APOD: 2019 January 17 - Cabin Under the Stars
Gocka's, a family nickname for the mountain cabin, and a wooden sled from a generation past stand quietly under the stars. The single exposure image was taken on January 6 from Tanndalen Sweden to evoke a simple visual experience of the dark mountain skies. A pale band of starlight along the Milky Way sweeps through the scene. At the foot of Orion the Hunter, bright star Rigel shines just above the old kicksled's handrail. Capella, alpha star of Auriga the celestial charioteer, is the brightest star at the top of the frame. In fact, the familiar stars of the winter hexagon and the Pleiades star cluster can all be found in this beautiful skyscape from a northern winter night. via NASA
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2 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 16 - IC 342: The Hidden Galaxy
Similar in size to large, bright spiral galaxies in our neighborhood, IC 342 is a mere 10 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation Camelopardalis. A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would otherwise be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is hidden from clear view and only glimpsed through the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds along the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. Even though IC 342's light is dimmed and reddened by intervening cosmic clouds, this sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy's own obscuring dust, young star clusters, and glowing pink star forming regions along spiral arms that wind far from the galaxy's core. IC 342 may have undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way. via NASA
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3 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 15 - The Heart and Soul Nebulas
Is the heart and soul of our Galaxy located in Cassiopeia? Possibly not, but that is where two bright emission nebulas nicknamed Heart and Soul can be found. The Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the featured image on the bottom right, has a shape reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. The Soul Nebula is officially designated IC 1871 and is visible on the upper left. Both nebulas shine brightly in the red light of energized hydrogen. Also shown in this three-color montage is light emitted from sulfur, shown in yellow, and oxygen, shown in blue. Several young open clusters of stars are visible near the nebula centers. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years. Studies of stars and clusters like those found in the Heart and Soul Nebulas have focused on how massive stars form and how they affect their environment. via NASA
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4 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 14 - Meteor and Milky Way over the Alps
Now this was a view with a thrill. From Mount Tschirgant in the Alps, you can see not only nearby towns and distant Tyrolean peaks, but also, weather permitting, stars, nebulas, and the band of the Milky Way Galaxy. What made the arduous climb worthwhile this night, though, was another peak -- the peak of the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower. As hoped, dispersing clouds allowed a picturesque sky-gazing session that included many faint meteors, all while a carefully positioned camera took a series of exposures. Suddenly, a thrilling meteor -- bright and colorful -- slashed down right next the nearly vertical band of the Milky Way. As luck would have it, the camera caught it too. Therefore, a new image in the series was quickly taken with one of the sky-gazers posing on the nearby peak. Later, all of the images were digitally combined. via NASA
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5 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 13 - Tychos Supernova Remnant in Xray
What star created this huge puffball? What's pictured is the hot expanding nebula of Tycho's supernova remnant, the result of a stellar explosion first recorded over 400 years ago by the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. The featured image is a composite of three X-ray colors taken by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. The expanding gas cloud is extremely hot, while slightly different expansion speeds have given the cloud a puffy appearance. Although the star that created SN 1572, is likely completely gone, a star dubbed Tycho G, too dim to be discerned here, is thought to be a companion. Finding progenitor remnants of Tycho's supernova is particularly important because the supernova is of Type Ia, an important rung in the distance ladder that calibrates the scale of the visible universe. The peak brightness of Type Ia supernovas is thought to be well understood, making them quite valuable in exploring the relationship between faintness and farness in the distant universe. via NASA
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6 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 11 - Partial Eclipse over Beijing
On January 6 the New Moon rose in silhouette with the Sun seen from northeastern Asia. Near maximum, the dramatic partial solar eclipse is captured in this telephoto view through hazy skies. In the foreground, the hill top Wanchun pavilion overlooking central Beijing's popular Forbidden City hosts eclipse-watching early morning risers. This was the first of five, three solar and two lunar, eclipses for 2019. Next up is a total lunar eclipse during this month's Full Perigee Moon. At night on January 21, that celestial shadow play will be visible from the hemisphere of planet Earth that includes the Americas, Europe, and western Africa. via NASA
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8 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 10 - Vela Supernova Remnant Mosaic
The plane of our Milky Way Galaxy runs through this complex and beautiful skyscape. Seen toward colorful stars near the northwestern edge of the constellation Vela (the Sails), the 16 degree wide, 200 frame mosaic is centered on the glowing filaments of the Vela Supernova Remnant, the expanding debris cloud from the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the supernova explosion that created the Vela remnant reached Earth about 11,000 years ago. In addition to the shocked filaments of glowing gas, the cosmic catastrophe also left behind an incredibly dense, rotating stellar core, the Vela Pulsar. Some 800 light-years distant, the Vela remnant is likely embedded in a larger and older supernova remnant, the Gum Nebula. Objects identified in this broad mosaic include emission and reflection nebulae, star clusters, and the remarkable Pencil Nebula. via NASA
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9 days ago
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Named for a forgotten constellation, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower is an annual event for planet Earth's northern hemisphere skygazers It usually peaks briefly in the cold, early morning hours of January 4. The shower's radiant on the sky lies within the old, astronomically obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis. That position is situated near the boundaries of the modern constellations Hercules, Bootes, and Draco. About 30 Quadrantid meteors can be counted in this skyscape composed of digital frames recorded in dark and moonless skies between 2:30am and local dawn. The shower's radiant is rising just to the right of the Canary Island of Tenerife's Teide volcano, and just below the familiar stars of the Big Dipper on the northern sky. A likely source of the dust stream that produces Quadrantid meteors was identified in 2003 as an asteroid. Look carefully and you can also spot a small, telltale greenish coma above the volcanic peak and near the top of the frame. That's the 2018 Christmas visitor to planet Earth's skies, Comet Wirtanen. via NASA
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10 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 8 - HESS Telescopes Explore the High Energy Sky
They may look like modern mechanical dinosaurs but they are enormous swiveling eyes that watch the sky. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) Observatory is composed of four 12-meter reflecting-mirror telescopes surrounding a larger telescope housing a 28-meter mirror. They are designed to detect strange flickers of blue light -- Cherenkov radiation --emitted when charged particles move slightly faster than the speed of light in air. This light is emitted when a gamma ray from a distant source strikes a molecule in Earth's atmosphere and starts a charged-particle shower. H.E.S.S. is sensitive to some of the highest energy photons (TeV) crossing the universe. Operating since 2003 in Namibia, H.E.S.S. has searched for dark matter and has discovered over 50 sources emitting high energy radiation including supernova remnants and the centers of galaxies that contain supermassive black holes. Pictured last September, H.E.S.S. telescopes swivel and stare in time-lapse sequences shot in front of our Milky Way Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds -- as the occasional Earth-orbiting satellite zips by. via NASA
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11 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 7 - Stars, Meteors, and a Comet in Taurus
This was an unusual night to look in the direction of the Bull. The constellation Taurus is always well known for hosting two bright star clusters -- the Pleaides, visible on the right, and the comparatively diffuse Hyades, visible on the left. This night last month, however, was atypically the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, and so several meteors were caught shooting through the constellation with parallel trails. More unusually still, Comet Wirtanen was drifting through the constellation, here appearing near the image bottom surrounded by a greenish coma. The comet was near its brightest as it sped past the Earth. The orange star on the upper left is Aldebaran, considered to be the eye of the Bull. Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus and the 15th brightest star in the sky. The featured image is a combination of nearly 800 exposures taken from the Spanish village Albanyà. via NASA
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12 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 6 - A Laser Strike at the Galactic Center
Why are these people shooting a powerful laser into the center of our Galaxy? Fortunately, this is not meant to be the first step in a Galactic war. Rather, astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) site in Chile are trying to measure the distortions of Earth's ever changing atmosphere. Constant imaging of high-altitude atoms excited by the laser -- which appear like an artificial star -- allow astronomers to instantly measure atmospheric blurring. This information is fed back to a VLT telescope mirror which is then slightly deformed to minimize this blurring. In this case, a VLT was observing our Galaxy's center, and so Earth's atmospheric blurring in that direction was needed. As for inter-galaxy warfare, when viewed from our Galaxy's center, no casualties are expected. In fact, the light from this powerful laser would combine with light from our Sun to together appear only as bright as a faint and distant star. via NASA
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13 days ago
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On January 3, the Chinese Chang'e-4 spacecraft made the first successful landing on the Moon's farside. Taken by a camera on board the lander, this image is from the landing site inside Von Karman crater. It shows the desksized, six-wheeled Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2) rover as it rolled down lander ramps and across the surface near local sunrise and the start of the two week long lunar day. Ripe for exploration, Von Karman crater itself is 186 kilometers in diameter. It lies within the Moon's old and deep South Pole-Aitken impact basin with some of the most ancient and least understood lunar terrains. To bridge communications from the normally hidden hemisphere of the Moon, China launched a relay satellite, Queqiao, in May of 2018 in to an orbit beyond the lunar farside. via NASA
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14 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 3 - Ultima Thule Rotation Gif
Ultima Thule is the most distant world explored by a spacecraft from Earth. In the dim light 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, the New Horizons spacecraft captured these two frames 38 minutes apart as it sped toward the Kuiper belt world on January 1 at 51,000 kilometers per hour. A contact binary, the two lobes of Ultima Thule rotate together once every 15 hours or so. Shown as a blinking gif, the rotation between the frames produces a tantalizing 3D perspective of the most primitive world ever seen. Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the larger lobe Ultima, is about 19 kilometers in diameter. Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across. via NASA
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15 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 3 - Ultima and Thule
On January 1 New Horizons encountered the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Some 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, Ultima Thule is the most distant world ever explored by a spacecraft from Earth. This historic image, the highest resolution image released so far, was made at a range of about 28,000 kilometers only 30 minutes before the New Horizons closest approach. Likely the result of a gentle collision shortly after the birth of the Solar System, Ultima Thule is revealed to be a contact binary, two connected sphere-like shapes held in contact by mutual gravity. Dubbed separately by the science team Ultima and Thule, the larger lobe Ultima is about 19 kilometers in diameter. Smaller Thule is 14 kilometers across. via NASA
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16 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 2 - The Orion Nebula in Infrared from WISE
The Great Nebula in Orion is an intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color four-panel mosaic taken in different bands of infrared light with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood of recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the featured image. The orange glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years. via NASA
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17 days ago
APOD: 2019 January 1 - The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy -- or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The featured image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo. via NASA
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18 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 31 - The Witch Head Nebula
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble .... maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. A frighteningly shaped reflection nebula, this cosmic crone is about 800 light-years away though. Its malevolent visage seems to glare toward nearby bright star Rigel in Orion, just off the right edge of this frame. More formally known as IC 2118, the interstellar cloud of dust and gas is nearly 70 light-years across, its dust grains reflecting Rigel's starlight. In this composite portrait, the nebula's color is caused not only by the star's intense bluish light but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in planet Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. via NASA
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19 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 30 - The Galaxy Tree
First came the trees. In the town of Salamanca, Spain, the photographer noticed how distinctive a grove of oak trees looked after being pruned. Next came the galaxy. The photographer stayed up until 2 am, waiting until the Milky Way Galaxy rose above the level of a majestic looking oak. From this carefully chosen perspective, dust lanes in the galaxy appear to be natural continuations to branches of the tree. Last came the light. A flashlight was used on the far side of the tree to project a silhouette. By coincidence, other trees also appeared as similar silhouettes across the relatively bright horizon. The featured image was captured as a single 30-second frame earlier this month and processed to digitally enhance the Milky Way. via NASA
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20 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 29 - New Horizons at Ultima Thule
When we celebrate the start of 2019, on January 1 the New Horizons spacecraft will flyby Ultima Thule. A world of the Kuiper belt 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, the nickname Ultima Thule (catalog designation 2014 MU69) fittingly means "beyond the known world". Following its 2015 flyby of Pluto, New Horizons was targeted for this journey, attempting the most distant flyby for a spacecraft from Earth by approaching Ultima Thule to within about 3500 kilometers. The tiny world itself is about 30 kilometers in size. This year, an observing campaign with Earth-based telescopes determined the shape of the object to be a contact binary or a close binary sytem as in this artist's illustration. New Horizons will image close up its unexplored surface in the dim light of the distant Sun. via NASA
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21 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 28 - NGC 1365: Majestic Island Universe
Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the chemical constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax galaxy cluster. This impressively sharp color image shows intense star forming regions at the ends of the bar and along the spiral arms, and details of dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole. via NASA
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22 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 26 - NGC 6357: The Lobster Nebula
Why is the Lobster Nebula forming some of the most massive stars known? No one is yet sure. Cataloged as NGC 6357, the Lobster Nebula houses the open star cluster Pismis 24 near its center -- a home to unusually bright and massive stars. The overall blue glow near the inner star forming region results from the emission of ionized hydrogen gas. The surrounding nebula, featured here, holds a complex tapestry of gas, dark dust, stars still forming, and newly born stars. The intricate patterns are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. NGC 6357 spans about 400 light years and lies about 8,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Scorpion. via NASA
