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Holiday Lights from the Universe

Holiday Lights from the Universe

Although there are no seasons in space, some cosmic vistas invoke thoughts of a frosty winter landscape. Here are a few stellar images of holiday wonderlands from across the galaxy…

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Located in our galaxy about 5,500 light years from Earth, this region is actually a “cluster of clusters,” containing at least three clusters of young stars, including many hot, massive, luminous stars.

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The outstretched “wings” of this nebula looks like a soaring, celestial snow angel. Twin lobes of super-hot gas, glowing blue in this image, stretch outward from the central star. This hot gas creates the “wings” of our angel. A ring of dust and gas orbiting the star acts like a belt, clinching the expanding nebula into an “hourglass” shape.

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At this time of year, holiday parties often include festive lights. When galaxies get together, they also may be surrounded by a spectacular light show. This pair of spiral galaxies has been caught in a grazing encounter. This region has hosted three supernova explosions in the past 15 years and has produced one of the most bountiful collections of super-bright X-ray lights known.

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What do the following things have in common: a cone, the fur of a fox and a Christmas tree? Answer: they all occur in the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros). Pictured as a star forming region, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years away.

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Resembling festive lights on a holiday wreath, this Hubble Space Telescope image of a nearby spiral galaxy is an iconic reminder of the impending season. Bright knots of glowing gas light up the spiral arms, indicating a rich environment of star formation.

Holiday Lights from the Universe

The Hubble Space Telescope captured two festive-looking nebulas, situated so as to appear as one. Intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen in each of the nebulas, causing them to glow red…like a holiday light.

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