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.

2006 June 14
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Sagittarius Triplet
Credit & Copyright: Steve Mazlin, Jim Misti

Explanation: These three bright nebulae are often featured in telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius and the crowded starfields of the central Milky Way. In fact, 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged two of them; M8, the nebula below and right of center, and colorful M20 at the upper right. The third, NGC 6559, is left of M8, separated from the the larger nebula by a dark dust lane. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. The expansive M8, over a hundred light-years across, is also known as the Lagoon Nebula while M20's popular moniker is the Trifid. This stunning digital view is actually a collaborative composite recorded by 2 cameras and 2 telescopes about 2 thousand miles apart. The deep, wide image field was captured under dark Arizona skies. Both M8 and M20 were recorded in more detail from an observatory in Pennsylvania. Glowing hydrogen gas creates the dominant red color of the emission nebulae, with contrasting blue hues, most striking in the Trifid, due to dust reflected starlight.

Tomorrow's picture: Gordel van Venus

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