Imaged on June 20 2022, comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) shares this wide telescopic field of view with open star cluster IC 4665 and bright star Beta Ophiuchi, near a starry edge of the Milky Way. On its maiden voyage to the inner Solar System from the dim and distant Oort cloud, this comet PanSTARRS was initially spotted over five years ago, in May 2017. Then it was the most distant active inbound comet ever found, discovered when it was some 2.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. That put it between the orbital distances of Uranus and Saturn. Hubble Space Telescope observations indicated the comet had a large nucleus less than 18 kilometers in diameter. Now visible in small telescopes C/2017 K2 will make its closest approach to planet Earth on July 14 and closest approach to the Sun this December. Its extended coma and developing tail are seen here at a distance of some 290 million kilometers, a mere 16 light-minutes away.
Yes, but have you ever seen all of the planets at once? A rare roll-call of planets has been occurring in the morning sky for much of June. The featured fisheye all-sky image, taken a few mornings ago near the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, caught not only the entire planet parade, but the Moon between Mars and Venus. In order, left to right along the ecliptic plane, members of this Solar System family portrait are Earth, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury, and Earth. To emphasize their locations, Neptune and Uranus have been artificially enhanced. The volcano just below Mercury is Licancabur. In July, Mercury will move into the Sun’s glare but reappear a few days later on the evening side. Then, in August, Saturn will drift past the direction opposite the Sun and so become visible at dusk instead of dawn. The next time that all eight planets will be simultaneously visible in a morning sky will be in 2122.
Which part of the Moon is this? No part — because this is the planet Mercury. Mercury’s old surface is heavily cratered like that of Earth’s Moon. Mercury, while only slightly larger than Luna, is much denser and more massive than any Solar System moon because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, our Earth is the only planet more dense. Because Mercury rotates exactly three times for every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury’s orbit is so elliptical, visitors on Mercury could see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. From Earth, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun causes it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise. The featured image was captured last week by ESA and JAXA‘s passing BepiColombo spacecraft as it sheds energy and prepares to orbit the innermost planet starting in 2025.
The Gum Nebula is so large and close it is actually hard to see. This interstellar expanse of glowing hydrogen gas frequently evades notice because it spans 35 degrees — over 70 full Moons — while much of it is quite dim. This featured spectacular 90-degree wide mosaic, however, was designed to be both wide and deep enough to bring up the Gum — visible in red on the right. The image was acquired late last year with both the foreground — including Haba Snow Mountain — and the background — including the Milky Way’s central band — captured by the same camera and from the same location in Shangri-La, Yunnan, China. The Gum Nebula is so close that we are only about 450 light-years from the front edge, while about 1,500 light-years from the back edge. Named for a cosmic cloud hunter, Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum (1924-1960), the origin of this complex nebula is still being debated. A leading theory for the origin of the Gum Nebula is that it is the remnant of a million year-old supernova explosion, while a competing theory holds that the Gum is a molecular cloud shaped over eons by multiple supernovas and the outflowing winds of several massive stars.
What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon‘s outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became one of the brighter stars in the Milky Way Galaxy in early 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it shrunk and faded. A stellar flash like this had never been seen before — supernovas and novas expel matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the featured image from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly expanding light echo of the original flash. In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant surfaces in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.
Simultaneous images from four cameras were combined to construct this atmospheric predawn skyscape. The cooperative astro-panorama captures all the planets of the Solar System, just before sunrise on June 24. That foggy morning found innermost planet Mercury close to the horizon but just visible against the twilight, below and left of brilliant Venus. Along with the waning crescent Moon, the other bright naked-eye planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie near the ecliptic, arcing up and to the right across the wide field of view. Binoculars would have been required to spot the much fainter planets Uranus and Neptune, though they also were along the ecliptic in the sky. In the foreground are excavations at an ancient Roman villa near Marina di San Nicola, Italy, planet Earth.
A solar filament is an enormous stream of incandescent plasma suspended above the active surface of the Sun by looping magnetic fields. Seen against the solar disk it looks dark only because it’s a little cooler, and so slightly dimmer, than the solar photosphere. Suspended above the solar limb the same structure looks bright when viewed against the blackness of space and is called a solar prominence. A filaprom would be both of course, a stream of magnetized plasma that crosses in front of the solar disk and extends beyond the Sun’s edge. In this hydrogen-alpha close-up of the Sun captured on June 22, active region AR3038 is near the center of the frame. Active region AR3032 is seen at the far right, close to the Sun’s western limb. As AR3032 is carried by rotation toward the Sun’s visible edge, what was once a giant filament above it is now partly seen as a prominence, How big is AR3032’s filaprom? For scale planet Earth is shown near the top right corner.
Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo but appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy’s elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past smaller satellite galaxy NGC 6744A at the lower right. NGC 6744’s galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Ten thousand years ago, before the dawn of recorded human history, a new light would have suddenly have appeared in the night sky and faded after a few weeks. Today we know this light was from a supernova, or exploding star, and record the expanding debris cloud as the Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant. Imaged with color filters featuring light emitted by sulfur (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue), this deep wide-angle view was processed to remove the stars and so better capture the impressive glowing filaments of the Veil. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula is roughly circular in shape and covers nearly 3 degrees on the sky toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). Famous nebular sections include the Bat Nebula, the Witch’s Broom Nebula, and Fleming’s Triangular Wisp. The complete supernova remnant lies about 1,400 light-years away.
Does the Sun return to the same spot on the sky every day? No. A better and more visual answer to that question is an analemma, a composite of images taken at the same time and from the same place over the course of a year. The featured analemma was compiled at 4:30 pm many afternoons from Taiwan during 2021, with the city skyline of Taipei in the foreground, including tall Taipei 101. The Sun‘s location in December — at the December solstice — is shown on the far left, while its location at the June solstice is captured on the far right. Also shown are the positions of the Sun throughout the rest of the day on the solstices and equinoxes. Today is the June solstice of 2022, the day in Earth‘s northern hemisphere when the Sun spends the longest time in the sky. In many countries, today marks the official beginning of a new season, for example winter in Earth’s southern hemisphere.