Explanation: The beautiful Trifid Nebula, also known as Messier 20, lies about 5,000 light-years away, a colorful study in cosmic contrasts. It shares this nearly 1 degree wide field with open star cluster Messier 21 (top left). Trisected by dust lanes the Trifid itself is about 40 light-years across and a mere 300,000 years old. That makes it one of the youngest star forming regions in our sky, with newborn and embryonic stars embedded in its natal dust and gas clouds. Estimates of the distance to open star cluster M21 are similar to M20’s, but though they share this gorgeous telescopic skyscape there is no apparent connection between the two. M21’s stars are much older, about 8 million years old. M20 and M21 are easy to find with even a small telescope in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. In fact, this well-composed scene is a composite from two different telescopes. Using narrowband data it blends a high resolution image of M20 with a wider field image extending to M21.
I do love aurora photos, but this one combines them with two more of my favorite things: Iceland, and volcanos!
You don’t always see a scene this beautiful when you hike to an ancient volcano — you have to be lucky. When the astrophotographer realized that auroras were visible two-weeks ago, he made a night-time run for the top of the caldera to see if he could capture them also reflected in the central lake. When he arrived, he found that … the northern lights were even brighter and more impressive than before! And his image of them is the featured 13-frame panoramic mosaic. The crater lake in the center is called Kerid (Icelandic: Kerið) and is about 3,000 years old. The aurora overhead shows impressive colors and banding, with the red colors occurring higher in the Earth’s atmosphere than the green. The background sky is filled with icons of the northern night including Polaris, the Pleiades star cluster, and the stars that compose the handle of the Big Dipper.
These photo composites come to us courtesy of astronaut Don Pettit, aboard the International Space Station. There’s a set of 18 on Flickr for your perusal.
Expedition 31 Flight Engineer Don Pettit relayed some information about photographic techniques used to achieve the images: “My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then ‘stack’ them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.”
A gorgeous galactic core by Terry Hancock!
M33 is a spiral galaxy at approximately 3 million light years distance in the constellation Triangulum. It is catalogued as Messier 33 or NGC 598, and is sometimes informally referred to as the Pinwheel Galaxy, a moniker it shares with Messier 101. The Triangulum Galaxy is a member of the Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way Galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy and about 30 other smaller galaxies