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To see the feathered serpent descend the Mayan pyramid requires exquisite timing. You must visit El Castillo — in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula — near an equinox. Then, during the late afternoon if the sky is clear, the pyramid’s own shadows create triangles that merge into the famous illusion of a slithering viper. Also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, the impressive step-pyramid stands 30 meters tall and 55 meters wide at the base. Built up as a series of square terraces by the pre-Columbian civilization between the 9th and 12th century, the structure can be used as a calendar and is noted for astronomical alignments. The featured composite image was captured in 2019 with Jupiter and Saturn straddling the diagonal central band of our Milky Way galaxy. Tomorrow marks another equinox — not only at Temple of Kukulcán, but all over planet Earth. via NASA

Wolf Rayet 124

Driven by powerful stellar winds, expanding shrouds of gas and dust frame hot, luminous star Wolf-Rayet 124 in this sharp infrared view. The eye-catching 6-spike star pattern is characteristic of stellar images made with the 18 hexagonal mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope. About 15,000 light-years distant toward the pointed northern constellation Sagitta, WR 124 has over 30 times the mass of the Sun. Produced in a brief and rarely spotted phase of massive star evolution in the Milky Way, this star’s turbulent nebula is nearly 6 light-years across. It heralds WR 124’s impending stellar death in a supernova explosion. Formed in the expanding nebula, dusty interstellar debris that survives the supernova will influence the formation of future generations of stars. via NASA

This was a sky to show the kids. Early this month the two brightest planets in the night sky, Jupiter and Venus, appeared to converge. At their closest, the two planets were separated by only about the angular width of the full moon. The spectacle occurred just after sunset and was seen and photographed all across planet Earth. The displayed image was taken near to the time of closest approach from Wiltingen, Germany, and features the astrophotographer, spouse, and their two children. Of course, Venus remains much closer to both the Sun and the Earth than Jupiter — the apparent closeness between the planets in the sky of Earth was only angular. Jupiter and Venus have passed and now appear increasingly far apart. Similar planetary convergence opportunities will eventually arise. In a few months, for example, Mars and Venus will appear to congregate just as the Sun sets. via NASA

Stars are forming in the Soul of the Queen of Aethopia. More specifically, a large star forming region called the Soul Nebula can be found in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia, whom Greek mythology credits as the vain wife of a King who long ago ruled lands surrounding the upper Nile river. Also known as Westerhout 5 (W5), the Soul Nebula houses several open clusters of stars, ridges and pillars darkened by cosmic dust, and huge evacuated bubbles formed by the winds of young massive stars. Located about 6,500 light years away, the Soul Nebula spans about 100 light years and is usually imaged next to its celestial neighbor the Heart Nebula (IC 1805). The featured image is a composite of exposures made in different colors: red as emitted by hydrogen gas, yellow as emitted by sulfur, and blue as emitted by oxygen. via NASA

What lies at the end of a rainbow? Something different for everyone. For the photographer taking this picture, for example, one end of the rainbow ended at a tree. Others nearby, though, would likely see the rainbow end somewhere else. The reason is because a rainbow’s position depends on the observer. The center of a rainbow always appears in the direction opposite the Sun, but that direction lines up differently on the horizon from different locations. This rainbow’s arc indicates that its center is about 40 degrees to the left and slightly below the horizon, while the Sun is well behind the camera and just above the horizon. Reflections and refractions of sunlight from raindrops in a distant storm in the direction of the rainbow are what causes the colorful bands of light. This single exposure image was captured in early January near Knight’s Ferry, California, USA. via NASA

What lies at the bottom of Hyperion’s strange craters? To help find out, the robot Cassini spacecraft that once orbited Saturn swooped past the sponge-textured moon and took images of unprecedented detail. A six-image mosaic from the 2005 pass, featured here in scientifically assigned colors, shows a remarkable world strewn with strange craters and an odd, sponge-like surface. At the bottom of most craters lies some type of unknown dark reddish material. This material appears similar to that covering part of another of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus, and might sink into the ice moon as it better absorbs warming sunlight. Hyperion is about 250 kilometers across, rotates chaotically, and has a density so low that it likely houses a vast system of caverns inside. via NASA

3D Bennu

Put on your red/blue glasses and float next to asteroid 101955 Bennu. Shaped like a spinning toy top with boulders littering its rough surface, the tiny Solar System world is about one Empire State Building (less than 500 meters) across. Frames used to construct this 3D anaglyph were taken by PolyCam on the OSIRIS_REx spacecraft on December 3, 2018 from a distance of about 80 kilometers. With a sample from the asteroid’s rocky surface on board, OSIRIS_REx departed Bennu’s vicinity in May of 2021 and is now enroute to planet Earth. The robotic spacecraft is scheduled to return the sample to Earth this September. via NASA

Orion and the Running Man

Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like The Great Nebula in Orion. Visible as a faint celestial smudge to the naked-eye, the nearest large star-forming region sprawls across this sharp telescopic image, recorded on a cold January night in dark skies from West Virginia, planet Earth. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula’s glowing gas surrounds hot, young stars. About 40 light-years across, it lies at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away within the same spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy as the Sun. Along with dusty bluish reflection nebula NGC 1977 and friends near the top of the frame, the eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of our galactic neighborhood’s wealth of star-forming material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant solar systems. via NASA

DART vs Dimorphos

On the first planetary defense test mission from planet Earth, the DART spacecraft captured this close-up on 26 September 2022, three seconds before slamming into the surface of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos. The spacecraft’s outline with two long solar panels is traced at its projected point of impact between two boulders. The larger boulder is about 6.5 meters across. While the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft had a mass of some 570 kilograms, the estimated mass of Dimorphos, the smaller member of a near-Earth binary asteroid system, was about 5 billion kilograms. The direct kinetic impact of the spacecraft measurably altered the speed of Dimorphos by a fraction of a percent, reducing its 12 hour orbital period around its larger companion asteroid 65803 Didymos by about 33 minutes. Beyond successfully demonstrating a technique to change an asteroid’s orbit that can prevent future asteroid strikes on planet Earth, the planetary-scale impact experiment has given the 150-meter-sized Dimorphos a comet-like tail of material. via NASA

Where have all the dim stars gone? From many places on the Earth including major cities, the night sky has been reduced from a fascinating display of thousands of stars to a diffuse glow through which only a few stars are visible. The featured map indicates the relative amount of light pollution that occurs across the Earth. The cause of the pollution is artificial light reflecting off molecules and aerosols in the atmosphere. Parts of the Eastern United States and Western Europe colored red, for example, have an artificial night sky glow over ten times that of the natural sky. In any area marked orange or red, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy is no longer visible. The International Dark Sky Association suggests common types of fixtures that provide relatively little amounts of light pollution. via NASA