On December 4, periodic Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks shared this telescopic field of view with Vega, alpha star of the northern constellation Lyra. Fifth brightest star in planet Earth's night, Vega is some 25 light-years distant while the much fainter comet was about 21 light-minutes away. In recent months, outbursts have caused dramatic increases in brightness for Pons-Brooks though. Nicknamed the Devil Comet for its hornlike appearance, fans of interstellar spaceflight have also suggested the distorted shape of this comet's large coma looks like the Millenium Falcon. A Halley-type comet, 12P/Pons-Brooks last visited the inner Solar System in 1954. Its next perihelion passage or closest approach to the Sun will be April 21, 2024. That's just two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse path crosses North America. But, highly inclined to the Solar System's ecliptic plane, the orbit of periodic Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will never cross the orbit of planet Earth.

You can take a subway ride to visit this observatory in Beijing, China but you won't find any telescopes there. Starting in the 1400s astronomers erected devices at the Beijing Ancient Observatory site to enable them to accurately measure and track the positions of naked-eye stars and planets. Some of the large, ornate astronomical instruments are still standing. You can even see stars from the star observation platform today, but now only the very brightest celestial beacons are visible against the city lights. In this time series of exposures from a camera fixed to a tripod to record graceful arcing startrails, the brightest trail is actually the Moon. Its broad arc is seen behind the ancient observatory's brass armillary sphere. Compare this picture from the Beijing Ancient Observatory taken in September 2023 to one taken in 1895.

The core of the Milky Way is rising beyond the Chilean mountain-top La Silla Observatory in this deep night skyscape. Seen toward the constellation Sagittarius, our home galaxy's center is flanked on the left, by the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope which pioneered the use of active optics to accurately control the shape of large telescope mirrors. To the right stands the ESO 3.6-meter Telescope, home of the exoplanet hunting HARPS and NIRPS spectrographs. Between them, the galaxy's central bulge is filled with obscuring clouds of interstellar dust, bright stars, clusters, and nebulae. Prominent reddish hydrogen emission from the star-forming Lagoon Nebula, M8, is near center. The Trifid Nebula, M20, combines blue light of a dusty reflection nebula with reddish emission just left of the cosmic Lagoon. Both are popular stops on telescopic tours of the galactic center. The composited image is a stack of separate exposures for ground and sky made in April 2023, all captured consecutively with the same framing and camera equipment.

Immersed in an eerie greenish light, this rugged little planet appears to be home to stunning water falls and an impossibly tall mountain. It's planet Earth of course. On the night of November 9 the nadir-centered 360 degree mosaic was captured by digital camera from the Kirkjufell mountain area of western Iceland. Curtains of shimmering Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights provide the pale greenish illumination. The intense auroral display was caused by solar activity that rocked Earth's magnetosphere in early November and produced strong geomagnetic storms. Kirkjufell mountain itself stands at the top of the stereographic projection's circular horizon. Northern hemisphere skygazers will recognize the familiar stars of the Big Dipper just above Kirkjufell's peak. At lower right the compact Pleiades star cluster and truly giant planet Jupiter also shine in this little planet's night sky.

Jupiter looks sharp in these two rooftop telescope images. Both were captured on November 17 from Singapore, planet Earth, about two weeks after Jupiter's 2023 opposition. Climbing high in midnight skies the giant planet was a mere 33.4 light-minutes from Singapore. That's about 4 astronomical units away. Jupiter's planet girdling dark belts and light zones are visible in remarkable detail, along with the giant world's whitish oval vortices. Its signature Great Red Spot is still prominent in the south. Jupiter rotates rapidly on its axis once every 10 hours. So, based on video frames taken only 15 minutes apart, these images form a stereo pair. Look at the center of the pair and cross your eyes until the separate images come together to see the Solar System's ruling gas giant in 3D.

The cosmic brush of star formation composed this interstellar canvas of emission, dust, and dark nebulae. A 5 degree wide telescopic mosaic, it frames a region found north of bright star Aldebaran on the sky, at an inner wall of the local bubble along the Taurus molecular cloud. At lower left, emission cataloged as Sh2-239 shows signs of embedded young stellar objects. The region's Herbig-Haro objects, nebulosities associated with newly born stars, are marked by tell-tale reddish jets of shocked hydrogen gas. Above and right T Tauri, the prototype of the class of T Tauri variable stars, is next to a yellowish nebula historically known as Hind's Variable Nebula (NGC 1555). T Tauri stars are now generally recognized as young, less than a few million years old, sun-like stars still in the early stages of formation.

Similar in size to large, bright spiral galaxies in our neighborhood, IC 342 is a mere 10 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation Camelopardalis. A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would otherwise be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is hidden from clear view and only glimpsed through the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds along the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. Even though IC 342's light is dimmed and reddened by intervening cosmic clouds, this sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy's own obscuring dust, young star clusters, and glowing star forming regions along spiral arms that wind far from the galaxy's core. IC 342 has undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.

