Feb 11

Discovery Docks to ISS

Source: NASA

Space shuttle Discovery docked to ISS.
Image credit: NASA TV.

Space shuttle Discovery docked to the International Space Station at 2:14 p.m. EST Saturday with its cargo of a new station module, equipment and supplies for the orbiting laboratory.

After a delay to let the relative motion between the two spacecraft, with a combined mass of 1.2 million pounds, dampen out, hatches separating crews were opened at 4:16 p.m. Shuttle astronauts, Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott moved into the station. (read more)

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Feb 11

NASA'S Shuttle Discovery heads to Space Station on its final mission

Source: NASA Release 11-054

Image credit: NASA/Kenny Allen and Mike Gayle


The final flight of space shuttle Discovery lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 20h53  (UTC) of Thursday to deliver a new module and critical supplies to the International Space Station.

The STS-133 mission is delivering the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), a facility created from the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module named Leonardo. The module can support microgravity experiments in areas such as fluid physics, materials science, biology and biotechnology. Inside the PMM is Robonaut 2, a dextrous robot that will become a permanent resident of the station. Discovery also is carrying critical spare components to the space station and the Express Logistics Carrier 4, an external platform that holds large equipment.

The shuttle crew is scheduled to dock to the station at 18h16 (UTC) today. The mission's two spacewalks will focus on outfitting the station and storing spare components outside the complex.

After completing the 11-day flight, the shuttle's first landing opportunity at Kennedy is scheduled for 12:44 p.m. on Monday, March 7. STS-133 is the 133rd shuttle flight, the 39th flight for Discovery and the 35th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. (read source)

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Feb 11

SDO captures huge prominence of the Sun

Credit: NASA/SDO

When a rather large M 3.6 class flare occurred near the edge of the Sun on Feb. 24, 2011, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted for 90 minutes. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the event in extreme ultraviolet light. Because SDO images are high definition, the team was able to zoom in on the flare and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless.(download the video)

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Feb 11

Second stage of the Worldwide “Star Challenge” Astro Relay has been launched

Source: Star Challenge

In early February, the second phase of the Worldwide “Star Challenge” Astro Relay began. This event is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the first manned flight into space by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

The “Star Challenge” became known to the world at last year's official launch ceremony in Paris, which was held at the Russian representation at UNESCO. More than 50 thousand young people from all over the world took part in the first round, with the most active among them being adolescents from Russia, the USA, India, France and other countries.

The Worldwide Astro Relay aims to stimulate youth from around the world to take a greater interest in outer space and space-related issues, bringing it to a new level. The most popular topics, as expressed by the participants in the Astro Relay, include the environment, space exploration, and promoting friendship with extraterrestrial civilisations.

The site of the Worldwide “Star Challenge” Astro Relay, found at www.starchallenge.org, consists of a large number of topical interactive rubrics: “CosmoBrainers” is the main section, where most inquisitive participants of the Olympiad are able to demonstrate their knowledge in the spheres of physics, astronomy and mathematics; “CosmoWriters” is the creative part, which involves a variety of posts on a given topic; “CosmoArtists” is a section where participants in the Astro Relay represent their world in a popular way – through comics. Participants also have the opportunity to obtain answers to the most interesting questions from a number of legendary cosmonauts, including the first man to walk in space, two-time Hero of the Soviet Union Alexei Leonov, Hero of the Soviet Union Georgi Grechko, Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Serebrov, in addition to many others.

In the second stage of the Worldwide “Star Challenge” Astro Relay, apart from demonstrating their theoretical knowledge, participants will also have the opportunity to express their imagination through creative projects, modelling and simulation projects, etc. In cooperation with Microsoft, in the “CosmoWriters” part of the competition, participants can make posts involving the use of unique images of outer space, taken with the WorldWide Telescope. The second stage of the “CosmoArtists” competition involves the realisation of a science fiction theme in cinematic form.

Following the second round and the final distance-based stage, the 20 top-ranking participants of the “Star Challenge” will be chosen. These fortunate enthusiasts will be able to attend the finals in Paris. The absolute winner will be given the opportunity to attend and observe a unique space launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The winners in the categories “CosmoArtists” and “CosmoWriters” will receive trendy multimedia devices.

