SPACE'S STATUE OF LIBERTY

From NASA's astronomy picture archive, see the universe's heart and soul, the end of the line for our famous Rosetta spacecraft and an incredible nebula that is aptly named.

apod.nasa.gov

Sometimes both heaven and Earth erupt. Colorful aurorae erupted unexpectedly a few years ago, with green aurora appearing near the horizon and brilliant bands of red aurora blooming high overhead. A bright Moon lit the foreground of this picturesque scene, while familiar stars could be seen far in the distance. With planning, the careful astrophotographer shot this image mosaic in the field of White Dome Geyser in Yellowstone National Park in the western USA. Sure enough, just after midnight, White Dome erupted -- spraying a stream of water and vapor many meters into the air. Geyser water is heated to steam by scalding magma several kilometers below, and rises through rock cracks to the surface. About half of all known geysers occur in Yellowstone National Park. Although the geomagnetic storm that created these aurorae has since subsided, eruptions of White Dome Geyser continue about every 30 minutes.

Photography: Robert Howell

Heart and Soul and Double Cluster


This rich starfield spans almost 10 degrees across the sky toward the northern constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus. On the left, heart-shaped cosmic cloud IC 1805 and IC 1848 are popularly known as the Heart and Soul nebulae. Easy to spot on the right are star clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884 also known as h and Chi Perseii, or just the Double Cluster. Heart and Soul, with their own embedded clusters of young stars a million or so years old, are each over 200 light-years across and 6 to 7 thousand light-years away. In fact, they are part of a large, active star forming complex sprawling along the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. The Double Cluster is located at about the same distance as the Heart and Soul nebulae. Separated by only a few hundred light-years, h and Chi Perseii are physically close together, and both clusters are estimated to be about 13 million years old. Their proximity and similar stellar ages suggest both clusters are likely a product of the same star-forming region.

Photography: Adrien Klamerius

NGC 3576: The Statue of Liberty Nebula


What's happening in the Statue of Liberty nebula? Bright stars and interesting molecules are forming and being liberated. The complex nebula resides in the star forming region called RCW 57. This image showcases dense knots of dark interstellar dust, bright stars that have formed in the past few million years, fields of glowing hydrogen gas ionized by these stars, and great loops of gas expelled by dying stars. A detailed study of NGC 3576, also known as NGC 3582 and NGC 3584, uncovered at least 33 massive stars in the end stages of formation, and the clear presence of the complex carbon molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are thought to be created in the cooling gas of star forming regions, and their development in the Sun's formation nebula five billion years ago may have been an important step in the development of life on Earth. The featured image was taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Photography: S. Mazlin, J. Harvey, R. Gilbert, & D. Verschatse (SSRO/PROMPT/UNC)

Lynds Dark Nebula 1251


Stars are forming in Lynds Dark Nebula (LDN) 1251. About 1,000 light-years away, the dusty molecular cloud is part of a complex of dark nebulae mapped toward the Cepheus flare region, drifting above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Across the spectrum, astronomical explorations of the obscuring interstellar clouds reveal energetic shocks and outflows associated with newborn stars, including the telltale reddish glow from scattered Herbig-Haro objects seen in this sharp image. Distant background galaxies also lurk on the scene, visually buried behind the dusty expanse. The deep telescopic field of view spans about two full moons on the sky, or 17 light-years at the estimated distance of LDN 1251.

Photography: Lynn Hilborn

Rosetta's Farewell


After closely following comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for 786 days as it rounded the Sun, the Rosetta spacecraft's controlled impact with the comet's surface was confirmed by the loss of signal from the spacecraft on September 30, 2016. One the images taken during its final descent, this high resolution view looks across the comet's stark landscape. The scene spans just over 600 meters (2,000 feet), captured when Rosetta was about 16 kilometers from the comet's surface. Rosetta's descent to the comet brought to an end the operational phase of an inspirational mission of space exploration. Rosetta deployed a lander to the surface of one of the Solar System's most primordial worlds and witnessed first hand how a comet changes when subject to the increasing intensity of the Sun's radiation. The decision to end the mission on the surface is a result of the comet's orbit now taking it to the dim reaches beyond Jupiter where there would be a lack of power to operate the spacecraft. Mission operators also faced an approaching period where the Sun would be close to line-of-sight between Earth and Rosetta, making radio communications increasingly difficult.ESA, Rosetta, MPS, OSIRIS; UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA