Image Credit & Copyright: European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT).

This beautiful catch is from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert of Chile and it shows a beautiful chance alignment in the southern constellation of Hydra.  The beautifully spherical planetary nebula Abell 33 sits at a distant 2500 light years from Earth.  Just overlapping ever so slightly is the star HD 83535 which is actually about 869 light years or about 240 parsecs away in the foreground and not making contact with the planetary at all.

The progenitor star that created this nebula can be seen near the center of the object as a white dwarf.  Though, for all intents and purposes dead; this star still shines much brighter than our Sun.  Its ultraviolet radiation from the now exposed inner layers ionizing the material for us to view.

As this object made its rounds through the media it has become known to some as the Diamond Ring nebula for obvious reasons.  As both the foreground star and planetary are beyond naked eye visibility you will want to observe this with a medium to large telescope (the star is within binocular range) at low magnification and if you can, use an OIII or UHC filter to really bring the nebula out.

Chance alignments like this are fairly common as some star clusters are overlaid with planetary nebula as well as many of the double star systems that we see are actually line of sight doubles and not binary at all.  Either way; when the stars, and in this case, stars and planetary nebulae align, the result is beautiful.

If you want more detail on what a planetary nebula is in a little more detail, check out this short post that I threw together:

NAME: Abell 33, PN A66 33 and foreground star HD 83535.

WHAT IS IT?: Planetary nebula in a chance alignment with a star in the foreground.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Nebula is aproximately 2500 light years distant while star HD 83535 is roughly 869 light years or 240 parsecs away.

HOW BIG IS IT?: 4.5’x4.5’ arcminutes on the night sky.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: Nebula is around mag 13 while the foreground star HD 83535 is an apparent magnitude 7.2.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Hydra (The Water Snake) and the largest constellation.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 9h 39m 4.14s / DEC -2° 50′ 22.55″.


ESO information release for this image:

ESO image release for this image:

Ashland Astronomy Studio page on Star HD 83535:

SIMBAD data page on Star HD 83535:

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The star cluster Messier 7

Image Credit & Copyright: European Southern Observatory (ESO) La Silla.

At a distance of 800 light years, were fairly safe from the venomous sting of Scorpius.  That being said, this predatory arthropod that nests near the core of the galaxy has some stunning features that we can review in detail.

This object, Messier 7 is located in the stinger of the scorpion and at an apparent magnitude of 3.3 is easily visible with the naked eye in dark locations.  It’s an open star cluster of about 100 stars that spans roughly 25 light years in diameter.  Many of the stars that make this cluster are a young 200 million years old and they carry a punch that would suit the scorpions sting just fine.  The brightest stars in this cluster, around 10 or so will rapidly burn through their fuel and explode as supernovae.  The rest will begin to drift apart, over time, ending the cluster all together.

So in a few tens of millions of years if you’re still around, look to the tail of the scorpion for some massive fireworks on a cosmic scale.

NAME: M7, Messier 7, NGC 6475.

WHAT IS IT?: Open star cluster.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 800 light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 100 stars spanning 25 light years.

HOW OLD IS IT?: About 200 million years.

WHO DISCOVERED IT?: 1st to mention it was Cladius Ptolemy around 130 AD.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: Easily visible with the naked eye at 3.3 or +3.3.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Scorpius.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 17h 53m 51s / DEC -34° 47′ 34.34″.


ESO release of this image:

ESO image page for this image:

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Image Credit & Copyright: European Southern Observatory (ESO).

There’s a ghost near the heart of the galaxy.  This planetary nebula cataloged as IC 1295 resides a in the constellation Scutum (The Shield) roughly 3300 light years away.  Though there have been many renditions of this object produced, this is the most detailed ever.

This faint, dying star goes almost unnoticed near the massive star field that is the core of our galaxy.  Hidden in the bright lights of the star city, near downtown, everyone else is too busy to notice this green, transparent ghost among us.  It’s worth mentioning in the event that you’re asking; that other planetary nebula, (dying stars) have multiple colors or at least, there aren’t many solid green ones.  The reason for this is that each chemical element glows in its own color and this particular object is comprised of primarily ionized oxygen.  Near the center of this object you can see the near death star, faint and blue, now in its white dwarf phase.  With the outer shells of itself dispersed into space, the now exposed inner layers shower its outer layers with massive amounts of UV radiation which ionizes the material, rendering it aglow.