Light pollution is usually not a problem in Qeqertaq. In western Greenland the remote coastal village boasted a population of 114 in 2020. Lights still shine in its dark skies though. During planet Earth's recent intense geomagnetic storm, on November 6 these beautiful curtains of aurora borealis fell over the arctic realm. On the eve of the coming weeks of polar night at 70 degrees north latitude, the inspiring display of northern lights is reflected in the waters of Disko Bay. In this view from the isolated settlement a lone iceberg is illuminated by shore lights as it drifts across the icy sea.

Weekend Watch: The Leonid Meteor Shower.

Venus now appears as Earth's brilliant morning star, shining above the southeastern horizon before dawn. For early morning risers, the silvery celestial beacon rose predawn in a close pairing with a waning crescent Moon on Thursday, November 9. But from some northern locations, the Moon was seen to occult or pass in front of Venus. From much of Europe, the lunar occultation could be viewed in daylight skies. This time series composite follows the daytime approach of Moon and morning star in blue skies from Warsaw, Poland. The progression of eight sharp telescopic snapshots, made between 10:56am and 10:58am local time, runs from left to right, when Venus winked out behind the bright lunar limb.

This broad, luminous red arc was a surprising visitor to partly cloudy evening skies over northern France. Captured extending toward the zenith in a west-to-east mosaic of images from November 5, the faint atmospheric ribbon of light is an example of a Stable Auroral Red (SAR) arc. The rare night sky phenomenon was also spotted at unusually low latitudes around world, along with more dynamic auroral displays during an intense geomagnetic storm. SAR arcs and their relation to auroral emission have been explored by citizen science and satellite investigations. From altitudes substantially above the normal auroral glow, the deep red SAR emission is thought to be caused by strong heating due to currents flowing in planet Earth's inner magnetosphere. Beyond this SAR, the Milky Way arcs above the cloud banks along the horizon, a regular visitor to night skies over northern France.

This broad, luminous red arc was a surprising visitor to partly cloudy evening skies over northern France. Captured extending toward the zenith in a west-to-east mosaic of images from November 5, the faint atmospheric ribbon of light is an example of a Stable Auroral Red (SAR) arc. The rare night sky phenomenon was also spotted at unusually low latitudes around world, along with more dynamic auroral displays during an intense geomagnetic storm. SAR arcs and their relation to auroral emission have been explored by citizen science and satellite investigations. From altitudes substantially above the normal auroral glow, the deep red SAR emission is thought to be caused by strong heating due to currents flowing in planet Earth's inner magnetosphere. Beyond this SAR, the Milky Way arcs above the cloud banks along the horizon, a regular visitor to night skies over northern France.

Dominated by dark matter, massive cluster of galaxies Abell 2744 is known to some as Pandora's Cluster. It lies 3.5 billion light-years away toward the constellation Sculptor. Using the galaxy cluster's enormous mass as a gravitational lens to warp spacetime and magnify even more distant objects directly behind it, astronomers have found a background galaxy, UHZ1, at a remarkable redshift of Z=10.1. That puts UHZ1 far beyond Abell 2744, at a distance of 13.2 billion light-years, seen when our universe was about 3 percent of its current age. UHZ1 is identified in the insets of this composited image combining X-rays (purple hues) from the spacebased Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared light from the James Webb Space Telescope. The X-ray emission from UHZ1 detected in the Chandra data is the telltale signature of a growing supermassive black hole at the center of the ultra high redshift galaxy. That makes UHZ1's growing black hole the most distant black hole ever detected in X-rays, a result that now hints at how and when the first supermassive black holes in the universe formed.

Last Wednesday the voyaging Lucy spacecraft encountered its first asteroid, 152830 Dinkinesh, and discovered the inner-main belt asteroid has a moon. From a distance of just over 400 kilometers, Lucy's Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager captured this close-up of the binary system during a flyby at 4.5 kilometer per second or around 10,000 miles per hour. A marvelous world, Dinkinesh itself is small, less than 800 meters (about 0.5 miles) across at its widest. Its satellite is seen from the spacecraft's perspective to emerge from behind the primary asteroid. The asteroid moon is estimated to be only about 220 meters wide.

That bright beacon you've seen rising in the east just after sunset is Jupiter. Climbing high in midnight skies, our Solar System's ruling gas giant was at its 2023 opposition, opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky, on November 2. But only a few days earlier, on October 28, the Moon was at its own opposition. Then both Full Moon and Jupiter could share this telephoto field of view. The celestial scene is composed from two exposures, one long and one short, blended to record bright planet and even brighter Moon during that evening's partial lunar eclipse. Moonlight shining through the thin, high clouds over northern Italy creates the colorful iridescence and lunar corona. Look closely and you'll also spot some of Jupiter's Galilean moons.

