Big, beautiful spiral galaxy M101 is one of the last entries in Charles Messier's famous catalog, but definitely not one of the least. About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy.
Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas.
M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Dust and Stars
The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky.
LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun.
The N44 Emission Nebula
N44 is one of the largest and most intricate nebulas in this part of the universe. Located in our galactic neighbor the Large Magellanic Cloud, N44 houses numerous massive bright stars, lengthy lanes of dark dust, and vast clouds of hydrogen gas that glows red.
Inside the Eagle Nebula
From afar, the whole thing looks like an Eagle. A closer look at the Eagle Nebula, however, shows the bright region is actually a window into the center of a larger dark shell of dust. Through this window, a brightly-lit workshop appears where a whole open cluster of stars is being formed. In this cavity tall pillars and round globules of dark dust and cold molecular gas remain where stars are still forming. Already visible are several young bright blue stars whose light and winds are burning away and pushing back the remaining filaments and walls of gas and dust. The Eagle emission nebula, tagged M16, lies about 6500 light years away, spans about 20 light-years, and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of Serpens.
The N44 Superbubble
What created this gigantic hole? The vast emission nebula N44 in our neighboring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud has a large, 250 light-year hole and astronomers are trying to figure out why. One possibility is particle winds expelled by massive stars in the bubble's interior that are pushing out the glowing gas.
The Flaming Star Nebula from CFHT
Rippling dust and gas lanes give the Flaming Star Nebula its name. The red and purple colors of the nebula are present in different regions and are created by different processes. The bright star AE Aurigae, visible toward the image left, is so hot it is blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from surrounding gas.
NGC 1309 and Friends
A gorgeous spiral galaxy some 100 million light-years distant, NGC 1309 lies on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. NGC 1309 spans about 30,000 light-years, one third the size of our larger Milky Way galaxy. Bluish clusters of young stars and dust lanes are seen to trace out NGC 1309's spiral arms as they wind around an older yellowish star population at its core.
Thor's Helmet in H-Alpha
Near picture center, the helmet-shaped structure with wing-like appendages is popularly called Thor's Helmet. Cataloged as NGC 2359, the striking nebula is located about 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Canis Major.