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24 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 25 - M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was taken recently with the Wide Field Camera 3 and accentuates bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe. via NASA
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25 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 24 - Earthrise 1: Historic Image Remastered
"Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here's the Earth coming up. Wow is that pretty!" Soon after that pronouncement, 50 years ago today, one of the most famous images ever taken was snapped from the orbit of the Moon. Now known as "Earthrise", the iconic image shows the Earth rising above the limb of the Moon, as taken by the crew of Apollo 8. But the well-known Earthrise image was actually the second image taken of the Earth rising above the lunar limb -- it was just the first in color. With modern digital technology, however, the real first Earthrise image -- originally in black and white -- has now been remastered to have the combined resolution and color of the first three images. Behold! The featured image is a close-up of the picture that Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders was talking about. Thanks to modern technology and human ingenuity, now we can all see it. (Historical note: A different historic black & white image of the Earth setting behind the lunar limb was taken by the robotic Lunar Orbiter 1 two years earlier.) via NASA
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26 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 23 - Earthrise: A Video Reconstruction
About 12 seconds into this video, something unusual happens. The Earth begins to rise. Never seen by humans before, the rise of the Earth over the limb of the Moon occurred 50 years ago tomorrow and surprised and amazed the crew of Apollo 8. The crew immediately scrambled to take still images of the stunning vista caused by Apollo 8's orbit around the Moon. The featured video is a modern reconstruction of the event as it would have looked were it recorded with a modern movie camera. The colorful orb of our Earth stood out as a familiar icon rising above a distant and unfamiliar moonscape, the whole scene the conceptual reverse of a more familiar moonrise as seen from Earth. To many, the scene also spoke about the unity of humanity: that big blue marble -- that's us -- we all live there. The two-minute video is not time-lapse -- this is the real speed of the Earth rising through the windows of Apollo 8. Seven months and three missions later, Apollo 11 astronauts would not only circle Earth's moon, but land on it. via NASA
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27 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 22 - A Cold December Night
They say Orion always comes up sideways, and he does seem to on this cold December night. The bright stars of the familiar northern winter constellation lie just above the snowy tree tops surrounding a cozy cottage near the town of Ustupky in the Czech Republic. But Gemini's meteors also seem to rain on the wintry landscape. The meteor streaks are captured in exposures made near last Friday's peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. They stream away from the shower's radiant above the trees, near the two bright stars of the zodiacal constellation of the Twins. Comet Wirtanen, a visitor to planet Earth's skies, is visible too. Look for its telltale greenish coma near the stars of the seven sisters. via NASA
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28 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 21 - Extraordinary Solar Halos
Welcome to the December Solstice, the first day of winter in planet Earth's northern hemisphere and summer in the south. To celebrate, consider this extraordinary display of beautiful solar ice halos! More common than rainbows, simple ice halos can be easy to spot, especially if you can shade your eyes from direct sunlight. Still it's extremely rare to see anything close to the complex of halos present in this astounding scene. Captured at lunchtime on a cold December 14 near Utendal, Sweden the image includes the relatively ordinary 22 degree halo, sundogs (parhelia) and sun pillars. The extensive array of rarer halos has been identified along with previously unknown features. All the patterns are generated as sunlight (or moonlight) is reflected and refracted in flat six-sided water ice crystals in Earth's atmosphere. In this case, likely local contributors to the atmospheric ice crystals are snow making machines operating at at nearby ski center. via NASA
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29 days ago
APOD: 2018 December 20 - Red Nebula, Green Comet, Blue Stars
This festively colored skyscape was captured in the early morning hours of December 17, following Comet Wirtanen's closest approach to planet Earth. The comet was just visible to the eye. The lovely green color of its fluorescing cometary atmosphere or coma is brought out here only by adding digital exposures registered on the comet's position below the Pleiades star cluster. The exposures also bring out blue starlight reflected by the dust clouds surrounding the young Pleiades stars. Gaze (toward the left) across dusty dark nebulae along the edge of the Perseus molecular cloud and you'll travel to emission nebula NGC 1499, also known as the California nebula. Too faint for the eye, the cosmic cloud's pronounced reddish glow is from electrons recombining with ionized hydrogen atoms. Around December 23rd, Comet Wirtanen should be easy to find with binoculars when it sweeps close to bright star Capella in the northern winter constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. via NASA
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4 weeks ago
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Meteors can be colorful. While the human eye usually cannot discern many colors, cameras often can. Pictured is a Geminid captured by camera during last week's meteor shower that was not only impressively bright, but colorful. The radiant grit cast off by asteroid 3200 Phaethon blazed a path across Earth's atmosphere longer than 60 times the angular diameter of the Moon. Colors in meteors usually originate from ionized elements released as the meteor disintegrates, with blue-green typically originating from magnesium, calcium radiating violet, and nickel glowing green. Red, however, typically originates from energized nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. This bright meteoric fireball was gone in a flash -- less than a second -- but it left a wind-blown ionization trail that remained visible for several minutes, the start of which can be seen here. via NASA
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4 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 18 - Methane Bubbles Frozen in Lake Baikal
What are these bubbles frozen into Lake Baikal? Methane. Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Russia, is the world's largest (by volume), oldest, and deepest lake, containing over 20% of the world's fresh water. The lake is also a vast storehouse of methane, a greenhouse gas that, if released, could potentially increase the amount of infrared light absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, and so increase the average temperature of the entire planet. Fortunately, the amount of methane currently bubbling out is not climatologically important. It is not clear what would happen, though, were temperatures to significantly increase in the region, or if the water level in Lake Baikal were to drop. Pictured, bubbles of rising methane froze during winter into the exceptionally clear ice covering the lake. via NASA
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4 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 17 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the featured image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy. via NASA
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4 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 13 - 3D Bennu
Put on your red/blue glasses and float next to asteroid 101955 Bennu. Shaped like a spinning top toy with boulders littering its rough surface, the tiny Solar System world is about 1 Empire State Building (less than 500 meters) across. Frames used to construct this 3D anaglyph were taken by PolyCam on board the OSIRIS_REx spacecraft on December 3 from a distance of about 80 kilometers. Now settling in to explore Bennu from orbit, the OSIRIS-REx mission is expected to deliver samples of the asteroid to planet Earth in 2023. Samples of dust from another asteroid will streak through Earth's atmosphere much sooner though, when the Geminid meteor shower peaks in predawn skies on December 14. The parent body for the annual Geminids is asteroid 3200 Phaethon. via NASA
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5 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 12 - M43: Orion Falls
Is there a waterfall in Orion? No, but some of the dust in M43 appears similar to a waterfall on Earth. M43, part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, is the often imaged but rarely mentioned neighbor of the more famous M42. M42, which includes many bright stars from the Trapezium cluster, lies above the featured scene. M43 is itself a star forming region and although laced with filaments of dark dust, is composed mostly of glowing hydrogen. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with many intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dark dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of protons and electrons. via NASA
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5 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 10 - Sound and Light Captured by Mars InSight
Your arm on Mars has unusual powers. For one thing it is nearly 2 meters long, has a scoop and grapple built into its hand, and has a camera built into its forearm. For another, it will soon deploy your ear -- a sensitive seismometer that will listen for distant rumblings -- onto the surface of Mars. Your SEISmomet-ear is the orange box in the foreground, while the gray dome behind it will be its protective cover. Your arm is attached to the InSight robotic lander that touched down on Mars two weeks ago. Somewhat unexpectedly, your ear has already heard something -- slight vibrations caused by the Martian wind flowing over the solar panels. Light from the Sun is being collected by the solar panels, part of one being visible on the far right. Actually, at the present time, you have two arms operating on Mars, but they are separated by about 600 kilometers. That's because your other active arm is connected to the Curiosity rover exploring a distant crater. Taken a week ago, rusty soil and rocks are visible in the featured image beyond Insight, as well as the orange sky of Mars. via NASA
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5 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 9 - Aurora Shimmer, Meteor Flash
Some night skies are serene and passive -- others shimmer and flash. The later, in the form of auroras and meteors, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on 2009 December 13. This 30 second long exposure records a shimmering auroral glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, the image also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from the excellent Geminid meteor shower of 2009. 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. Both auroras and meteors occur in Earth's upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, but aurora caused by energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere, while meteors are trails of cosmic dust. Nine years after this photograph was taken, toward the end of this week, the yearly 2018 Geminids meteor shower will peak again, although this time their flashes will compete with the din of a half-lit first-quarter moon during the first half of the night. via NASA
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5 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 8 - Tiny Planet Timelapse
You can pack a lot of sky watching into 30 seconds on this tiny planet. Of course, the full spherical image timelapse video was recorded on planet Earth, from Grande Pines Observatory outside Pinehurst, North Carolina. It was shot in early September with a single camera and circular fisheye lens, digitally combining one 24-hour period with camera and lens pointed up with one taken with camera and lens pointed down. The resulting image data is processed and projected onto a flat frame centered on the nadir, the point directly below the camera. Watch as clouds pass, shadows creep, and the sky cycles from day to night when stars swirl around the horizon. Keep watching, though. In a second sequence the projected center is the south celestial pole, planet Earth's axis of rotation below the tiny planet horizon. Holding the stars fixed, the horizon itself rotates as the tiny planet swings around the frame, hiding half the sky through day and night. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 7 - December s Comet Wirtanen
Coming close in mid-December, Comet 46P Wirtanen hangs in this starry sky over the bell tower of a Romanesque church. In the constructed vertical panorama, a series of digital exposures capture its greenish coma on December 3 from Sant Llorenc de la Muga, Girona, Catalonia, Spain, planet Earth. With an orbital period that is now about 5.4 years, the periodic comet's perihelion, its closest approach, to the Sun will be on December 12. On December 16 it will be closest to Earth, passing at a distance of about 11.6 million kilometers or 39 light-seconds. That's close for a comet, a mere 30 times the Earth-Moon distance. A good binocular target for comet watchers, Wirtanen could be visible to the unaided eye from a dark sky site. To spot it after dusk on December 16, look close on the sky to the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 6 - Cetus Galaxies and Supernova
Large spiral galaxy NGC 1055 at top left joins spiral Messier 77 (bottom right) in this cosmic view toward the aquatic constellation Cetus. The narrowed, dusty appearance of edge-on spiral NGC 1055 contrasts nicely with the face-on view of M77's bright nucleus and spiral arms. Both over 100,000 light-years across, the pair are dominant members of a small galaxy group about 60 million light-years away. At that estimated distance, M77 is one of the most remote objects in Charles Messier's catalog, and is separated from fellow island universe NGC 1055 by at least 500,000 light-years. The field of view is about the size of the full Moon on the sky and includes colorful foreground Milky Way stars along with more distant background galaxies. Taken on November 28, the sharp image also includes newly discovered supernova SN2018ivc, its location indicated in the arms of M77. The light from the explosion of one of M77's massive stars was discovered by telescopes on planet Earth only a few days earlier on November 24. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 5 - Highlights of the North Winter Sky
What can you see in the night sky this season? The featured graphic gives a few highlights for Earth's northern hemisphere. Viewed as a clock face centered at the bottom, early (northern) winter sky events fan out toward the left, while late winter events are projected toward the right. Objects relatively close to Earth are illustrated, in general, as nearer to the cartoon figure with the telescope at the bottom center -- although almost everything pictured can be seen without a telescope. As happens during any season, constellations appear the same year to year, and, as usual, the Geminids meteor shower will peak in mid-December. Also as usual, the International Space Station (ISS) can be seen, at times, as a bright spot drifting across the sky after sunset. Less usual, the Moon is expected to pass nearly in front of several planets in early January. A treat this winter is Comet 46P/Wirtanen, already bright, will pass only 36 lunar distances from the Earth in mid-December, potentially making it easily visible to the unaided eye. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 4 - Rocket Launch between Mountains
What's happening between those mountains? A rocket is being launched to space. Specifically, a Long March 3B Carrier Rocket was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in China about two week ago. The rocket lifted two navigation satellites to about 2,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface, well above the orbit of the International Space Station, but well below the orbit of geostationary satellites. China's Chang'e 3 mission that landed the robotic Yutu rover on the Moon was launched from Xichang in 2013. The featured image was taken about 10 kilometers from the launch site and is actually a composite of nine exposures, including a separate background image. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 3 - Spiraling Supermassive Black Holes
Do black holes glow when they collide? When merging, co-orbiting black holes are sure to emit a burst of unusual gravitational radiation, but will they emit light, well before that, if they are surrounded by gas? To help find out, astrophysicists created a sophisticated computer simulation. The simulation and featured resulting video accurately depicts two spiraling supermassive black holes, including the effects of Einstein's general relativity on the surrounding gas and light. The video first shows the system from the top, and later from the side where unusual gravitational lens distortions are more prominent. Numerical results indicate that gravitational and magnetic forces should energize the gas to emit high-energy light from the ultraviolet to the X-ray. The emission of such light may enable humanity to detect and study supermassive black hole pairs well before they spiral together. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 2 - The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. via NASA
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6 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 December 1 - Mount Everest Star Trails
The highest peak on planet Earth is framed in this mountain and night skyscape. On September 30, the digital stack of 240 sequential exposures made with a camera fixed to a tripod at an Everest Base Camp captured the sheer north face of the Himalayan mountain and foreground illuminated by bright moonlight. Taken over 1.5 hours, the sequence also recorded colorful star trails. Reflecting the planet's daily rotation on its axis, their motion is along gentle concentric arcs centered on the south celestial pole, a point well below the rugged horizon. The color of the trails actually indicates the temperatures of the stars. Blueish hues are from hotter stars, and yellow to reddish hues are from stars cooler than the Sun. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
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Cosmic dust clouds are draped across a rich field of stars in this broad telescopic panorama near the northern boundary of Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. Less than 500 light-years away the denser clouds effectively block light from more distant background stars in the Milky Way. The entire vista spans about 5 degrees or nearly 45 light-years at the clouds' estimated distance. Toward the right lies a group of bluish reflection nebulae cataloged as NGC 6726, 6727, 6729 and IC 4812. The characteristic blue color is produced as light from hot stars is reflected by the cosmic dust. The dust also obscures from view stars in the region still in the process of formation. Smaller yellowish nebula NGC 6729 surrounds young variable star R Coronae Australis. Below it are arcs and loops identified as Herbig Haro (HH) objects associated with energetic newborn stars. Magnificent globular star cluster NGC 6723 is above and right of the nebulae. Though NGC 6723 appears to be part of the group, its ancient stars actually lie nearly 30,000 light-years away, far beyond the young stars of the Corona Australis dust clouds. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 28 - IC 1871: Inside the Soul Nebula
This cosmic close-up looks deep inside the Soul Nebula. The dark and brooding dust clouds on the left, outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas, are cataloged as IC 1871. About 25 light-years across, the telescopic field of view spans only a small part of the much larger Heart and Soul nebulae. At an estimated distance of 6,500 light-years the star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, seen in planet Earth's skies toward the constellation Cassiopeia. An example of triggered star formation, the dense star-forming clouds of IC 1871 are themselves sculpted by the intense winds and radiation of the region's massive young stars. The featured image appears mostly red due to the emission of a specific color of light emitted by excited hydrogen gas. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 27 - InSights First Image from Mars
Welcome to Mars, NASA Insight. Yesterday NASA's robotic spacecraft InSight made a dramatic landing on Mars after a six-month trek across the inner Solar System. Needing to brake from 20,000 km per hour to zero in about seven minutes, Insight decelerated by as much as 8 g's and heated up to 1500 degrees Celsius as it deployed a heat shield, a parachute, and at the end, rockets. The featured image was the first taken by InSight on Mars, and welcome proof that the spacecraft had shed enough speed to land softly and function on the red planet. During its final descent, InSight's rockets kicked up dust which can be seen stuck to the lens cap of the Instrument Context Camera. Past the spotty dirt, parts of the lander that are visible include cover bolts at the bottom and a lander footpad on the lower right. Small rocks are visible across the rusty red soil, while the arc across the top of the image is the Martian horizon dividing land and sky. Over the next few weeks InSight will deploy several scientific instruments, including a rumble-detecting seismometer. These instruments are expected to give humanity unprecedented data involving the interior of Mars, a region thought to harbor formation clues not only about Mars, but Earth. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 26 - Rocket Launch as Seen from the Space Station
Have you ever seen a rocket launch -- from space? A close inspection of the featured time-lapse video will reveal a rocket rising to Earth orbit as seen from the International Space Station (ISS). The Russian Soyuz-FG rocket was launched ten days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a Progress MS-10 (also 71P) module to bring needed supplies to the ISS. Highlights in the 90-second video (condensing about 15-minutes) include city lights and clouds visible on the Earth on the lower left, blue and gold bands of atmospheric airglow running diagonally across the center, and distant stars on the upper right that set behind the Earth. A lower stage can be seen falling back to Earth as the robotic supply ship fires its thrusters and begins to close on the ISS, a space laboratory that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Currently, three astronauts live aboard the Earth-orbiting ISS, and conduct, among more practical duties, numerous science experiments that expand human knowledge and enable future commercial industry in low Earth orbit. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
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This moon is doomed. Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. The origin of the Martian moons is unknown, though, with a leading hypothesis holding that they are captured asteroids. The larger moon, at 25-kilometers across, is Phobos, and is indeed seen to be a cratered, asteroid-like object in this false-colored image mosaic taken by the robotic Viking 1 mission in 1978. A recent analysis of the unusual long grooves seen on Phobos indicates that they may result from boulders rolling away from the giant impact that created the crater on the upper left: Stickney Crater. Phobos orbits so close to Mars - about 5,800 kilometers above the surface compared to 400,000 kilometers for our Moon - that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. The ultimate result will be for Phobos to break up in orbit and then crash down onto the Martian surface in about 50 million years. Well before that -- tomorrow, in fact, if everything goes according to plan -- NASA's robotic InSight lander will touch down on Mars and begin investigating its internal structure. via NASA
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7 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 24 - Shipwreck at Moonset
A crescent Moon is about to sink under the western horizon in this sea and night skyscape. The atmospheric photo was taken on September 11 from the desert shore along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. So close to moonset, the moonlight is reddened and dimmed by the low, long line-of-sight across the Atlantic. But near the center of the frame Venus still shines brightly, its light reflected in calm ocean waters. The celestial beacon above the brilliant evening star is bright planet Jupiter. Namibia's Skeleton Coast was so named for the many seal and whale bones that were once strewn along the shoreline. In more recent times it's better known for shipwrecks. via NASA
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8 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 23 - Good Morning Leonid
On November 17, just an hour before sunrise, this bright and colorful meteor flashed through clear predawn skies. Above a sea of clouds this striking autumn morning's moment was captured from Hochblauen, a prominent 1165 meter high summit in southern Germany's Black Forest. Shining through the twilight, Sirius as well as the familiar stars of Orion are recognizable near the southwestern horizon, and the meteor seems headed right for the hunter's belt and sword. Still, as part of the annual Leonid meteor shower, the meteor trail does point back to the shower's radiant. The constellation Leo is high above the horizon and off the top left of the frame. via NASA
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8 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 21 - Swirls and Colors on Jupiter from Juno
What creates the colors in Jupiter's clouds? No one is sure. The thick atmosphere of Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, elements which are colorless at the low temperatures of the Jovian cloud tops. Which trace elements provide the colors remains a topic of research, although small amounts of ammonium hydrosulfide are one leading candidate. What is clear from the featured color-enhanced image -- and many similar images -- is that lighter clouds are typically higher up than darker ones. Pictured, light clouds swirl around reddish regions toward the lower right, while they appear to cover over some darker domains on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft during its 14th low pass over Jupiter earlier this year. Juno continues in its looping elliptical orbit, swooping near the huge planet every 53 days and exploring a slightly different sector each time around. via NASA
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8 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 20 - Unexpected Trajectory Interstellar Asteroid Oumuamua
Why is 'Oumuamua differing from its expected trajectory? Last year, 1I/2017 U1 'Oumuamua became the first known asteroid from interstellar space to pass through our Solar System. Just over a year ago, this tumbling interstellar rock even passed rather close to the Earth. The asteroid's future path should have been easy to predict given standard gravity -- but 'Oumuamua's path has proven to be slightly different. In the featured animation, 'Oumuamua is shown approaching and exiting the vicinity of our Sun, with the expected gravitational and observed trajectories labelled. The leading natural hypothesis for this unexpected deviation is internal gas jets becoming active on the Sun-warmed asteroid -- but speculation and further computer simulations are ongoing. 'Oumuamua will never return, but modern sky monitors are expected to find and track similar interstellar asteroids within the next few years. via NASA