Gamma Cassiopeiae shines high in northern autumn evening skies. It's the brightest spiky star in this telescopic field of view toward the constellation Cassiopeia. Gamma Cas shares the ethereal-looking scene with ghostly interstellar clouds of gas and dust, IC 59 (top left) and IC 63. About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually ghosts. They are slowly disappearing though, eroding under the influence of energetic radiation from hot and luminous gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae. Slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as hydrogen atoms ionized by the star's ultraviolet radiation recombine with electrons. Farther from the star, IC 59 shows proportionally less H-alpha emission but more of the characteristic blue tint of dust reflected star light. The cosmic stage spans over 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of gamma Cas and friends.

History's second known periodic comet is Comet Encke (2P/Encke). As it swings through the inner Solar System, Encke's orbit takes it from an aphelion, its greatest distance from the Sun, inside the orbit of Jupiter to a perihelion just inside the orbit of Mercury. Returning to its perihelion every 3.3 years, Encke has the shortest period of the Solar System's major comets. Comet Encke is also associated with (at least) two annual meteor showers on planet Earth, the North and South Taurids. Both showers are active in late October and early November. Their two separate radiants lie near bright star Aldebaran in the head-strong constellation Taurus. A faint comet, Encke was captured in this telescopic field of view imaged on the morning of August 24. Then, Encke's pretty greenish coma was close on the sky to the young, embedded star cluster and light-years long, tadpole-shaped star-forming clouds in emission nebula IC 410. Now near bright star Spica in Virgo Comet Encke passed its 2023 perihelion only five days ago, on October 22.

History's first known periodic comet, Comet Halley (1P/Halley), returns to the inner Solar System every 76 years or so. The famous comet made its last appearance to the naked-eye in 1986. But dusty debris from Comet Halley can be seen raining through planet Earth's skies twice a year during two annual meteor showers, the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October. In fact, an unhurried series of exposures captured these two bright meteors, vaporizing bits of Halley dust, during the early morning hours of October 23 against a starry background along the Taurus molecular cloud. Impacting the atmosphere at about 66 kilometers per second their greenish streaks point back to the shower's radiant just north of Orion's bright star Betelgeuse off the lower left side of the frame. The familiar Pleiades star cluster anchors the dusty celestial scene at the right.

Half way between New Moon and Full Moon is the Moon's first quarter phase. That's a quarter of the way around its moonthly orbit. At the first quarter phase, half the Moon's visible side is illuminated by sunlight. For the Moon's third quarter phase, half way between Full Moon and New Moon, sunlight illuminates the other half of the visible lunar disk. At both first and third quarter phases, the terminator, or shadow line separating the lunar night and day, runs down the middle. Near the terminator, long shadows bring lunar craters and mountains in to sharp relief, making the quarter phases a good time to observe the Moon. But in case you missed some, all the quarter phases of the Moon and their calendar dates during 2022 can be found in this well-planned array of telephoto images. Of course, you can observe a first quarter Moon tonight.

International: Observe the Moon Night

Galaxies abound in this sharp telescopic image recorded on October 12 in dark skies over June Lake, California. The celestial scene spans nearly 2 degrees within the boundaries of the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. Prominent at the upper left 23.5 million light-years distant is big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 4258, known to some as Messier 106. Eye-catching edge-on spiral NGC 4217 is above and right of center about 60 million light-years away. Just passing through the pretty field of view is comet C/2023 H2 Lemmon, discovered last April in image data from the Mount Lemmon Survey. Here the comet sports more of a lime green coma though, along with a faint, narrow ion tail stretching toward the top of the frame. This visitor to the inner Solar System is presently less than 7 light-minutes away and still difficult to spot with binoculars, but it's growing brighter. Comet C/2023 H2 Lemmon will reach perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, on October 29 and perigee, its closest to our fair planet, on November 10 as it transitions from morning to evening northern skies.

This timelapse series captured on October 14 is set against the sunrise view from Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon, planet Earth. Of course on that date the New Moon caught up with the Sun in the canyon's morning skies. Local temperatures fell as the Moon's shadow swept across the high altitude scene and the brilliant morning sunlight became a more subdued yellow hue cast over the reddish rocky landscape. In the timelapse series, images were taken at 2 minute intervals. The camera and solar filter were fixed to a tripod to follow the phases of the annular solar eclipse.

APOD Album: Annular Solar Eclipse of 2023 October

Gorgeous spiral galaxy Messier 33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies a mere 3 million light-years away. The galaxy's central 30,000 light-years or so are shown in this sharp galaxy portrait. The portrait features M33's reddish ionized hydrogen clouds or HII regions. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33's giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous, massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. In this image, broadband data were combined with narrowband data recorded through a hydrogen-alpha filter. That filter transmits the light of the strongest visible hydrogen emission line.