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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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