The Elephant's Trunk Nebula in Cepheus

Like an illustration in a galactic Just So Story, the Elephant's Trunk Nebula winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant's trunk is over 20 light-years long. This detailed close-up view was recorded through narrow band filters that transmit the light from ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the region. The resulting composite highlights the bright swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field of view though, about the size of 2 Full Moons. via NASA

Liftoff to the Red Planet!

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020. via NASA

A Different View of the Mars Perseverance Launch

The engines fired as a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover onboard launched from Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, July 30, 2020. via NASA

Mars 2020 from 5,000 Feet

On Thursday this snapshot from a small plane 5,000 feet above Florida's Space Coast caught a rocket's trail rising into the blue morning sky. It was July's third launch of a mission from planet Earth bound for Mars. The Atlas V rocket left Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from Space Launch Complex 41 at 7:50am EDT carrying NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. The car-sized Perseverance is headed for a landing at Jezero Crater on the Red Planet in February 2021. On board the sophisticated rover is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. via NASA

Mars Perseverance: Prepared for Launch to the Red Planet

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard is seen illuminated by spotlights on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41. via NASA

The Red Planet Mars

Mars looks pretty sharp in this backyard telescope image captured on July 23 from Hoegaarden, Belgium, planet Earth. The Red Planet's bright south polar cap is bathed in sunlight at the top of the inverted view, while the dark feature known as Syrtis Major extends toward the right (eastern) edge. Rising around midnight for now, the Red Planet is months away from its own opposition in early October. Telescopic views will improve even more as Earth, in its faster orbit, catches up to Mars, the ruddy disk growing larger and brighter still. The martian Jezero Crater is within the Syrtis Major region. That's the landing site for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Perseverance, scheduled for launch today. via NASA

Countdown to Mars

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard is seen as it is rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41. via NASA

The Giants of Summer

As Comet NEOWISE sweeps through northern summer skies, Jupiter and Saturn are shining brightly, near opposition. With Jupiter opposite the Sun on July 14 and Saturn on July 21, the giant planets are still near their closest to planet Earth in 2020. Sharing the constellation Sagittarius they are up all night, and offer their best and brightest views at the telescope. Both captured on July 22 from a balcony in Paris these two sharp telescopic images don't disappoint, showing off what the giant planets are famous for, Saturn's bright rings and Jupiter's Great Red Spot. These giants of the Solar System are worth following during 2020. On December 21, skygazers can watch the once-in-20-year great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. via NASA

Jezero Crater, Landing Site for the Mars Perseverance Rover

This image of Jezero Crater, the landing site for the Mars Perseverance Rover, was taken by instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. via NASA

Carrying a Telescope Aloft

Carried by a balloon the size of a football stadium, ASTHROS will use a telescope to observe wavelengths of light that aren't visible from the ground. via NASA

Normally, Steamboat Point looks cool -- but not this cool. Every day, the iconic peak of the Bighorn Mountains is an interesting sight, in particular from US Highway 14 in Wyoming. On some rare days, the rocky vertical ridges look even more incredible when seen in front of a distant lightning storm. Earlier this month, though, something even more unusual happened -- the naked-eye Comet NEOWISE rose above it in the middle of the night. Just as a distant lightning storm was occurring in the background. Recognizing a rare opportunity, a determined astrophotographer spent a sleepless night capturing over 1400 images of this unusual triple conjunction. The featured image is among the best of them, with the foreground lit by the Moon off to the right. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is now headed back to the outer Solar System, destined to return only in about 6700 years. via NASA

What would it look like to fly through the distant universe? To find out, a team of astronomers estimated the relative distances to over 5,000 galaxies in one of the most distant fields of galaxies ever imaged: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). Because it takes light a long time to cross the universe, most galaxies visible in the featured video are seen when the universe was only a fraction of its current age, were still forming, and have unusual shapes when compared to modern galaxies. No mature looking spiral galaxies such as our Milky Way or the Andromeda galaxy yet exist. Toward the end of the video the virtual observer flies past the farthest galaxies in the HUDF field, recorded to have a redshift past 8. This early class of low luminosity galaxies likely contained energetic stars emitting light that transformed much of the remaining normal matter in the universe from a cold gas to a hot ionized plasma. via NASA

