What created the strange spiral structure on the upper left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068 and IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

This high cliff occurs not on a planet, not on a moon, but on a comet. It was discovered to be part of the dark nucleus of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (CG) by Rosetta, a robotic spacecraft launched by ESA that rendezvoused with the Sun-orbiting comet in 2014. The ragged cliff, as featured here, was imaged by Rosetta in 2014. Although towering about one kilometer high, the low surface gravity of Comet CG would likely make it an accessible climb — and even a jump from the cliff survivable. At the foot of the cliff is relatively smooth terrain dotted with boulders as large as 20 meters across. Data from Rosetta indicates that the ice in Comet CG has a significantly different deuterium fraction — and hence likely a different origin — than the water in Earth’s oceans. Rosetta ended its mission with a controlled impact onto Comet CG in 2016. Comet CG has just completed another close approach to Earth and remains visible through a small telescope.

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy M101 is one of the last entries in Charles Messier’s famous catalog, but definitely not one of the least. About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way. M101 was also one of the original spiral nebulae observed by Lord Rosse’s large 19th century telescope, the Leviathan of Parsontown. Assembled from 51 exposures recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope in the 20th and 21st centuries, with additional data from ground based telescopes, this mosaic spans about 40,000 light-years across the central region of M101 in one of the highest definition spiral galaxy portraits ever released from Hubble. The sharp image shows stunning features of the galaxy’s face-on disk of stars and dust along with background galaxies, some visible right through M101 itself. Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major, about 25 million light-years away.

Rain clouds passed and the dome of the Lick Observatory’s 36 inch Great Refractor opened on November 19. The historic telescope was pointed toward a partially eclipsed Moon. Illuminated by dim red lighting to preserve an astronomer’s night vision, telescope controls, coordinate dials, and the refractor’s 57 foot long barrel were captured in this high dynamic range image. Visible beyond the foreshortened barrel and dome slit, growing brighter after its almost total eclipse phase, the lunar disk created a colorful halo through lingering clouds. From the open dome, the view of the clearing sky above includes the Pleiades star cluster about 5 degrees from Moon and Earth’s shadow. Notable APOD Submissions: Lunar Eclipse of 2021 November 19