At this point my astronomy picture folder exceeds 750 items, yet what caught my eye tonight is actually last Wednesday’s APOD, a lovely image by Thomas W. Earle. What I love about images like this is the deepness of the sky, the abundance of stars, the richness of the… fabric of space. You really need to see it large to get the full effect.
Sprawling across hundreds of light-years, emission nebula IC 1396, visible on the upper right, mixes glowing cosmic gas and dark dust clouds. Stars are forming in this area, only about 3,000 light-years from Earth. This wide angle view also captures surrounding emission and absorption nebula. The red glow in IC 1396 and across the image is created by cosmic hydrogen gas recapturing electrons knocked away by energetic starlight. The dark dust clouds are dense groups of smoke-like particles common in the disks of spiral galaxies. Among the intriguing dark shapes within IC 1396, the winding Elephant’s Trunk nebula lies just right of the nebula’s center. IC 1396 lies in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus.