The 50 Best Astronomy Pictures of Year 2009

By: Staff | December 29, 2009 | | 3 Comments (29 Dec, 2009) – Up Above the World So High!

It’s a different new world out there. Telescopes grounded firm on Earth and its flying objects have managed to capture the fabulously intriguing celestial life for mankind to see. Some astounding, some disturbing, these images have well outlined the skies up above. Sit back and watch as we bring to you the best astronomy images clicked during year that just passed by.

Alpine Conjunction


The last conjunction of Moon and bright planets in 2008 featured a young crescent Moon and brilliant Venus in the west after sunset on December 31st. Seen here in dark, clear, mountain air from Mönichkirchen, Austria, are the two celestial beacons that dominate planet Earth’s night sky.

Comet and Meteor

Comet and Meteor 5 Jan

This meteor streaking toward the horizon through the early morning sky of January 4th is from the annual Quadrantid meteor shower. Aligned with the shower’s radiant point high in the north (off the top of the view), the meteor trail passes to the right of bright bluish star Beta Scorpii.

In the Shadow of Saturn

In the Shadow of Saturn 11 Jan

The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn recently drifted in giant planet’s shadow for about 12 hours and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, the rings themselves appear dark when silhouetted against Saturn, but quite bright when viewed away from Saturn, slightly scattering sunlight, in this exaggerated color image.

Largest Full Moon of 2009

Largest Full Moon of 2009 13 Jan

A larger moon will not be seen this year. In the first week of January the largest full Moon of 2009 was seen from almost any clear location on planet Earth at night. The large angular extent of the full Moon was caused by the Moon being unusually close to Earth during its full phase.

A Partial Eclipse Over Manila Bay

A Partial Eclipse Over Manila Bay 28 Jan

On 26th Jan, the Moon eclipsed part of the Sun as visible from parts of Africa, Australia, and Asia. In particular the above image, taken from the Mall of Asia seawall, caught a partially eclipsed Sun setting over Manila Bay in the Philippines. Piers are visible in silhouette in the foreground.

Inside the Eagle Nebula

Inside the Eagle Nebula 8 Fab

A closer look at the Eagle Nebula, however, shows the bright region is actually a window into the center of a larger dark shell of dust. Through this window, a brightly-lit workshop appears where a whole open cluster of stars is being formed. In this cavity tall pillars and round globules of dark dust and cold molecular gas remain where stars are still forming.

Snake in the Dark

Snake in the Dark 20 Fab

Dark nebulae snake across a gorgeous expanse of stars in this telescopic view toward the pronounceable constellation Ophiuchus and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, the twisting central shape seen here is well known as the Snake Nebula. It is also listed as Barnard 72 (B72), one of 182 dark markings of the sky cataloged in the early 20th century by astronomer E. E. Barnard.

Orion Nebula: The Hubble View

Orion Nebula- The Hubble View 22 Fab

Also known as M42, the nebula’s glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula’s energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view – providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of star birth and evolution.

NGC 2442: Galaxy in Volans

NGC 2442- Galaxy in Volans 28 Fab

Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy’s two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it a hook-shaped appearance. This deep color image also shows the arms’ obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars.

Kepler’s Streak

Kepler's Streak 9 March

Streaking skyward, a Delta II rocket carries NASA’s Kepler spacecraft aloft into the clear night of March 6. The dramatic scene was recorded in a time exposure from the crowded pier in Jetty Park at the northern end of Cocoa Beach, Florida, about 3 miles from the Cape Canaveral launch site. Kepler’s mission is to search for Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zone of other stars.

Tycho’s Supernova Remnant

Tycho's Supernova Remnant 17 Mar

Pictured above is the best multi-wavelength image yet of Tycho’s supernova remnant, the result of a stellar explosion first recorded over 400 years ago by the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. The above image is a composite of an X-ray image taken by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, an infrared image taken by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, and an optical image taken by the 3.5-meter Calar Alto telescope located in southern Spain.

The Seahorse of the Large Magellanic Cloud

The Seahorse of the Large Magellanic Cloud 23 March

It may look like a grazing seahorse, but the dark object toward the image right is actually a pillar of smoky dust about 20 light years long. The curiously-shaped dust structure occurs in our neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud, in a star forming region very near the expansive Tarantula Nebula. The energetic nebula is creating a star cluster, NGC 2074, whose center is visible just off the top of the image in the direction of the neck of the seahorse.

In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula

In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula 31 Mar

In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies huge bubbles of energetic gas, long filaments of dark dust, and unusually massive stars. In the center of this heart, is a knot of stars so dense that it was once thought to be a single star. This star cluster, labeled as R136 or NGC 2070, is visible just above the center of the above image and home to a great number of hot young stars.

The View Near a Black Hole

The View Near a Black Hole 19 Apr

In the center of a swirling whirlpool of hot gas is likely a beast that has never been seen directly: a black hole. Studies of the bright light emitted by the swirling gas frequently indicate not only that a black hole is present, but also likely attributes. The gas surrounding GRO J1655-40, for example, has been found to display an unusual flickering at a rate of 450 times a second.

Sky Panorama Over Lake Salda

Sky Panorama Over Lake Salda 22 Apr

This was the case in the month of March ’09 from the shore of Lake Salda in southwestern Turkey. In the above night sky panorama, rocky sand covers the foreground, while building lights are visible across the lake. Looking up, the stars of Orion lie just ahead, while Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, appears to Orion’s left. To Orion’s right, just above the horizon, lies the Pleiades open star cluster.

Sharpless 308

Sharpless 308 23 Apr

Cataloged as Sharpless 308 it lies some 5,200 light-years away in the constellation Canis Major and covers over 2/3 degree on the sky (compared with 1/2 degree for the Full Moon). That corresponds to a diameter of 60 light-years at its estimated distance. The massive star itself, a Wolf-Rayet star, is the bright blue one near the center of the nebula. Wolf-Rayet stars have over 20 times the mass of the Sun and are thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova phase of massive star evolution.

Moon and Morning Star

Moon and Morning Star 24 Apr

On April 22nd, the Moon and Venus rose together in early morning skies. Even through clouds, both show off a lovely crescent in this well-composed skyscape from Rutherford College, North Carolina, in the eastern US. Farther west, North American skygazers could also witness the Moon passing in front of Venus.

Lyrid Meteor and Milky Way

Lyrid Meteor and Milky Way 1 May

On the same day i.e April 22nd, the Lyrid Meteor Shower visited planet Earth’s sky, an annual shower produced as the Earth plows through dust from the tail of comet Thatcher. Usually Lyrid meteor watchers see only a drizzle. Just a few meteors per hour stream away from the shower’s radiant point near bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra.

Elusive Jellyfish Nebula

Elusive Jellyfish Nebula 14 May

Flanked by two yellow-tinted stars, Mu and Eta Geminorum, at the foot of a celestial twin, the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with dangling tentacles right of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is seen to be part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago.

Atlantis and Hubble Side by Side

Atlantis and Hubble Side by Side 16 May

On Wednesday, May 13, two, tiny, fast moving spots crossed an otherwise featureless solar disk. Not sunspots though, the dark blemishes were silhouettes of the shuttle orbiter Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope side by side. To record this sharp picture of the orbiting pair against the face of the Sun, astronomer Thierry Legault carefully set up his camera and telescope near the center of a 5 kilometer wide path of visibility about 100 kilometers south of Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble

Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble 24 May

NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebulas. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible left of center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance.

VB 10: A Large Planet Orbiting a Small Star

VB 10- A Large Planet Orbiting a Small Star 3 June

Recent observations have discovered that nearby Van Biesbroeck’s star might have just such a large planet. Although VB 10 lies only about 20 light years away, it is a small red dwarf star so dim, at 17th magnitude, that a telescope is needed to see it. Van Biesbroeck’s star was previously known for its rapid proper motion across the sky — it moves so fast it could cross a full moon in only about 1,000 years.

