Vela Supernova Remnant Mosaic

The plane of our Milky Way Galaxy runs through this complex and beautiful skyscape. Seen toward colorful stars near the northwestern edge of the constellation Vela (the Sails), the 16 degree wide, 200 frame mosaic is centered on the glowing filaments of the Vela Supernova Remnant, the expanding debris cloud from the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the supernova explosion that created the Vela remnant reached Earth about 11,000 years ago. In addition to the shocked filaments of glowing gas, the cosmic catastrophe also left behind an incredibly dense, rotating stellar core, the Vela Pulsar. Some 800 light-years distant, the Vela remnant is likely embedded in a larger and older supernova remnant, the Gum Nebula. Objects identified in this broad mosaic include emission and reflection nebulae, star clusters, and the remarkable Pencil Nebula. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2FnWdJm
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Quadrantids

Named for a forgotten constellation, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower is an annual event for planet Earth’s northern hemisphere skygazers It usually peaks briefly in the cold, early morning hours of January 4. The shower’s radiant on the sky lies within the old, astronomically obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis. That position is situated near the boundaries of the modern constellations Hercules, Bootes, and Draco. About 30 Quadrantid meteors can be counted in this skyscape composed of digital frames recorded in dark and moonless skies between 2:30am and local dawn. The shower’s radiant is rising just to the right of the Canary Island of Tenerife’s Teide volcano, and just below the familiar stars of the Big Dipper on the northern sky. A likely source of the dust stream that produces Quadrantid meteors was identified in 2003 as an asteroid. Look carefully and you can also spot a small, telltale greenish coma above the volcanic peak and near the top of the frame. That’s the 2018 Christmas visitor to planet Earth’s skies, Comet Wirtanen. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2GZP2sX

HESS Telescopes Explore the High Energy Sky

They may look like modern mechanical dinosaurs but they are enormous swiveling eyes that watch the sky. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) Observatory is composed of four 12-meter reflecting-mirror telescopes surrounding a larger telescope housing a 28-meter mirror. They are designed to detect strange flickers of blue light — Cherenkov radiation –emitted when charged particles move slightly faster than the speed of light in air. This light is emitted when a gamma ray from a distant source strikes a molecule in Earth’s atmosphere and starts a charged-particle shower. H.E.S.S. is sensitive to some of the highest energy photons (TeV) crossing the universe. Operating since 2003 in Namibia, H.E.S.S. has searched for dark matter and has discovered over 50 sources emitting high energy radiation including supernova remnants and the centers of galaxies that contain supermassive black holes. Pictured last September, H.E.S.S. telescopes swivel and stare in time-lapse sequences shot in front of our Milky Way Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds — as the occasional Earth-orbiting satellite zips by. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2LUVtg1

Yutu 2 on the Farside

On January 3, the Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft made the first successful landing on the Moon’s farside. Taken by a camera on board the lander, this image is from the landing site inside Von Karman crater. It shows the desksized, six-wheeled Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2) rover as it rolled down lander ramps and across the surface near local sunrise and the start of the two week long lunar day. Ripe for exploration, Von Karman crater itself is 186 kilometers in diameter. It lies within the Moon’s old and deep South Pole-Aitken impact basin with some of the most ancient and least understood lunar terrains. To bridge communications from the normally hidden hemisphere of the Moon, China launched a relay satellite, Queqiao, in May of 2018 in to an orbit beyond the lunar farside. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2QlqLgA

Ultima Thule is the most distant world explored by a spacecraft from Earth. In the dim light 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, the New Horizons spacecraft captured these two frames 38 minutes apart as it sped toward the Kuiper belt world on January 1 at 51,000 kilometers per hour. A contact binary, the two lobes of Ultima Thule rotate together once every 15 hours or so. Shown as a blinking gif, the rotation between the frames produces a tantalizing 3D perspective of the most primitive world ever seen. Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the larger lobe Ultima, is about 19 kilometers in diameter. Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2R6JMIF

Ultima and Thule

On January 1 New Horizons encountered the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Some 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft from Earth. This historic image, the highest resolution image released so far, was made at a range of about 28,000 kilometers only 30 minutes before the New Horizons closest approach. Likely the result of a gentle collision shortly after the birth of the Solar System, Ultima Thule is revealed to be a contact binary, two connected sphere-like shapes held in contact by mutual gravity. Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the larger lobe Ultima is about 19 kilometers in diameter. Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2TjLMdk

The Orion Nebula in Infrared from WISE

The Great Nebula in Orion is an intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color four-panel mosaic taken in different bands of infrared light with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood of recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the featured image. The orange glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years. [via NASA] https://go.nasa.gov/2QdYuII