Tag Archives: NASA

Solar System Family Portrait

Yes, but have you ever seen all of the planets at once? A rare roll-call of planets has been occurring in the morning sky for much of June. The featured fisheye all-sky image, taken a few mornings ago near the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, caught not only the entire planet parade, but the Moon between Mars and Venus. In order, left to right along the ecliptic plane, members of this Solar System family portrait are Earth, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury, and Earth. To emphasize their locations, Neptune and Uranus have been artificially enhanced. The volcano just below Mercury is Licancabur. In July, Mercury will move into the Sun’s glare but reappear a few days later on the evening side. Then, in August, Saturn will drift past the direction opposite the Sun and so become visible at dusk instead of dawn. The next time that all eight planets will be simultaneously visible in a morning sky will be in 2122. via NASA

Mercury from Passing BepiColombo

Which part of the Moon is this? No part — because this is the planet Mercury. Mercury’s old surface is heavily cratered like that of Earth’s Moon. Mercury, while only slightly larger than Luna, is much denser and more massive than any Solar System moon because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, our Earth is the only planet more dense. Because Mercury rotates exactly three times for every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury’s orbit is so elliptical, visitors on Mercury could see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. From Earth, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun causes it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise. The featured image was captured last week by ESA and JAXA’s passing BepiColombo spacecraft as it sheds energy and prepares to orbit the innermost planet starting in 2025. via NASA

Planets of the Solar System

Simultaneous images from four cameras were combined to construct this atmospheric predawn skyscape. The cooperative astro-panorama captures all the planets of the Solar System, just before sunrise on June 24. That foggy morning found innermost planet Mercury close to the horizon but just visible against the twilight, below and left of brilliant Venus. Along with the waning crescent Moon, the other bright naked-eye planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie near the ecliptic, arcing up and to the right across the wide field of view. Binoculars would have been required to spot the much fainter planets Uranus and Neptune, though they also were along the ecliptic in the sky. In the foreground are excavations at an ancient Roman villa near Marina di San Nicola, Italy, planet Earth. via NASA

Filaprom on the Western Limb

A solar filament is an enormous stream of incandescent plasma suspended above the active surface of the Sun by looping magnetic fields. Seen against the solar disk it looks dark only because it’s a little cooler, and so slightly dimmer, than the solar photosphere. Suspended above the solar limb the same structure looks bright when viewed against the blackness of space and is called a solar prominence. A filaprom would be both of course, a stream of magnetized plasma that crosses in front of the solar disk and extends beyond the Sun’s edge. In this hydrogen-alpha close-up of the Sun captured on June 22, active region AR3038 is near the center of the frame. Active region AR3032 is seen at the far right, close to the Sun’s western limb. As AR3032 is carried by rotation toward the Sun’s visible edge, what was once a giant filament above it is now partly seen as a prominence, How big is AR3032’s filaprom? For scale planet Earth is shown near the top right corner. via NASA

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744

Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo but appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy’s elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past smaller satellite galaxy NGC 6744A at the lower right. NGC 6744’s galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. via NASA

Supernova Remnant: The Veil Nebula

Ten thousand years ago, before the dawn of recorded human history, a new light would have suddenly have appeared in the night sky and faded after a few weeks. Today we know this light was from a supernova, or exploding star, and record the expanding debris cloud as the Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant. Imaged with color filters featuring light emitted by sulfur (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue), this deep wide-angle view was processed to remove the stars and so better capture the impressive glowing filaments of the Veil. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula is roughly circular in shape and covers nearly 3 degrees on the sky toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). Famous nebular sections include the Bat Nebula, the Witch’s Broom Nebula, and Fleming’s Triangular Wisp. The complete supernova remnant lies about 1,400 light-years away. via NASA

Analemma over Taipei

Does the Sun return to the same spot on the sky every day? No. A better and more visual answer to that question is an analemma, a composite of images taken at the same time and from the same place over the course of a year. The featured analemma was compiled at 4:30 pm many afternoons from Taiwan during 2021, with the city skyline of Taipei in the foreground, including tall Taipei 101. The Sun’s location in December — at the December solstice — is shown on the far left, while its location at the June solstice is captured on the far right. Also shown are the positions of the Sun throughout the rest of the day on the solstices and equinoxes. Today is the June solstice of 2022, the day in Earth’s northern hemisphere when the Sun spends the longest time in the sky. In many countries, today marks the official beginning of a new season, for example winter in Earth’s southern hemisphere. via NASA

Rock Fingers on Mars

There, just right of center, what is that? The surface of Mars keeps revealing new surprises with the recent discovery of finger-like rock spires. The small nearly-vertical rock outcrops were imaged last month by the robotic Curiosity rover on Mars. Although similar in size and shape to small snakes, the leading explanation for their origin is as conglomerations of small minerals left by water flowing through rock crevices. After these relatively dense minerals filled the crevices, they were left behind when the surrounding rock eroded away. Famous rock outcrops on Earth with a similar origin are called hoodoos. NASA’s Curiosity Rover continues to search for new signs of ancient water in Gale Crater on Mars, while also providing a geologic background important for future human exploration. via NASA

The Gamma Cygni Nebula

Supergiant star Gamma Cygni is at the center of the Northern Cross. Near the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, that famous asterism flies high in northern summer night skies in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Known by the proper name Sadr, Gamma Cygni also lies just below center in this telescopic skyscape, with colors mapped from both broadband and narrowband image data. The field of view spans about 3 degrees (six Full Moons) on the sky and includes emission nebula IC 1318 and open star cluster NGC 6910. Filling the upper part of the frame and shaped like two glowing cosmic wings divided by a long dark dust lane, IC 1318’s popular name is understandably the Butterfly Nebula. Right of Gamma Cygni, are the young, still tightly grouped stars of NGC 6910. The distance to Gamma Cygni is around 560 parsecs or 1,800 light-years. Estimates for IC 1318 and NGC 6910 range from 2,000 to 5,000 light-years. via NASA

Good Morning Planets from Chile

On June 15, innermost planet Mercury had wandered about as far from the Sun as it ever gets in planet Earth’s sky. Near the eastern horizon just before sunrise it stands over distant Andes mountain peaks in this predawn snapshot from the valley of Rio Hurtado in Chile. June’s other morning planets are arrayed above it, as all the naked-eye planets of the Solar System stretch in a line along the ecliptic in the single wide-field view. Tilted toward the north, the Solar System’s ecliptic plane arcs steeply through southern hemisphere skies. Northern hemisphere early morning risers will see the lineup of planets along the ecliptic at a shallower angle tilting toward the south. From both hemispheres June’s beautiful morning planetary display finds the visible planets in order of their increasing distance from the Sun. via NASA