Several hundred light-years away, in the constellation Orion the Hunter, the nebula brews up young stars from gas clouds illuminated by starlight.
Eye of God Gleams in Aquarius
The unwinking eye of the Helix Nebula, or Eye of God, burns brightly in this striking October 29 photograph submitted to National Geographic's Your Shot.
The eye is actually a sphere of exploded gas and dust seen sideways, one that was expelled from a dying star some 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius the Ram.
The nebula glows with the light of the small white-dwarf star left of center, all that remains of a star once the size of our own sun.
Mercury Bathed in Sunlight
The cratered surface of Mercury bathes in sunlight in this recently released view from NASA's Messenger spacecraft. The spacecraft has taken more than 170,000 pictures of the planet since 2011.
The innermost planet of the solar system sports a pock-marked surface, mementos of earlier impacts that have left behind craters such as the one 75 miles (120 kilometers) wide, near the center of the picture.
Elephant Trunk Grasps Stars
The Elephant Trunk Nebula, officially named IC 1396A, swings amid a collection of young stars, seen in this just released archival image from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Chandra astronomers combined their observatory's x-ray view of the nebula with visible light and infrared images to reveal the cloud's complete shape.
Northern lights are particularly common during the high point of the sun's 11-year solar cycle, when solar outbursts more often collide with Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere. (See more pictures of the northern lights.)
The winds from countless exploded stars shred the shroud of gas and dust filling the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way. (See more galaxy pictures.)
Some 9,000 light-years away, the arm is a spiral feature of the galaxy, which is home to nebular clouds such as this one, seen in a recently released view from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory team.