet Earth. via NASA

The Tarantula Zone

The Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, 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, it’s the largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies. The cosmic arachnid sprawls across this magnificent view, an assembly of image data from large space- and ground-based telescopes. 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, at lower right. The rich field of view spans about 2 degrees or 4 full moons, in the southern constellation Dorado. But were the Tarantula Nebula closer, say 1,500 light-years distant like the Milky Way’s own star forming Orion Nebula, it would take up half the sky. via NASA

Harvest Moon over Sicily

For northern hemisphere dwellers, September’s Full Moon was the Harvest Moon. Reflecting warm hues at sunset it rises over the historic town of Castiglione di Sicilia in this telephoto view from September 9. Famed in festival, story, and song Harvest Moon is just the traditional name of the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. According to lore the name is a fitting one. Despite the diminishing daylight hours as the growing season drew to a close, farmers could harvest crops by the light of a full moon shining on from dusk to dawn. via NASA

Waves of the Great Lacerta Nebula

It is one of the largest nebulas on the sky — why isn’t it better known? Roughly the same angular size as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Great Lacerta Nebula can be found toward the constellation of the Lizard (Lacerta). The emission nebula is difficult to see with wide-field binoculars because it is so faint, but also usually difficult to see with a large telescope because it is so great in angle — spanning about three degrees. The depth, breadth, waves, and beauty of the nebula — cataloged as Sharpless 126 (Sh2-126) — can best be seen and appreciated with a long duration camera exposure. The featured image is one such combined exposure — in this case 10 hours over five different colors and over six nights during this past June and July at the IC Astronomy Observatory in Spain. The hydrogen gas in the Great Lacerta Nebula glows red because it is excited by light from the bright star 10 Lacertae, one of the bright blue stars just above the red-glowing nebula’s center. The stars and nebula are about 1,200 light years distant. via NASA

A Long Snaking Filament on the Sun

Earlier this month, the Sun exhibited one of the longer filaments on record. Visible as the bright curving streak around the image center, the snaking filament’s full extent was estimated to be over half of the Sun’s radius — more than 350,000 kilometers long. A filament is composed of hot gas held aloft by the Sun’s magnetic field, so that viewed from the side it would appear as a raised prominence. A different, smaller prominence is simultaneously visible at the Sun’s edge. The featured image is in false-color and color-inverted to highlight not only the filament but the Sun’s carpet chromosphere. The bright dot on the upper right is actually a dark sunspot about the size of the Earth. Solar filaments typically last from hours to days, eventually collapsing to return hot plasma back to the Sun. Sometimes, though, they explode and expel particles into the Solar System, some of which trigger auroras on Earth. The pictured filament appeared in early September and continued to hold steady for about a week. via NASA

Red Sprite Lightning over the Czech Republic

What are those red filaments in the sky? They are a rarely seen form of lightning confirmed only about 35 years ago: red sprites. Research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light. They are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. The featured image was taken late last month from the Jeseniky Mountains in northern Moravia in the Czech Republic. The distance to the red sprites is about 200 kilometers. Red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side. via NASA

Planets of the Solar System: Tilts and Spins

How does your favorite planet spin? Does it spin rapidly around a nearly vertical axis, or horizontally, or backwards? The featured video animates NASA images of all eight planets in our Solar System to show them spinning side-by-side for an easy comparison. In the time-lapse video, a day on Earth — one Earth rotation — takes just a few seconds. Jupiter rotates the fastest, while Venus spins not only the slowest (can you see it?), but backwards. The inner rocky planets, across the top, most certainly underwent dramatic spin-altering collisions during the early days of the Solar System. The reasons why planets spin and tilt as they do remains a topic of research with much insight gained from modern computer modeling and the recent discovery and analysis of hundreds of exoplanets: planets orbiting other stars. via NASA

Galaxy by the Lake

This 180 degree panoramic night skyscape captures our Milky Way Galaxy as it arcs above the horizon on a winter’s night in August. Near midnight, the galactic center is close to the zenith with the clear waters of Lake Traful, Neuquen, Argentina, South America, planet Earth below. Zodiacal light, dust reflected sunlight along the Solar System’s ecliptic plane, is also visible in the region’s very dark night sky. The faint band of light reaches up from the distant snowy peaks toward the galaxy’s center. Follow the arc of the Milky Way to the left to find the southern hemisphere stellar beacons Alpha and Beta Centauri. Close to the horizon bright star Vega is reflected in the calm mountain lake. via NASA

Interstellar Voyager

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in 1977 on a grand tour of the outer planets of the Solar System. They have become the longest operating and most distant spacecraft from Earth. Both have traveled beyond the heliosphere, the realm defined by the influence of the solar wind and the Sun’s magnetic field. On the 45th year of their journey toward the stars Voyager 1 and 2 reached nearly 22 light-hours and 18 light-hours from the Sun respectively and remain the only spacecraft currently exploring interstellar space. Each spacecraft carries a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with recordings of sounds, pictures and messages. The Golden Records are intended to communicate a story of life and culture on planet Earth, preserved in a medium that can survive an interstellar journey for a billion years. via NASA

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 avian 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 3 degree wide field of view would span 80 light-years. This careful cosmic portrait uses narrowband images combined to highlight the bright ionization fronts and the characteristic glow from atomic hydrogen, and oxygen gas. These nebulae can be seen with binoculars from a dark location. Look northeast of bright star Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, soaring high in the northern summer night sky. via NASA