Astronomy anyone?

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Ring Nebula Deep Field
Credit & Copyright: Vicent Peris (DSA / OAUV / PixInsight), Jack Harvey (DSA / SSRO),
Steve Mazlin (DSA / SSRO), Jose Luis Lamadrid (DSA / ceFca), Ana Guijarro (CAHA), RECTA, DSA.


Explanation: A familiar sight to sky enthusiasts with even a small telescope, the Ring Nebula (M57) is some 2,000 light-years away in the musical constellation Lyra. The central ring is about one light-year across, but this remarkably deep exposure - a collaborative effort combining data from three different telescopes - explores the looping filaments of glowing gas extending much farther from the nebula's central star. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. This remarkable composite image includes narrowband image data recording the Ring's atomic hydrogen emission (shown as violet) in visible light and molecular hydrogen emission (shown as red) at near infrared wavelengths. The much more distant spiral galaxy IC 1296 is also visible at the upper right.
 

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Stickney Crater
Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA


Explanation: Stickney Crater, the largest crater on the martian moon Phobos, is named for Chloe Angeline Stickney Hall, mathematician and wife of astronomer Asaph Hall. Asaph Hall discovered both the Red Planet's moons in 1877. Over 9 kilometers across, Stickney is nearly half the diameter of Phobos itself, so large that the impact that blasted out the crater likely came close to shattering the tiny moon. This stunning, enhanced-color image of Stickney and surroundings was recorded by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it passed within some six thousand kilometers of Phobos in March of 2008. Even though the surface gravity of asteroid-like Phobos is less than 1/1000th Earth's gravity, streaks suggest loose material has slid down inside the crater walls over time. Light bluish regions near the crater's rim could indicate a relatively freshly exposed surface. The origin of the curious grooves along the surface is mysterious but may be related to the crater-forming impact.
 

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Saturn After Equinox
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA


Explanation: The other side of Saturn's ring plane is now directly illuminated by the Sun. For the previous 15 years, the southern side of Saturn and its rings were directly illuminated, but since Saturn's equinox in August, the orientation has reversed. Pictured above last month, the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn has captured the giant planet and its majestic rings soon after equinox. Imaged from nearly behind, Saturn and its moon Tethys each show a crescent phase to Cassini that is not visible from Earth. As the rings continue to point nearly toward the Sun, only a thin shadow of Saturn's rings is visible across the center of the planet. Close inspection of Saturn's rings, however, shows superposed bright features identified as spokes that are thought to be groups of very small electrically charged ice particles. Understanding the nature and dynamics of spokes is not fully understood and remains a topic of resear
 

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Great Observatories Explore Galactic Center
Credit: NASA, ESA, SSC, CXC, and STScI


Explanation: Where can a telescope take you? Four hundred years ago, a telescope took Galileo to the Moon to discover craters, to Saturn to discover rings, to Jupiter to discover moons, to Venus to discover phases, and to the Sun to discover spots. Today, in celebration of Galileo's telescopic achievements and as part of the International Year of Astronomy, NASA has used its entire fleet of Great Observatories, and the Internet, to bring the center of our Galaxy to you. Pictured above, in greater detail and in more colors than ever seen before, are the combined images of the Hubble Space Telescope in optical light, the Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared light, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory in X-ray light. A menagerie of vast star fields is visible, along with dense star clusters, long filaments of gas and dust, expanding supernova remnants, and the energetic surroundings of what likely is our Galaxy's central black hole. Many of these features are labeled on a complementary annotated image. Of course, a telescope's magnification and light-gathering ability create only an image of what a human could see if visiting these places. To actually go requires rockets.
 

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Art and Science in NGC 918
Credit & Copyright: Joseph Brimacombe



Explanation: This beautiful telescopic skyscape features spiral galaxy NGC 918. The island universe is about 50,000 light-years across and lies some 60 million light-years away toward the constellation Aries. An artistic presentation, the image shows spiky foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy and convoluted dust clouds that hang hundreds of light-years above our galactic plane, dimly reflecting starlight. It also captures NGC 918 in a cosmic moment important to astrophysicists on planet Earth. Light from supernova SN2009js, absent in previous images, is indicated by the two lines just below and left of the galaxy's center. The supernova itself is the death explosion of a massive star within the plane of galaxy NGC 918. It was just discovered in October by supernova search teams in Japan and the US.
 

