Intuitive Machines' robotic lander Odysseus has accomplished the first U.S. landing on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Launched on a SpaceX rocket on February 15, the phone booth sized lander reached lunar orbit on the 21st and touched down on the lunar surface at 6:23 pm ET on February 22nd. Its landing region is about 300 kilometers north of the Moon's south pole, near a crater designated Malapert A. The lander is presently collecting solar power and transmitting data back to the Intuitive Machines' mission control center in Houston. The mission marks the first commercial uncrewed landing on the Moon. Prior to landing, Odysseus’ camera captured this extreme wide angle image (landing legs visible at right) as it flew over Schomberger crater some 200 kilometers from its landing site. Odysseus was still about 10 kilometers above the lunar surface.



Heading for its next perihelion passage on April 21, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is growing brighter. The greenish coma of this periodic Halley-type comet has become relatively easy to observe in small telescopes. But the bluish ion tail now streaming from the active comet's coma and buffeted by the solar wind, is faint and difficult to follow. Still, in this image stacked exposures made on the night of February 11 reveal the fainter tail's detailed structures. The frame spans over two degrees across a background of faint stars and background galaxies toward the northern constellation Lacerta. Of course Comet 12P's April 21 perihelion passage will be only two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse, putting the comet in planet Earth's sky along with a totally eclipsed Sun.



A cosmic dust grain plowing through the upper atmosphere much faster than a falling leaf created this brilliant meteor streak. In a serendipitous moment, the sublime night sky view was captured from the resort island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples, on the evening of February 8. Looking across the bay, the camera faces northeast toward the lights of Naples and surrounding cities. Pointing toward the horizon, the meteor streak by chance ends above the silhouette of Mount Vesuvius. One of planet Earth's most famous volcanos, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79 AD.



Heading for its next perihelion passage on April 21, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is growing brighter. The greenish coma of this periodic Halley-type comet has become relatively easy to observe in small telescopes. But the bluish ion tail now streaming from the active comet's coma and buffeted by the solar wind, is faint and difficult to follow. Still, in this image stacked exposures made on the night of February 11 reveal the fainter tail's detailed structures. The frame spans over two degrees across a background of faint stars and background galaxies toward the northern constellation Lacerta. Of course Comet 12P's April 21 perihelion passage will be only two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse, putting the comet in planet Earth's sky along with a totally eclipsed Sun.



On January 18, 2024, during its 72nd flight in the thin Martian atmosphere, autonomous Mars Helicopter Ingenuity rose to an altitude of 12 meters (40 feet) and hovered for 4.5 seconds above the Red Planet. Ingenuity's 72nd landing was a rough one though. During descent it lost contact with the Perseverance rover about 1 meter above the Martian surface. Ingenuity was able to transmit this image after contact was re-established, showing the shadow of one of its rotor blades likely damaged during landing. And so, after wildly exceeding expectations during over 1,000 days of exploring Mars, the history-making Ingenuity has ended its flight operations. Nicknamed Ginny, Mars Helicopter Ingenuity became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. Before launch, a small piece of material from the lower-left wing of the Wright Brothers Flyer 1, the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on planet Earth, was fixed to the underside of Ingenuity's solar panel.



This cosmic view shows off an otherwise faint emission nebula IC 410, captured under clear Netherlands skies with telescope and narrowband filters. Above and right of center you can spot two remarkable inhabitants of the interstellar pond of gas and dust, known as the tadpoles of IC 410. Partly obscured by foreground dust, the nebula itself surrounds NGC 1893, a young galactic cluster of stars. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, the intensely hot, bright cluster stars energize the glowing gas. Globules composed of denser cooler gas and dust, the tadpoles are around 10 light-years long and are likely sites of ongoing star formation. Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation their heads are outlined by bright ridges of ionized gas while their tails trail away from the cluster's central young stars. IC 410 and embedded NGC 1893 lie some 10,000 light-years away, toward the nebula-rich constellation Auriga.



Northern lights shine in this night skyview from planet Earth's stratosphere, captured on January 15. The single, 5 second exposure was made with a hand-held camera on board an aircraft above Winnipeg, Canada. During the exposure, terrestrial lights below leave colorful trails along the direction of motion of the speeding aircraft. Above the more distant horizon, energetic particles accelerated along Earth's magnetic field at the planet's polar regions excite atomic oxygen to create the shimmering display of Aurora Borealis. The aurora's characteristic greenish hue is generated at altitudes of 100-300 kilometers and red at even higher altitudes and lower atmospheric densities. The luminous glow of faint stars along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy arcs through the night, while the Andromeda galaxy extends this northern skyview to extragalactic space. A diffuse hint of Andromeda, the closest large spiral to the Milky Way, can just be seen to the upper left.



Earth's orbit around the Sun is not a circle, it's an ellipse. The point along its elliptical orbit where our fair planet is closest to the Sun is called perihelion. This year, perihelion was on January 2 at 01:00 UTC, with the Earth about 3 million miles closer to the Sun than it was at aphelion (last July 6), the farthest point in its elliptical orbit. Of course, distance from the Sun doesn't determine the seasons, and it doesn't the determine size of Sun halos. Easier to see with the Sun hidden behind a tall tree trunk, this beautiful ice halo forms a 22 degree-wide circle around the Sun, recorded while strolling through the countryside near Heroldstatt, Germany. The Sun halo's 22 degree angular diameter is determined by the six-sided geometry of water ice crystals drifting high in planet Earth's atmosphere.



Yesterday, the Moon was New. But on January 9, early morning risers around planet Earth were treated to the sight of an old Moon, low in the east as the sky grew bright before dawn. Above the city of Saarburg in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, this simple snapshot found the waning Moon's sunlit crescent just before sunrise. But also never wandering far from the Sun in Earth's sky, inner planets Venus and Mercury shared the cold morning skyview. In the foreground are the historic city's tower and castle with ruins from the 10th century.



Known to some in the northern hemisphere as December's Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon, the last full moon of 2023 is rising in this surreal mountain and skyscape. The Daliesque scene was captured in a single exposure with a camera and long telephoto lens near Monte Grappa, Italy. The full moon is not melting, though. Its stretched and distorted appearance near the horizon is caused as refraction along the line of sight changes and creates shifting images or mirages of the bright lunar disk. The changes in atmospheric refraction correspond to atmospheric layers with sharply different temperatures and densities. Other effects of atmospheric refraction produced by the long sight-line to this full moon rising include the thin red rim seen faintly on the distorted lower edge of the Moon and a thin green rim along the top.



Known to some in the northern hemisphere as December's Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon, the last full moon of 2023 is rising in this surreal mountain and skyscape. The Daliesque scene was captured in a single exposure with a camera and long telephoto lens near Monte Grappa, Italy. The full moon is not melting, though. Its stretched and distorted appearance near the horizon is caused as refraction along the line of sight changes and creates shifting images or mirages of the bright lunar disk. The changes in atmospheric refraction correspond to atmospheric layers with sharply different temperatures and densities. Other effects of atmospheric refraction produced by the long sight-line to this full moon rising include the thin red rim seen faintly on the distorted lower edge of the Moon and a thin green rim along the top.



In 1986, Voyager 2 became the only spacecraft to explore ice giant planet Uranus close up. Still, this newly released image from the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) on the James Webb Space Telescope offers a detailed look at the distant world. The tilted outer planet rotates on its axis once in about 17 hours. Its north pole is presently pointed near our line of sight, offering direct views of its northern hemisphere and a faint but extensive system of rings. Of the giant planet's 27 known moons, 14 are annotated in the image. The brighter ones show hints of Webb's characteristic diffraction spikes. And though these worlds of the outer Solar System were unknown in Shakespearean times, all but two of the 27 Uranian moons are named for characters in the English Bard's plays.



For a brief moment, this brilliant fireball meteor outshone Jupiter in planet Earth's night. The serendipitous image was captured while hunting meteors under cold Canadian skies with a camera in timelapse mode on December 14, near the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. The Geminid meteor shower, asteroid 3200 Phaethon's annual gift, always arrives in December. Dust shed along the orbit of the mysterious asteroid causes the meteor streaks, as the vaporizing grains plow through our fair planet's upper atmosphere at 22 kilometers per second. Of course Geminid shower meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation of the Twins. That's below and left of this frame. With bright Jupiter on the right, also in the December night skyview are the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.