Tianwen 1 Mission to Mars

On July 23, this Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket rose into a blue morning sky from China's Hainan Island Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. The rocket carried an orbiter, lander, and rover to ask Heavenly Questions on the ambitious Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. In fact Tianwen-1 was the second of three missions scheduled for a July departure to the Red Planet. The United Arab Emirates launched its Amal (Hope) Mars probe on July 19. NASA's launch of its Mars Perseverance Rover from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, USA is scheduled for July 30. That is the last planned Mars launch for 2020 though. The minimum-energy launch window for an expedition to Mars is coming to a close in 2020 and will reopen in 2022. via NASA

Apollo 11 Aboard the USS Hornet

This image, taken on July 24, 1969, shows the Apollo 11 command codule and the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) are photographed aboard the USS Hornet via NASA


The multi-mirror, 17 meter-diameter MAGIC telescopes reflect this starry night sky from the Roque de los Muchachos European Northern Observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma. MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov and the telescopes can see the brief flashes of optical light produced in particle air showers as high-energy gamma rays impact the Earth's upper atmosphere. On July 20, two of the three telescopes in view were looking for gamma rays from the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In reflection they show the bright stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius near the galactic center to the southeast. Beyond the segmented-mirror arrays, above the northwest horizon and below the Big Dipper is Comet NEOWISE. NEOWISE stands for Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. That's the Earth-orbiting satellite used to discover the comet designated C/2020 F3, but you knew that. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE Streaks Across the Sky Above Lone Pine Lake

Comet NEOWISE streaked across the sky above the tree line of Lone Pine Lake, located on the Mount Whitney Trail in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. via NASA

Fairytale NEOWISE

Comet dust falls through a twilight sky in this dream-like scene, but it's not part of a fairytale movie. Still, Castle Neuschwanstein, nestled in the Bavarian Alps, did inspire Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Captured on July 20, the bright streak above the castle towers is likely a Perseid meteor. Though it peaks near mid-August, the annual summer meteor shower is active now. The meteor trail over the fairytale castle can be traced back to the shower's radiant in the heroic constellation Perseus off the top right of the frame. Perseid meteors are produced by dust from periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle. With its own broad dust tail now sweeping through northern skies the celestial apparition above the distant horizon is planet Earth's current darling, Comet NEOWISE. via NASA

Developing Technologies to Send Humans to Mars

NASA is developing technologies to send humans to the Red Planet. via NASA

What is creating the structure in Comet NEOWISE's tails? Of the two tails evident, the blue ion tail on the left points directly away from the Sun and is pushed out by the flowing and charged solar wind. Structure in the ion tail comes from different rates of expelled blue-glowing ions from the comet's nucleus, as well as the always complex and continually changing structure of our Sun's wind. Most unusual for Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), though, is the wavy structure of its dust tail. This dust tail is pushed out by sunlight, but curves as heavier dust particles are better able to resist this light pressure and continue along a solar orbit. Comet NEOWISE's impressive dust-tail striations are not fully understood, as yet, but likely related to rotating streams of sun-reflecting grit liberated by ice melting on its 5-kilometer wide nucleus. The featured 40-image conglomerate, digitally enhanced, was captured three days ago through the dark skies of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia, China. Comet NEOWISE will make it closest pass to the Earth tomorrow as it moves out from the Sun. The comet, already fading but still visible to the unaided eye, should fade more rapidly as it recedes from the Earth. via NASA

Apollo 11: Returning from the Moon

On July 21, 1969, command and service module pilot Michael Collins photographed this close-up view of the docking target on the Apollo 11 Lunar Module from the Command Module. via NASA

Iron in the Butterfly Nebula

Can stars, like caterpillars, transform themselves into butterflies? No, but in the case of the Butterfly Nebula -- it sure looks like it. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years and its estimated surface temperature exceeds 200,000 degrees, C, the dying central star of NGC 6302, the featured planetary nebula, has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in visible and ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is reprocessed here to show off the remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by iron, shown in red. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE and Nebulae

Would you brave wild animals to photograph this sky? One astrophotographer did -- and we all get to reap the rewards. First, thousands of stars were visible with many of the brightest impressively blue. Next, several red-glowing nebulae were discernible, including the California Nebula on the far right, and, above it, the Heart and Soul nebulae. But the real reason to brave the local wildlife was Comet NEOWISE, visible on the left. In the featured long-duration composite taken last week, Comet NEOWISE's blue-glowing ion tail points straight up, away from the rising Sun, while the Sun-reflecting dust tail trails off toward the right. The picture combines three exposures taken consecutively over 10 minutes from the same location near Miedzygórze, Poland. A moonlit dirt road shows the path ahead, while the Śnieznik Mountains is visible on the horizon. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) passes its closest to the Earth next week, after which the 5-km wide, evaporating, icy dirtball will fade as it glides back to the outer Solar System. via NASA