Stars and Dust Across Corona Australis

Stars and Dust Across Corona Australis 5 June

Cosmic dust clouds sprawl across a rich field of stars in this sweeping telescopic vista near the northern boundary of Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. Probably less than 500 light-years away and effectively blocking light from more distant, background stars in the Milky Way, the densest part of the dust cloud is about 8 light-years long.

Stars at the Galactic Center

Stars at the Galactic Center 14 June

The center of our Milky Way Galaxy is hidden from the prying eyes of optical telescopes by clouds of obscuring dust and gas. But in this stunning vista, the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared cameras, penetrate much of the dust revealing the stars of the crowded galactic center region. A mosaic of many smaller snapshots, the detailed, false-color image shows older, cool stars in bluish hues.

The North America and Pelican Nebulae

The North America and Pelican Nebulae 30 June

This emission nebula on the left is famous partly because it resembles Earth’s continent of North America. To the right of the North America Nebula, cataloged as NGC 7000, is a less luminous nebula that resembles a pelican dubbed the Pelican Nebula. The two emission nebula measure about 50 light-years across, are located about 1,500 light-years away, and are separated by a dark absorption cloud.

Perihelion and Aphelion

Perihelion and Aphelion 3 July

This year Aphelion, the point in Earth’s elliptical orbit when it is farthest from the Sun, occurs tomorrow, July 4th. Of course, that doesn’t affect the seasons on our fair planet. Those are determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation and not Earth’s distance from the Sun, so July is still winter in the south and summer in northern hemisphere. But it does mean that on July 4th the Sun will be at its smallest apparent size.

Mount Rushmore’s Starry Night

Mount Rushmore's Starry Night 4 July

This starry night sky sparkles above the Black Hills of South Dakota and the United States’ Mount Rushmore National Park. The historic site features enormous sculptures of four US presidents; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, carved into the southeast face of granite cliffs. Above the monumental symbols of the country’s independence and early history, the night features stars and constellations familiar to northern skygazers around the world.

The Trifid Nebula in Stars and Dust

The Trifid Nebula in Stars and Dust 7 July

Also known as M20, this photogenic nebula is visible with good binoculars towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The energetic processes of star formation create not only the colors but the chaos. The red-glowing gas results from high-energy starlight striking interstellar hydrogen gas.

A Floral Aurora Corona

A Floral Aurora Corona 28 July

Above, a standard digital camera captured a particularly active and colorful auroral corona that occurred last week above Alberta, Canada. With a shape reminiscent of a flower, the spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail. The vivid green and purple auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons.

The Star Clusters of NGC 1313

The Star Clusters of NGC 1313 7 Aug

Like grains of sand on a cosmic beach, individual stars of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1313 are resolved in this sharp composite from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The inner region of the galaxy is pictured, spanning about 10,000 light-years.

Diamonds in a Cloudy Sky

Diamonds in a Cloudy Sky 8 Aug

Cloudy skies over Wuhan, China hid the delicate solar corona during July’s total eclipse of the Sun. Still, the Moon’s silhouette was highlighted by these glistening diamonds as the total eclipse phase ended. Caused by bright sunlight streaming through dips and valleys in the irregular terrain along the Moon’s edge, the effect is known as Baily’s Beads, named after Francis Baily who called attention to the phenomenon in 1836.

Classic Orion Nebulae

Classic Orion Nebulae 26 Aug

The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulae in the sky. The star forming region’s glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are near the center of this colorful deep sky image that includes the smaller nebula M43 and dusty, bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood’s wealth of interstellar material.

Open Cluster M25

Open Cluster M25 31 Aug

Many stars like our Sun were formed in open clusters. The above pictured open cluster, M25, contains thousands of stars and is about two thousand light years distant. The stars in this cluster all formed together about 90 million years ago. The bright young stars in M25 appear blue. Open clusters, also called galactic clusters, contain fewer and younger stars than globular clusters.