The Worldwide “Star Challenge” Astro Relay is being carried out within the framework of the “Star Odyssey” educational programme of the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (ROSSOTRUDNICHESTVO) with the support of the Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Submitted by Maria Kravchenko


Star Challenge's webpage

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Feb 11

Cassiopeia A: NASA'S Chandra Finds Superfluid in Neutron Star's Core

Source: NASA /Chandra

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/xx; Optical: NASA/STScI; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

This composite image shows a beautiful X-ray and optical view of Cassiopeia A (Cas A), a supernova remnant located in our Galaxy about 11,000 light years away. These are the remains of a massive star that exploded about 330 years ago, as measured in Earth's time frame. X-rays from Chandra are shown in red, green and blue along with optical data from Hubble in gold.

At the center of the image is a neutron star, an ultra-dense star created by the supernova. Ten years of observations with Chandra have revealed a 4% decline in the temperature of this neutron star, an unexpectedly rapid cooling. Two new papers by independent research teams show that this cooling is likely caused by a neutron superfluid forming in its central regions, the first direct evidence for this bizarre state of matter in the core of a neutron star. (read more)

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Feb 11

Europe's ATV supply ship docks safely with Space Station

Source: ESA PR 09-2011

ATV Johannes Kepler in final moments before docking with ISS. Credits: ESA

Eight days after launch, ESA's latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, completed a flawless rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station at 17:08 CET (16:08 GMT) to deliver essential supplies.

The approach and docking were achieved autonomously by its own computers, closely monitored by ESA and French space agency (CNES) teams at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the astronauts on the Station.

ATV's own second set of sensors and computers provided an independent check.

Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/hr, the relative speed during final approach remained below 7 cm/s and the accuracy within a few centimetres.

Johannes Kepler closed in on the ISS from behind in order to dock with Russia's Zvezda module.

At close range, the 20-tonne unmanned spaceship computed its position through sensors pointed at laser reflectors on the Station to determine its distance and orientation relative to its target.

ATV's docking probe was captured by the docking cone inside Zvezda's aft end at 16:59 CET (15:59 GMT). The closure of hooks completed the docking sequence some seven minutes later.(read more)

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Feb 11

ESO makes probable first planet formation detection

Source: ESO Science Release eso1106 - Planet Formation in Action? — Astronomers may have found the first object clearing its path in the natal disc surrounding a young star

Artist’s impression of the disc around the young star T Cha.
Image credit: ESO/L.Calçada.

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope an international team of astronomers has been able to study the short-lived disc of material around a young star that is in the early stages of making a planetary system. For the first time a smaller companion could be detected that may be the cause of the large gap found in the disc. Future observations will determine whether this companion is a planet or a brown dwarf.(read more)

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Feb 11

NASA Schedules Next Glory Mission Launch Attempt

Source: NASA/Glory

The launch of NASA's Glory spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is currently planned for no earlier than Friday, Feb. 25 at 5:09 a.m. EST. Engineers from NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp. continue to troubleshoot a technical issue that arose during Wednesday's initial launch attempt. The target launch date also will ensure personnel get the required rest before entering another countdown.

The Glory satellite is being launched aboard an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket on a mission to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate.(read source)

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Feb 11

Stardust NExT encouter with comet Tempel 1

Source: NASA /Stardust NExT

NASA has released videos and images of the encounter with comet Tempel 1. On this first video scientists explain the mission and how its goals were accomplished. Scientists reveal sights and sounds of comet Tempel 1 flyby by the Stardust-NExT spacecraft on Valentine's Day, Feb.14.

Credit: NASA/JPL

On this second video we can perceive how, during its Feb. 14, 2011, flyby of comet Tempel 1, an instrument on the protective shield on NASA's Stardust spacecraft was pelted by dust particles and small rocks, as can be heard in this audio track.

Credit: NASA/JPL

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Feb 11

Orrery of Kepler’s Exoplanets

Source: YouTube /dfabrycky's Channel

The video above presents all the multiple-planet systems discovered by Kepler as of 2/2/2011; orbits go through the entire mission (3.5 years). Hot colors to Cool colors (Red to yellow to green to cyan to blue to gray) are Big planets to Smaller planets, relative to the other planets in the system.