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8 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 19 - Gibbous Moon beyond Swedish Mountain
This is a gibbous Moon. More Earthlings are familiar with a full moon, when the entire face of Luna is lit by the Sun, and a crescent moon, when only a sliver of the Moon's face is lit. When more than half of the Moon is illuminated, though, but still short of full illumination, the phase is called gibbous. Rarely seen in television and movies, gibbous moons are quite common in the actual night sky. The featured image was taken in Jämtland, Sweden near the end of last month. That gibbous moon turned, in a few days, into a crescent moon, and then a new moon, then back to a crescent, and a few days ago back to gibbous. And this same gibbous moon is visible again tonight, leading up to the Full Beaver Moon that occurs Friday night. Setting up to capture a picturesque gibbous moonscape, the photographer was quite surprised to find an airplane, surely well in the foreground, appearing to fly past it. via NASA
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8 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 17 - The Tarantula Nebula
The Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, is more than a thousand light-years in diameter, a giant star forming region within nearby satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. About 180 thousand light-years away, it's the largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies. The cosmic arachnid sprawls across this spectacular view, composed with narrowband filter data centered on emission from ionized hydrogen atoms. Within the Tarantula (NGC 2070), intense radiation, stellar winds and supernova shocks from the central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136, energize the nebular glow and shape the spidery filaments. Around the Tarantula are other star forming regions with young star clusters, filaments, and blown-out bubble-shaped clouds. In fact, the frame includes the site of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A, left of center. The rich field of view spans about 1 degree or 2 full moons, in the southern constellation Dorado. But were the Tarantula Nebula closer, say 1,500 light-years distant like the local star forming Orion Nebula, it would take up half the sky. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 16 - The Hill, The Moon, and Saturn
Last Sunday when the Moon was young its sunlit crescent hung low near the western horizon at sunset. With strong earthshine it was joined by Saturn shining in the early evening sky for a beautiful conjunction visible to skygazers around our fair planet. On that clear evening on a hill near Veszprem, Hungary mother, daughter, bright planet, and young Moon are framed in this quiet night skyscape taken with a telephoto lens. Of course the Moon ages too quickly for some, and by tonight the sunlit part has reached its first quarter phase. This weekend skygazers spending quality time under Moon and stars might expect to see the annual rain of comet dust otherwise known as the Leonid meteor shower. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 15 - Comet 46P Wirtanen
Periodic Comet 46P/Wirtanen is now the brightest comet in the night sky, but too faint to be seen by eye. From dark sky sites it could just become naked-eye visible though, as it's 5.4 year long looping orbit takes it closest to Earth and the Sun in mid December. Fluorescing in sunlight, its spherical coma is about half the angular size of a full moon in this southern hemisphere telescopic view from November 7. Then the comet was about 2 light-minutes away or 35 million kilometers from Earth-bound telescopes, so the pretty greenish coma seen here is around 150,000 kilometers across. That makes it about the size of Jupiter. The stack of digital images also reveals a very faint tail extending toward 4 o'clock with a distant background galaxy notable at the upper left. As a regular visitor to the inner Solar System, comet 46P/Wirtanen was once the favored rendezvous target for ESA's comet exploring Rosetta mission. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
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What's inside this cosmic cave? A stellar nursery 10 light-years deep. The featured skyscape is dominated by dusty Sh2-155, the Cave Nebula. In the telescopic image, data taken through a narrowband filters tracks the nebular glow of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, colors that together form the Hubble Palette. About 2,400 light-years away, the scene lies along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus. Astronomical explorations of the region reveal that it has formed at the boundary of the massive Cepheus B molecular cloud and the hot, young stars of the Cepheus OB 3 association. The bright rim of ionized hydrogen gas is energized by radiation from the hot stars, dominated by the bright star just to the left of the cave entrance. Radiation driven ionization fronts are likely triggering collapsing cores and new star formation within. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 13 - Rotating Asteroid Bennu from OSIRIS REx
Could this close-by asteroid ever hit the Earth? Eventually yes -- but probably not for a very long time, even though the asteroid is expected to pass inside the orbit of the Moon next century. However, to better understand the nature and orbit of all near-Earth asteroids, NASA sent the robotic Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) to investigate this one: the 500-meter across asteroid 101955 Bennu. Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-REx is now approaching Bennu, and is first scheduled to map the minor planet's rough surface. The featured time-lapse video taken earlier this month compacts Bennu's 4.25-hour rotation period into about 7 seconds. Bennu's diamond-like appearance is similar to asteroid Ryugu currently being visited by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2. The exact future orbit of Bennu is a bit uncertain due to close passes near the Earth and the Yarkovsky effect: a slight force created by an object's rotationally-induced, asymmetric infrared glow. If all goes according to plan, ORISIS-Rx will actually touch the asteroid in 2020, collect soil samples, and return them to Earth in 2023 for detailed analyses. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 12 - The Lagoon Nebula is Stars, Gas, and Dust
The majestic Lagoon Nebula is filled with hot gas and the home for many young stars. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebula is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. The featured image was taken in three colors with details are brought out by light emitted by Hydrogen Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many dark dust-laden globules that exist there. via NASA
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9 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 10 - The Old Moon in the Young Moon s Arms
Tonight the Moon is young again, but this stunning image of a young Moon near the western horizon was taken just after sunset on October 10. On the lunar disk Earthshine, earthlight reflected from the Moon's night side, is embraced by the slim, sunlit crescent just over 2 days old. Along the horizon fading colors of twilight silhouette the radio telescope dish antennas of the Very Large Array, New Mexico, planet Earth. The view from the Moon would be stunning, too. When the Moon appears in Earth's sky as a slender crescent, a dazzlingly bright, nearly full Earth would be seen from the lunar surface. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans in turn illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. via NASA
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10 weeks ago
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Don't panic. This little planet projection looks confusing, but it's actually just a digitally warped and stitched, nadir centered mosaic of images that covers nearly 360x180 degrees. The images were taken on the night of October 31 from a 30 meter tall hill-top lookout tower near Tatabanya, Hungary, planet Earth. The laticed lookout tower construction was converted from a local mine elevator. Since planet Earth is rotating, the 126 frames of 75 second long exposures also show warped, concentric star trails with the north celestial pole at the left. Of course at this location the south celestial pole is just right of center but below the the little planet's horizon. via NASA
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10 weeks ago
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This composite of images spaced some 5 to 9 days apart, from late April (bottom right) through November 5 (top left), traces the retrograde motion of ruddy-colored Mars through planet Earth's night sky. To connect the dots and dates in this 2018 Mars retrograde loop, just slide your cursor over the picture (and check out this animation). But Mars didn't actually reverse the direction of its orbit. Instead, the apparent backwards motion with respect to the background stars is a reflection of the motion of the Earth itself. Retrograde motion can be seen each time Earth overtakes and laps planets orbiting farther from the Sun, the Earth moving more rapidly through its own relatively close-in orbit. On July 27, Mars was near its favorable 2018 parihelic opposition, when Mars was closest to the Sun in its orbit while also opposite the Sun in Earth's sky. For that date, the frame used in this composite was taken during the total lunar eclipse. via NASA