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Young Stars in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud
Credit: NASA JPL-Caltech, Harvard-Smithsonian CfA


Explanation: Cosmic dust clouds and embedded newborn stars glow at infrared wavelengths in this tantalizing false-color view from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Pictured is of one of the closest star forming regions, part of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex some 400 light-years distant near the southern edge of the pronounceable constellation Ophiuchus. The view spans about 5 light-years at that estimated distance. After forming along a large cloud of cold molecular hydrogen gas, newborn stars heat the surrounding dust to produce the infrared glow. An exploration of the region in penetrating infrared light has detected some 300 emerging and newly formed stars whose average age is estimated to be a mere 300,000 years -- extremely young compared to the Sun's age of 5 billion years.
 

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M57: The Ring Nebula
Credit: H. Bond et al., Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), NASA


Explanation: It looks like a ring on the sky. Hundreds of years ago astronomers noticed a nebula with a most unusual shape. Now known as M57 or NGC 6720, the gas cloud became popularly known as the Ring Nebula. It is now known to be a planetary nebula, a gas cloud emitted at the end of a Sun-like star's existence. As one of the brightest planetary nebula on the sky, the Ring Nebula can be seen with a small telescope in the constellation of Lyra. The Ring Nebula lies about 4,000 light years away, and is roughly 500 times the diameter of our Solar System. In this picture by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998, dust filaments and globules are visible far from the central star. This helps indicate that the Ring Nebula is not spherical, but cylindrical.
 

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M83's Center from Refurbished Hubble
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgement: R. O'Connell (U. Virginia)


Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M83? Just about everything, from the looks of it. M83 is one of the closest spiral galaxies to our own Milky Way Galaxy and from a distance of 15 million light-years, appears to be relatively normal. Zooming in on M83's nucleus with the latest telescopes, however, shows the center to be an energetic and busy place. Visible in the above image -- from the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 pointing through the recently refurbished Hubble Space Telescope -- are bright newly formed stars and giant lanes of dark dust. An image with similar perspective from the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the region is also rich in very hot gas and small bright sources. The remnants of about 60 supernova blasts can be found in the above image.
 

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Light Echoes from V838 Mon
Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)


Explanation: 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 the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it faded. A stellar flash like this has 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 above image from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the bright flash. In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings 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.
 

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The Cat's Eye Nebula
Credit: J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCSU) HST, NASA

Explanation: Three thousand light-years away, a dying star throws off shells of glowing gas. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the Cat's Eye Nebula to be one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. In fact, the features seen in the Cat's Eye are so complex that astronomers suspect the bright central object may actually be a binary star system. The term planetary nebula, used to describe this general class of objects, is misleading. Although these objects may appear round and planet-like in small telescopes, high resolution images reveal them to be stars surrounded by cocoons of gas blown off in the late stages of stellar evolution.
 

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Andromeda Island Universe
Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh



Explanation: The most distant object easily visible to the eye is M31, the great Andromeda Galaxy some two and a half million light-years away. But without a telescope, even this immense spiral galaxy - spanning over 200,000 light years - appears as a faint, nebulous cloud in the constellation Andromeda. In contrast, details of a bright yellow nucleus and dark winding dust lanes, are revealed in this digital telescopic image. Narrow band image data, recording emission from hydrogen atoms, shows off the reddish star-forming regions dotting gorgeous blue spiral arms and young star clusters While even casual skygazers are now inspired by the knowledge that there are many distant galaxies like M31, astronomers seriously debated this fundamental concept in the 20th century. Were these "spiral nebulae" simply outlying components of our own Milky Way Galaxy or were they instead "island universes" -- distant systems of stars comparable to the Milky Way itself? This question was central to the famous Shapley-Curtis debate of 1920, which was later resolved by observations of M31 in favor of Andromeda, island universe.
 

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Messier 88
Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona



Explanation: Charles Messier described the 88th entry in his 18th century catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters as a spiral nebula without stars. Of course the gorgeous M88 is now understood to be a galaxy full of stars, gas, and dust, not unlike our own Milky Way. In fact, M88 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster some 50 million light-years away. M88's beautiful spiral arms are easy to trace in this colorful cosmic portait. The arms are lined with young blue star clusters, pink star-forming regions, and obscuring dust lanes extending from a yellowish core dominated by an older population of stars. Spiral galaxy M88 spans over 100,000 light-years.
 

