This is a sky filled with glowing icons. On the far left is the familiar constellation of Orion, divided by its iconic three-aligned belt stars and featuring the famous Orion Nebula, both partly encircled by Barnard’s Loop. Just left of center in the featured image is the brightest star in the night: Sirius. Arching across the image center is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. On the far right, near the top, are the two brightest satellite galaxies of the Milky Way: the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). Also on the far right — just above the cloudy horizon — is the constellation of Crux, complete with the four stars that make the iconic Southern Cross. The featured image is a composite of 18 consecutive exposures taken by the same camera and from the same location in eastern Australia during the last days of last year. In the foreground, picturesque basalt columns of the Bombo Quarry part to reveal the vast Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes the dark dust of interstellar space has an angular elegance. Such is the case toward the far-south constellation of Chamaeleon. Normally too faint to see, dark dust is best known for blocking visible light from stars and galaxies behind it. In this four-hour exposure, however, the dust is seen mostly in light of its own, with its strong red and near-infrared colors giving creating a brown hue. Contrastingly blue, the bright star Beta Chamaeleontis is visible just to the right of center, with the dust that surrounds it preferentially reflecting blue light from its primarily blue-white color. All of the pictured stars and dust occur in our own Milky Way Galaxy with — but one notable exception: the white spot just below Beta Chamaeleontis is the galaxy IC 3104 which lies far in the distance. Interstellar dust is mostly created in the cool atmospheres of giant stars and dispersed into space by stellar light, stellar winds, and stellar explosions such as supernovas.

What type of cloud is that? This retreating cumulonimbus cloud, more commonly called a thundercloud, is somewhat unusual as it contains the unusual bumpiness of a mammatus cloud on the near end, while simultaneously producing falling rain on the far end. Taken in mid-2013 in southern Alberta, Canada, the cloud is moving to the east, into the distance, as the sun sets in the west, behind the camera. In the featured image, graphic sunset colors cross the sky to give the already photogenic cloud striking orange and pink hues. A darkening blue sky covers the background. Further in the distance, a rising, waxing, gibbous moon is visible on the far right.

An island universe of billions of stars, NGC 1566 lies about 60 million light-years away in the southern constellation Dorado. Popularly known as the Spanish Dancer galaxy, it’s seen face-on from our Milky Way perspective. A gorgeous grand design spiral, this galaxy’s two graceful spiral arms span over 100,000 light-years, traced by bright blue star clusters, pinkish starforming regions, and swirling cosmic dust lanes. NGC 1566’s flaring center makes the spiral one of the closest and brightest Seyfert galaxies. It likely houses a central supermassive black hole wreaking havoc on surrounding stars, gas, and dust. In this sharp southern galaxy portrait, the spiky stars lie well within the Milky Way.