The colorful clouds surrounding the star system Rho Ophiuchi compose one of the closest star forming regions. Rho Ophiuchi itself is a binary star system visible in the blue reflection nebula just to the left of the image center. The star system, located only 400 light years away, is distinguished by its multi-colored surroundings, which include a red emission nebula and numerous light and dark brown dust lanes. Near the lower left of the Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud system is the yellow star Antares, while a distant but coincidently-superposed globular cluster of stars, M4, is visible just to the right of Antares. Near the image top lies IC 4592, the Blue Horsehead nebula. The blue glow that surrounds the Blue Horsehead’s eye — and other stars around the image — is a reflection nebula composed of fine dust. On the featured image right is a geometrically angled reflection nebula cataloged as Sharpless 1. Here, the bright star near the dust vortex creates the light of surrounding reflection nebula. Although most of these features are visible through a small telescope pointed toward the constellations of Ophiuchus, Scorpius, and Sagittarius, the only way to see the intricate details of the dust swirls, as featured above, is to use a long exposure camera.

Why did a picturesque volcanic eruption in Iceland create so much ash? Although the large ash plume was not unparalleled in its abundance, its location was particularly noticeable because it drifted across such well-populated areas. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland began erupting on 2010 March 20, with a second eruption starting under the center of a small glacier on 2010 April 14. Neither eruption was unusually powerful. The second eruption, however, melted a large amount of glacial ice which then cooled and fragmented lava into gritty glass particles that were carried up with the rising volcanic plume. Pictured here during the second eruption, lightning bolts illuminate ash pouring out of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Follow APOD on: Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter

The Milky Way doesn’t look quite this colorful and bright to the eye, but a rocket launch does. So a separate deep exposure with a sensitive digital camera was used in this composite skyscape to bring out our galaxy’s central crowded starfields and cosmic dust clouds. In the scene from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a nine minute long exposure begun about 20 minutes after the Miky Way image recorded a rocket launch and landing. The Falcon 9 rocket, named for the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame, appropriately launched a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station in the early morning hours of May the 4th. The plume and flare at the peak of the launch arc mark the rocket’s first stage boost back burn. Two shorter diagonal streaks are the rocket engines bringing the Falcon 9 stage back to an offshore landing on autonomous drone ship Of course I Still Love You.

Grains of cosmic dust streaked through the mostly moonless night skies of May 7. Swept up as planet Earth plowed through the debris streams left behind by periodic Comet Halley, the annual meteor shower is known as the Eta Aquarids. Though it was made about a day after the shower’s predicted maximum, this composite image still captures 20 meteors in exposures taken over a 2 hour period, registered on a background exposure of the sky. The meteor trails point back to the shower radiant near eponymous faint star Eta Aquarii close to the horizon, seen from 100 kilometers south of Sydney Australia. Known for speed, Eta Aquarid meteors move fast, entering the atmosphere at about 66 kilometers per second. Brilliant Jupiter shines near the central bulge of the Milky Way high above the horizon. The Southern Cross is just tucked in to the upper right corner of the frame.

What does Jupiter look like up close? Most images of Jupiter are taken from far away, either from Earth or from a great enough distance that nearly half the planet is visible. This shot, though, was composed from images taken relatively close in, where less than half of the planet was visible. From here, Jupiter still appears spherical but perspective distortion now makes it look more like a marble. Visible on Jupiter’s cloud tops are a prominent dark horizontal belt containing a white oval cloud, and a white zone cloud, both of which circle the planet. The Great Red Spot looms on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft in February during its 17th close pass of our Solar System’s largest planet. Juno’s mission, now extended into 2021, is to study Jupiter in new ways. Juno’s data has already enabled discoveries that include Jupiter’s magnetic field being surprisingly lumpy, and that some of Jupiter’s cloud systems run about 3,000 kilometers into the planet.

What’s happening in the center of the Carina Nebula? Stars are forming, dying, and leaving an impressive tapestry of dark dusty filaments. The entire Carina Nebula, cataloged as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light years and lies about 8,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. The nebula is composed predominantly of hydrogen gas, which emits the pervasive red glow seen in this highly detailed featured image. The blue glow in the center is created by a trace amount of glowing oxygen. Young and massive stars located in the nebula’s center expel dust when they explode in supernovae. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula’s center, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically.