DART: Impact on Asteroid Dimorphos

Could humanity deflect an asteroid headed for Earth? Yes. Deadly impacts from large asteroids have happened before in Earth’s past, sometimes causing mass extinctions of life. To help protect our Earth from some potential future impacts, NASA tested a new planetary defense mechanism yesterday by crashing the robotic Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into Dimorphos, a small asteroid spanning about 170-meters across. As shown in the featured video, the impact was a success. Ideally, if impacted early enough, even the kick from a small spacecraft can deflect a large asteroid enough to miss the Earth. In the video, DART is seen in a time-lapse video first passing larger Didymos, on the left, and then approaching the smaller Dimorphos. Although the video ends abruptly with DART’s crash, observations monitoring the changed orbit of Dimorphos — from spacecraft and telescopes around the world — have just begun. via NASA

All the Water on Planet Earth

How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. The next smallest ball depicts all of Earth’s liquid fresh water, while the tiniest ball shows the volume of all of Earth’s fresh-water lakes and rivers. How any of this water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth’s surface remain topics of research. via NASA

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 is in scientifically re-assigned colors and was taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. via NASA

September Sunrise Shadows

The defining astronomical moment for this September’s equinox was on Friday, September 23, 2022 at 01:03 UTC, when the Sun crossed the celestial equator moving south in its yearly journey through planet Earth’s sky. That marked the beginning of fall for our fair planet in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere, when day and night are nearly equal around the globe. Of course, if you celebrate the astronomical change of seasons by watching a sunrise you can also look for crepuscular rays. The shadows cast by clouds can have a dramatic appearance in the twilight sky during any sunrise or sunset. Due to perspective, the parallel shadows will seem to point back to the rising Sun and a place due east on your horizon near the equinox date. Taken on September 15, this sunrise sea and skyscape captured crepuscular rays in the sky and watery specular reflections from the Mediterranean coast near the village of Petacciato, Italy. via NASA

Ringed Ice Giant Neptune

Ringed, ice giant Neptune lies near the center of this sharp near-infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope. The dim and distant world is the farthest planet from the Sun, about 30 times farther away than planet Earth. But in the stunning Webb view the planet’s dark and ghostly appearance is due to atmospheric methane that absorbs infrared light. High altitude clouds that reach above most of Neptune’s absorbing methane easily stand out in the image though. Coated with frozen nitrogen, Neptune’s largest moon Triton is brighter than Neptune in reflected sunlight and is seen at upper left sporting the Webb’s characteristic diffraction spikes. Including Triton, seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons can be identified in the field of view. Neptune’s faint rings are striking in this new space-based planetary portrait. Details of the complex ring system are seen here for the first time since Neptune was visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in August 1989. via NASA

NGC 7331 Close Up

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier’s famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy’s disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. This Hubble Space Telescope close-up spans some 40,000 light-years. The galaxy’s magnificent spiral arms feature dark obscuring dust lanes, bright bluish clusters of massive young stars, and the telltale reddish glow of active star forming regions. The bright yellowish central regions harbor populations of older, cooler stars. Like the Milky Way, a supermassive black hole lies at the core of spiral galaxy NGC 7331. via NASA

The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble

While drifting through the cosmos, a magnificent interstellar dust cloud became sculpted by stellar winds and radiation to assume a recognizable shape. Fittingly named the Horsehead Nebula, it is embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula (M42). A potentially rewarding but difficult object to view personally with a small telescope, the featured gorgeously detailed image was taken in infrared light by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light years distant, is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is seen above primarily because it is backlit by the nearby massive star Sigma Orionis. The Horsehead Nebula will slowly shift its apparent shape over the next few million years and will eventually be destroyed by high energy starlight. via NASA

Perseverance in Jezero Crater s Delta

The Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z captured images to create this mosaic on August 4, 2022. The car-sized robot was continuing its exploration of the fan-shaped delta of a river that, billions of years ago, flowed into Jezero Crater on Mars. Sedimentary rocks preserved in Jezero’s delta are considered one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life and sites recently sampled by the rover, dubbed Wildcat Ridge and Skinner Ridge, are at lower left and upper right in the frame. The samples taken from these areas were sealed inside ultra-clean sample tubes, ultimately intended for return to Earth by future missions. Starting with the Pathfinder Mission and Mars Global Surveyor in 1997, the last 25 years of a continuous robotic exploration of the Red Planet has included orbiters, landers, rovers, and a helicopter from planet Earth. via NASA

The Tarantula Zone

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 magnificent view, an assembly of image data from large space- and ground-based telescopes. 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, at lower right. The rich field of view spans about 2 degrees or 4 full moons, in the southern constellation Dorado. But were the Tarantula Nebula closer, say 1,500 light-years distant like the Milky Way’s own star forming Orion Nebula, it would take up half the sky. via NASA

Harvest Moon over Sicily

For northern hemisphere dwellers, September’s Full Moon was the Harvest Moon. Reflecting warm hues at sunset it rises over the historic town of Castiglione di Sicilia in this telephoto view from September 9. Famed in festival, story, and song Harvest Moon is just the traditional name of the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. According to lore the name is a fitting one. Despite the diminishing daylight hours as the growing season drew to a close, farmers could harvest crops by the light of a full moon shining on from dusk to dawn. via NASA

Michigan Astronomy Observing