In this video the author presents all the multiple-planet systems discovered by Kepler as of 2/2/2011 that have orbits that go through quarters Q0-Q2. Hot colors to Cool colors (Red to yellow to green to cyan to blue to gray) are Big planets to Smaller planets, relative to the other planets in the system.

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Feb 11

Shaping a transition from rocket fuel to oil rigs

Source: ESA

Technology used to shape Ariane fuel tanks could help
to form floats for industrial chemical tanks and oil rigs.
Credits: Øyvind Hagen / StatoilHydro

Technology used to shape rocket fuel tanks could help one German company to form floats for industrial chemical tanks and oil rigs, thanks to funding from ESA.(read more)

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Feb 11

Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign: Feb. 21 - March 6

Submitted by Veselka Radeva, Ph.D.
Original post by Constance E. Walker, Ph.D.

With half of the world’s population now living in cities, many urban dwellers have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies and maybe never will. This loss, caused by light pollution, is a concern on many fronts: safety, energy conservation, cost, health and effects on wildlife, as well as our ability to view the stars. Even though light pollution is a serious and growing global concern, it is one of the easiest environmental problems you can address on local levels.

Participation in the international star-hunting campaign, GLOBE at Night, helps to address the light pollution issue locally as well as globally. This year, 2 sets of campaigns are being offered. For the first campaign from February 21 through March 6, 2011, everyone all over the world is invited to record the brightness of the night sky. The second campaign runs from March 22 through April 4 in the Northern Hemisphere and March 24 through April 6 in the Southern Hemisphere. The campaign is easy and fun to do. First, you match the appearance of the constellation Orion in the first campaign (and Leo or Crux in the second campaign) with simple star maps of progressively fainter stars found. Then you submit your measurements, including the date, time, and location of your comparison. After all the campaign’s observations are submitted, the project’s organizers release a map of light-pollution levels worldwide. Over the last five annual 2-week campaigns, volunteers from more than 100 nations contributed 52,000 measurements, one third of which came from last year’s campaign.

To learn the five easy steps to participate in the GLOBE at Night program, see the GLOBE at Night website. You can listen to last year’s 10-minute audio podcast on light pollution and GLOBE at Night. Or download a 45-minute powerpoint and accompanying audio. GLOBE at Night is also on Facebook and Twitter.

The big news is that children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find latitude and longitude.

For activities that have children explore what light pollution is, what its effects are on wildlife and how to prepare for participating in the GLOBE at Night campaign, see the Dark Skies Rangers activities. Monitoring our environment will allow us as citizen-scientists to identify and preserve the dark sky oases in cities and locate areas where light pollution is increasing. All it takes is a few minutes during the 2011 campaign to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations on-line. Help us exceed the 17,800 observations contributed last year. Your measurements will make a world of difference.

Star Maps: http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude.html

Submitting Measurements: http://www.globeatnight.org/report.html

GLOBE at Night: http://www.globeatnight.org/

Audio Podcast: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2010/02/03/february-3rd-the-globe-at-night-campaign-our-light-or-starlight/

Powerpoint: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_slides.ppt

Accompanying Audio: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_audio.mp3

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GLOBEatNight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GLOBEatNight

Web App for Reporting: http://www.globeatnight.org/webapp/

Dark Skies Activities: http://www.darkskiesawareness.org/DarkSkiesRangers/

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Feb 11

VLBA measures farther than ever before

Credit: Universe Today

Artist's conception of Milky Way, showing locations of star-forming regions whose distances were recently measured.
Image credit: M. Reid, Harvard-Smithsonian CfA; R. Hurt, SSC/JPL/Caltech, NRAO/AUI/NSF,Kitt Peak.

Los Alamos. St. Croix. Pie Town.

What do these places have in common? They each house one of 10 giant telescopes in the Very Large Baseline Array, a continent-spanning collection of telescopes that’s flexing its optical muscles, reaching farther into space — with more precision — than any other telescope in the world.