Want a little more detail into what a planetary nebula is?

Inside the core of a star, pressures and temperatures are so great that a process called Thermo Nuclear Fusion can take place. It’s important to remember that stars don’t “burn” as burning is a chemical reaction. Thermo Nuclear Fusion is a nuclear reaction. Hydrogen atoms are being fused together to create helium atoms. When the two nuclei fuse together the combined mass is slightly less than the sum of the original nuclei and the difference is released as energy. As the progenitor star burns through all of its available fuel the star quickly begins to die. The key word here is “available” fuel as most of the hydrogen in a star will never be fused in the core. When this happens gravity begins to win over the outward pressure of the nuclear reaction. The star then begins to crush down onto itself from the extreme inward pressure that gravity is now imposing on it.

Ironically enough, this very process of compression causes the core to become super-heated. Core temperatures rise to ten-times the temperature they were while in the main sequence phase. Once the temperature reaches 180,000,000 degrees the temperature will be hot enough to fuse helium into carbon. As this continues, the star will begin to quickly use up its available helium fuel. The massive temperatures cause the star to swell and the asymptotic giant branch aka, the infamous red giant phase begins. Vast layers or shells of gas are then released into the surrounding cosmos creating what’s known as proto-planetary or pre-planetary nebula (PPN’s). The furiously hot star whose inner layers are now exposed, radiate massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation rendering the surrounding material aglow and that’s where the planetary nebula (PN) phase begins.

When the available helium begins to run dry, gravity once again begins to take over, and again the star is crushed in upon itself; this time down to about the size of the Earth. It is at this point when electron degeneracy pressure is enabled. This means that electrons themselves are being crushed together so tightly that their repulsive pressure on one another will hold the star up against the inward crush of gravity. That is where it will remain for billions of years as a white dwarf.

Most stars in the universe (about 95%) will end their lives this way; the rest will die as supernovae.

NAME: IC 1295.

WHAT IS IT?: Planetary nebula.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: About 3300 light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: 1.7’ X 1.4’ arcminutes on the night sky.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: 12.7 or +12.7.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Southern constellation of Scutum (The Shield).

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 18h 54m 37.25s / DEC -8° 49′ 39.41″.

ESO page for this image with information:

ESO page for this image:

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Image Credit & Copyright: Chris Cramer.

Here’s a great set of startrails captured from an opening in the treeline at Great Basin National Park, Nevada.  What I really love about this image is what isn’t there at all; foreground lighting.  Don’t get me wrong, foreground lighting can turn a set of startrails from great to incredible when done right but on occasion, the sky itself can stand alone on stage in the image.  The blackness of the forest’s silhouette contrasts perfectly with the hue of the sky and the tall, vertical Milky Way beyond the nearby streaking stars.

Another thing you will notice in this image is that the startrails lack the pinpoint of Polaris and the pole stars.  That’s because the image is captured facing roughly south.  Doing this is necessary if you wish to capture the core region of the galaxy.  Just a perfect image that I really wanted to help put out there and I really hope you all enjoy it!

Chris Cramer website:



Great Basin National Park:

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/JPL

Maybe Comet C/2013 A1 Sliding Spring thinks Mars is a giant pumpkin careening around the Sun just in time for Halloween or maybe it’s just a near miss event set to occur on October 19, 2014 with the potential to result in some spectacular images and or data from the team of orbiting and roving spacecraft now breathing a sigh of relief after learning that the comet will not be impacting as some had initially believed.

Let’s take a few steps back and start from start.  This comet named C/2013 A1 (Sliding Spring) was discovered by great Australian comet hunter Robert McNaught. That’s right, the same McNaught that discovered C/2006 P1 (Comet McNaught), the last bright comet that was obliging enough to give Earth a show back in 2007. The name Sliding Spring comes from the name of the Sliding Spring Survey in New South Wales, Australia that it was discovered at (link below). This is a very common practice as PANSTARRS and ISON were both named after their founding observatories.

When it was initially discovered on January 3, 2013 there was obviously no record of its history so precovery (archival observations) images of the comet dating back to early December of 2012 were gathered from known images in that general location and a rough trajectory was then established. That data coupled with current observations at that time placed the comet on an orbital trajectory that would come extremely close to the Red Planet.

