Just two weeks ago, dark skies over the desert in northern Iran held this alluring celestial masterpiece. The compelling mosaic finds the Moon and Mars alongside the Milky Way’s dusty rifts, stars, and nebulae. That night’s otherwise Full Moon is immersed in Earth’s shadow, appearing fainter and redder than the Red Planet itself during the total lunar eclipse.
For cosmic tourists, the skyscape also includes the Lagoon (M8) and Trifid (M20) nebulae and planet Saturn shining against the Milky Way’s pale starlight.
Over 150 light-years across, this cosmic maelstrom of gas and dust is not too far away. It lies south of the Tarantula Nebula in our satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud a mere 180,000 light-years distant. Massive stars have formed within. Their energetic radiation and powerful stellar winds sculpt the gas and dust and power the glow of this HII region, entered into the Henize catalog of emission stars and nebulae in the Magellanic Clouds as N159. The bright, compact, butterfly-shaped nebula above and left of center likely contains massive stars in a very early stage of formation. Resolved for the first time in Hubble images, the compact blob of ionized gas has come to be known as the Papillon Nebula.
Here are a handful of planetary nebulae. These spectacular clouds of dust are formed at the ends of the lives of sun-like stars. As the star dies, it expels its outer gas layers, forming beautiful nebulae that can span over a hundred solar systems across in diameter.