To the Moon

Intuitive Machines’ robotic lander Odysseus has accomplished the first U.S. landing on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Launched on a SpaceX rocket on February 15, the phone booth sized lander reached lunar orbit on the 21st and touched down on the lunar surface at 6:23 pm ET on February 22nd. Its landing region is about 300 kilometers north of the Moon’s south pole, near a crater designated Malapert A. The lander is presently collecting solar power and transmitting data back to the Intuitive Machines’ mission control center in Houston. The mission marks the first commercial uncrewed landing on the Moon. Prior to landing, Odysseus’ camera captured this extreme wide angle image (landing legs visible at right) as it flew over Schomberger crater some 200 kilometers from its landing site. Odysseus was still about 10 kilometers above the lunar surface. via NASA

The Pencil Nebula Supernova Shock Wave

This supernova shock wave plows through interstellar space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Centered and moving upward in the sharply detailed color composite its thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a cosmic sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge-on. Discovered in the 1840s by Sir John Herschel, the narrow-looking nebula is sometimes known as Herschel’s Ray. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its pointed appearance suggests its modern popular name, the Pencil Nebula. The Pencil Nebula is about 800 light-years away. Nearly 5 light-years long it represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant though. The enormous Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the section of the shock wave seen as the Pencil nebula was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. via NASA

A View Toward M106

Big, bright, beautiful spiral, Messier 106 dominates this cosmic vista. The nearly two degree wide telescopic field of view looks toward the well-trained constellation Canes Venatici, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 is about 80,000 light-years across and 23.5 million light-years away, the largest member of the Canes II galaxy group. For a far far away galaxy, the distance to M106 is well-known in part because it can be directly measured by tracking this galaxy’s remarkable maser, or microwave laser emission. Very rare but naturally occurring, the maser emission is produced by water molecules in molecular clouds orbiting its active galactic nucleus. Another prominent spiral galaxy on the scene, viewed nearly edge-on, is NGC 4217 below and right of M106. The distance to NGC 4217 is much less well-known, estimated to be about 60 million light-years, but the bright spiky stars are in the foreground, well inside our own Milky Way galaxy. via NASA

The bird is bigger than the peak. Nicknamed for its avian shape, the Seagull Nebula is an emission nebula on the night sky that is vast, spanning an angle over five times the diameter of the full moon and over 200 light years. The head of the nebula is catalogued as IC 2177, and the star cluster under its right wing is catalogued as NGC 2343. Consisting of mostly red-glowing hydrogen gas, the Seagull Nebula incorporates some dust lanes and is forming stars. The peak over which this Seagull seems to soar occurs at Pinnacles National Park in California, USA. The featured image is a composite of long exposure images of the background sky and short exposure images of the foreground, all taken consecutively with the same camera and from the same location. via NASA

When galaxies collide, how many stars are born? For AM1054-325, featured here in a recently released image by the Hubble Space Telescope, the answer is millions. Instead of stars being destroyed as galaxy AM1054-325 and a nearby galaxy circle each other, their gravity and motion has ignited stellar creation. Star formation occurs rapidly in the gaseous debris stretching from AM1054-325’s yellowish body due to the other galaxy’s gravitational pull. Hydrogen gas surrounding newborn stars glows pink. Bright infant stars shine blue and cluster together in compact nurseries of thousands to millions of stars. AM1054-325 possesses over 100 of these intense-blue, dot-like star clusters, some appearing like a string of pearls. Analyzing ultraviolet light helped determine that most of these stars are less than 10 million years old: stellar babies. Many of these nurseries may grow up to be globular star clusters, while the bundle of young stars at the bottom tip may even detach and form a small galaxy. via NASA

What’s happening near the Sun? To help find out, NASA launched the robotic Parker Solar Probe (PSP) to investigate regions closer to the Sun than ever before. The PSP’s looping orbit brings it nearer to the Sun each time around — every few months. The featured time-lapse video shows the view looking sideways from behind PSP’s Sun shield during its 16th approach to the Sun last year — from well within the orbit of Mercury. The PSP’s Wide Field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) cameras took the images over eleven days, but they are digitally compressed here into about one minute video. The waving of the solar corona is visible, as is a coronal mass ejection, with stars, planets, and even the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy streaming by in the background as the PSP orbits the Sun. PSP has found the solar neighborhood to be surprisingly complex and to include switchbacks — times when the Sun’s magnetic field briefly reverses itself. via NASA

Is this one galaxy or two? This question came to light in 1950 when astronomer Arthur Hoag chanced upon this unusual extragalactic object. On the outside is a ring dominated by bright blue stars, while near the center lies a ball of much redder stars that are likely much older. Between the two is a gap that appears almost completely dark. How Hoag’s Object formed, including its nearly perfectly round ring of stars and gas, remains unknown. Genesis hypotheses include a galaxy collision billions of years ago and the gravitational effect of a central bar that has since vanished. The featured photo was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and reprocessed using an artificially intelligent de-noising algorithm. Observations in radio waves indicate that Hoag’s Object has not accreted a smaller galaxy in the past billion years. Hoag’s Object spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 600 million light years away toward the constellation of the Snake (Serpens). Many galaxies far in the distance are visible toward the right, while coincidentally, visible in the gap at about seven o’clock, is another but more distant ring galaxy. via NASA

Meteor over the Bay of Naples

A cosmic dust grain plowing through the upper atmosphere much faster than a falling leaf created this brilliant meteor streak. In a serendipitous moment, the sublime night sky view was captured from the resort island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples, on the evening of February 8. Looking across the bay, the camera faces northeast toward the lights of Naples and surrounding cities. Pointing toward the horizon, the meteor streak by chance ends above the silhouette of Mount Vesuvius. One of planet Earth’s most famous volcanos, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. via NASA

Structure in the Tail of Comet 12P/Pons Brooks

Heading for its next perihelion passage on April 21, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is growing brighter. The greenish coma of this periodic Halley-type comet has become relatively easy to observe in small telescopes. But the bluish ion tail now streaming from the active comet’s coma and buffeted by the solar wind, is faint and difficult to follow. Still, in this image stacked exposures made on the night of February 11 reveal the fainter tail’s detailed structures. The frame spans over two degrees across a background of faint stars and background galaxies toward the northern constellation Lacerta. Of course Comet 12P’s April 21 perihelion passage will be only two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse, putting the comet in planet Earth’s sky along with a totally eclipsed Sun. via NASA

Can you find the Rosette Nebula? The large, red, and flowery-looking nebula on the upper left may seem the obvious choice, but that is actually just diffuse hydrogen emission surrounding the Cone and Fox Fur Nebulas. The famous Rosette Nebula is really located on the lower right and connected to the other nebulas by irregular filaments. Because the featured image of Rosetta’s field is so wide and deep, it seems to contain other flowers. Designated NGC 2237, the center of the Rosette nebula is populated by the bright blue stars of open cluster NGC 2244, whose winds and energetic light are evacuating the nebula’s center. The Rosette Nebula is about 5,000 light years distant and, just by itself, spans about three times the diameter of a full moon. This flowery field can be found toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). via NASA