Palomar 6: Globular Star Cluster

Where did this big ball of stars come from? Palomar 6 is one of about 200 globular clusters of stars that survive in our Milky Way Galaxy. These spherical star-balls are older than our Sun as well as older than most stars that orbit in our galaxy’s disk. Palomar 6 itself is estimated to be about 12.5 billion years old, so old that it is close to — and so constrains — the age of the entire universe. Containing about 500,000 stars, Palomar 6 lies about 25,000 light years away, but not very far from our galaxy’s center. At that distance, this sharp image from the Hubble Space Telescope spans about 15 light-years. After much study including images from Hubble, a leading origin hypothesis is that Palomar 6 was created — and survives today — in the central bulge of stars that surround the Milky Way’s center, not in the distant galactic halo where most other globular clusters are now found. via NASA

Earthshine Moon over Sicily

Why can we see the entire face of this Moon? When the Moon is in a crescent phase, only part of it appears directly illuminated by the Sun. The answer is earthshine, also known as earthlight and the da Vinci glow. The reason is that the rest of the Earth-facing Moon is slightly illuminated by sunlight first reflected from the Earth. Since the Earth appears near full phase from the Moon — when the Moon appears as a slight crescent from the Earth — earthshine is then near its brightest. Featured here in combined, consecutively-taken, HDR images taken earlier this month, a rising earthshine Moon was captured passing slowly near the planet Venus, the brightest spot near the image center. Just above Venus is the star Dschubba (catalogued as Delta Scorpii), while the red star on the far left is Antares. The celestial show is visible through scenic cloud decks. In the foreground are the lights from Palazzolo Acreide, a city with ancient historical roots in Sicily, Italy. via NASA

The Einstein Cross Gravitational Lens

Most galaxies have a single nucleus — does this galaxy have four? The strange answer leads astronomers to conclude that the nucleus of the surrounding galaxy is not even visible in this image. The central cloverleaf is rather light emitted from a background quasar. The gravitational field of the visible foreground galaxy breaks light from this distant quasar into four distinct images. The quasar must be properly aligned behind the center of a massive galaxy for a mirage like this to be evident. The general effect is known as gravitational lensing, and this specific case is known as the Einstein Cross. Stranger still, the images of the Einstein Cross vary in relative brightness, enhanced occasionally by the additional gravitational microlensing effect of specific stars in the foreground galaxy. via NASA

The Moona Lisa

Only natural colors of the Moon in planet Earth’s sky appear in this creative visual presentation. Arranged as pixels in a framed image, the lunar disks were photographed at different times. Their varying hues are ultimately due to reflected sunlight affected by changing atmospheric conditions and the alignment geometry of Moon, Earth, and Sun. Here, the darkest lunar disks are the colors of earthshine. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth’s oceans illuminating the Moon’s dark surface, was written over 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. But stand farther back from your monitor or just shift your gaze to the smaller versions of the image. You might also see one of da Vinci’s most famous works of art. via NASA

NGC 289: Swirl in the Southern Sky

About 70 million light-years distant, gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 289 is larger than our own Milky Way. Seen nearly face-on, its bright core and colorful central disk give way to remarkably faint, bluish spiral arms. The extensive arms sweep well over 100 thousand light-years from the galaxy’s center. At the lower right in this sharp, telescopic galaxy portrait the main spiral arm seems to encounter a small, fuzzy elliptical companion galaxy interacting with enormous NGC 289. Of course spiky stars are in the foreground of the scene. They lie within the Milky Way toward the southern constellation Sculptor. via NASA

NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula

A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, toward the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying. Its last few thousand years have produced the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a well studied and nearby example of a Planetary Nebula, typical of this final phase of stellar evolution. A total of 90 hours of exposure time have gone in to creating this expansive view of the nebula. Combining narrow band image data from emission lines of hydrogen atoms in red and oxygen atoms in blue-green hues, it shows remarkable details of the Helix’s brighter inner region about 3 light-years across. The white dot at the Helix’s center is this Planetary Nebula’s hot, central star. A simple looking nebula at first glance, the Helix is now understood to have a surprisingly complex geometry. via NASA

NGC 7822: Cosmic Question Mark

It may look like a huge cosmic question mark, but the big question really is how does the bright gas and dark dust tell this nebula’s history of star formation. At the edge of a giant molecular cloud toward the northern constellation Cepheus, the glowing star forming region NGC 7822 lies about 3,000 light-years away. Within the nebula, bright edges and dark shapes stand out in this colorful and detailed skyscape. The 9-panel mosaic, taken over 28 nights with a small telescope in Texas, includes data from narrowband filters, mapping emission from atomic oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur into blue, green, and red hues. The emission line and color combination has become well-known as the Hubble palette. The atomic emission is powered by energetic radiation from the central hot stars. Their powerful winds and radiation sculpt and erode the denser pillar shapes and clear out a characteristic cavity light-years across the center of the natal cloud. Stars could still be forming inside the pillars by gravitational collapse but as the pillars are eroded away, any forming stars will ultimately be cut off from their reservoir of star stuff. This field of view spans over 40 light-years across at the estimated distance of NGC 7822. via NASA

Fireball over Lake Louise

What makes a meteor a fireball? First of all, everyone agrees that a fireball is an exceptionally bright meteor. Past that, the International Astronomical Union defines a fireball as a meteor brighter than apparent magnitude -4, which corresponds (roughly) to being brighter than any planet — as well as bright enough to cast a human-noticeable shadow. Pictured, an astrophotographer taking a long-duration sky image captured by accident the brightest meteor he had ever seen. Clearly a fireball, the disintegrating space-rock created a trail so bright it turned night into day for about two seconds earlier this month. The fireball has been artificially dimmed in the featured image to bring up foreground Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Although fireballs are rare, many people have been lucky enough to see them. If you see a fireball, you can report it. If more than one person recorded an image, the fireball might be traceable back to the Solar System body from which it was ejected. via NASA

50 Light years to 51 Pegasi

It’s only 50 light-years to 51 Pegasi. That star’s position is indicated in this snapshot from August, taken on a hazy night with mostly brighter stars visible above the dome at Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France. Twenty-six years ago, in October of 1995, astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz announced a profound discovery made at the observatory. Using a precise spectrograph they had detected a planet orbiting 51 Peg, the first known exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star. Mayor and Queloz had used the spectrograph to measure changes in the star’s radial velocity, a regular wobble caused by the gravitational tug of the orbiting planet. Designated 51 Pegasi b, the planet was determined to have a mass at least half of Jupiter’s mass and an orbital period of 4.2 days, making it much closer to its parent star than Mercury is to the Sun. Their discovery was quickly confirmed and Mayor and Queloz were ultimately awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2019. Now recognized as the prototype for the class of exoplanets fondly known as hot Jupiters, 51 Pegasi b was formally named Dimidium, latin for half, in 2015. Since its discovery, over 4,000 exoplanets have been found. via NASA

The Double Cluster in Perseus

This pretty starfield spans about three full moons (1.5 degrees) across the heroic northern constellation of Perseus. It holds the famous pair of open star clusters, h and Chi Persei. Also cataloged as NGC 869 (top) and NGC 884, both clusters are about 7,000 light-years away and contain stars much younger and hotter than the Sun. Separated by only a few hundred light-years, the clusters are both 13 million years young based on the ages of their individual stars, evidence that they were likely a product of the same star-forming region. Always a rewarding sight in binoculars, the Double Cluster is even visible to the unaided eye from dark locations. But a shroud of guitar strings was used to produced diffraction spikes on the colorful stars imaged in this vibrant telescopic view. via NASA

Michigan Astronomy Observing