Discovery’s Rainbow

Discovery's Rainbow 2 sep

Just one minute before midnight EDT, Friday, August 28, the Space Shuttle Discovery began a long arc into a cloudy sky. Following the launch, a bright and remarkably colorful trail was captured in this time exposure from the Banana River Viewing Site, looking east toward pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. On STS-128, Discovery docked with the International Space Station Sunday evening.

Jupiter Over the Mediterranean

Jupiter Over the Mediterranean 7 Sep

Pictured above, a picturesque starscape capped a serene seascape as seen from Turkey this past August. In the above digitally stitched panorama, the Gelidonya Lighthouse shines in the foreground before a calm Mediterranean Sea. On the left, Jupiter is the brightest point in the image and since on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, was near its yearly brightest. Glowing just shy of magnitude -3, Jupiter was brighter than any star in the sky, and brighter even than Mars was during its famously bright opposition of 2003 August. On the right, the band of the Milky Way Galaxy fades into distant atmospheric haze above the horizon.

Star Trails Over Oregon

Star Trails Over Oregon 9 Sept

As the Earth spins on its axis, the sky seems to rotate around us. This motion, called diurnal motion, produces the beautiful concentric trails traced by stars during time exposures. Partial-circle star trails are pictured above over Grants Pass, Oregon, USA in August. Near the middle of the circles is the North Celestial Pole (NCP), easily identified as the point in the sky at the center of all the star trail arcs.

Ultraviolet Andromeda

Ultraviolet Andromeda 17 Sep

Taken by a telescope onboard NASA’s Swift satellite, this stunning vista represents the highest resolution image ever made of the Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31) – at ultraviolet wavelengths. The mosaic is composed of 330 individual images covering a region 200,000 light-years wide. It shows about 20,000 sources, dominated by hot, young stars and dense star clusters that radiate strongly in energetic ultraviolet light.

Carina Pillar and Jets

Carina Pillar and Jets 1 Oct

This cosmic pillar of gas and dust is nearly 2 light-years wide. The structure lies within one of our galaxy’s largest star forming regions, the Carina Nebula, shining in southern skies at a distance of about 7,500 light-years. The pillar’s convoluted outlines are shaped by the winds and radiation of Carina’s young, hot, massive stars. But the interior of the cosmic pillar itself is home to stars in the process of formation.

Pleiades and Stardust

Pleiades and Stardust 14 Oct

Perhaps the most famous star cluster on the sky, the Pleiades can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45, the Pleiades is one of the brightest and closest open clusters. Hurtling through a cosmic dust cloud a mere 400 light-years away, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster is well-known for its striking blue reflection nebulae.

Fireball Meteor Over Groningen

Fireball Meteor Over Groningen 15 Oct

The brilliant fireball meteor captured in this snapshot was a startling visitor of 13th October’s evening twilight skies over the city of Groningen. In fact, sightings of the meteor, as bright as the Full Moon, were widely reported throughout the Netherlands and Germany at approximately 17:00 UT.

M1: The Crab Nebula from Hubble

M1- The Crab Nebula from Hubble 25 Oct

This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The above image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula’s very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.

Blue Sun Bristling

Blue Sun Bristling 4 Nov

The above picture of our Sun was taken in October in a specific red color of light emitted by hydrogen gas called Hydrogen-alpha and then color inverted to appear blue. In this light, details of the Sun’s chromosphere are particularly visible, highlighting numerous thin tubes of magnetically-confined hot gas known as spicules rising from the Sun like bristles from a shag carpet. Fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and there is very little oxygen on the Sun. The energy source of our Sun is the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium deep within its core.

Halloween’s Moon

Halloween Moon 5 Nov

Illuminating the landscape all through the night of November 2nd, the week’s bright Full Moon was known in the northern hemisphere as a Hunter’s Moon. But this dramatic view of the shining lunar orb, from Sobreda, Portugal, was captured just a few nights earlier, on Halloween.