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Mars and a Colorful Lunar Fog Bow
Credit & Copyright: Wally Pacholka (AstroPics.com, TWAN)



Explanation: Even from the top of a volcanic crater, this vista was unusual. For one reason, Mars was dazzlingly bright two weeks ago, when this picture was taken, as it was nearing its brightest time of the entire year. Mars, on the far upper left, is the brightest object in the above picture. The brightness of the red planet peaked last week near when Mars reached opposition, the time when Earth and Mars are closest together in their orbits. Arching across the lower part of the image is a rare lunar fog bow. Unlike a more commonly seen rainbow, which is created by sunlight reflected prismatically by falling rain, this fog bow was created by moonlight reflected by the small water drops that compose fog. Although most fog bows appear white, all of the colors of the rainbow were somehow visible here. The above image was taken from high atop Haleakala, a huge volcano in Hawaii, USA.
 

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Deep Auriga
Image Credit & Copyright: Tun? Tezel (TWAN)


Explanation: The plane of our Milky Way Galaxy runs right through Auriga, the Charioteer. A good part of the ancient northern constellation's rich collection of nebulae and star clusters is featured in this expansive, 10 degree wide skyscape. Bright star Elnath lies near the bottom right, linking Auriga to another constellation, Taurus, the Bull. Three open star clusters, Charles Messier's M36, M37, and M38 line up in the dense star field above and left of Elnath, familiar to many binocular-equiped skygazers. But the deep exposure also brings out the reddish emission nebulae of star-forming regions IC 405, IC 410, and IC 417. E. E. Barnard's dark nebulae B34 and B226 just stand out against a brighter background. For help identifying even more of Auriga's deep sky highlights, put your cursor over the image.
 

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Centaurus A
Image Credit & Copyright: Tim Carruthers



Explanation: Only 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy, also known as NGC 5128, is featured in this sharp color image. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a fantastic jumble of star clusters and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.
 

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The Seagull and the Duck
Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)


Explanation: Seen as a seagull and a duck, these nebulae are not the only cosmic clouds to evoke images of flight. But both are winging their way across this broad celestial landscape, spanning almost 7 degrees across planet Earth's night sky toward the constellation Canis Major. The expansive Seagull (upper left) is itself composed of two major cataloged emission nebulae. Brighter NGC 2327 forms the head with the more diffuse IC 2177 as the wings and body. Impressively, the Seagull's wingspan would correspond to about 250 light-years at an estimated distance of 3,800 light-years. At the lower right, the Duck appears much more compact and would span only about 50 light-years given its 15,000 light-year distance estimate. Blown by energetic winds from an extremely massive, hot star near its center, the Duck nebula is cataloged as NGC 2359. Of course, the Duck's thick body and winged appendages also lend it a more dramatic popular moniker -- Thor's Helmet.

 

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Reinvigorated Sun and Prominence
Credit & Copyright: Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)

Explanation: Dramatic prominences can sometimes be seen looming just beyond the edge of the sun. Such was the case last week as a giant prominence, visible above on the right, highlighted a Sun showing increased activity as it comes off an unusually quiet Solar Minimum. A changing carpet of hot gas is visible in the chromosphere of the Sun in the above image taken in a very specific color of light emitted by hydrogen. A solar prominence is a cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by the Sun's magnetic field. The Earth would easily fit below the prominence on the right. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. The next day, the same prominence looked slightly different.
 

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A Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree
Credit & Copyright: Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn (Weather and Sky Photography) & Stefano Cancelli (AstroGarage)


Explanation: What do the following things have in common: a cone, the fur of a fox, and a Christmas tree? Answer: they all occur in the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros). Pictured above as a star forming region cataloged as NGC 2264, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The wide mosaic spans about 3/4 degree or nearly 1.5 full moons, covering 40 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the Fox Fur Nebula, whose convoluted pelt lies at the upper left, bright variable star S Mon immersed in the blue-tinted haze just below the Fox Fur, and the Cone Nebula at the far right. Of course, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster. The triangular tree shape traced by the stars appears sideways here, with its apex at the Cone Nebula and its broader base centered near S Mon.