APOD: Cocoon Nebula Wide Field
Image Credit & Copyright: Tony Hallas

Explanation: In this crowded starfield spanning some 3 degrees within the high flying constellation Cygnus, the eye is drawn to the Cocoon Nebula. A compact star forming region, the cosmic Cocoon punctuates a long trail of obscuring interstellar dust clouds. Cataloged as IC 5146, the nebula is nearly 15 light-years wide, located some 4,000 light years away. Like other star forming regions, it stands out in red, glowing, hydrogen gas excited by the young, hot stars and blue, dust-reflected starlight at the edge of an otherwise invisible molecular cloud. In fact, the bright star near the center of this nebula is likely only a few hundred thousand years old, powering the nebular glow as it clears out a cavity in the molecular cloud’s star forming dust and gas. But the long dusty filaments that appear dark in this visible light image are themselves hiding stars in the process of formation, seen at infrared wavelengths.

APOD: Cocoon Nebula Wide Field

Image Credit & CopyrightTony Hallas

Explanation: In this crowded starfield spanning some 3 degrees within the high flying constellation Cygnus, the eye is drawn to the Cocoon Nebula. A compact star forming region, the cosmic Cocoon punctuates a long trail of obscuring interstellar dust clouds. Cataloged as IC 5146, the nebula is nearly 15 light-years wide, located some 4,000 light years away. Like other star forming regions, it stands out in red, glowing, hydrogen gas excited by the young, hot stars and blue, dust-reflected starlight at the edge of an otherwise invisible molecular cloud. In fact, the bright star near the center of this nebula is likely only a few hundred thousand years old, powering the nebular glow as it clears out a cavity in the molecular cloud’s star forming dust and gas. But the long dusty filaments that appear dark in this visible light image are themselves hiding stars in the process of formation, seen at infrared wavelengths.

APOD: Pleiades Deep Field
Image Credit & Copyright: Stanislav Volskiy

Explanation: Have you ever seen the Pleiades star cluster? Even if you have, you probably have never seen it like this: all dusty. Perhaps the most famous star cluster on the sky, the bright stars of the Pleiades can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. With a long exposure from a dark location, though, the dust cloud surrounding the Pleiades star cluster becomes very evident. The above exposure took about 30 hours and covers a sky area several times the size of the full moon. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45, the Pleiades lies about 400 light years away toward the constellation of the Bull (Taurus). A common legend with a modern twist is that one of the brighter stars faded since the cluster was named, leaving only six stars visible to the unaided eye. The actual number of Pleiades stars visible, however, may be more or less than seven, depending on the darkness of the surrounding sky and the clarity of the observer’s eyesight.

APOD: Pleiades Deep Field

Image Credit & Copyright: Stanislav Volskiy

Explanation: Have you ever seen the Pleiades star cluster? Even if you have, you probably have never seen it like this: all dusty. Perhaps the most famous star cluster on the sky, the bright stars of the Pleiades can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. With a long exposure from a dark location, though, the dust cloud surrounding the Pleiades star cluster becomes very evident. The above exposure took about 30 hours and covers a sky area several times the size of the full moon. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45the Pleiades lies about 400 light years away toward the constellation of the Bull (Taurus). A common legend with a modern twist is that one of the brighter stars faded since the cluster was named, leaving only six stars visible to the unaided eye. The actual number of Pleiades stars visible, however, may be more or less than seven, depending on the darkness of the surrounding sky and the clarity of the observer’s eyesight.

APOD: The South Pole of Asteroid Vesta
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA

Explanation: What created the circular structure around the south pole of asteroid Vesta? Pictured above, the bottom of the second largest object in the asteroid belt was recently imaged for the first time by the robotic Dawn satellite that arrived last month. A close inspection of the 260-meter resolution image shows not only hills and craters and cliffs and more craters, but ragged circular features that cover most of the lower right of the 500-kilometer sized object. Early speculation posits that the structure might have been created by a collision and coalescence with a smaller asteroid. Alternatively, the features might have originated in an internal process soon after the asteroid formed. New clues might come in the next few months as Dawn spirals down toward the rocky world and obtains images of increasingly high resolution.

APOD: The South Pole of Asteroid Vesta

Image Credit: NASAJPL-CaltechUCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA

Explanation: What created the circular structure around the south pole of asteroid Vesta? Pictured above, the bottom of the second largest object in the asteroid belt was recently imaged for the first time by the robotic Dawn satellite that arrived last month. A close inspection of the 260-meter resolution image shows not only hills and craters and cliffs and more craters, but ragged circular features that cover most of the lower right of the 500-kilometer sized object. Early speculation posits that the structure might have been created by a collision and coalescence with a smaller asteroid. Alternatively, the features might have originated in an internal process soon after the asteroid formed. New clues might come in the next few months as Dawn spirals down toward the rocky world and obtains images of increasingly high resolution.

