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.

2011 November 3
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IC 59 and IC 63 in Cassiopeia
Image Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.)

Explanation: These bright rims and flowing shapes suggest to some melting ice cream on a cosmic scale. Looking toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the colorful (zoomable) skyscape features the swept back, comet-shaped clouds IC 59 (left) and IC 63. About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually melting, but they are slowly dissipating under the influence of ionizing ultraviolet radiation from hot,luminous star gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae, just off the upper right edge of the frame. In fact, slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as the ionized hydrogen atoms recombine with electrons. Farther from the star, IC 59 shows proportionally less H-alpha emission but more of the characteristic blue tint of dust reflected star light. The field of view spans about 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of gamma Cas and friends.

Tomorrow's picture: cosmic hamburger

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