The Tulip in the Swan

Framing a bright emission region, this telescopic view looks out across a pretty field of stars along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, toward the nebula rich constellation Cygnus the Swan. Popularly called the Tulip Nebula, the reddish glowing cloud of interstellar gas and dust is also found in the 1959 catalog by astronomer Stewart Sharpless as Sh2-101. About 8,000 light-years distant and 70 light-years across the complex and beautiful nebula blossoms near the center of this composite image. Ultraviolet radiation from young energetic O stars at the edge of the Cygnus OB3 association, ionizes the atoms and powers the emission from the Tulip Nebula. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/32W6jte
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Saturn at Night

Still bright in planet Earth’s night skies, good telescopic views of Saturn and its beautiful rings often make it a star at star parties. But this stunning view of Saturn’s rings and night side just isn’t possible from telescopes closer to the Sun than the outer planet. They can only bring Saturn’s day into view. In fact, this image of Saturn’s slender sunlit crescent with night’s shadow cast across its broad and complex ring system was captured by the Cassini spacecraft. A robot spacecraft from planet Earth, Cassini called Saturn orbit home for 13 years before it was directed to dive into the atmosphere of the gas giant on September 15, 2017. This magnificent mosaic is composed of frames recorded by Cassini’s wide-angle camera only two days before its grand final plunge. Saturn’s night will not be seen again until another spaceship from Earth calls. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/34YOFXw

Along the Western Veil

Delicate in appearance, these filaments of shocked, glowing gas, are draped across planet Earth’s sky toward the constellation of Cygnus. They form the western part of the Veil Nebula. The Veil Nebula itself is a large supernova remnant, an expanding cloud born of the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the original supernova explosion likely reached Earth over 5,000 years ago. Blasted out in the cataclysmic event, the interstellar shock wave plows through space sweeping up and exciting interstellar material. The glowing filaments are really more like long ripples in a sheet seen almost edge on, remarkably well separated into atomic hydrogen (red) and oxygen (blue-green) gas. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula now spans nearly 3 degrees or about 6 times the diameter of the full Moon. While that translates to over 70 light-years at its estimated distance of 1,500 light-years, this telescopic image of the western portion spans about half that distance. Brighter parts of the western Veil are recognized as separate nebulae, including The Witch’s Broom (NGC 6960) along the top of this view and Pickering’s Triangle (NGC 6979) below and left. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/30sHKmd

Water Vapor Discovered on Distant Exoplanet

Where else might life exist? One of humanity’s great outstanding questions, locating planets where extrasolar life might survive took a step forward recently with the discovery of a significant amount of water vapor in the atmosphere of distant exoplanet K2-18b. The planet and it parent star, K2-18, lie about 124 light years away toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo). The exoplanet is significantly larger and more massive than our Earth, but orbits in the habitable zone of its home star. K2-18, although more red than our Sun, shines in K2-18b’s sky with a brightness similar to the Sun in Earth’s sky. The discovery was made in data from three space telescopes: Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler, by noting the absorption of water-vapor colors when the planet moved in front of the star. The featured illustration imagines exoplanet K2-18b on the right, its parent red dwarf star K2-18 on the left, and an unconfirmed sister planet between them. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2ZWGOKL

A Lunar Corona over Turin

What are those colorful rings around the Moon? A corona. Rings like this will sometimes appear when the Moon is seen through thin clouds. The effect is created by the quantum mechanical diffraction of light around individual, similarly-sized water droplets in an intervening but mostly-transparent cloud. Since light of different colors has different wavelengths, each color diffracts differently. Lunar Coronae are one of the few quantum mechanical color effects that can be easily seen with the unaided eye. The featured lunar corona was captured around full Moon above Turin, Italy in 2014. Similar coronae that form around the Sun are usually harder to see because of the Sun’s great brightness. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2LAG9Xr

IC 1805: The Heart Nebula

What energizes the Heart Nebula? First, the large emission nebula dubbed IC 1805 looks, in whole, like a human heart. The nebula glows brightly in red light emitted by its most prominent element: hydrogen. The red glow and the larger shape are all powered by a small group of stars near the nebula’s center. In the center of the Heart Nebula are young stars from the open star cluster Melotte 15 that are eroding away several picturesque dust pillars with their energetic light and winds. The open cluster of stars contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, many dim stars only a fraction of the mass of our Sun, and an absent microquasar that was expelled millions of years ago. The Heart Nebula is located about 7,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia. Coincidentally, a small meteor was captured in the foreground during imaging and is visible above the dust pillars. At the top right is the companion Fishhead Nebula. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/32D3tZU

Pluto in True Color

What color is Pluto, really? It took some effort to figure out. Even given all of the images sent back to Earth when the robotic New Horizons spacecraft sped past Pluto in 2015, processing these multi-spectral frames to approximate what the human eye would see was challenging. The result featured here, released three years after the raw data was acquired by New Horizons, is the highest resolution true color image of Pluto ever taken. Visible in the image is the light-colored, heart-shaped, Tombaugh Regio, with the unexpectedly smooth Sputnik Planitia, made of frozen nitrogen, filling its western lobe. New Horizons found the dwarf-planet to have a surprisingly complex surface composed of many regions having perceptibly different hues. In total, though, Pluto is mostly brown, with much of its muted color originating from small amounts of surface methane energized by ultraviolet light from the Sun. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2Aae3vf