December’s Stellar Space Pictures

Enjoy ginormous candy canes, stellar glitter, and visiting (interstellar) neighbors this month.
NGC 6338

Two galaxies collide in this colorful picture from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator

(Inside Science) – We’re celebrating the end of the year with a bang of stardust and comets. This December, enjoy festive pictures of celestial candy canes made of ionized gas, a fashionable look at Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and a cosmic celebration of thousands of distant galaxies.

mapping the inner Milky Way

In mapping the inner Milky Way, NASA’s GISMO instrument found what resembles a cosmic candy cane. The candy cane’s shaft is the vertical red swath pictured in the center, while the curve of the cane is the yellower portion bending to the right. Made of stardust instead of sugar, this massive formation spans 190 light-years of ionized gas filaments. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Saturn’s wintery moon

Animal print isn’t just for scarves and boots this season -- scientists at Carnegie featured celestial tiger stripes in their research on Enceladus this December. This is Saturn’s wintery moon, known for its subsurface ocean. New research has revealed that Enceladus got its stripes from fissures, which push water toward the surface. (NASA, ESA, JPL, SSI, Cassini Imaging Team)

Two galaxies gather in this picture

Two galaxies gather in this picture, a meeting that exudes warmth into the surrounding stars. This two-galaxy system is known as NGC 6338, and is located about 380 million light years from Earth. The clouds of gas colored in festive fuchsia depict hot gas at about 20 million degrees Celsius, while the wonderous blue is a cooler gas that also emits X-rays. (X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/SAO/E. O'Sullivan; XMM: ESA/XMM/E. O'Sullivan; Optical: SDSS)

the comet 2I/Borisov

While families welcomed out-of-town visitors for the holidays, NASA looked at an interstellar visitor to our solar system. Last October, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a picture of the comet 2I/Borisov as it traveled about 420 kilometers from Earth. This December, the thrilling sequel -- an even closer look at our otherworldly visitor. Above is the comet’s most recent picture, shown traveling near the inner edge of the asteroid belt. (NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA))

sky near the south celestial pole

In this picture, each point of light is an individual distant galaxy. The MeerKat radio telescope array developed this image, showing an area of the sky near the south celestial pole. The brightest dots are light from galaxies powered by supermassive black holes, while the fainter points are smaller galaxies closer in size to our own. Such a glittering golden landscape seems to ring in a happy New Year of astronomical proportions! (SARAO; NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Author Bio & Story Archive

Abigail Malate is a graphic designer at the American Institute of Physics, which produces the editorially independent news service Inside Science.