Camera Orion

Do you recognize this constellation? Although it is one of the most recognizable star groupings on the sky, Orion’s icons don’t look quite as colorful to the eye as they do to a camera. In this 20-image digitally-composed mosaic, cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange tint as the brightest star at the upper left. Orion’s hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the lower right, and Bellatrix at the upper right Lined up in Orion’s belt are three stars all about 1,500 light-years away, born from the constellation’s well-studied interstellar clouds. Below Orion’s belt a reddish and fuzzy patch that might also look familiar — the stellar nursery known as Orion’s Nebula. Finally, just barely visible to the unaided eye but quite striking here by camera is Barnard’s Loop — a huge gaseous emission nebula surrounding Orion’s Belt and Nebula discovered over 100 years ago by the pioneering Orion photographer E. E. Barnard. via NASA

The Nebra Sky Disk

It is considered the oldest known illustration of the night sky. But what, exactly, does it depict, and why was it made? The Nebra sky disk was found with a metal detector in 1999 by treasure hunters near Nebra, Germany, in the midst of several bronze-age weapons. The ancient artifact spans about 30 centimeters and has been associated with the Unetice culture that inhabited part of Europe around 1600 BC. Reconstructed, the dots are thought to represent stars, with the cluster representing the Pleiades, and the large circle and the crescent representing the Sun and Moon. The purpose of the disk remains unknown — hypotheses including an astronomical clock, a work of art, and a religious symbol. Valued at about $11 million, some believe that the Nebra sky disk is only one of a pair, with the other disk still out there waiting to be discovered. via NASA

Rotating Moon from LRO

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That’s because the Earth’s moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has been composed. The above time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands. Currently, over 20 new missions to the Moon are under active development from four different countries, most of which have expected launch dates either this year or next. via NASA

The Crab from Space

The Crab Nebula is cataloged as M1, the first object on Charles Messier’s famous list of things which are not comets. In fact, the Crab is now known to be a supernova remnant, expanding debris from the death explosion of a massive star. This intriguing false-color image combines data from space-based observatories, Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer, to explore the debris cloud in X-rays (blue-white), optical (purple), and infrared (pink) light. One of the most exotic objects known to modern astronomers, the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star spinning 30 times a second, is the bright spot near picture center. Like a cosmic dynamo, this collapsed remnant of the stellar core powers the Crab’s emission across the electromagnetic spectrum. Spanning about 12 light-years, the Crab Nebula is 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. via NASA

The Seagull and The Duck

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 (top center) 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 the nebula’s 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 the slightly more dramatic popular moniker, Thor’s Helmet. via NASA

Catalog Entry Number 1

Every journey has first step and every catalog a first entry. First entries in six well-known deep sky catalogs appear in these panels, from upper left to lower right in chronological order of original catalog publication. From 1774, Charles Messier’s catalog entry number 1 is M1, famous cosmic crustacean and supernova remnant the Crab Nebula. J.L.E. Dreyer’s (not so new) New General Catalog was published in 1888. A spiral galaxy in Pegasus, his NGC 1 is centered in the next panel. Just below it in the frame is another spiral galaxy cataloged as NGC 2. In Dreyer’s follow-on Index Catalog (next panel), IC 1 is actually a faint double star, though. Now recognized as part of the Perseus molecular cloud complex, dark nebula Barnard 1 begins the bottom row from Dark Markings of the Sky, a 1919 catalog by E.E. Barnard. Abell 1 is a distant galaxy cluster in Pegasus, from George Abell’s 1958 catalog of Rich Clusters of Galaxies. The final panel is centered on vdB 1, from Sidney van den Bergh’s 1966 study. The pretty, blue galactic reflection nebula is found in the constellation Cassiopeia. via NASA

Flying over the Earth at Night II

What would it be like to orbit the Earth? The International Space Station (ISS) does this every 90 minutes, and sometimes the astronauts on board take image sequences that are made into videos. The featured time-lapse video shows many visual spectacles of the dark Earth below. First, as the video begins, green and red auroras are visible on the upper left above white clouds. Soon city lights come into view, and it becomes clear you are flying over North America, eventually passing over Florida. In the second sequence you fly over Europe and Africa, eventually passing over the Nile River. Brief flashes of light are lightning in storms. Stars far in the distance can be seen rising through the greenish-gold glow of the Earth’s atmosphere. via NASA

Horsehead: A Wider View

Combined image data from the massive, ground-based VISTA telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope was used to create this wide perspective of the interstellar landscape surrounding the famous Horsehead Nebula. Captured at near-infrared wavelengths, the region’s dusty molecular cloud sprawls across the scene that covers an angle about two-thirds the size of the Full Moon on the sky. Left to right the frame spans just over 10 light-years at the Horsehead’s estimated distance of 1,600 light-years. Also known as Barnard 33, the still recognizable Horsehead Nebula stands at the upper right, the near-infrared glow of a dusty pillar topped with newborn stars. Below and left, the bright reflection nebula NGC 2023 is itself the illuminated environs of a hot young star. Obscuring clouds below the base of the Horsehead and on the outskirts of NGC 2023 show the tell-tale far red emission of energetic jets, known as Herbig-Haro objects, also associated with newborn stars. via NASA

Cyclones at Jupiter s North Pole

Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper data was used to construct this stunning view of cyclones at Jupiter’s North Pole. Measuring the thermal emission from Jovian cloud tops, the infrared the observations are not restricted to the hemisphere illuminated by sunlight. They reveal eight cyclonic features that surround a cyclone about 4,000 kilometers in diameter, just offset from the giant planet’s geographic North Pole. Similar data show a cyclone at the Jovian South Pole with five circumpolar cyclones. The South Pole cyclones are slightly larger than their northern cousins. Cassini data has shown that gas giant Saturn’s north and south poles each have a single cyclonic storm system. via NASA

Arcs, Jets, and Shocks near NGC 1999

This tantalizing array of nebulas and stars can be found about two degrees south of the famous star-forming Orion Nebula. The region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows that push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second. The interaction creates luminous shock waves known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. For example, the graceful, flowing arc just right of center is cataloged as HH 222, also called the Waterfall Nebula. Seen below the Waterfall, HH 401 has a distinctive cone shape. The bright bluish nebula below and left of center is NGC 1999, a dusty cloud reflecting light from an embedded variable star. The entire cosmic vista spans over 30 light-years, near the edge of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex some 1,500 light-years distant. via NASA