SUPERMOONS, STAR BUBBLES AND SEAGULLS

Get lost in a cosmic bubble of immense size, see the supermoon set over a Spanish castle, and the Seagull Nebula cozies up to the alpha star Sirius.

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Supermoon over Spanish Castle


No, this castle was not built with the Moon attached. To create the spectacular juxtaposition, careful planning and a bit of good weather was needed. Pictured, the last supermoon of 2016 was captured last week rising directly beyond one of the towers of Bellver Castle in Palma de Mallorca on the Balearic Islands of Spain. The supermoon was the last full moon of 2016 and known to some as the Oak Moon. Bellver Castle was built in the early 1300s and has served as a home -- but occasional as a prison -- to numerous kings and queens. The Moon was built about 4.5 billion years ago, possibly resulting from a great collision with a Mars-sized celestial body and Earth. The next supermoon, defined as when the moon appears slightly larger and brighter than usual, will occur on 2017 December 3 and be visible not only behind castles but all over the Earth.

Photography: Tomeu Mas

Seagull to Sirius


This broad, beautiful mosaic spans almost 20 degrees across planet Earth's sky. The nebula-rich region lies near the edge of the Orion-Eridanus superbubble, filled with looping, expanding shells of gas and dust embedded in molecular clouds near the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy. Recognizable at the left is the expansive Seagull Nebula, composed of emission nebula NGC 2327, seen as the seagull's head, with the more diffuse IC 2177 as the wings and body. Some 3,800 light-years away, the wings of the Seagull Nebula spread about 240 light-years, still within our local spiral arm. The bluish light of Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major and brightest star in the night, easily dominates the scene at right but shines from a distance of only 8.6 light-years. Study the big picture and you should also be rewarded with star cluster Messier 41, also known as NGC 2287, not to mention the mighty Thor's Helmet.

Photography: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)

Meteors vs Supermoon


Geminid meteors battled supermoonlight in planet Earth's night skies on December 13/14. Traveling at 35 kilometers (22 miles) per second, the bits of dust from the mysterious asteroid 3200 Phaethon that produce the meteor streaks are faster than a speeding bullet. Still, only the brightest were visible during the long night of 2016's final Perigee Full Moon. Captured in exposures made over several hours, a few meteors from the shower's radiant in Gemini can be traced through this composite nightscape. With stars of Orion near the horizon, the overexposed lunar disk illuminates still waters of the Miyun reservoir northeast of Beijing, China.

Photography: Wang, Letian

Sharpless 308: Star Bubble


Blown by fast winds from a hot, massive star, this cosmic bubble is huge. Cataloged as Sharpless 2-308 it lies some 5,200 light-years away toward the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major) and covers slightly more of the sky than a full moon. That corresponds to a diameter of 60 light-years at its estimated distance. The massive star that created the bubble, a Wolf-Rayet star, is the bright one near the center of the nebula. Wolf-Rayet stars have over 20 times the mass of the Sun and are thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova phase of massive star evolution. Fast winds from this Wolf-Rayet star create the bubble-shaped nebula as they sweep up slower moving material from an earlier phase of evolution. The windblown nebula has an age of about 70,000 years. Relatively faint emission captured in the expansive image is dominated by the glow of ionized oxygen atoms mapped to a blue hue.

Photography: Anis Abdul

Southern Jupiter from Perijove 3


Southern Jupiter looms some 37,000 kilometers away in this JunoCam image from December 11. The image data was captured near Juno's third perijove or closest approach to Jupiter, the spacecraft still in its 53 day long looping orbit. With the south polar region on the left, the large whitish oval toward the right is massive, counterclockwise rotating storm system. Smaller than the more famous Great Red Spot, the oval storm is only about half the diameter of planet Earth, one of a string of white ovals currently in the southern hemisphere of the Solar System's, ruling gas giant.

Photography: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SwRI, MSSS; Processing: Damian Peach