Alnitak and the Flame Nebula

What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible on the far left, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The … Continue reading Alnitak and the Flame Nebula

When Black Holes Collide

What happens when two black holes collide? This extreme scenario occurs in the centers of many merging galaxies and multiple star systems. The featured video shows a computer animation of the final stages of such a merger, while highlighting the gravitational lensing effects that would appear on a background starfield. The black regions indicate the event horizons of the dynamic duo, while a surrounding ring of shifting background stars indicates the position of their combined Einstein ring. All background stars not only have images visible outside of this Einstein ring, but also have one or more companion images visible on … Continue reading When Black Holes Collide

Zodiacal Night

An intense band of zodiacal light is captured in this serene mountain and night skyscape from April 7. The panoramic view was recorded after three hours of hiking from a vantage looking west after sunset across the Pyrenees in southern France. At 2838 meters altitude, Mont Valier is the tallest peak near center. In the sky above, the familiar stars of Orion and the northern winter Milky Way are approaching the rugged western horizon. At the shoulder of Orion, Betelgeuse is one of three bright yellowish celestial beacons. It forms a triangle with fellow red giant star Aldebaran located below … Continue reading Zodiacal Night

Messier 106

Close to the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and surrounded by the stars of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici), this celestial wonder was discovered in 1781 by the metric French astronomer Pierre Mechain. Later, it was added to the catalog of his friend and colleague Charles Messier as M106. Modern deep telescopic views reveal it to be an island universe – a spiral galaxy around 30 thousand light-years across located only about 21 million light-years beyond the stars of the Milky Way. Along with a bright central core, this stunning galaxy portrait, a composite of image data from amateur and professional … Continue reading Messier 106

3D Ingenuity

The multicolor, stereo imaging Mastcam-Z on the Perseverance rover zoomed in to captured this 3D close-up (get out your red/blue glasses) of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter on mission sol 45, April 5. That’s only a few sols before the technology demonstrating Ingenuity will attempt to fly in the thin martian atmosphere, making the first powered flight on another planet. The historic test flight is planned for no earlier than Sunday, April 11. Casting its shadow on the martian surface, Ingenuity is standing alone on four landing legs next to the rover’s wheel tracks. The experimental helicopter’s solar panel, charging batteries … Continue reading 3D Ingenuity

Threads of NGC 1947

Found in far southern skies, deep within the boundaries of the constellation Dorado, NGC 1947 is some 40 million light-years away. In silhouette against starlight, obscuring lanes of cosmic dust thread across the peculiar galaxy’s bright central regions. Unlike the rotation of stars, gas, and dust tracing the arms of spiral galaxies, the motions of dust and gas don’t follow the motions of stars in NGC 1947 though. Their more complicated disconnected motion suggest this galaxy’s visible threads of dust and gas may have come from a donor galaxy, accreted by NGC 1947 during the last 3 billion years or … Continue reading Threads of NGC 1947

Mars and the Pleiades Beyond Vinegar Hill

Is this just a lonely tree on an empty hill? To start, perhaps, but look beyond. There, a busy universe may wait to be discovered. First, physically, to the left of the tree, is the planet Mars. The red planet, which is the new home to NASA’s Perseverance rover, remains visible this month at sunset above the western horizon. To the tree’s right is the Pleiades, a bright cluster of stars dominated by several bright blue stars. The featured picture is a composite of several separate foreground and background images taken within a few hours of each other, early last … Continue reading Mars and the Pleiades Beyond Vinegar Hill