Tag Archives: NASA

La Silla Eclipse Sequence

The road to the high mountaintop La Silla Observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert also led in to the path of July 2nd’s total solar eclipse. Recorded at regular intervals before and after the total eclipse phase, the frames in this composite sequence include the moment the Moon’s dark shadow fell across some of planet Earth’s advanced large telescopes. The dreamlike view looks west toward the setting Sun and the approaching Moon shadow. In fact La Silla was a little north of the shadow track’s center line, so the region’s stunning, clear skies are slightly brighter to the north (right) in the scene. via NASA

In the Shadow of the Moon

On July 2 denizens of planet Earth could stand in the Moon’s dark umbral shadow during South America’s 2019 total solar eclipse. It first touched down in the Southern Pacific Ocean, east of New Zealand. Racing toward the east along a narrow track, the shadow of the Moon made landfall along the Chilean coast with the Sun low on the western horizon. Captured in the foreground here are long shadows still cast by direct sunlight though, in the final moments before totality began. While diffraction spikes are from the camera lens aperture, the almost totally eclipsed Sun briefly shone like a beautiful diamond ring in the clear, darkened sky. via NASA

Robotic Dragonfly Selected to Fly Across Titan

If you could fly across Titan, what would you see? To find out and to better explore this exotic moon of Saturn, NASA recently green-lighted Dragonfly, a mission to Titan with plans to deploy a helicopter-like drone. Saturn’s moon Titan is one of the largest moons in the Solar System and the only moon known to have a thick atmosphere and changing hydrocarbon lakes. After development, building, testing, and launch, Dragonfly is currently scheduled to reach Titan in 2034. The featured animated video envisions Dragonfly arriving at Titan, beginning its airborne exploration, landing to establishing a radio link back to Earth, and then continuing on to another trans-Titanian flight. It is hoped that Dragonfly will not only help humanity better understanding Titan’s weather, chemistry, and changing landscape, but also bolster humanity’s understanding of how life first developed on our young Earth. via NASA

The Big Corona

Most photographs don’t adequately portray the magnificence of the Sun’s corona. Seeing the corona first-hand during a total solar eclipse is unparalleled. The human eye can adapt to see coronal features and extent that average cameras usually cannot. Welcome, however, to the digital age. The featured central image digitally combined short and long exposures that were processed to highlight faint and extended features in the corona of the total solar eclipse that occurred in August of 2017. Clearly visible are intricate layers and glowing caustics of an ever changing mixture of hot gas and magnetic fields in the Sun’s corona. Looping prominences appear bright pink just past the Sun’s limb. Faint details on the night side of the New Moon can even be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from the dayside of the Full Earth. Images taken seconds before and after the total eclipse show glimpses of the background Sun known as Baily’s Beads and Diamond Ring. Tomorrow, a new total solar eclipse will be visible from parts of South America. via NASA

Virtual Flight over Asteroid Vesta

What would it be like to fly over the asteroid Vesta? Animators from the German Aerospace Center took actual images and height data from NASA’s Dawn mission when it visited asteroid Vesta a few years ago and generated a virtual movie. The featured video begins with a sequence above Divalia Fossa, an unusual pair of troughs running parallel over heavily cratered terrain. Next, the virtual spaceship explores Vesta’s 60-km Marcia Crater, showing numerous vivid details. Last, Dawn images were digitally recast with exaggerated height to better reveal Vesta’s 5-km high mountain Aricia Tholus. The second largest object in the Solar System’s asteroid belt, Vesta is the brightest asteroid visible from Earth and can be found with binoculars. Using Vesta Trek, you can explore all over Vesta yourself. via NASA

A Solstice Night in Paris

The night of June 21 was the shortest night for planet Earth’s northern latitudes, so at latitude 48.9 degrees north, Paris was no exception. Still, the City of Light had an exceptionally luminous evening. Its skies were flooded with silvery night shining or noctilucent clouds after the solstice sunset. Hovering at the edge of space, the icy condensations on meteoric dust or volcanic ash are still in full sunlight at the extreme altitudes of the mesophere. Seen at high latitudes in summer months, stunning, wide spread displays of northern noctilucent clouds are now being reported. via NASA

Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble

How do violent stars affect their surroundings? To help find out, astronomers created a 48-frame high-resolution, controlled-color panorama of the center of the Carina Nebula, one of the largest star forming regions on the night sky. The featured image, taken in 2007, was the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula yet taken. Cataloged as NGC 3372, the Carina Nebula is home to streams of hot gas, pools of cool gas, knots of dark globules, and pillars of dense dusty interstellar matter. The Keyhole Nebula, visible left of center, houses several of the most massive stars known. These large and violent stars likely formed in dark globules and continually reshape the nebula with their energetic light, outflowing stellar winds, and ultimately by ending their lives in supernova explosions. Visible to the unaided eye, the entire Carina Nebula spans over 450 light years and lies about 8,500 light-years away toward the constellation of Ship’s Keel (Carina). via NASA

Ares 3 Landing Site: The Martian Revisited

This close-up from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera shows weathered craters and windblown deposits in southern Acidalia Planitia. A striking shade of blue in standard HiRISE image colors, to the human eye the area would probably look grey or a little reddish. But human eyes have not gazed across this terrain, unless you count the eyes of NASA astronauts in the scifi novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The novel chronicles the adventures of Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded at the fictional Mars mission Ares 3 landing site corresponding to the coordinates of this cropped HiRISE frame. For scale Watney’s 6-meter-diameter habitat at the site would be about 1/10th the diameter of the large crater. Of course, the Ares 3 landing coordinates are only about 800 kilometers north of the (real life) Carl Sagan Memorial Station, the 1997 Pathfinder landing site. via NASA

Sunset Analemma

Today, the solstice is at 15:54 Universal Time, the Sun reaching the northernmost declination in its yearly journey through planet Earth’s sky. A June solstice marks the astronomical beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the south. It also brings the north’s longest day, the longest period between sunrise and sunset. In fact the June solstice sun is near the top, at the most northern point in the analemma or figure 8 curve traced by the position of the Sun in this composite photo. The analemma was created (video) from images taken every 10 days at the same time from June 21, 2018 and June 7, 2019. The time was chosen to be the year’s earliest sunset near the December solstice, so the analemma’s lowest point just kisses the unobstructed sea horizon at the left. Sunsets arranged along the horizon toward the right (north) are centered on the sunset at the September equinox and end with sunset at the June solstice. via NASA

A View Toward M106

Big, bright, beautiful spiral, Messier 106 dominates this cosmic vista. The nearly two degree wide telescopic field of view looks toward the well-trained constellation Canes Venatici, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 is about 80,000 light-years across and 23.5 million light-years away, the largest member of the Canes II galaxy group. For a far away galaxy, the distance to M106 is well-known in part because it can be directly measured by tracking this galaxy’s remarkable maser, or microwave laser emission. Very rare but naturally occurring, the maser emission is produced by water molecules in molecular clouds orbiting its active galactic nucleus. Another prominent spiral galaxy on the scene, viewed nearly edge-on, is NGC 4217 below and right of M106. The distance to NGC 4217 is much less well-known, estimated to be about 60 million light-years. via NASA