Astronomy Picture of the Day for Feb. 6th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 February 6
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Dust of the Orion Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicolás Villegas 

Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula — dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear brown in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in red. Over the next few million years much of Orion’s dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Feb. 4th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 February 4
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Comet Garradd and M92
Image Credit & Copyright: Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST) 

Explanation: Sweeping slowly through the constellation Hercules, Comet Garradd (C2009/P1) passed with about 0.5 degrees of globular star cluster M92 on February 3. Captured here in its latest Messier moment, the steady performer remains just below naked-eye visibility with a central coma comparable in brightness to the dense, well-known star cluster. The rich telescopic view from New Mexico’s, early morning skies, also features Garradd’s broad fan shaped dust tail and a much narrower ion tail that extends up and beyond the right edge of the frame. Pushed out by the pressure of sunlight, the dust tail tends to trail the comet along its orbit while the ion tail, blown by the solar wind, streams away from the comet in the direction opposite the Sun. Of course, M92 is over 25,000 light-years away. Comet Garradd is 12.5 light-minutes from planet Earth, arcing above the ecliptic plane.