Is this galaxy jumping through a giant ring of stars? Probably not. Although the precise dynamics behind the featured image is yet unclear, what is clear is that the pictured galaxy, NGC 7714, has been stretched and distorted by a recent collision with a neighboring galaxy. This smaller neighbor, NGC 7715, situated off to the left of the featured frame, is thought to have charged right through NGC 7714. Observations indicate that the golden ring pictured is composed of millions of older Sun-like stars that are likely co-moving with the interior bluer stars. In contrast, the bright center of NGC 7714 appears to be undergoing a burst of new star formation. The featured image was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. NGC 7714 is located about 130 million light years away toward the constellation of the Two Fish (Pisces). The interactions between these galaxies likely started about 150 million years ago and should continue for several hundred million years more, after which a single central galaxy may result.
This phenomenon occurs in the sky over our heads, not the sea. It is a type of lightning known as red sprite, and rarely has it ever been photographed in this detail. Even though sprites have been recorded for over 30 years, their root cause remains unknown. Some thunderstorms have them, but most don’t. These mysterious bursts of light in the upper atmosphere momentarily resemble gigantic jellyfish. A few years ago high speed videos were taken detailing how red sprites actually develop. The featured image was captured last month in high definition from Italy. One unusual feature of sprites is that they are relatively cold — they operate more like long fluorescent light tubes than hot compact light bulbs. In general, red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.
What’s that dark spot on Jupiter? It’s the shadow of Jupiter’s most volcanic moon Io. Since Jupiter shines predominantly by reflected sunlight, anything that blocks that light leaves a shadow. If you could somehow be in that shadow, you would see a total eclipse of the Sun by Io. Io’s shadow is about 3600 kilometers across, roughly the same size as Io itself — and only slightly larger than Earth’s Moon. The featured image was taken last month by NASA’s robotic Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter. About every two months, Juno swoops close by Jupiter, takes a lot of data and snaps a series of images — some of which are made into a video. Among many other things, Juno has been measuring Jupiter’s gravitational field, finding surprising evidence that Jupiter may be mostly a liquid. Under unexpectedly thick clouds, the Jovian giant may house a massive liquid hydrogen region that extends all the way to the center.
The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula in the center of the above photograph. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will surely alter its appearance. The emission nebula’s red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. On the image left is the Flame Nebula, an orange-tinged nebula that also contains filaments of dark dust. Just to the lower left of the Horsehead nebula featured picture is a blueish reflection nebulae that preferentially reflects the blue light from nearby stars.