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10 weeks ago
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There's even a California in space. Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades. via NASA
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10 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 5 - IC 4592: The Blue Horsehead Reflection Nebula
Do you see the horse's head? What you are seeing is not the famous Horsehead nebula toward Orion but rather a fainter nebula that only takes on a familiar form with deeper imaging. The main part of the here imaged molecular cloud complex is a reflection nebula cataloged as IC 4592. Reflection nebulas are actually made up of very fine dust that normally appears dark but can look quite blue when reflecting the light of energetic nearby stars. In this case, the source of much of the reflected light is a star at the eye of the horse. That star is part of Nu Scorpii, one of the brighter star systems toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). A second reflection nebula dubbed IC 4601 is visible surrounding two stars to the right of the image center. via NASA
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10 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 4 - Flying Saucer Crash Lands in Utah Desert
A flying saucer from outer space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being tracked by radar and chased by helicopters. The year was 2004, and no space aliens were involved. The saucer, pictured here, was the Genesis sample return capsule, part of a human-made robot Genesis spaceship launched in 2001 by NASA itself to study the Sun. The unexpectedly hard landing at over 300 kilometers per hour occurred because the parachutes did not open as planned. The Genesis mission had been orbiting the Sun collecting solar wind particles that are usually deflected away by Earth's magnetic field. Despite the crash landing, many return samples remained in good enough condition to analyze. So far, Genesis-related discoveries include new details about the composition of the Sun and how the abundance of some types of elements differ across the Solar System. These results have provided intriguing clues into details of how the Sun and planets formed billions of years ago. via NASA
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11 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 November 1 - Hayabusa2 Ascends from Asteroid Ryugu
Will spacecraft Hayabusa2 be able to land safely on asteroid Ryugu? Since arriving in June, pictures show that the surface of kilometer-sized Ryugu is covered with boulders, so that finding a flat enough area for the bus-sized spacecraft to touch down is proving a challenge. In the featured video, the shadow of Japan's robotic Hayabusa2 can be seen on the rugged face of Ryugu while ascending last week from a touchdown rehearsal only 20 meters over the surface. Previously, small frisbee-sized landers detached from Hayabusa2, made contact with the diamond-shaped asteroid's surface, and started hopping around. Studying Ryugu could tell humanity not only about the minor planet's surface and interior, but about what materials were available in the early Solar System for the development of life. The touchdown of the Hayabusa2 mother ship is slated for early next year, hopefully followed by a soil sample collection for return to Earth. via NASA
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11 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 October 27 - Airglow Borealis
The best known asterism in northern skies hangs over the Canadian Rockies in this mountain and night skyscape taken last week from Banff National Park. But most remarkable is the amazing greenish airglow. With airglow visible to the eye, but not in color, the scene was captured in two exposures with a single camera, one exposure made while tracking the stars and one fixed to a tripod. Airglow emission is predominately from atmospheric oxygen atoms at extremely low densities. Commonly recorded in color by sensitive digital cameras the eerie, diffuse light is seen here in waves across the northern night. Originating at an altitude similar to aurorae, the luminous airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation and radiative decay. Energy for the chemical excitation is provided during daytime by the Sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation. Unlike aurorae which are limited to high latitudes, airglow can be found around the globe. via NASA
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12 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 October 26 - IC 59 and IC 63 in Cassiopeia
These bright rims and flowing shapes look ghostly on a cosmic scale. A telescopic view toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the colorful (zoomable) skyscape features the swept-back, comet-shaped clouds IC 59 (left) and IC 63. About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually ghosts, but they are slowly disappearing under the influence of energetic radiation from hot,luminous star gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae, just off the top right edge of the frame. Slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as hydrogen atoms ionized by the star's ultraviolet radiation recombine with electrons. Farther from the star, IC 59 shows proportionally less H-alpha emission but more of the characteristic blue tint of dust reflected star light. The field of view spans about 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of gamma Cas and friends. via NASA
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12 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 October 25 - Barnard 150: Seahorse in Cepheus
Light-years across, this suggestive shape known as the Seahorse Nebula appears in silhouette against a rich, luminous background of stars. Seen toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus, the dusty, obscuring clouds are part of a Milky Way molecular cloud some 1,200 light-years distant. It is also listed as Barnard 150 (B150), one of 182 dark markings of the sky cataloged in the early 20th century by astronomer E. E. Barnard. Packs of low mass stars are forming within from collapsing cores only visible at long infrared wavelengths. Still, colorful stars in Cepheus add to the pretty, galactic skyscape. via NASA
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12 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 October 24 - Light Pillars over Whitefish Bay
What's happening in the sky? Unusual lights appeared last week to hover above Whitefish Bay on the eastern edge of Lake Superior between the USA and Canada. Unsure of the cause, the Michigan-based astrophotographer switched camera lenses -- from fisheye to telephoto -- and soon realized he was seeing light pillars: vertical lines of light over a ground source that reflect from falling ice crystals. As the ground temperature was above freezing, the flat crystals likely melted as they approached the ground, creating a lower end to the vertical light pillars. The red ground lights originated from wind turbines on Ile Parisienne, a Canadian Island visible across the bay. via NASA
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12 weeks ago
APOD: 2018 October 22 - Apollo 12 Visits Surveyor 3
Apollo 12 was the second mission to land humans on the Moon. The landing site was picked to be near the location of Surveyor 3, a robot spacecraft that had landed on the Moon three years earlier. In the featured photograph, taken by lunar module pilot Alan Bean, mission commander Pete Conrad jiggles the Surveyor spacecraft to see how firmly it is situated. The lunar module is visible in the distance. Apollo 12 brought back many photographs and moon rocks. Among the milestones achieved by Apollo 12 was the deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, which carried out many experiments including one that measured the solar wind. via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 21 - Meteor, Comet, and Seagull (Nebula)
A meteor, a comet, and a photogenic nebula have all been captured in this single image. The closest and most fleeting is the streaking meteor on the upper right -- it was visible for less than a second. The meteor, which disintegrated in Earth's atmosphere, was likely a small bit of debris from the nucleus of Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, coincidentally the comet captured in the same image. Comet 21P, pictured across the inner Solar System from Earth, is distinctive for its long dust tail spread horizontally across the image center. This comet has been visible with binoculars for the past few months but is now fading as it heads back out to the orbit of Jupiter. Farthest out at 3,500 light years distant is the IC 2177, the Seagull Nebula, visible on the left. The comparatively vast Seagull Nebula, with a wingspan on order 250 light-years, will likely remain visible for hundreds of thousands of years. Long exposures, taken about two weeks ago from Iwaki-City in Japan, were combined to capture the image's faintest elements. You, too, could see a meteor like this -- and perhaps sooner than you might think: tonight is the peak of the Orionids meteor shower. via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 20 - Halo of the Cat s Eye