And yesterday, at the 177th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, VLBA researchers announced an amazing feat: They’ve used the VLBA to peer, with stunning accuracy, three times as far into the universe as they had just two years ago. New measurements with the VLBA have placed a galaxy called NGC 6264 (coordinates below) at a distance of 450 million light-years from Earth, with an uncertainty of no more than 9 percent. This is the farthest distance ever directly measured, surpassing a measurement of 160 million light-years to another galaxy in 2009.(read more)

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Feb 11

Warm Up At NASA's Sun-Earth Day Tweetup

Source: NASA News

NASA is inviting its Twitter followers to a daylong event revolving around the sun and Earth's relationship. NASA will randomly select 100 registrants to participate in the Sun-Earth Day Tweetup March 19 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Registration opens at noon EST on Tuesday, Feb. 22, and closes at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24.

Each year, NASA celebrates Sun-Earth Day near the spring equinox with a series of events that highlight the agency's research and discoveries about our home planet and its star. "Ancient Mysteries, Future Discoveries" is this year's theme for Sun-Earth Day and the Tweetup.

Tweetup participants will be given a personalized tour of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space museum in Washington. They will observe the sun -- weather permitting -- from the museum's public observatory and hear from Smithsonian experts who study the history of astronomy and planetary science. After the Smithsonian visit, the attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at Goddard's Integration and Test Facility, where engineers ground test instruments and satellites.

Tweetup attendees also will have the opportunity to meet NASA scientists and engineers and be part of a live webcast with the co-hosts of NASA EDGE, an unscripted video podcast that takes a unique look at agency programs and initiatives.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for people who regularly communicate via Twitter about Sun-Earth Day and other NASA programs to meet each other and get direct access to astronomy experts at the Smithsonian and NASA," said Aleya Van Doren, formal education coordinator at Goddard.

For more information about the Tweetup and to register, visit:


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Feb 11

Messenger captures Solar System Family Portrait

Source: NASA/Messenger

Solar System Family Portrait from the inside out. Image credit: NASA/John Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft has captured the first portrait of our Solar System from the inside looking out. Comprised of 34 images, the mosaic provides a complement to the Solar System portrait – that one from the outside looking in – taken by Voyager 1 in 1990.

“Obtaining this portrait was a terrific feat by the MESSENGER team,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “This snapshot of our neighborhood also reminds us that Earth is a member of a planetary family that was formed by common processes four and a half billion years ago. Our spacecraft is soon to orbit the innermost member of the family, one that holds many new answers to how Earth-like planets are assembled and evolve.”

MESSENGER’s Wide Angle Camera (WAC) captured the images on November 3 and 16, 2010. In the mosaic, all of the planets are visible except for Uranus and Neptune, which – at distances of 3.0 and 4.4 billion kilometers – were too faint to detect. Earth’s Moon and Jupiter’s Galilean satellites (Callisto, Ganymede, Europa, and Io) can be seen in the NAC image insets. The Solar System’s perch on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy also afforded a beautiful view of a portion of the galaxy in the bottom center.

“The curved shape of the mosaic is due to the inclination of MESSENGER’s orbit from the ecliptic, the plane in which Earth and most planets orbit, which means that the cameras must point up to see some planets and down to see others,” explains MESSENGER imaging team member Brett Denevi of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “ The images are stretched to make it easier to detect the planets, though this stretch also highlights light scattered off of the planet limbs, and in some cases creates artifacts such as the non-spherical shape of some planets.”(read more)

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Feb 11

Messenger prepares Mercury orbit insertion

Credit: Messenger Team

Image credit: NASA/Messenger.

After more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will move into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. The durable spacecraft — carrying seven science instruments and fortified against the blistering environs near the Sun — will be the first to orbit the innermost planet.

At 13:45 p.m. GMT, MESSENGER — having pointed its largest thruster very close to the direction of travel — will fire that thruster for nearly 14 minutes, with other thrusters firing for an additional minute, slowing the spacecraft by 862 meters per second (1,929 miles per hour) and consuming 31% of the propellant that the spacecraft carried at launch. Less than 9.5% of the usable propellant at the start of the mission will remain after completing the orbit insertion maneuver, but the spacecraft will still have plenty of propellant for future orbit correction maneuvers.

