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NASA PhotoNews: The Fairy of Eagle Nebula

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Image Credit: NASA, ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA)

Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

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NASA PhotoNews: IC 1871. Inside the Soul Nebula

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Image Credit & Copyright: Mark Hanson

Explanation: This cosmic close-up looks deep inside the Soul Nebula. The dark and brooding dust clouds on the left, outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas, are cataloged as IC 1871. About 25 light-years across, the telescopic field of view spans only a small part of the much larger Heart and Soul nebulae. At an estimated distance of 6,500 light-years the star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, seen in planet Earth's skies toward the constellation Cassiopeia. An example of triggered star formation, the dense star-forming clouds of IC 1871 are themselves sculpted by the intense winds and radiation of the region's massive young stars. The featured image appears mostly red due to the emission of a specific color of light emitted by excited hydrogen gas.

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18.11.28

NASA PhotoNews: Phobos: Doomed Moon of Mars

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Image Credit: Viking Project, JPL, NASA; Mosaic Processing: Edwin V. Bell II (NSSDC/Raytheon ITSS)

Explanation: This moon is doomed. Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. The origin of the Martian moons is unknown, though, with a leading hypothesis holding that they are captured asteroids. The larger moon, at 25-kilometers across, is Phobos, and is indeed seen to be a cratered, asteroid-like object in this false-colored image mosaic taken by the robotic Viking 1 mission in 1978. A recent analysis of the unusual long grooves seen on Phobos indicates that they may result from boulders rolling away from the giant impact that created the crater on the upper left: Stickney Crater. Phobos orbits so close to Mars - about 5,800 kilometers above the surface compared to 400,000 kilometers for our Moon - that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. The ultimate result will be …

Shipwreck at Moonset

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Image Credit & Copyright: Vikas Chander

Explanation: A crescent Moon is about to sink under the western horizon in this sea and night skyscape. The atmospheric photo was taken on September 11 from the desert shore along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. So close to moonset, the moonlight is reddened and dimmed by the low, long line-of-sight across the Atlantic. But near the center of the frame Venus still shines brightly, its light reflected in calm ocean waters. The celestial beacon above the brilliant evening star is bright planet Jupiter. Namibia's Skeleton Coast was so named for the many seal and whale bones that were once strewn along the shoreline. In more recent times it's better known for shipwrecks.

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18.11.24

Good Morning Leonid!

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Image Credit & Copyright: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrées), TWAN

Explanation: On November 17, just an hour before sunrise, this bright and colorful meteor flashed through clear predawn skies. Above a sea of clouds this striking autumn morning's moment was captured from Hochblauen, a prominent 1165 meter high summit in southern Germany's Black Forest. Shining through the twilight, Sirius as well as the familiar stars of Orion are recognizable near the southwestern horizon, and the meteor seems headed right for the hunter's belt and sword. Still, as part of the annual Leonid meteor shower, the meteor trail does point back to the shower's radiant. The constellation Leo is high above the horizon and off the top left of the frame.

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18.11.23

NASA PhotoNews: Portrait of NGC 281

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Image Credit & Copyright: Jeremiah Roth

Explanation: Look through the cosmic cloud cataloged as NGC 281 and you might miss the stars of open cluster IC 1590. Still, formed within the nebula that cluster's young, massive stars ultimately power the pervasive nebular glow. The eye-catching shapes looming in this portrait of NGC 281 are sculpted dusty columns and dense Bok globules seen in silhouette, eroded by intense, energetic winds and radiation from the hot cluster stars. If they survive long enough, the dusty structures could also be sites of future star formation. Playfully called the Pacman Nebula because of its overall shape, NGC 281 is about 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. This sharp composite image was made through narrow-band filters. It combines emission from the nebula's hydrogen and oxygen atoms to synthesize red, green, and blue colors. The scene spans well over 80 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 281.