Not a Falcon 9 rocket launch after sunset, the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae in the sky. Its haunting symmetries are seen in the very central region of this composited picture, processed to reveal an enormous but extremely faint halo of gaseous material, over three light-years across. Made with data from ground- and space-based telescopes it shows the extended emission which surrounds the brighter, familiar planetary nebula. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a sun-like star. But only more recently have some planetaries been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the outer filamentary portions of this halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years old. via NASA
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october 2018
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On October 10, a new telescope reflected the light of the setting Sun. With dark horizon above and sunset colors below, its segmented mirror inverts an image of the beautiful evening sky in this snapshot from the Roque del Los Muchachos Observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma. The mirror segments cover a 23 meter diameter and are mounted in the open structure of the Large Scale Telescope 1, inaugurated as the first component of the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). Most ground-based telescopes are hindered by the atmosphere that blurs, scatters, and absorbs light. But cherenkov telescopes are designed to detect very high energy gamma rays and actually require the atmosphere to operate. As the gamma rays impact the upper atmosphere they produce air showers of high-energy particles. A large, fast camera at the common focus images the brief flashes of optical light, called Cherenkov light, created by the air shower particles. The flashes reveal the incoming gamma ray timing, direction, and energy. Ultimately more than 100 Cherenkov telescopes are planned for the CTA at locations in both northern and southern hemispheres on planet Earth. via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 17 - M15: Dense Globular Star Cluster
Messier 15 is an immense swarm of over 100,000 stars. A 13 billion year old relic of the early formative years of our galaxy it's one of about 170 globular star clusters that still roam the halo of the Milky Way. Centered in this sharp telescopic view, M15 lies about 35,000 light years away toward the constellation Pegasus, well beyond the spiky foreground stars. Its diameter is about 200 light-years. But more than half its stars are packed into the central 10 light-years or so, one of the densest concentrations of stars known. Hubble-based measurements of the increasing velocities of M15's central stars are evidence that a massive black hole resides at the center of dense globular cluster M15. via NASA
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october 2018
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Jupiter looks a bit different in ultraviolet light. To better interpret Jupiter's cloud motions and to help NASA's robotic Juno spacecraft understand the planetary context of the small fields that it sees, the Hubble Space Telescope is being directed to regularly image the entire Jovian giant. The colors of Jupiter being monitored go beyond the normal human visual range to include both ultraviolet and infrared light. Featured from 2017, Jupiter appears different in near ultraviolet light, partly because the amount of sunlight reflected back is distinct, giving differing cloud heights and latitudes discrepant brightnesses. In the near UV, Jupiter's poles appear relatively dark, as does its Great Red Spot and a smaller (optically) white oval to the right. The String of Pearl storms farther to the right, however, are brightest in near ultraviolet, and so here appear (false-color) pink. Jupiter's largest moon Ganymede appears on the upper left. Juno continues on its looping 53-day orbits around Jupiter, while Earth-orbiting Hubble is now recovering from the loss of a stabilizing gyroscope. via NASA
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october 2018
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From afar, the whole thing looks like an Eagle. 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. Already visible are several young bright blue stars whose light and winds are burning away and pushing back the remaining filaments and walls of gas and dust. The Eagle emission nebula, tagged M16, lies about 6500 light years away, spans about 20 light-years, and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of the Serpent (Serpens). This picture involved over 25 hours of imaging and combines three specific emitted colors emitted by sulfur (colored as red), hydrogen (yellow), and oxygen (blue). via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 14 - Orion in Red and Blue
When did Orion become so flashy? This colorful rendition of part of the constellation of Orion comes from red light emitted by hydrogen and sulfur (SII), and blue-green light emitted by oxygen (OIII). Hues on the featured image were then digitally reassigned to be indicative of their elemental origins -- but also striking to the human eye. The breathtaking composite was painstakingly composed from hundreds of images which took nearly 200 hours to collect. Pictured, Barnard's Loop, across the image bottom, appears to cradle interstellar constructs including the intricate Orion Nebula seen just right of center. The Flame Nebula can also be quickly located, but it takes a careful eye to identify the slight indentation of the dark Horsehead Nebula. As to Orion's flashiness -- a leading explanation for the origin of Barnard's Loop is a supernova blast that occurred about two million years ago. via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 12 - The Falcon 9 Nebula
Not the Hubble Space Telescope's latest view of a distant planetary nebula, this illuminated cloud of gas and dust dazzled even casual U.S. west coast skygazers on October 7. Taken about three miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the image follows plumes and exhaust from the first and second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rising through southern California's early evening skies. In the fading twilight, the reddish smoke drifting in the foreground at the right is from the initial ascent of the rocket. The expanding blue and orange filamentary plumes are from first and second stage separation and the first stage boostback burn, still in sunlight at extreme altitudes. But the bright spot below center is the second stage itself headed almost directly away from the camera, accelerating to orbital velocity and far downrange. Pulsed thrusters form the upside down V-shape at the top as they guide the reusable Falcon 9 first stage back to the landing site. via NASA
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october 2018
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch dazzled viewers along the U.S. west coast after sunset on October 7. Rising from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, planet Earth, the Falcon 9's first stage then returned to a landing zone some 400 meters from the launch site less than 8 minutes after liftoff. Both launch and first stage landing (left) are captured in the frame of this two image stack, recorded by a stationary, sound-activated camera set up on a nearby hill. This Falcon 9 rocket delivered its payload, an Earth-observing satellite developed by Argentina's national space agency, to low Earth orbit. Of course, the Falcon 9 first stage had flown before. Following a launch from Vandenberg on July 25 it was recovered after landing on the autonomous drone ship Just Read the Instructions. via NASA
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october 2018
APOD: 2018 October 10 - Sun Dance
Sometimes, the surface of our Sun seems to dance. In the middle of 2012, for example, NASA's Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft imaged an impressive prominence that seemed to perform a running dive roll like an acrobatic dancer. The dramatic explosion was captured in ultraviolet light in the featured time-lapse video covering about three hours. A looping magnetic field directed the flow of hot plasma on the Sun. The scale of the dancing prominence is huge -- the entire Earth would easily fit under the flowing arch of hot gas. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. The energy mechanism that creates a solar prominence is still a topic of research. Unlike 2012, this year the Sun's surface is significantly more serene, featuring fewer spinning prominences, as it is near the minimum in its 11-year magnetic cycle. via NASA
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october 2018
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Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, featured here, was captured in spectacular detail in an image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), is being studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions. via NASA
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october 2018
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