Rotating Moon from LRO

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That's because the Earth's moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has been composed. The featured time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands. Currently, over 19 new missions to the Moon are under active development from eight different countries, most of which have expected launch dates in the next three years. via NASA


If you can see the stars of the Big Dipper, you can find comet NEOWISE in your evening sky tonight. After sunset look for the naked-eye comet below the bowl of the famous celestial kitchen utensil of the north and above your northwestern horizon. You're looking for a fuzzy 'star' with a tail, though probably not so long a tail as in this clear sky snapshot taken from Los Padres National Forest in California on the evening of July 16. Recent photographs of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) often show this comet's broad dust tail and fainter but separate ion tail extending farther than the eye can follow. Skygazers around the world have been delighted to find NEOWISE, surprise visitor from the outer Solar System. via NASA

NEOWISE of the North

After local midnight on July 14 comet NEOWISE was still above the horizon for Goldenrod, Alberta, Canada, just north of Calgary, planet Earth. In this snapshot it makes for an awesome night with dancing displays of the northern lights. The long-tailed comet and auroral displays are beautiful apparitions in the north these days. Both show the influence of spaceweather and the wind from the Sun. Skygazers have widely welcomed the visitor from the Oort cloud, though C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is in an orbit that is now taking it out of the inner Solar System. via NASA

Apollo 11 Launches into History

At 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission launched via a Saturn V rocket on a mission to the Moon. via NASA

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born

On July 17, 1975, something momentous happened: two Cold War-rivals met in space. When their respective spacecraft rendezvoused and docked, a new era of cooperative ventures in space began. via NASA

The Long Tails of Comet NEOWISE

This Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) now sweeps through our fair planet's northern skies. Its long tails stretch across this deep skyview from Suchy Vrch, Czech Republic. Recorded on the night of July 13/14, the composite of untracked foreground and tracked and filtered sky exposures teases out details in the comet's tail not visible to the unaided eye. Faint structures extend to the top of the frame, over 20 degrees from the comet's bright coma. Pushed out by the pressure of sunlight itself, the broad curve of the comet's yellowish dust tail is easy to see by eye. But the fainter, more bluish tail is separate from the reflective comet dust. The fainter tail is an ion tail, formed as ions from the cometary coma are dragged outward by magnetic fields in the solar wind and fluoresce in the sunlight. Outbound NEOWISE is climbing higher in northern evening skies, coming closest to Earth on July 23rd. via NASA

Earth's Beauty from Above

The crew snapped this starry nighttime shot of Rio de Janeiro and surrounding cities on the Brazilian coast, as the International Space Station orbited above São Paolo. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE over the Swiss Alps

Comet NEOWISE has been wowing photographers around much of the world during dawn and dusk, at the margins of day and night. For the most northern residents of planet Earth, however, the comet circles the North Star and never sets. The night part of this circular arc is apparent in the featured composite of images assembled from a webcam located at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Images were selected at 30-minute intervals throughout the night from July 12th -13th. Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) will continue to become more accessible to northern hemisphere observers as its motion places it higher in the sky each evening after sunset over the next few weeks, as it begins its outbound journey. As with all comets, departure from the inner Solar System comes with inevitable fading. Binoculars are the best way to find and observe the comet visually. via NASA

Perseverance Rover Mated to Its Atlas V Rocket

In this image, NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover waits to be lifted onto its Atlas V launch vehicle at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE over Stonehenge

Have you ever seen a comet? Tonight -- and likely the next few nights -- should be a good chance. Go outside just at sunset and look to your northwest. The lower your horizon, the better. Binoculars may help, but if your sky is cloudless and dark, all you should need is your unaided eyes and patience. As the Sun sets, the sky will darken, and there will be an unusual faint streak pointing diagonally near the horizon. That is Comet NEOWISE. It is a 5-kilometer-wide evaporating dirty iceberg visiting from -- and returning to -- the outer Solar System. As the Earth turns, the comet will soon set, so you might want to take a picture. In the featured image, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was captured two mornings ago rising over Stonehenge in the UK. Discovered with the NASA satellite NEOWISE toward the end of March, Comet NEOWISE has surprised many by surviving its closest approach to the Sun, brightening dramatically, and developing impressive (blue) ion and (white) dust tails. via NASA

Hubble Sees a Star Called HBC 672 and the Bat Shadow

A young star's unseen, planet-forming disk casts a huge shadow across a more distant cloud in a star-forming region. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE Rising over the Adriatic Sea