Colours of a serene evening sky are captured in this 8 minute exposure, made near this December's solstice from New Zealand, southern hemisphere, planet Earth. Looking south, star trails form the short concentric arcs around the rotating planet's south celestial pole positioned just off the top of the frame. At top and left of center are trails of the Southern Cross stars and a dark smudge from the Milky Way's Coalsack Nebula. Alpha and Beta Centauri make the brighter yellow and blue tinted trails, reflected below in the waters of Hoopers Inlet in the Pacific coast of the South Island's Otago Peninsula. On that short December summer night, aurora australis also gave luminous, green and reddish hues to the sky above the hills. An upper atmospheric glow distinct from the aurora excited by collisions with energetic particles, pale greenish bands of airglow caused by a cascade of chemical reactions excited by sunlight can be traced in diagonal bands near the top left.



A single 183 day exposure with a pinhole camera and photographic paper resulted in this long-duration solargraph. Recorded from solstice to solstice, June 21 to December 21, in 2022, it follows the Sun's daily arcing path through planet Earth's skies from Mertola, Portugal. On June 21, the Sun's highest point and longest arc represents the longest day and the astronomical beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. The solstice date with the fewest hours of daylight is at the beginning of winter in the north, corresponding to the Sun's shortest and lowest arc in the 2022 solargraph. For 2023, the northern winter solstice was on December 22 at 3:27 UTC. That's December 21 for North America time zones.



Asteroid 319 Leona cast a shadow across planet Earth on December 12, as it passed in front of bright star Betelgeuse. But to see everyone's favorite red giant star fade this time, you had to stand near the center of the narrow shadow path starting in central Mexico and extending eastward across southern Florida, the Atlantic Ocean, southern Europe, and Eurasia. The geocentric celestial event is captured in these two panels taken at Almodovar del Rio, Spain from before (left) and during the asteroid-star occultation. In both panels Betelgeuse is seen above and left, at the shoulder of the familiar constellation Orion. Its brightness diminishes noticeably during the exceedingly rare occultation when, for several seconds, the giant star was briefly eclipsed by a roughly 60 kilometer diameter main-belt asteroid.



Massive stars in our Milky Way Galaxy live spectacular lives. Collapsing from vast cosmic clouds, their nuclear furnaces ignite and create heavy elements in their cores. After only a few million years for the most massive stars, the enriched material is blasted back into interstellar space where star formation can begin anew. The expanding debris cloud known as Cassiopeia A is an example of this final phase of the stellar life cycle. Light from the supernova explosion that created this remnant would have been first seen in planet Earth's sky about 350 years ago, although it took that light 11,000 years to reach us. This sharp NIRCam image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the still hot filaments and knots in the supernova remnant. The whitish, smoke-like outer shell of the expanding blast wave is about 20 light-years across, while the bright speck near center is a neutron star, the incredibly dense, collapsed remains of the massive stellar core. Light echoes from the massive star's cataclysmic explosion are also identified in Webb's detailed image of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A.

Tonight watch: The Geminids


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 large comet's central 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.



Near dawn on November 19 the Pleiades stood in still dark skies over the French Pyrenees. But just before sunrise a serendipitous moment was captured in this single 3 second exposure; a bright meteor streak appeared to pierce the heart of the galactic star cluster. From the camera's perspective, star cluster and meteor were poised directly above the mountain top observatory on the Pic du Midi de Bigorre. And though astronomers might consider the Pleiades to be relatively close by, the grain of dust vaporizing as it plowed through planet Earth's upper atmosphere actually missed the cluster's tight grouping of young stars by about 400 light-years. While recording a night sky timelapse series, the camera and telephoto lens were fixed to a tripod on the Tour-de-France-cycled slopes of the Col du Tourmalet about 5 kilometers from the Pic du Midi.



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.