Tag Archives: NASA

Strawberry Supermoon from China

There are four Full Supermoons in 2022. Using the definition of a supermoon as a Full Moon near perigee, that is within at least 90% of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit, the year’s Full Supermoon dates are May 16, June 14, July 13, and August 12. Full Moons near perigee really are the brightest and largest in planet Earth’s sky. But size and brightness differences between Full Moons are relatively small and an actual comparison with other Full Moons is difficult to make by eye alone. Two exposures are blended in this supermoon and sky view from June 14. That Full Moon was also known to northern hemisphere skygazers as the Strawberry moon. The consecutive short and long exposures allow familiar features on the fully sunlit lunar nearside to be seen in the same image as a faint lunar corona and an atmospheric cloudscape. They were captured in skies over Chongqing, China. via NASA

In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster

The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky – about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured here, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarian’s Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right. via NASA

Satellites Behind Pinnacles

What are all those streaks across the background? Satellite trails. First, the foreground features picturesque rock mounds known as Pinnacles. Found in the Nambung National Park in Western Australia, these human-sized spires are made by unknown processes from ancient sea shells (limestone). Perhaps more eye-catching, though, is the sky behind. Created by low-Earth orbit satellites reflecting sunlight, all of these streaks were captured in less than two hours and digitally combined onto the single featured image, with the foreground taken consecutively by the same camera and from the same location. Most of the streaks were made by the developing Starlink constellation of communication satellites, but some are not. In general, the streaks are indicative of an increasing number of satellites nearly continuously visible above the Earth after dusk and before dawn. Understanding and removing the effects of satellite trails on images from Earth’s ground-based cameras and telescopes is now important not only for elegant astrophotography, but for humanity’s scientific understanding of the distant universe. via NASA

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy from Hubble

The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The featured image is a digital combination of images taken in different colors by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, highlighting many sharp features. Anyone with a good pair of binoculars, however, can see this Whirlpool toward the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51’s spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with the smaller galaxy on the image left. via NASA

Find the Man in the Moon

Have you ever seen the Man in the Moon? This common question plays on the ability of humans to see pareidolia — imagining familiar icons where they don’t actually exist. The textured surface of Earth’s full Moon is home to numerous identifications of iconic objects, not only in modern western culture but in world folklore throughout history. Examples, typically dependent on the Moon’s perceived orientation, include the Woman in the Moon and the Rabbit in the Moon. One facial outline commonly identified as the Man in the Moon starts by imagining the two dark circular areas — lunar maria — here just above the Moon’s center, to be the eyes. Surprisingly, there actually is a man in this Moon image — a close look will reveal a real person — with a telescope — silhouetted against the Moon. This featured well-planned image was taken in 2016 in Cadalso de los Vidrios in Madrid, Spain. Do you have a favorite object that you see in the Moon? via NASA

The Road and the Milky Way

At night you can follow this road as it passes through the Dark Sky Alqueva reserve not too far from Alentejo, Portugal. Or you could stop, look up, and follow the Milky Way through the sky. Both stretch from horizon to horizon in this 180 degree panorama recorded on June 3. Our galaxy’s name, the Milky Way, does refer to its appearance as a milky path in the sky. The word galaxy itself derives from the Greek for milk. From our fair planet the arc of the Milky Way is most easily visible on moonless nights from dark sky areas, though not quite so bright or colorful as in this image. The glowing celestial band is due to the collective light of myriad stars along the galactic plane too faint to be distinguished individually. The diffuse starlight is cut by dark swaths of the galaxy’s obscuring interstellar dust clouds. Standing above the Milky Way arc near the top of this panoramic nightscape is bright star Vega, with the galaxy’s central bulge near the horizon at the right. via NASA

Arp 286: Trio in Virgo

This colorful telescopic field of view features a trio of interacting galaxies almost 90 million light-years away, toward the constellation Virgo. On the right two spiky, foreground Milky Way stars echo the extragalactic hues, a reminder that stars in our own galaxy are like those in distant island universes. With sweeping spiral arms and obscuring dust lanes, the dominant member of the trio, NGC 5566, is enormous, about 150,000 light-years across. Just above it lies smaller, bluish NGC 5569. Near center a third galaxy, NGC 5560, is apparently stretched and distorted by its interaction with massive NGC 5566. The trio is also included in Halton Arp’s 1966 Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies as Arp 286. Of course, such cosmic interactions are now appreciated as part of the evolution of galaxies. via NASA

Cosmic Clouds in Cygnus

These cosmic clouds of gas and dust drift through rich star fields along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the high flying constellation Cygnus. They’re too faint to be seen with the unaided eye though, even on a clear, dark night. Image data from a camera and telephoto lens using narrowband filters was used to construct this 10 degree wide field of view. The deep mosaic reveals a region that includes star forming dust clouds seen in silhouette against the characteristic glow of atomic hydrogen and oxygen gas. NGC 6888 is the standout emission nebula near the top. Blown by winds from an massive Wolf-Rayet star it’s about 25 light-years across and known as the Crescent Nebula. A faint bluish curl just below center in the frame is also the signature of a Wolf-Rayet star. Burning fuel at a prodigious rate and near the end of their stellar lives, both stars will ultimately go out with a bang in a spectacular supernova explosion. Toward the right, a massive, young O type star powers the glow of Sh2-101, the Tulip Nebula. via NASA

Ship Tracks over the Pacific Ocean

What are those unusual streaks? Some images of planet Earth show clear bright streaks that follow the paths of ships. Known as ship tracks, these low and narrow bands are caused by the ship’s engine exhaust. Water vapor condenses around small bits of exhaust known as aerosols, which soon grow into floating water drops that efficiently reflect sunlight. Ship tracks were first discovered in 1965 in Earth images taken by NASA’s TIROS satellites. Multiple ship tracks are visible across the featured image that was captured in 2009 over the Pacific Ocean by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. Inspired by ship-tracks, some scientists have suggested deploying a network of floating buoys in the worlds’ oceans that spray salt-aerosol containing sea-water into the air so that, with the help of the wind, streams of sunlight-reflecting clouds would also form. Why do this? These human-made clouds could reflect so much sunlight they might help fight global warming. via NASA

NGC 6188: Dragons of Ara

Do dragons fight on the altar of the sky? Although it might appear that way, these dragons are illusions made of thin gas and dust. The emission nebula NGC 6188, home to the glowing clouds, is found about 4,000 light years away near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara (the Altar). Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas, visible toward the lower right, is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region’s massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164’s striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star near the bottom edge. This impressively wide field of view spans over 2 degrees (four full Moons), corresponding to over 150 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188. via NASA