2006 September 24
Explanation: What's California doing in space? Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. It glows with the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. In this case, the star most likely providing the energetic starlight is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei, just right of the nebula and above picture center. Fittingly, this composite picture was made with images from a telescope in California - the 48-inch (1.2-meter) Samuel Oschin Telescope - taken as a part of the second National Geographic Palomar Observatory Sky Survey.
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