By starlight this eerie visage shines in the dark, a crooked profile evoking its popular name, the Witch Head Nebula. In fact, this entrancing telescopic portrait gives the impression the witch has fixed her gaze on Orion's bright supergiant star Rigel. Spanning over 50 light-years, the dusty cosmic cloud strongly reflects nearby Rigel's blue light, giving it the characteristic color of a reflection nebula.
"Planet X" might actually exist — and so might "Planet Y."
At least two planets larger than Earth likely lurk in the dark depths of space far beyond Pluto, just waiting to be discovered, a new analysis of the orbits of "extreme trans-Neptunian objects" (ETNOs) suggests.
Researchers studied 13 ETNOs — frigid bodies such as the dwarf planet Sedna that cruise around the sun at great distances in elliptical paths.
Comet Lovejoy, a bright celestial ball of dust and ice probably born in the Oort Cloud, is currently traveling across the skies of the Northern Hemisphere. While photographer Gerald Rhemann snagged a shot of Lovejoy on December 22 (from the Southern Hemisphere), casual observers in the top half of the world might be able to enjoy the show into February.
"Comets this bright [appear only] every few years, on average," says Matthew Knight, a research scientist who studies comets at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Indeed, some viewers with keen sight might be able to spy it with the naked eye from a location far from urban lights— think the Arizona desert or Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Inner planets Venus and Mercury can never wander far from the Sun in Earth's sky. This week you've probably seen them both gathered near the western horizon just after sunset, a close conjunction of bright celestial beacons in the fading twilight. The pair are framed in this early evening skyview captured on January 13 from the ruins of Szarvasko Castle in northwestern Hungary.