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.

2007 February 22
See Explanation.
Moving the cursor over the image will bring up an annotated version.
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Mystery Over Australia
Credit & Copyright: Ray Palmer

Explanation: Place your cursor on this stunning view through dark skies over western Australia to highlight wonders of the southern Milky Way -- including the famous Southern Cross, the dark Coal Sack Nebula, and bright reddish emission regions surrounding massive star Eta Carinae. Recorded Tuesday at about 2 am, the thirty minute long color film exposure also captured a bright but mysterious object that moved slowly across the sky for over an hour. Widely seen, the object began as a small point and expanded as it tracked toward the North (left), resulting in a comet-like appearance in this picture. What was it? Reports are now identifying the mystery glow with a plume from the explosion of a malfunctioned Russian rocket stage partially filled with fuel. The rocket stage was marooned in Earth orbit after a failed communication satellite launch almost a year ago on February 28, 2006. A substantial amount of debris from the breakup can be tracked.

Tomorrow's picture: dust and the dying star

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