APOD: NGC 3521: Galaxy in a Bubble
Image Credit & Copyright: R Jay Gabany (Blackbird Obs.), Collaboration: David Martinez-Delgado (MPIA, IAC), et al.

Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years away, toward the constellation Leo. Relatively bright in planet Earth’s sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65. It’s hard to overlook inthis colorful cosmic portrait, though. Spanning some 50,000 light-years the galaxy sports characteristic patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust, pink star forming regions, and clusters of young, blue stars. Remarkably, this deep image also finds NGC 3521 embedded in gigantic bubble-like shells. The shells are likely tidal debris, streams of stars torn from satellite galaxies that have undergone mergers with NGC 3521 in the distant past.

APOD: NGC 3521: Galaxy in a Bubble

Image Credit & CopyrightR Jay Gabany (Blackbird Obs.), Collaboration: David Martinez-Delgado (MPIA, IAC), et al.

Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years away, toward the constellation Leo. Relatively bright in planet Earth’s sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65. It’s hard to overlook inthis colorful cosmic portrait, though. Spanning some 50,000 light-years the galaxy sports characteristic patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust, pink star forming regions, and clusters of young, blue stars. Remarkably, this deep image also finds NGC 3521 embedded in gigantic bubble-like shells. The shells are likely tidal debris, streams of stars torn from satellite galaxies that have undergone mergers with NGC 3521 in the distant past.

APOD: The Bubble and M52 
Image Credit & Copyright: Lóránd Fényes

Explanation: To the eye, this cosmic composition nicely balances the Bubble Nebula at the lower right with open star cluster M52. The pair would be lopsided on other scales, though. Embedded in a complex of interstellar dust and gas and blown by the winds from a single, massive O-type star, the Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is a mere 10 light-years wide. On the other hand, M52 is a rich open cluster of around a thousand stars. The cluster is about 25 light-years across. Seen toward the northern boundary of Cassiopeia, distance estimates for the Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex are around 11,000 light-years, while star cluster M52 lies nearly 5,000 light-years away. The wide telescopic field of view spans about 1.5 degrees on the sky or three times the apparent size of the Full Moon.

APOD: The Bubble and M52 

Image Credit & CopyrightLóránd Fényes

Explanation: To the eye, this cosmic composition nicely balances the Bubble Nebula at the lower right with open star cluster M52. The pair would be lopsided on other scales, though. Embedded in a complex of interstellar dust and gas and blown by the winds from a single, massive O-type star, the Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is a mere 10 light-years wide. On the other hand, M52 is a rich open cluster of around a thousand stars. The cluster is about 25 light-years across. Seen toward the northern boundary of Cassiopeia, distance estimates for the Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex are around 11,000 light-years, while star cluster M52 lies nearly 5,000 light-years away. The wide telescopic field of view spans about 1.5 degrees on the sky or three times the apparent size of the Full Moon.

APOD: The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
Image Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA

Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Pictured above is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. The above image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

APOD: The Fairy of Eagle Nebula

Image Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESANASA

Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Pictured above is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. The above image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

APOD: Shapley 1: An Annular Planetary Nebula
Image Credit: ESO

Explanation: What happens when a star runs out of nuclear fuel? For stars about the mass of our Sun, the center condenses into a white dwarf while the outer atmospheric layers are expelled into space and appear as a planetary nebula. This particular planetary nebula, pictured above and designated Shapley 1 after the famous astronomer Harlow Shapley, has a very apparent annular ring like structure. Although some of these nebulas appear like planets on the sky (hence their name), they actually surround stars far outside our Solar System.

APOD: Shapley 1: An Annular Planetary Nebula

Image Credit: ESO

Explanation: What happens when a star runs out of nuclear fuel? For stars about the mass of our Sun, the center condenses into a white dwarf while the outer atmospheric layers are expelled into space and appear as a planetary nebula. This particular planetary nebulapictured above and designated Shapley 1 after the famous astronomer Harlow Shapley, has a very apparent annular ring like structure. Although some of these nebulas appear like planets on the sky (hence their name), they actually surround stars far outside our Solar System.

Seasonal Dark Streaks on Mars
Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA
Explanation: What is causing these dark streaks on Mars? A leading hypothesis is flowing — but quickly evaporating — water. The streaks, visible in dark brown near the image center, appear in the Martian spring and summer but fade in the winter months, only to reappear again the next summer. These are not the first markings on Mars that have been interpreted as showing the effects of running water, but they are the first to add the clue of a seasonal dependence. The above picture, taken in May, digitally combines several images from the the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The image is color-enhanced and depicts a slope inside Newton crater in a mid-southern region of Mars. The streaks bolster evidence that water exists just below the Martian surface in several locations, and therefore fuels speculation that Mars might harbor some sort of water-dependent life. Future observations with robotic spacecraft orbiting Mars, such as MRO, Mars Express, and Mars Odyssey will continue to monitor the situation and possibly confirm — or refute — the exciting flowing water hypothesis.

