BD+303639. This planetary nebula, some ten thousand light years away in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, was not unlike our own sun several million years ago. During its so-called red giant phase, the center of the star heated and ejected hydrogen, creating the giant ring now visible around it. In fact, this ring is roughly 100 times larger than our entire planetary system.

G45.45+0.06. Dust normally obscures this star-forming area in the Milky Way, seen here in the infrared. The three bright stars in the lower right corner--all about 10 times more massive than our sun and 100,000 times brighter--likely heat a great deal of hydrogen, contributing in part to the diffuse light in the picture. The remaining diffusion stems from starlight reflected off dust particles in the cloud.

OPTICAL NGC 6934. This globular cluster, which formed 12 to 15 billion years ago at a distance of 50,000 light years from earth, contains anywhere from 100,000 to one million stars of all sizes. It is so dense that even the thin air over Mauna Kea blurs its starlight. Many stars overlap in this otherwise clear optical image, preventing their individual study.

INFRARED NGC 6934. Singular stars shine strong in this infrared image of the same globular cluster. Additional clarity comes from Gemini and the University of Hawaii's adaptive optics system, named Hokupa'a after the Hawaiian name for the North Star. Hokupa'a employs deformable mirrors to compensate for distortions due to the atmosphere.

Images: Gemini Observatory

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