Great Observatories Explore Galactic Center

Great Observatories Explore Galactic Center 11 Nov

In celebration of Galileo’s telescopic achievements and as part of the International Year of Astronomy, NASA used its entire fleet of Great Observatories, and the Internet, to bring the center of our Galaxy to you. Pictured above, in greater detail and in more colors than ever seen before, are the combined images of the Hubble Space Telescope in near-infrared light, the Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared light, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory in X-ray light. A menagerie of vast star fields is visible, along with dense star clusters, long filaments of gas and dust, expanding supernova remnants, and the energetic surroundings of what likely is our Galaxy’s central black hole.

Art and Science in NGC 918

Art and Science in NGC 918 12 Nov

The island universe is about 50,000 light-years across and lies some 60 million light-years away toward the constellation Aries. An artistic presentation, the image shows spiky foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy and convoluted dust clouds that hang hundreds of light-years above our galactic plane, dimly reflecting starlight. It also captures NGC 918 in a cosmic moment important to astrophysicists on planet Earth.

Annapurna Star Trails

Annapurna Star Trails 28 Nov

From left to right the three main peaks are Annapurna South (7,219 meters), Hiunchuli (6,441 metes), and Machapuchare (6,995 meters). Of course the mountains are moving not the stars, the Earth’s rotation about its axis causing the concentric star trails recorded in the time exposure. Positioned above Annapurna South, the North Celestial Pole is easily identified as the point at the center of all the star trail arcs. The star Polaris, also known as the North Star, made the very short and bright arc closest to the North Celestial Pole.

NGC 6992: Filaments of the Veil Nebula

NGC 6992- Filaments of the Veil Nebula 1 Dec

About 7,500 years ago that star exploded in a supernova leaving the Veil Nebula, also known as the Cygnus Loop. At the time, the expanding cloud was likely as bright as a crescent Moon, remaining visible for weeks to people living at the dawn of recorded history. Now, the resulting supernova remnant has faded and is now visible only through a small telescope directed toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). The remaining Veil Nebula is physically huge, however, and even though it lies about 1,400 light-years distant, it covers over five times the size of the full Moon. In images of the complete Veil Nebula, studious readers should be able to identify the above filaments on the lower left. The above image is a mosaic from the 2.5-meter Isaac Newton Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands.

Mojave Desert Fireball

In the Shadow of Saturn 11 Jan

Monstrously bright, this fireball meteor lit up the Mojave Desert sky on Dec 14th morning, part of this year’s impressive Geminid meteor shower. Seen toward the southwest over rock formations near Victorville, California, a more familiar celestial background was momentarily washed out by the meteor’s flash. The background includes bright star Sirius at the left, and Aldebaran and the Pleaides star cluster at the right side of the image.

Aurora Shimmer, Meteor Flash

Aurora Shimmer, Meteor Flash

Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on December 13. This 30 second long exposure records their shimmering glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, it also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from December’s excellent Geminid meteor shower. Streaking past familiar stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, the trail points back toward the constellation Gemini, off the top of the view.

A Graceful Arc

A Graceful Arc

The graceful arc of the Milky Way begins and ends at two mountain peaks in this solemn night sky panorama. Created from a 24 frame mosaic, exposures tracking Earth and sky were made separately, with northern California’s Mount Lassen at the left and Mount Shasta at the far right, just below the star and dust clouds of the galactic center.

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  • At 2010.01.04 20:43, Irena Mickunas said:

    Too beautiful for words!Thank you for sharing.Stumble upon is one of the greatest.Wishing you an exciting 2010! With my deepesf affection and gratitude,Irena M.

    • At 2010.01.08 09:28, SleeplessInKL said:

      Breath-takingly beautiful!

      • At 2010.01.19 06:39, Jack said:

        Photos that make me ponder my existence. Awesome!

        (Required, will not be published)

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