Do you recognize this constellation? Through the icicles and past the mountains is Orion, one of the most identifiable star groupings on the sky and an icon familiar to humanity for over 30,000 years. Orion has looked pretty much the same during the past 50,000 years and should continue to look the same for many thousands of years into the future. Orion is quite prominent in the sky this time of year, a recurring sign of (modern) winter in Earth’s northern hemisphere and summer in the south. Pictured, Orion was captured recently above the Austrian Alps in a composite of seven images taken by the same camera in the same location during the same night. Below and slightly to the right of Orion’s three-star belt is the Orion Nebula, while the four bright stars surrounding the belt are, clockwise from the upper left, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel, and Saiph.
Why would a bright full Moon suddenly become dark? Because it entered the shadow of the Earth. That’s what happened Sunday night as the Moon underwent a total lunar eclipse. Dubbed by some as a Super (because the Moon was angularly larger than usual, at least slightly) Blood (because the scattering of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere makes an eclipsed Moon appeared unusually red) Wolf (because January full moons are sometimes called Wolf Moons from the legend that wolves like to howl at the moon) Moon Eclipse, the shadowy spectacle was visible from the half of the Earth then facing the Moon, and was captured in numerous spectacular photographs. Featured, a notable image sequence was captured over the Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Cologne, Germany. The lunar eclipse sequence was composed from 68 different exposures captured over three hours during freezing temperatures — and later digitally combined and edited to remove a cyclist and a pedestrian. The next total lunar eclipse will occur in 2021.
The Moon slid through Earth’s shadow on January 31, 2018 in a total lunar eclipse. In this time-lapse sequence of that eclipse from Portal, Arizona, USA, the partial eclipse starts with the Moon high in the western sky. The eclipse total phase lasted about 76 minutes, but totality ended after the dark, reddened Moon set below the horizon. The upcoming total lunar eclipse, on the night of January 20/21, will be better placed for skygazers across the Americas, though. There, all 62 minutes of the total phase, when the Moon is completely immersed in Earth’s dark umbral shadow, will take place with the Moon above the horizon. Watch it if you can. The next total lunar eclipse visible from anywhere on planet Earth won’t take place until May 26, 2021, and then the total eclipse will last a mere 15 minutes.
Gocka’s, a family nickname for the mountain cabin, and a wooden sled from a generation past stand quietly under the stars. The single exposure image was taken on January 6 from Tanndalen Sweden to evoke a simple visual experience of the dark mountain skies. A pale band of starlight along the Milky Way sweeps through the scene. At the foot of Orion the Hunter, bright star Rigel shines just above the old kicksled’s handrail. Capella, alpha star of Auriga the celestial charioteer, is the brightest star at the top of the frame. In fact, the familiar stars of the winter hexagon and the Pleiades star cluster can all be found in this beautiful skyscape from a northern winter night.
Similar in size to large, bright spiral galaxies in our neighborhood, IC 342 is a mere 10 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation Camelopardalis. A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would otherwise be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is hidden from clear view and only glimpsed through the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds along the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. Even though IC 342’s light is dimmed and reddened by intervening cosmic clouds, this sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy’s own obscuring dust, young star clusters, and glowing pink star forming regions along spiral arms that wind far from the galaxy’s core. IC 342 may have undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.
Is the heart and soul of our Galaxy located in Cassiopeia? Possibly not, but that is where two bright emission nebulas nicknamed Heart and Soul can be found. The Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the featured image on the bottom right, has a shape reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. The Soul Nebula is officially designated IC 1871 and is visible on the upper left. Both nebulas shine brightly in the red light of energized hydrogen. Also shown in this three-color montage is light emitted from sulfur, shown in yellow, and oxygen, shown in blue. Several young open clusters of stars are visible near the nebula centers. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years. Studies of stars and clusters like those found in the Heart and Soul Nebulas have focused on how massive stars form and how they affect their environment.
What star created this huge puffball? What’s pictured is the hot expanding nebula of Tycho’s supernova remnant, the result of a stellar explosion first recorded over 400 years ago by the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. The featured image is a composite of three X-ray colors taken by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. The expanding gas cloud is extremely hot, while slightly different expansion speeds have given the cloud a puffy appearance. Although the star that created SN 1572, is likely completely gone, a star dubbed Tycho G, too dim to be discerned here, is thought to be a companion. Finding progenitor remnants of Tycho’s supernova is particularly important because the supernova is of Type Ia, an important rung in the distance ladder that calibrates the scale of the visible universe. The peak brightness of Type Ia supernovas is thought to be well understood, making them quite valuable in exploring the relationship between faintness and farness in the distant universe.