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NASA PhotoNews: Swirls and Colors on Jupiter from Juno

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Image Credit: NASA, Juno, SwRI, MSSS; Processing & License: Matt Brealey, Seán Doran

Explanation: What creates the colors in Jupiter's clouds? No one is sure. The thick atmosphere of Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, elements which are colorless at the low temperatures of the Jovian cloud tops. Which trace elements provide the colors remains a topic of research, although small amounts of ammonium hydrosulfide are one leading candidate. What is clear from the featured color-enhanced image -- and many similar images -- is that lighter clouds are typically higher up than darker ones. Pictured, light clouds swirl around reddish regions toward the lower right, while they appear to cover over some darker domains on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft during its 14th low pass over Jupiter earlier this year. Juno continues in its looping elliptical orbit, swooping near the huge planet every 53 days and exploring a slightly different sector …

NASA PhotoNews: Gibbous Moon beyond Swedish Mountain

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Image Credit & Copyright: Göran Strand

Explanation: This is a gibbous Moon. More Earthlings are familiar with a full moon, when the entire face of Luna is lit by the Sun, and a crescent moon, when only a sliver of the Moon's face is lit. When more than half of the Moon is illuminated, though, but still short of full illumination, the phase is called gibbous. Rarely seen in television and movies, gibbous moons are quite common in the actual night sky. The featured image was taken in Jämtland, Sweden near the end of last month. That gibbous moon turned, in a few days, into a crescent moon, and then a new moon, then back to a crescent, and a few days ago back to gibbous. And this same gibbous moon is visible again tonight, leading up to the Full Beaver Moon that occurs Friday night. Setting up to capture a picturesque gibbous moonscape, the photographer was quite surprised to find an airplane, surely well in the foreground, appearing to fly past it.

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18.11…

NASA PhotoNews: The Tarantula Nebula

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Image Credit & Copyright: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)

Explanation: 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 spectacular view, composed with narrowband filter data centered on emission from ionized hydrogen atoms. 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, left of center. The rich f…

The Cave Nebula in Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Sulfur

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Image Credit & Copyright: Chuck Ayoub

Explanation: What's inside this cosmic cave? A stellar nursery 10 light-years deep. The featured skyscape is dominated by dusty Sh2-155, the Cave Nebula. In the telescopic image, data taken through a narrowband filters tracks the nebular glow of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, colors that together form the Hubble Palette. About 2,400 light-years away, the scene lies along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus. Astronomical explorations of the region reveal that it has formed at the boundary of the massive Cepheus B molecular cloud and the hot, young stars of the Cepheus OB 3 association. The bright rim of ionized hydrogen gas is energized by radiation from the hot stars, dominated by the bright star just to the left of the cave entrance. Radiation driven ionization fronts are likely triggering collapsing cores and new star formation within.

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18.11.14

NASA PhotoNews: The Lagoon Nebula is Stars, Gas, and Dust

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Image Credit & Copyright: Nelson Ortega

Explanation: The majestic Lagoon Nebula is filled with hot gas and the home for many young stars. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebula is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. The featured image was taken in three colors with details are brought out by light emitted by Hydrogen. Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many dark dust-laden globules that exist there.

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18.11.12

NASA PhotoNews: Astronaut Exploring: An Apollo 15 Panorama

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA, USGS, Apollo 15 Crew

Explanation: What would it be like to explore the Moon? NASA's Apollo missions gave humans just this chance in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the Apollo 15 mission was dedicated to better understanding the surface of the Moon by exploring mountains, valleys, maria, and highlands. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin spent nearly three days on the Moon while Alfred Worden orbited above in the Command Module. The mission, which blasted off from Earth on 1971 July 26, was the first to deploy a Lunar Roving Vehicle. Pictured in this digitally stitched mosaic panorama, David Scott, exploring his surroundings, examines a boulder in front of the summit of Mt. Hadley Delta. The shadow of James Irwin is visible to the right, while scrolling to the right will reveal a well-lit and diverse lunar terrain. The Apollo 15 mission returned about 76 kilograms of moon rocks for detailed study. In the future, NASA and other sp…

NASA PhotoNews: NGC 6188: The Dragons of Ara

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Image Credit & Copyright: Tian Lee

Explanation: Dark shapes with bright edges winging their way through dusty NGC 6188 are tens of light-years long. The emission nebula is found near the edge of an otherwise dark large molecular cloud in the southern constellation Ara, about 4,000 light-years away. Born in that region only a few million years ago, the massive young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association sculpt the fantastic shapes and power the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. With image data from the Chilescope Observatory, a false-color Hubble palette was used to create this gorgeous wide-field image and shows emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in red, green, and blue hues. The field of view spans about four full Moons, corresponding to about 150 light…

NASA PhotoNews: Halo of the Cat's Eye

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Image Credit & Copyright: Data: Michael Joner (West Mountain Observatory, BYU),
Romano Corradi (IAC), Hubble Legacy Archive - Processing: Robert Gendler