As longer, current observations have come in; closest approach estimates are currently at 82,000 mi (132,000 km) and scheduled to occur on October 19 at 18:28 UTC (14:28 EDT). For perspective, that distance is almost six times further than Mars most distant moon Deimos at apoapsis.   If it were passing Earth it would be almost five times the distance of asteroid 2012/DA 14 as it passed Earth on February 15, 2013 (but not as close as the Chelyabinsk meteor) and about one-third of the distance to the Moon.  That being said; according to NASA this pass of Mars will be only one-tenth the distance of any known pass of Earth by a comet.

As far as danger to spacecraft, NASA has planned to position its three (once MAVEN arrives in Sept to join Odyssey and MRO) on the opposite side of the planet during close approach.  Even then, the major worry during this entire period will come about 90 minutes later and last for a period of about 20 minutes as Mars passes through the fresh debris field.  It doesn’t appear at this time that Curiosity and Opportunity will be in any danger but they, along with their team of orbiters will have their eyes on the comet as it approaches, departs and will monitor its effects on the Martian atmosphere thereafter.

Incredibly, if you live in the southern hemisphere there’s a chance you can see this encounter with binoculars or telescopes.  Currently the comet is at an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and brightening and in the constellation Horologium.  By the time October 19 rolls around, the pair will be in the constellation Ophiochus and low in the southwestern sky at dusk so dust off your equipment and hope for some clear skies!

The Sky LIVE (Real Time Tracking):

NASA Mars Exploration page on C/2013 A1:

NASA JPL Info Page on Comet C/2013 A1:

NASA JPL Data Page on Comet C/2013 A1:;cad=1#cad

ISON-NM Leonid Elenin data on C/2013 A1:

Sliding Spring Survey (SSS):

NASA Solar System Simulator:

NASA Eyes on the Solar System:


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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA.

Mars is a tough competitor.  The list of failed missions to Mars is significantly longer than the list of successful missions and currently only NASA, Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA) have logged successful missions to the Red planet.  This includes all missions; orbiters, landers and rovers combined.  This September inhabitants of Earth hope to bring us closer to 50/50 as we take on Mars twice more with a pair of orbiters.  One from the now seasoned Mars flyers, NASA and one from the Mars rookies, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

First to arrive will be NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN).  It’s scheduled to arrive and enter into Martian orbit on September 21, 2014.  MAVEN’s goal is to study the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere and its evolution and to better understand how that atmosphere is being lost into space.  MAVEN launched on November 18, 2013 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41), Florida on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V-401 rocket designated AV-038.

Only a few days behind behind will be Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).  Unofficially named Mangalyaan or “Mars Craft” it’s expected to arrive and enter into orbit on September 24, 2014.  The mission is a technology demonstrator testing India’s interplanetary spaceflight ability.  “MOM” was launched on November 5, 2013 on a PSLV rocket (Flight C25) from the “First Launch Pad” at the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC), Sriharikota, India.  The ISRO hopes to be successful on India’s first ever interplanetary mission and in doing so, join three other agencies with successful missions to Mars.

To keep your finger on the pulse of these two explorers I have provided related mission links below! GO MOM, GO MAVEN!!!

Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO):


ISRO MOM Facebook:

ISRO MOM mission page:


NASA Mars Maven:

U Colorado Boulder MAVEN:



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Image Credit & Copyright: Cory Schmitz.

This image was captured by Cory Schmitz while camping 3,100 m (10,170 ft.) above sea level, near the lip of Tegula/Thekula falls and roughly 10 m (33 ft.) from the edge of one of the most incredible cliff faces on Earth; the Drakensberg Amphitheatre in South Africa.

This natural wonder of the world is located in the Royal Natal National Park in the KwaZulu Natal province.  The Amphitheatre dwarfs Yosemite’s Half Dome & El Capitan at a massive 5k (3.1 miles) in length and 1,200 m (3,900 ft.) high.  Run an image search of this location (or go there) and check it out in daylight as well because it’s truly an amazing area.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.  If you want more information and image choices hit Cory’s links below and go wild!  Please feel free to let me know what you think as comments are always welcome and if you wish follow me on my blog and Twitter @DanSpace77.

Cory Schmitz:




Google Plus:


Royal Natal National Park:

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