The Sciences

Capturing the Stars: Best Astrophotography of the Last 35 Years


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Photo Credits: All Text by Allison Bond; image: Russell Croman

Astrophotography presents unique challenges; after all, an artist can't adjust or move the cosmos. But when it's done well, it can offer a breathtaking journey through space. Follow the gallery to see the best excerpts from Capturing the Stars: Astrophotography by the Masters, by Robert Gendler. The book features the work of 35 of the world's best astrophotographers, from 14 countries.

This immense cloud of gas and dust known as the Bubble Nebula is ten light-years, or 60 trillion miles, in diameter. The bubble consists of material cast off from a star that burns several hundred thousand times brighter than the sun. It is located about 11,000 light-years away, in the constellation Cassiopeia.

Photo Credits: Image: David Malin

Supernovae are formed when a star explodes, producing an incredibly bright light. As the remnant of the star collides with gas and dust in its path, it releases energy in the form of light.

The hot gas the star leaves behind is known as a supernova remnant; this one is called Vela. This remnant has expanded about 55 light-years from where its supernova exploded, and is one of the closest to our sun. Within this massive cloud of dust lies a tiny star called the Vela pulsar that spins 11 times per second.

Photo Credits: Image: Miloslav Druckmuller

Photographer Miloslav Druckmuller artificially removed the blue sky around the sun's surface in this image of an eclipse. The result reveals the green hues of the inner ring, or inner corona, which gets its tint from a form of highly ionized iron known as "coronium."

In this photo, the corona becomes redder the farther it is from the sun. That's because dust particles deflect shorter wavelengths of light more than longer wavelenghts, so only long-wavelength light--i.e., red--finds its way to the camera.

Photo Credits: Image: Arne Danielsen

The colorful light display called aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, appears when charged particles emitted by the sun are channeled by the Earth's magnetic field down into the atmosphere. When the charged particles collide with molecules in the atmosphere, they release energy as visible light.

Aurora borealis is usually seen in high northern latitudes--this photograph was taken in 2004 in Langhus, Norway--but it has been seen far south as Arizona, Texas, and San Diego.

Photo Credits: Image: Thierry Legault

Arc-like solar prominences like these form when hot gaseous matter erupts from the sun, then is drawn back to the solar surface by strong magnetic fields.

Solar prominences, which are the most common solar activity, don't disappear instantaneously; in fact, they can last for months. They can also extend for thousands of miles above the solar surface and release the gas they contain into space.

Photo Credits: Image: Johannes Schedler

This cloud of gas and dust is being shaped by the radiation of nearby stars. The nebula pictured, known as IC 1396, is one of the largest visible ones--its diameter is more than 2,500 times as long as the Sun's.

IC 1396 is found in the constellation Cepheus, one of the first constellations ever recorded.

Photo Credits: Image: Bill and Sally Fletcher

This photo captures part of the Milky Way galaxy, including two clouds of dust, plasma, and gas called the Gamma Cygni and Veil nebulae. Also visible are the constellations Lyra and Cygnus, Greek for "harp" and "swan," respectively.

Cygnus and Lyra are two of the easiest constellations to see: Lyra is small and compact, and Cygnus's stars form an easily recognizable cross.

Photo Credits: Image: Bill and Sally Fletcher

Discovered by Yuji Hyakutake in 1996, Comet Hyakutake approached Earth just a few months later. In fact, in March of 1996, the comet was only 0.1 astronomical units, or about 9 million miles, from Earth. That's 36 times the distance from us to the moon.

Hyakutake had a 360-million-mile-long tail--the longest of any comet. It was so bright, it was visible even in daylight, and it accompanied the appearance of the highly anticipated comet Hale-Bopp.

Photo Credits: Image: Fred Espenak

This photo, taken during a solar eclipse, captures Baily's beads, a result of shafts of sunlight that just barely visible past the edge of the moon. The cratered lunar surface breaks up the slender slice of light peeking through, resulting in a bumpy appearance.

The beads only last for a few seconds, at the beginning and the end of an eclipse. Fred Espenak, who took this photo, has traveled around the world to view and photograph more than 20 eclipses.

Photo Credits: Image: David Malin

Antares is a red supergiant, with a diameter hundreds of times larger than that of the sun. The star emits matter that scatters its light, making the cloud appear yellow.

Antares is as luminous as 40,000 suns. As the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, it's the sixteenth brightest in the night sky.

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