Explanation: Not a Falcon 9 rocket launch after sunset, the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae in the sky. Its haunting symmetries are seen in the very central region of this composited picture, processed to reveal an enormous but extremely faint halo of gaseous material, over three light-years across. Made with data from ground- and space-based telescopes it shows the extended emission which surrounds the brighter, familiar planetary nebula. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a sun-like star. But only more recently have some planetaries been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, as…

NASA PhotoNews: NGC 1499: The California Nebula

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Image Credit & Copyright: Bray Falls

Explanation: There's even a California in space. Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far fro…

NASA PhotoNews: Shells of Stars in Elliptical Galaxy PGC 42871

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Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA; Processing & Copyright: Domingo Pestana

Explanation: How do galaxies grow? To help find out, the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed to image the unusual elliptical galaxy PGC 42871. How this galaxy came to be surrounded by numerous shells of stars may give clues about how it evolved. Embedded in the diffuse shells are massive globular clusters of stars -- stars which analyses show were born during three different epochs. This and other data indicate that PGC 42871 has been in at least two galactic collisions, at least one of which might have been with a former spiral galaxy. The remaining spiral galaxy on the far left is at the same distance as PGC 42871 and may have been involved in some of the collisions. PGC 42871 spans about 20 thousand light years and lies about 270 million light years away toward the constellation of Centaurus.

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18.10.29

NASA PhotoNews: IC 59 and IC 63 in Cassiopeia

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Image Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.)

Explanation: These bright rims and flowing shapes look ghostly on a cosmic scale. A telescopic view toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the colorful (zoomable) skyscape features the swept-back, comet-shaped clouds IC 59 (left) and IC 63. About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually ghosts, but they are slowly disappearing under the influence of energetic radiation from hot,luminous star gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae, just off the top right edge of the frame. Slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as hydrogen atoms ionized by the star's ultraviolet radiation recombine with electrons. Farther from the star, IC 59 shows proportionally less H-alpha emission but more of the characteristic blue tint of dust reflected star light. The field of view spans about 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of g…

NASA PhotoNews: Hyperion: Largest Known Galaxy Proto-Supercluster

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Visualization Credit: ESO, L. Calçada & Olga Cucciati et al.

Explanation: How did galaxies form in the early universe? To help find out, astronomers surveyed a patch of dark night sky with the Very Large Telescope array in Chile to find and count galaxies that formed when our universe was very young. Analysis of the distribution of some distant galaxies (redshifts near 2.5) found an enormous conglomeration of galaxies that spanned 300 million light years and contained about 5,000 times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. Dubbed Hyperion, it is currently the largest and most massive proto-supercluster yet discovered in the early universe. A proto-supercluster is a group of young galaxies that is gravitationally collapsing to create a supercluster, which itself a group of several galaxy clusters, which itself is a group of hundreds of galaxies, which itself is a group of billions of stars. In the featured visualization, massive galaxies are depicted in white, while regions containing a…

NASA PhotoNews: Apollo 12 Visits Surveyor 3

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Image Credit: Apollo 12 Crew, NASA

Explanation: Apollo 12 was the second mission to land humans on the Moon. The landing site was picked to be near the location of Surveyor 3, a robot spacecraft that had landed on the Moon three years earlier. In the featured photograph, taken by lunar module pilot Alan Bean, mission commander Pete Conrad jiggles the Surveyor spacecraft to see how firmly it is situated. The lunar module is visible in the distance. Apollo 12 brought back many photographs and moon rocks. Among the milestones achieved by Apollo 12 was the deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, which carried out many experiments including one that measured the solar wind.

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18.10.22

NASA PhotoNews: M15: Dense Globular Star Cluster

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Image Credit & Copyright: Bernhard Huble (CEDIC)

Explanation: Messier 15 is an immense swarm of over 100,000 stars. A 13 billion year old relic of the early formative years of our galaxy it's one of about 170 globular star clusters that still roam the halo of the Milky Way. Centered in this sharp telescopic view, M15 lies about 35,000 light years away toward the constellation Pegasus, well beyond the spiky foreground stars. Its diameter is about 200 light-years. But more than half its stars are packed into the central 10 light-years or so, one of the densest concentrations of stars known. Hubble-based measurements of the increasing velocities of M15's central stars are evidence that a massive black hole resides at the center of dense globular cluster M15.

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18.10.17