The central band of our Milky Way Galaxy, while usually a common sight, appears here to hover surreally above the ground. Next, a fortuitous streak of a meteor was captured on the image right. Perhaps the most unusual component is the bright spot just to the left of the meteor. That spot is the plume of a rising Ariane 5 rocket, launched a few minutes before from Kourou, French Guiana.
The Heart and Soul Nebulas
Located in Cassiopeia, the Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the above zoomable view on the right, has a shape reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. Both nebulas shine brightly in the red light of energized hydrogen. Several young open clusters of stars populate the image and are visible above in blue, including the nebula centers. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years.
The scene was recorded with a long exposure using a digital camera over Yunnan Province in southwest China. At best faintly visible to the eye, the lingering airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation. Originating at an altitude similar to aurora, it can found around the globe. The chemical energy is initially provided by the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet radiation. On this night, despite the luminous atmosphere, the band of the Milky Way clearly stretches above the horizon with bright star Sirius near the top of the frame.