The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
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Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

A Pulsar's Hand
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Explanation: As far as pulsars go, PSR B1509-58 appears young. Light from the supernova explosion that gave birth to it would have first reached Earth some 1,700 years ago. The magnetized, 20 kilometer-diameter neutron star spins 7 times per second, a cosmic dynamo that powers a wind of charged particles. The energetic wind creates the surrounding nebula's X-ray glow in this tantalizing image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Low energy X-rays are in red, medium energies in green, and high energies in blue. The pulsar itself is in the bright central region. Remarkably, the nebula's tantalizing, complicated structure resembles a hand. PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Circinus. At that distance the Chandra image spans 100 light-years.


Mars in a Manger
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Explanation: At opposition in late January, Mars shone very brightly in planet Earth's night sky, among the stars of the constellation Cancer the Crab. Since then the Red Planet has been fading, but still lingers in Cancer during April and May. In mid-April, Mars wandered remarkably close to Cancer's famous star cluster M44, the Beehive Cluster. M44 is also known by an older name, Praesepe, Latin for cradle or manger. Captured in this 60 second time exposure made on April 14, a yellow-tinged Mars and M44 are near the center of the field, seemingly just beyond the reach of a pine tree. Of course, M44's stars are about 600 light-years away, while Mars was more like 600 light-seconds from Earth. The digital photograph was made with a camera mounted on a telescope tracking the stars through dark skies above a camp ground in Virginia, USA. During the exposure, passing car lights briefly illuminated the tree branches.

Virgo Cluster Galaxy NGC 4731
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Explanation: Barred spiral galaxy NGC 4731 lies some 65 million light-years away. The lovely island universe resides in the large Virgo cluster of galaxies. Colors in this well-composed, cosmic portrait, highlight plentiful, young, bluish star clusters along the galaxy's sweeping spiral arms. Its broad arms are distorted by gravitational interaction with a fellow Virgo cluster member, giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4697. NGC 4697 is beyond this frame above and to the left, but a smaller irregular galaxy NGC 4731A can be seen near the bottom in impressive detail with its own young blue star clusters. Of course, the individual, colorful, spiky stars in the scene are much closer, within our own Milky Way galaxy. NGC 4731 itself is well over 100,000 light-years across.


Sunset on a Golden Sea
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Explanation: On April 17, the sky was clear and the Sun's colour was spectacular as night approached. This striking telescopic view even captures the Sun's swollen and distorted shape from the southern coast of the UK. Reflecting a bright column of sunlight, the sea also appears golden, with the horizon marked by the city of Portsmouth. Were the colours made more intense by volcanic dust? Maybe not. Normally, sunset (and sunrise) colours can be still be very dramatic, especially when the atmosphere is clear and the Sun is viewed very near the horizon, as in this scene. But large dust particles, like those in the airline thwarting ash clouds from the erupting Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, tend to create diffuse and subdued sunset colours.


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