Babe Among the Stars

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Babe Among the Stars - Christmas Special

Where are you spending your Christmas holiday? At home or away? Perhaps not as far away as US astronaut John Blaha (born 26 August, 1942) and cosmonauts Valeri Korzun and Alexander Kaleri who spent Christmas 1996 in low Earth orbit on board the Mir space station! So as we'll all be celebrating on Earth itself, we can still gaze skywards and appreciate the wonders on view. Setting the wintry scene, how about a snowflake in space? That cosmic feature is an open cluster with nebulosity nestled beyond the constellation of Monoceros 'the Unicorn'. Most people complain about the cold of winter, but we get off lightly compared to the weather on say, Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, where ice geysers erupt at temperatures of −200° C. Brr!

Triple galaxy merger ESO 593-IG 008 forms a cosmic fairy for the top of an imaginary intergalactic Christmas tree. Speaking of Christmas trees, there's a nebula called NGC 2264 which features a star cluster called, funnily enough, the Christmas Tree Cluster, and this is the best image that I can find.

So now we have our tree, what would we decorate it with? Perhaps some glitter borrowed from NGC 290, the stellar jewellery box in our neighbouring satellite galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). Baubles are essential, of course, and none more important than this gorgeous blue sphere. Who wouldn't also want to hang beautiful Saturn on our imaginary festive tree? How about some rainbow-coloured tinsel for draping around? This rare ice-crystal 'fire rainbow' was snapped by a lucky photographer in New Jersey. Conditions have to be exactly right for such phenomena to occur and as they can never be predicted, it pays to carry a camera, just in case! Now our 'tree' is decorated, how about some sparkly and galactic tinsel to brighten up the place?

Whatever you are doing over the festive season, alone or in company, celebrating or can't-wait-till-it's-over, I wish you well, be happy, and please join me in a prayer for peace on Earth, and a toast to absent friends. See you in the New Year, with exciting news about 2009—the International Year of Astronomy!

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