Clouds in the LMC

An alluring sight in southern skies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen in this deep and detailed telescopic mosaic. Recorded with broadband and narrowband filters, the scene spans some 5 degrees or 10 full moons. The narrowband filters are designed to transmit only light emitted by hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Ionized by energetic starlight, the atoms emit their characteristic light as electrons are recaptured and the atoms transition to a lower energy state. As a result, in this image the LMC seems covered with its own clouds of ionized gas surrounding its massive, young stars. Sculpted by the strong stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation, the glowing clouds, dominated by emission from hydrogen, are known as H II (ionized hydrogen) regions. Itself composed of many overlapping H II regions, the Tarantula Nebula is the large star forming region at the left. The largest satellite of our Milky Way Galaxy, the LMC is about 15,000 light-years across and lies a mere 160,000 light-years away toward the constellation Dorado. via NASA

Jupiter’s Swirling South Pole

This image of Jupiter’s swirling south polar region was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it neared completion of its tenth close flyby of the gas giant planet. via NASA

Jupiter’s Swirling South Pole

This image of Jupiter’s swirling south polar region was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it neared completion of its tenth close flyby of the gas giant planet. via NASA

Even in the Desert

For the second time in three years, snow has accumulated in the desert near the northern Algerian town of Aïn Séfra. via NASA

In the Valley of Orion

This exciting and unfamiliar view of the Orion Nebula is a visualization based on astronomical data and movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled frame transitions from a visible light representation based on Hubble data on the left to infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope on the right. The perspective at the center looks along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region’s giant molecular cloud. Orion’s valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The single frame is part of a multiwavelength, three-dimensional video that lets the viewer experience an immersive, three minute flight through the Great Nebula of Orion. via NASA

An Elephant s Trunk in Cepheus

With image data from telescopes large and small, this close-up features the dusty Elephant’s Trunk Nebula. It winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant’s trunk is over 20 light-years long. The colorful view highlights bright, swept-back ridges that outline the region’s pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field, about the size of 2 Full Moons. via NASA

Rigel and the Witch Head Nebula

By starlight this eerie visage shines in the dark, a crooked profile evoking its popular name, the Witch Head Nebula. In fact, this entrancing telescopic portrait gives the impression that the witch has fixed her gaze on Orion’s bright supergiant star Rigel. More formally known as IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula spans about 50 light-years and is composed of interstellar dust grains reflecting Rigel’s starlight. The blue color of the Witch Head Nebula and of the dust surrounding Rigel is caused not only by Rigel’s intense blue starlight but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth’s daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in Earth’s atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. Rigel, the Witch Head Nebula, and gas and dust that surrounds them lie about 800 light-years away. via NASA

Three Galaxies and a Comet

Diffuse starlight and dark nebulae along the southern Milky Way arc over the horizon and sprawl diagonally through this gorgeous nightscape. The breath-taking mosaic spans a wide 100 degrees, with the rugged terrain of the Patagonia, Argentina region in the foreground. Along with the insider’s view of our own galaxy, the image features our outside perspective on two irregular satellite galaxies – the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The scene also captures the broad tail and bright coma of Comet McNaught, the Great Comet of 2007. via NASA

Launch and Landing

A composite of three consecutive exposures, this night skyscape follows the January 7 launch and first stage landing of a Falcon 9 rocket from a beach on planet Earth’s space coast. With the launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the bright streak beginning farthest left traces the initial phase of the rocket’s flight. A visible upward hook marks the first stage beginning its return trajectory with a “boostback burn” near the top of the arc, while the second stage separates and continues toward orbit. Above the top of the launch arc due to perspective, a bright streak shows the returning first stage slowing and descending toward the Cape. Centered below, the streak at the horizon is a 17 second burn finally slowing the first stage to a successful vertical landing about 8 minutes after launch at Landing Zone 1. During the scene’s effective long exposure time, the background stars leave short trails in the night sky of the rotating planet. via NASA