Tag Archives: NASA

Southern Jupiter from Perijove 3

Southern Jupiter looms some 37,000 kilometers away in this JunoCam image from December 11. The image data was captured near Juno’s third perijove or closest approach to Jupiter, the spacecraft still in its 53 day long looping orbit. With the south polar region on the left, the large whitish oval toward the right is massive, counterclockwise rotating storm system. Smaller than the more famous Great Red Spot, the oval storm is only about half the diameter of planet Earth, one of a string of white ovals currently in the southern hemisphere of the Solar System’s, ruling gas giant. via NASA

Meteors over Four Girl Mountains

On some nights it rains meteors. Peaking over the next two nights, asteroid dust is expected to rain down on Earth during the annual Geminids meteor shower. This year, unfortunately, fainter Geminids will be harder to see because of the brightness of the Long Nights Full Moon, which occurs Wednesday. Pictured, an image from this year’s Perseids meteor shower in August captured multiple streaks over Four Girls Mountain in central China. The bright Pleaides open star cluster appears toward the upper right, while numerous emission nebulas are visible in red, many superposed on the diagonal band of the Milky Way. via NASA

Over Saturns Turbulent North Pole

The Cassini spacecraft’s Grand Finale at Saturn has begun. The Grand Finale will allow Cassini to explore Saturn and some of Saturn’s moons and rings in unprecedented detail. The first phase started two weeks ago when a close flyby of Titan changed Cassini’s orbit into one that passes near Saturn’s poles and just outside of Saturn’s outermost F-ring. Featured here is an image taken during the first of Cassini’s 20 week-long F-ring orbits around Saturn. Visible are the central polar vortex on the upper left, a hexagonal cloud boundary through the image center, and numerous light-colored turbulent storm systems. In 2017 April, Cassini will again use the gravity of Titan to begin a new series of 22 Proximal orbits — trajectories that will take Cassini inside of Saturn’s rings for the first time. Cassini’s new science adventure is scheduled to end on 2017 September 17, though, when the robotic spacecraft will be directed into a dramatic mission-ending dive into Saturn’s atmosphere. via NASA

The Extraordinary Spiral in LL Pegasi

What created the strange spiral structure on the left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars. via NASA

The Lunar X

The striking X appearing in this lunarscape is easily visible in binoculars or a small telescope. Yet, not too many have seen it. The catch is this lunar X is fleeting, only apparent in the hours before the Moon’s first quarter phase. At the terminator, or shadow line between lunar day and night, the X illusion is produced by a configuration of the craters Blanchinus, La Caille and Purbach. Near the Moon’s first quarter phase, an astronaut standing close to the craters’ position would see the slowly rising Sun very near the horizon. Temporarily, the crater walls would be in sunlight while the crater floors were still in darkness. Seen from planet Earth, contrasting sections of bright walls against the dark floors by chance look remarkably like an X. This sharp image of the Lunar X was captured at approximately 16:45 UT on December 6, 2016. For extra credit, sweep your gaze along the lunar terminator and you can also spot the Lunar V. via NASA

Aurora over Jupiters South Pole from Juno

Why is there a glowing oval over Jupiter’s South Pole? Aurora. Near the closest part of its first pass near Jupiter in August, NASA’s robotic spacecraft Juno captured this dramatic infrared image of a bright auroral ring. Auroras are caused by high energy particles from the Sun interacting with a planet’s magnetic field, and ovals around magnetic poles are common. Data from Juno are giving preliminary indications that Jupiter’s magnetic field and aurorae are unexpectedly powerful and complex. Unfortunately, a computer glitch caused Juno to go into safe mode during its last pass near the Jovian giant in September. That glitch has now been resolved, making Juno ready for its next pass over Jupiter’s cloud tops this coming Sunday. via NASA

Lightning over Colorado

Have you ever watched a lightning storm in awe? Join the crowd. Oddly, nobody knows exactly how lightning is produced. What is known is that charges slowly separate in some clouds causing rapid electrical discharges (lightning), but how electrical charges get separated in clouds remains a topic of much research. Lightning usually takes a jagged course, rapidly heating a thin column of air to about three times the surface temperature of the Sun. The resulting shock wave starts supersonically and decays into the loud sound known as thunder. Lightning bolts are common in clouds during rainstorms, and on average 44 lightning bolts occur on the Earth every second. Pictured, over 60 images were stacked to capture the flow of lightning-producing storm clouds in July over Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. via NASA

A Triple Star is Born

A triple star system is forming, enshrouded within this dusty natal disk some 750 light-years away in the Perseus molecular cloud. Imaged at millimeter wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the extreme close-up shows two protostars separated by a mere 61 AU (1 AU is the Earth-Sun distance) with a third 183 AU from the central protostar. The ALMA image also reveals a clear spiral structure indicating instability and fragmentation led to the multiple protostellar objects within the disk. Astronomers estimate that the system, cataloged as L1448 IRS3B, is less than 150,000 years old. Captured at an early phase, the starforming scenario is likely not at all uncommon, since almost half of all sun-like stars have at least one companion. via NASA

Flaming Star Nebula

A runaway star lights the Flaming Star Nebula in this cosmic scene. Otherwise known as IC 405, the Flaming Star Nebula’s billowing interstellar clouds of gas and dust lie about 1,500 light-years away toward the constellation of Auriga. AE Aurigae, the bright star at upper left in the frame, is a massive and intensely hot O-type star moving rapidly through space, likely ejected from a collision of multiple star-systems in the vicinity of the Orion Nebula millions of years ago. Now close to IC 405, the high-speed star’s ionizing ultraviolet radiation powers the visible reddish glow as the nebula’s hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons and recombine. Its intense blue starlight is reflected by the nebula’s dusty filaments. Like all massive stars AE Aurigae will be short-lived though, furiously burning through its supply of fuel for nuclear fusion and exploding as a supernova. The colorful telescopic snapshot spans about 5 light-years at the estimated distance of the Flaming Star Nebula. via NASA

Milky Way over Shipwreck

What happened to this ship? It was carried aground by a giant storm that struck the coast of Argentina in 2002. The pictured abandoned boat, dubbed Naufragio del Chubasco, wrecked near the nearly abandoned town of Cabo Raso (population: 1). The rusting ship provides a picturesque but perhaps creepy foreground for the beautiful sky above. This sky is crowned by the grand arch of our Milky Way and features galaxies including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, stars including Canopus and Altair, planets including Mars and Neptune, and nebulas including the Lagoon, Carina, and the Coal Sack. The mosaic was composed from over 80 images taken in early September. A 360-degree interactive panoramic version of this image is also available. The adventurous astrophotographer reports that the creepiest part of taking this picture was not the abandoned ship, but the unusual prevalence of black and hairy caterpillars. via NASA