Grand spiral galaxies often seem to get all the glory, flaunting their young, bright, blue star clusters in beautiful, symmetric spiral arms. But small galaxies form stars too, like nearby NGC 6822, also known as Barnard’s Galaxy. Beyond the rich starfields in the constellation Sagittarius, NGC 6822 is a mere 1.5 million light-years away, a member of our Local Group of galaxies. A dwarf irregular galaxy similar to the Small Magellanic Cloud, NGC 6822 is about 7,000 light-years across. Brighter foreground stars in our Milky Way have a spiky appearance. Behind them, Barnard’s Galaxy is seen to be filled with young blue stars and mottled with the telltale pinkish hydrogen glow of star forming regions in this deep color composite image.
This Long March-5 rocket blasted off from the Wenchang launch site in southernmost Hainan province on Tuesday November 24, at 4:30 am Beijing Time, carrying China’s Chang’e-5 mission to the Moon. The lunar landing mission is named for the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon. Its goal is to collect about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar material from the surface and return it to planet Earth, the first robotic sample return mission to the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. The complex Chang’e-5 mission landing target is in the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms). The smooth volcanic plain was also visited by the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. Chang’e-5’s lander is solar-powered and scheduled to operate on the lunar surface during its location’s lunar daylight, which will last about two Earth weeks, beginning around November 27. A capsule with the lunar sample on board would return to Earth in mid-December.
Surprisingly reminiscent of The Great Nebula in Orion, The Great Turkey Nebula spans this creative field of view. Of course if it were the Orion Nebula it would be our closest large stellar nursery, found at the edge of a large molecular cloud a mere 1,500 light-years away. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula is visible to the eye as the middle “star” in the sword of Orion the Hunter, a constellation now rising in planet Earth’s evening skies. Stellar winds from clusters of newborn stars scattered throughout the Orion Nebula sculpt its ridges and cavities seen in familiar in telescopic images. Much larger than any bird you might be cooking, this Great Turkey Nebula was imagined to be similar in size to the Orion Nebula, about 13 light-years across. Stay safe and well.
How far can you see? The Andromeda Galaxy at 2.5 million light years away is the most distant object easily seen with your unaided eye. Most other apparent denizens of the night sky — stars, clusters, and nebulae — typically range from a few hundred to a few thousand light-years away and lie well within our own Milky Way Galaxy. Given its distance, light from Andromeda is likely also the oldest light that you can see. Also known as M31, the Andromeda Galaxy dominates the center of the featured zoomed image, taken from the dunes of Bahía Creek, Patagonia, in southern Argentina. The image is a combination of 45 background images with one foreground image — all taken with the same camera and from the same location within 90 minutes. M110, a satellite galaxy of Andromenda is visible just below and to the left of M31’s core. As cool as it may be to see this neighboring galaxy to our Milky Way with your own eyes, long duration camera exposures can pick up many faint and breathtaking details. Recent data indicates that our Milky Way Galaxy will collide and combine with the similarly-sized Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years.
Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away towards the constellation of the Water Bearer (Aquarius) and spans about 2.5 light-years. The featured picture was taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) located atop a dormant volcano in Hawaii, USA. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.