Seasonal Dark Streaks on Mars

Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: What is causing these dark streaks on Mars? A leading hypothesis is flowing — but quickly evaporating — water. The streaks, visible in dark brown near the image center, appear in the Martian spring and summer but fade in the winter months, only to reappear again the next summer. These are not the first markings on Mars that have been interpreted as showing the effects of running water, but they are the first to add the clue of a seasonal dependence. The above picture, taken in May, digitally combines several images from the the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The image is color-enhanced and depicts a slope inside Newton crater in a mid-southern region of Mars. The streaks bolster evidence that water exists just below the Martian surface in several locations, and therefore fuels speculation that Mars might harbor some sort of water-dependent life. Future observations with robotic spacecraft orbiting Mars, such as MRO, Mars Express, and Mars Odyssey will continue to monitor the situation and possibly confirm — or refute — the exciting flowing water hypothesis.

APOD: Galaxy NGC 474: Cosmic Blender
Image Credit & Copyright: P.-A. Duc (CEA, CFHT)
Explanation: What’s happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple though the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the above image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with — and accretions of — smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces).

APOD: Galaxy NGC 474: Cosmic Blender

Image Credit & Copyright: P.-A. Duc (CEA, CFHT)

Explanation: What’s happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple though the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the above image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with — and accretions of — smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces).

APOD: Atlantis Farewell from Parkes
Image Credit & Copyright: John Sarkissian (CSIRO Parkes Observatory)
Explanation: The Parkes 64 meter radio telescope is known for its contribution to human spaceflight, famously supplying television images from the Moon to denizens of planet Earth during Apollo 11. The enormous, steerable, single dish looms in the foreground of this early evening skyscape. Above it, the starry skies of New South Wales, Australia include familiar southerly constellations Vela, Puppis, and Hydra along with a sight that will never be seen again. Still glinting in sunlight and streaking right to left just below the radio telescope’s focus cabin, the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis has just undocked with the International Space Station for the final time. The space station itself follows arcing from the lower right corner of the frame, about two minutes behind Atlantis in low Earth orbit. Atlantis is set for its final landing early this morning (July 21, 5:56am EDT) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

APOD: Atlantis Farewell from Parkes

Image Credit & Copyright: John Sarkissian (CSIRO Parkes Observatory)

Explanation: The Parkes 64 meter radio telescope is known for its contribution to human spaceflight, famously supplying television images from the Moon to denizens of planet Earth during Apollo 11. The enormous, steerable, single dish looms in the foreground of this early evening skyscape. Above it, the starry skies of New South Wales, Australia include familiar southerly constellations Vela, Puppis, and Hydra along with a sight that will never be seen again. Still glinting in sunlight and streaking right to left just below the radio telescope’s focus cabin, the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis has just undocked with the International Space Station for the final time. The space station itself follows arcing from the lower right corner of the frame, about two minutes behind Atlantis in low Earth orbit. Atlantis is set for its final landing early this morning (July 21, 5:56am EDT) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

APOD: Saturn Storm Panoramas
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
Explanation: These tantalizing panoramas follow a remarkable giant storm encircling the northern hemisphere of ringed planet Saturn. Still active, the roiling storm clouds were captured in near-infrared images recorded by the Cassini spacecraft on February 26 and stitched into the high resolution, false-color mosaics. Seen late last year as a prominent bright spot by amateur astronomers when Saturn rose in predawn skies, the powerful storm has grown to enormous proportions. Its north-south extent is nearly 15,000 kilometers and it now stretches completely around the gas giant’s northern hemisphere some 300,000 kilometers. Taken about one Saturn day (11 hours) apart, the panoramas show the head of the storm at the left and cover about 150 degrees in longitude. Also a source of radio noise from lightning, the intense storm may be related to seasonal changes as Saturn experiences northern hemisphere spring.

APOD: Saturn Storm Panoramas

Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: These tantalizing panoramas follow a remarkable giant storm encircling the northern hemisphere of ringed planet Saturn. Still active, the roiling storm clouds were captured in near-infrared images recorded by the Cassini spacecraft on February 26 and stitched into the high resolution, false-color mosaics. Seen late last year as a prominent bright spot by amateur astronomers when Saturn rose in predawn skies, the powerful storm has grown to enormous proportions. Its north-south extent is nearly 15,000 kilometers and it now stretches completely around the gas giant’s northern hemisphere some 300,000 kilometers. Taken about one Saturn day (11 hours) apart, the panoramas show the head of the storm at the left and cover about 150 degrees in longitude. Also a source of radio noise from lightning, the intense storm may be related to seasonal changes as Saturn experiences northern hemisphere spring.