Chang e 5 Mission Launch

This Long March-5 rocket blasted off from the Wenchang launch site in southernmost Hainan province on Tuesday November 24, at 4:30 am Beijing Time, carrying China’s Chang’e-5 mission to the Moon. The lunar landing mission is named for the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon. Its goal is to collect about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar material from the surface and return it to planet Earth, the first robotic sample return mission to the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. The complex Chang’e-5 mission landing target is in the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms). The smooth volcanic plain was also visited by the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. Chang’e-5’s lander is solar-powered and scheduled to operate on the lunar surface during its location’s lunar daylight, which will last about two Earth weeks, beginning around November 27. A capsule with the lunar sample on board would return to Earth in mid-December. [via NASA]

The Great Turkey Nebula

Surprisingly reminiscent of The Great Nebula in Orion, The Great Turkey Nebula spans this creative field of view. Of course if it were the Orion Nebula it would be our closest large stellar nursery, found at the edge of a large molecular cloud a mere 1,500 light-years away. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula is visible to the eye as the middle “star” in the sword of Orion the Hunter, a constellation now rising in planet Earth’s evening skies. Stellar winds from clusters of newborn stars scattered throughout the Orion Nebula sculpt its ridges and cavities seen in familiar in telescopic images. Similar in size to the Orion Nebula, this Great Turkey Nebula was imagined to be about 13 light-years across. Stay safe and well. [via NASA]

Andromeda over Patagonia

How far can you see? The Andromeda Galaxy at 2.5 million light years away is the most distant object easily seen with your unaided eye. Most other apparent denizens of the night sky — stars, clusters, and nebulae — typically range from a few hundred to a few thousand light-years away and lie well within our own Milky Way Galaxy. Given its distance, light from Andromeda is likely also the oldest light that you can see. Also known as M31, the Andromeda Galaxy dominates the center of the featured zoomed image, taken from the dunes of Bahía Creek, Patagonia, in southern Argentina. The image is a combination of 45 background images with one foreground image — all taken with the same camera and from the same location within 90 minutes. M110, a satellite galaxy of Andromenda is visible just below and to the left of M31’s core. As cool as it may be to see this neighboring galaxy to our Milky Way with your own eyes, long duration camera exposures can pick up many faint and breathtaking details. Recent data indicates that our Milky Way Galaxy will collide and combine with the similarly-sized Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years. [via NASA]

The Helix Nebula from CFHT

Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away towards the constellation of the Water Bearer (Aquarius) and spans about 2.5 light-years. The featured picture was taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) located atop a dormant volcano in Hawaii, USA. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin. [via NASA]

A Jupiter Vista from Juno

Why do colorful cloud bands encircle Jupiter? Jupiter’s top atmospheric layer is divided into light zones and dark belts that go all the way around the giant planet. It is high horizontal winds — in excess of 300 kilometers per hour — that cause the zones to spread out planet-wide. What causes these strong winds remains a topic of research. Replenished by upwelling gas, zonal bands are thought to include relatively opaque clouds of ammonia and water that block light from lower and darker atmospheric levels. One light-colored zone is shown in great detail in the featured vista taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft in 2017. Jupiter’s atmosphere is mostly clear and colorless hydrogen and helium, gases that are not thought to contribute to the gold and brown colors. What compounds create these colors is another active topic of research — but is hypothesized to involve small amounts of sunlight-altered sulfur and carbon. Many discoveries have been made from Juno’s data, including that water composes an unexpectedly high 0.25 percent of upper-level cloud molecules near Jupiter’s equator, a finding important not only for understanding Jovian currents but for the history of water in the entire Solar System. [via NASA]

Dark Molecular Cloud Barnard 68

Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured here. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light. [via NASA]

Mars and Meteor over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

A brilliant yellowish celestial beacon, Mars still dazzles in the night. Peering between clouds the wandering planet was briefly joined by the flash of a meteor in this moonless dark sky on November 18. The single exposure was taken as the Earth swept up dust from periodic comet Tempel-Tuttle during the annual Leonid Meteor Shower. The view of a rugged western horizon looks along the Yulong mountain range in Yunnan province, southwestern China. Yulong (Jade Dragon) Snow Mountain lies below the clouds and beyond the end of the meteor streak. [via NASA]

Global Map: Mars at Opposition

This may be the best global Mars map made with a telescope based on planet Earth. The image data were captured by a team of observers over six long nights at the Pic du Midi mountaintop observatory between October 8 and November 1, when the fourth rock from the Sun had not wandered far from its 2020 opposition and its biggest and brightest appearance in Earth’s night sky. The large telescope used, 1 meter in diameter with a 17 meter focal length, was also used in support of NASA’s Apollo lunar landing missions. After about 30 hours of processing, the data were combined to produced this remarkably sharp projected view of the martian surface extending to about 45 degrees northern latitude. The image data have also been mapped onto a rotating sphere and rotating stereo, views. Fans of Mars can easily pick out their favorite markings on the Red Planet by eyeing a labeled version of this global map of Mars. [via NASA]

Crew 1 Mission Launch Streak

Leaving planet Earth for a moment, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket arced into the early evening sky last Sunday at 7:27 pm EST. This 3 minute 20 second exposure traces the launch streak over Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The rocket carried four astronauts en route to the International Space Station on the first flight of a NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system. Dubbed Resilience, the astronauts’ Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the orbital outpost one day later, on Monday, November 16. At the conclusion of their six-month stay on the ISS, the Crew-1 astronauts will use their spacecraft return to Earth. Of course about 9 minutes after launch the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing in the Atlantic Ocean on autonomous spaceport drone ship Just Read The Instructions. [via NASA]

A Double Star Cluster in Perseus

Most star clusters are singularly impressive. Open clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884, however, could be considered doubly impressive. Also known as “h and chi Persei”, this unusual double cluster, shown above, is bright enough to be seen from a dark location without even binoculars. Although their discovery surely predates recorded history, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus notably cataloged the double cluster. The clusters are over 7,000 light years distant toward the constellation of Perseus, but are separated by only hundreds of light years. In addition to being physically close together, the clusters’ ages based on their individual stars are similar – evidence that both clusters were likely a product of the same star-forming region. [via NASA]