Tag Archives: NASA

Stardust in the Perseus Molecular Cloud

Clouds of stardust drift through this deep skyscape, across the Perseus molecular cloud some 850 light-years away. Dusty nebulae reflecting light from embedded young stars stand out in the nearly 2 degree wide telescopic field of view. With a characteristic bluish color reflection nebula NGC 1333 is at center, vdB 13 at top right, with rare yellowish reflection nebula vdB 12 near the top of the frame. Stars are forming in the molecular cloud, though most are obscured at visible wavelengths by the pervasive dust. Still, hints of contrasting red emission from Herbig-Haro objects, the jets and shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars, are evident in NGC 1333. The chaotic environment may be similar to one in which our own Sun formed over 4.5 billion years ago. At the estimated distance of the Perseus molecular cloud, this cosmic scene would span about 40 light-years. via NASA

The Surface of Venus from Venera 13

If you could stand on Venus — what would you see? Pictured is the view from Venera 13, a robotic Soviet lander which parachuted and air-braked down through the thick Venusian atmosphere in March of 1982. The desolate landscape it saw included flat rocks, vast empty terrain, and a featureless sky above Phoebe Regio near Venus’ equator. On the lower left is the spacecraft’s penetrometer used to make scientific measurements, while the light piece on the right is part of an ejected lens-cap. Enduring temperatures near 450 degrees Celsius and pressures 75 times that on Earth, the hardened Venera spacecraft lasted only about two hours. Although data from Venera 13 was beamed across the inner Solar System almost 40 years ago, digital processing and merging of Venera’s unusual images continues even today. Recent analyses of infrared measurements taken by ESA’s orbiting Venus Express spacecraft indicate that active volcanoes may currently exist on Venus. via NASA

IC 1318: The Butterfly Nebula in Gas and Dust

In the constellation of the swan near the nebula of the pelican lies the gas cloud of the butterfly next to a star known as the hen. That star, given the proper name Sadr, is just to the right of the featured frame, but the central Butterfly Nebula, designated IC 1318, is shown in high resolution. The intricate patterns in the bright gas and dark dust are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. The featured telescopic view captures IC 1318’s characteristic emission from ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms mapped to the red, green, and blue hues of the popular Hubble Palette. The portion of the Butterfly Nebula pictured spans about 100 light years and lies about 4000 light years away. via NASA

Meteor Fireballs in Light and Sound

Yes, but have you ever heard a meteor? Usually, meteors are too far away to make any audible sound. However, a meteor will briefly create an ionization trail that can reflect a distant radio signal. If the geometry is right, you may momentarily hear — through your radio — a distant radio station even over static. In the featured video, the sounds of distant radio transmitters were caught reflecting from large meteor trails by a sensitive radio receiver — at the same time the bright streaks were captured by an all-sky video camera. In the video, the bright paths taken by four fireballs across the sky near Lamy, New Mexico, USA, are shown first. Next, after each static frame, a real-time video captures each meteor streaking across the sky, now paired with the sound recorded from its radio reflection. Projecting a meteor trail down to the Earth may lead to finding its impact site (if any), while projecting its trail back into the sky may lead to identifying its parent comet or asteroid. via NASA

A Flag Shaped Aurora over Sweden

It appeared, momentarily, like a 50-km tall banded flag. In mid-March of 2015, an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection directed toward a clear magnetic channel to Earth led to one of the more intense geomagnetic storms of recent years. A visual result was wide spread auroras being seen over many countries near Earth’s magnetic poles. Captured over Kiruna, Sweden, the image features an unusually straight auroral curtain with the green color emitted low in the Earth’s atmosphere, and red many kilometers higher up. It is unclear where the rare purple aurora originates, but it might involve an unusual blue aurora at an even lower altitude than the green, seen superposed with a much higher red. Now past Solar Minimum, colorful nights of auroras over Earth are likely to increase. via NASA

SuperCam Target on Maaz

What’s the sound of one laser zapping? There’s no need to consult a Zen master to find out, just listen to the first acoustic recording of laser shots on Mars. On Perseverance mission sol 12 (March 2) the SuperCam instrument atop the rover’s mast zapped a rock dubbed Ma’az 30 times from a range of about 3.1 meters. Its microphone recorded the soft staccato popping sounds of the rapid series of SuperCam laser zaps. Shockwaves created in the thin martian atmosphere as bits of rock are vaporized by the laser shots make the popping sounds, sounds that offer clues to the physical structure of the target. This SuperCam close-up of the Ma’az target region is 6 centimeters (2.3 inches) across. Ma’az means Mars in the Navajo language. via NASA

Messier 81

One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth’s sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful Messier 81. Also known as NGC 3031 or Bode’s galaxy for its 18th century discoverer, this grand spiral can be found toward the northern constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The sharp, detailed telescopic view reveals M81’s bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, pinkish starforming regions, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes. Some dust lanes actually run through the galactic disk (left of center), contrary to other prominent spiral features though. The errant dust lanes may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and the nearby galaxy M82 lurking outside of this frame. M81’s faint, dwarf irregular satellite galaxy, Holmberg IX, can be seen just below the large spiral. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded a well-determined distance for an external galaxy — 11.8 million light-years. via NASA

Zodiacal Light and Mars

Just after sunset on March 7, a faint band of light still reaches above the western horizon in this serene, rural Illinois, night skyscape. Taken from an old farmstead, the luminous glow is zodiacal light, prominent in the west after sunset during planet Earth’s northern hemisphere spring. On that clear evening the band of zodiacal light seems to engulf bright yellowish Mars and the Pleiades star cluster. Their close conjunction is in the starry sky above the old barn’s roof. Zodiacal light is sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust particles that lie near the Solar System’s ecliptic plane. Of course all the Solar System’s planets orbit near the plane of the ecliptic, within the band of zodiacal light. But zodiacal light and Mars may have a deeper connection. A recent analysis of serendipitous detections of interplanetary dust by the Juno spacecraft during its Earth to Jupiter voyage suggest Mars is the likely source of the dust that produces zodiacal light. via NASA

NGC 1499: The California Nebula

Could Queen Calafia’s mythical island exist in space? Perhaps not, but by chance the outline of this molecular space cloud echoes the outline of the state of California, USA. Our Sun has its home within the Milky Way’s Orion Arm, only about 1,000 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

Three Tails of Comet NEOWISE

What created the unusual red tail in Comet NEOWISE? Sodium. A spectacular sight back in the summer of 2020, Comet NEOWISE, at times, displayed something more than just a surprisingly striated white dust tail and a pleasingly patchy blue ion tail. Some color sensitive images showed an unusual red tail, and analysis showed much of this third tail’s color was emitted by sodium. Gas rich in sodium atoms might have been liberated from Comet NEOWISE’s warming nucleus in early July by bright sunlight, electrically charged by ultraviolet sunlight, and then pushed out by the solar wind. The featured image was captured in mid-July from Brittany, France and shows the real colors. Sodium comet tails have been seen before but are rare — this one disappeared by late July. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has since faded, lost all of its bright tails, and now approaches the orbit of Jupiter as it heads back to the outer Solar System, to return only in about 7,000 years. via NASA