Astrophotographer John Gleason has captured a dazzling display of cosmic lights just in time to ring in 2017. Taken from his vantage point in the southern hemisphere, he photographed one of our galactic neighbors — the Large Magellanic Cloud — a sight those of us in the northern hemisphere can only marvel at in photos.
The Milky Way is not the only resident in our cosmic neighborhood; it is actually part of a larger collection of galaxies dubbed the Local Group. The Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy — two galactic behemoths in our cosmic community — are surrounded by a swarm of smaller galaxies. The most well-known are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and the duo is easily be spotted with the naked eye from the southern hemisphere. The LMC, in particular, is approximately 180,000 light-years from Earth, nestled in the constellation Dorado.
The Magellanic duo have been stealing the spotlight lately, illuminating the sky with brilliant starlight observed in nebulae throughout the region. In the top of the image, the Tarantula nebula glows with the light of new stars forming inside of it.
In order to capture this stunning stellar light show, Gleason used specialized narrowband filters, which are designed to transmit only the light emitted by ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.
When atoms are blasted with energetic starlight, they undergo a process known as ionization — meaning the radiation from the starlight rips electrons off of gas in the nebula. When they recombine, energy is released in the form of light. Each chemical element emits light in a specific color — known as its spectral fingerprint.
Gleason captures this beautifully in this false-color image. The result is dazzling, as we see glowing clouds sculpted into cosmic shells by strong stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation emitted by the forming stars.