This sight was worth getting out of bed early. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has been rising before dawn during the past week to the delight of northern sky enthusiasts awake that early. Up before sunrise, the featured photographer was able to capture in dramatic fashion one of the few comets visible to the unaided eye this century, an inner-Solar System intruder that might become known as the Great Comet of 2020. The resulting video details Comet NEOWISE from Italy rising over the Adriatic Sea. The time-lapse video combines over 240 images taken over 30 minutes. The comet is seen rising through a foreground of bright and undulating noctilucent clouds, and before a background of distant stars. Comet NEOWISE has remained unexpectedly bright, so far, with its ion and dust tails found to emanate from a nucleus spanning about five kilometers across. Fortunately, starting tonight, northern observers with a clear and dark northwestern horizon should be able to see the sun-reflecting interplanetary snowball just after sunset. via NASA

Comet CG Creates Its Dust Tail

Where do comet tails come from? There are no obvious places on the nuclei of comets from which the jets that create comet tails emanate. One of the best images of emerging jets is shown in the featured picture, taken in 2015 by ESA's robotic Rosetta spacecraft that orbited Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet CG) from 2014 to 2016. The picture shows plumes of gas and dust escaping numerous places from Comet CG's nucleus as it neared the Sun and heated up. The comet has two prominent lobes, the larger one spanning about 4 kilometers, and a smaller 2.5-kilometer lobe connected by a narrow neck. Analyses indicate that evaporation must be taking place well inside the comet's surface to create the jets of dust and ice that we see emitted through the surface. Comet CG (also known as Comet 67P) loses in jets about a meter of radius during each of its 6.44-year orbits around the Sun, a rate at which will completely destroy the comet in only thousands of years. In 2016, Rosetta's mission ended with a controlled impact onto Comet CG's surface. via NASA

The Tails of Comet NEOWISE

Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) is now sweeping through northern skies. Its developing tails stretch some six degrees across this telescopic field of view, recorded from Brno, Czech Republic before daybreak on July 10. Pushed out by the pressure of sunlight itself, the comet's broad, yellowish dust tail is easiest to see. But the image also captures a fainter, more bluish tail too, separate from the reflective comet dust. The fainter tail is an ion tail, formed as ions from the cometary coma are dragged outward by magnetic fields in the solar wind and fluoresce in the sunlight. In this sharp portrait of our new visitor from the outer Solar System, the tails of comet NEOWISE are reminiscent of the even brighter tails of Hale Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. via NASA

Creating Psyche: Mission to an Asteroid

An electric Hall thruster, identical to those that will be used to propel NASA's Psyche spacecraft, undergoes testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE from the ISS

Rounding the Sun on July 3rd and currently headed for the outer Solar System, Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) has been growing brighter in the predawn skies of planet Earth. From low Earth orbit it also rises before the Sun, captured above the approaching glow along the eastern horizon in this snapshot from the International Space Station on July 5. Venus, now Earth's morning star is the brilliant celestial beacon on the right in the field of view. Above Venus you can spot the sister stars of the more compact Pleiades cluster. Earthbound skygazers can spot this comet with the unaided eye, but should look for awesome views with binoculars. via NASA

STS-135: Shuttle's Final Launch and the Beginning of a New Era

Space Shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission launched from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on July 8, 2011 and was the last space shuttle mission. via NASA

Noctilucent NEOWISE

These silvery blue waves washing over a tree-lined horizon in the eastern French Alps are noctilucent clouds. From high in planet Earth's mesosphere, they reflect sunlight in this predawn skyscape taken on July 8. This summer, the night-shining clouds are not new to the northern high-latitudes. Comet NEOWISE is though. Also known as C/2020 F3, the comet was discovered in March by the Earth-orbiting Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite. It's now emerging in morning twilight only just visible to the unaided eye from a clear location above the northeastern horizon. via NASA

Heat Shield Milestone Complete for First Orion Mission with Crew

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft. via NASA

Jupiter's Magnificent Swirling Clouds

A multitude of magnificent, swirling clouds in Jupiter's dynamic North North Temperate Belt is captured in this image from NASA's Juno spacecraft. via NASA