The orbit insertion will place the spacecraft into an initial orbit about Mercury that has a 200 kilometer (124 mile) minimum altitude and a period of 12 hours. At the time of orbit insertion, MESSENGER will be 46.14 million kilometers (28.67 million miles) from the Sun and 155.06 million kilometers (96.35 million miles) from Earth.

“The journey since launch, more than six and a half years ago, has been a long one,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “But we have rounded the last turn, and the finish line for the mission’s cruise phase is in sight. The team is ready for orbital operations to begin.”

Engineers recently tested the arrayed-antenna configuration that will be used during the Mercury orbit insertion. During the maneuver, MESSENGER’s orientation will be optimized to support the burn, not to support communications with the team on the ground. As a result, the signal home will be weaker than usual. To boost the signal, communications engineers will use four antennas at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex — one 70-meter dish and three 34-meter dishes.

“This arrangement is not typical for a maneuver, so we wanted to do a few dry runs before orbit insertion,” says MESSENGER Communications Engineer Dipak Srinivasan, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “We are still analyzing the data, but everything went as expected.”

Since the last deep-space maneuver (DSM) almost a year and a half ago, the primary focus of the team has been on preparing for the orbit insertion maneuver and for orbital operations.  Detailed plans have been developed and vetted through an extensive series of meetings ranging from internal peer reviews of each subsystem to formal reviews with external experts assessing overall readiness. Three of the major reviews were dedicated specifically to the activities associated with the MOI maneuver itself.

In addition to taking advantage of planned DSMs to practice aspects of the orbit insertion maneuver, the team has conducted a number of flight tests to characterize key subsystem behavior and to confirm the proper operation of various spacecraft components.  Three full-team rehearsals using the hardware simulator have been conducted to practice all activities to be followed during the upcoming maneuver. The first of these exercises mimicked a nominal orbit insertion, and the following two presented anomalies for the team to recognize, analyze, and address.

“Although we feel that the preparations to date – and those scheduled for the next month – have been well thought-out, that the decisions made to define the specific activities were sound, and that the level of review and rehearsal has been more than adequate, we recognize the extraordinary complexity and unique nature of this endeavor,” says APL’s Peter Bedini, MESSENGER’s project manager. “But at this point, four weeks out, we are well positioned for success.  The spacecraft is healthy, continues to operate nominally, and is on course to be at the right place at the right time at 8:45 P.M. ET on the evening of March 17.”

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Feb 11

Flocculent spiral NGC 2841

Source: ESA/Hubble Photo Release heic1104

NGC 2841. Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble

The galaxy NGC 2841 - shown here in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken with the space observatory’s newest  instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3 - currently has a relatively low star formation rate compared to other spirals. It is one of several nearby galaxies that have been specifically chosen for a new study in which a pick ’n’ mix of different stellar nursery environments and birth rates are being observed.

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Feb 11

Herschel finds less dark matter but more stars

Source: ESA

This animation shows the distribution of the dark matter, obtained
from a numerical simulation, at a redshift z~2, or when the Universe
was about 3 billion years old.
Credits: The Virgo Consortium/Alexandre Amblard/ESA

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has discovered a population of dust-enshrouded galaxies that do not need as much dark matter as previously thought to collect gas and burst into star formation.(read more)

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Feb 11

ATV Johannes Kepler on its way to ISS

Source: ESA PR072011

Artist's Impression of the ATV Johannes Kepler.
Image credit: ESA - D. Ducros, 2010.

Europe's ATV Johannes Kepler supply ship on its way to Space Station

ESA's second Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, has been launched into its targeted low orbit by an Ariane 5. The unmanned supply ship is planned to deliver critical supplies and reboost the International Space Station during its almost four-month mission.

The Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:50 GMT (18:50 local) on Wednesday 16 February.(read more)

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Feb 11

M78 - Reflected Glory

Source: ESO Photo Release 1105

Messier 78 Nebula
Image credit: ESO and Igor Chekalin

The nebula Messier 78 takes centre stage in this image taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, while the stars powering the bright display take a backseat. The brilliant starlight ricochets off dust particles in the nebula, illuminating it with scattered blue light. Igor Chekalin was the overall winner of ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition with his image of this stunning object.(read more)

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