Mercurys Sodium Tail

What is that fuzzy streak extending from Mercury? Long exposures of our Solar System's innermost planet may reveal something unexpected: a tail. Mercury's thin atmosphere contains small amounts of sodium that glow when excited by light from the Sun. Sunlight also liberates these molecules from Mercury's surface and pushes them away. The yellow glow from sodium, in particular, is relatively bright. Pictured, Mercury and its sodium tail are visible in a deep image taken in late May from Italy through a filter that primarily transmits yellow light emitted by sodium. First predicted in the 1980s, Mercury's tail was first discovered in 2001. Many tail details were revealed in multiple observations by NASA's robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015. Tails are usually associated with comets. The tails of Comet NEOWISE are currently visible with the unaided eye in the morning sky. via NASA

Comet NEOWISE over Lebanon

A comet has suddenly become visible to the unaided eye. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered in late March and brightened as it reached its closest approach to the Sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, late last week. The interplanetary iceberg survived solar heating, so far, and is now becoming closer to the Earth as it starts its long trek back to the outer Solar System. As Comet NEOWISE became one of the few naked-eye comets of the 21st Century, word spread quickly, and the comet has already been photographed behind many famous sites and cities around the globe. Featured, Comet NEOWISE was captured over Lebanon two days ago just before sunrise. The future brightness of Comet NEOWISE remains somewhat uncertain but the comet will likely continue to be findable not only in the early morning sky, but also next week in the early evening sky. via NASA

Upgrading the Space Station Is All in a Day's Work

NASA astronaut Robert Behnken works during the Wednesday, July 1, 2020, six-hour and one-minute spacewalk to swap an aging nickel-hydrogen battery for a new lithium-ion battery on the International Space Station's Starboard-6 truss structure. via NASA

M43: Dust, Gas, and Stars in the Orion Nebula

Unspeakable beauty and unimaginable bedlam can be found together in the Orion Nebula Arguably the most famous of all astronomy nebulas, the Great Nebula in Orion is an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the featured deep image shown in assigned colors, the part of the nebula's center known as M43 is shown as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The entire Orion Nebula, including both M42 and M43 spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun. via NASA

Saturns Northern Hexagon

Why would clouds form a hexagon on Saturn? Nobody is sure. Originally discovered during the Voyager flybys of Saturn in the 1980s, nobody has ever seen anything like it anywhere else in the Solar System. Acquiring its first sunlit views of far northern Saturn in late 2012, the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera recorded this stunning, false-color image of the ringed planet's north pole. The composite of near-infrared image data results in red hues for low clouds and green for high ones, giving the Saturnian cloudscape a vivid appearance. This and similar images show the stability of the hexagon even 20+ years after Voyager. Movies of Saturn's North Pole show the cloud structure maintaining its hexagonal structure while rotating. Unlike individual clouds appearing like a hexagon on Earth, the Saturn cloud pattern appears to have six well defined sides of nearly equal length. Four Earths could fit inside the hexagon. Beyond the cloud tops at the upper right, arcs of the planet's eye-catching rings appear bright blue. via NASA

Meeting in the Mesosphere

A sensitive video camera on a summit of the Vosges mountains in France captured these surprising fireworks above a distant horizon on June 26. Generated over intense thunderstorms, this one about 260 kilometers away, the brief and mysterious flashes have come to be known as red sprites. The transient luminous events are caused by electrical breakdown at altitudes of 50 to 100 kilometers. That puts them in the mesophere, the coldest layer of planet Earth's atmosphere. The glow beneath the sprites is from more familiar lighting though, below the storm clouds. But on the right, the video frames have captured another summertime apparition from the mesophere. The silvery veins of light are polar mesospheric clouds. Also known as noctilucent or night shining clouds, the icy clouds still reflect the sunlight when the Sun is below the horizon. via NASA

Lynds Dark Nebula 1251

Stars are forming in Lynds Dark Nebula (LDN) 1251. About 1,000 light-years away and drifting above the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, the dusty molecular cloud is part of a complex of dark nebulae mapped toward the Cepheus flare region. 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, buried behind the dusty expanse. This alluring view imaged with a backyard telescope and broadband filters spans about two full moons on the sky, or 17 light-years at the estimated distance of LDN 1251. via NASA

The Galaxy, the Planet, and the Apple Tree

The Old Astronomer's Milky Way arcs through this peaceful northern sky. Against faint, diffuse starlight you can follow dark rifts of interstellar dust clouds stretching from the galaxy's core. They lead toward bright star Antares at the right, almost due south above the horizon. The brightest beacon in the twilight is Jupiter, though. From the camera's perspective it seems to hang from the limb of a tree framing the foreground, an apple tree of course. The serene maritime nightscape was recorded in tracked and untracked exposures on June 16 from Dover, Nova Scotia, planet Earth. via NASA