Tag Archives: NASA

W5: The Soul of Star Formation

Where do stars form? Many times, stars form in energetic regions where gas and dark dust are pushed around in chaotic mayhem. Pictured, bright massive stars near the center of W5, the Soul Nebula, are exploding and emitting ionizing light and energetic winds. The outward-moving light and gas push away and evaporate much surrounding gas and dust, but leave pillars of gas behind dense protective knots. Inside these knots, though, stars also form. The featured image highlights the inner sanctum of W5, an arena spanning about 1,000 light years that is rich in star forming pillars. The Soul Nebula, also cataloged as IC 1848, lies about 6,500 light years away toward the constellation of the Queen of Aethopia (Cassiopeia). Likely, in few hundred million years, only a cluster of the resulting stars will remain. Then, these stars will drift apart. via NASA

Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System

Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep — ten times the depth of the Earth’s Grand Canyon. Given Miranda’s low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar — about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The featured image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion. via NASA

East to West, Light and Shadow

On this November morning an old crescent Moon and morning star rise just before the Sun in a wide panoramic skyscape from Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. Still below the limbs of an acacia tree and the eastern horizon, the Sun’s position is easy to find though. It’s marked at the left by the subtle convergence of light and shadow in the dawn sky. Known as crepuscular rays, the warm-colored rays of sunlight are outlined by shadows cast by unseen clouds near the horizon. Arcing above the profile of Mount Kilimanjaro, toward the right the rays of light and shadow converge at the western horizon. There known as anti-crepuscular rays, they indicate the point opposite the rising sun. The cloud shadows are very nearly parallel, but converge toward the distant horizons because of perspective. via NASA

Apollo 17 VIP Site Anaglyph

Get out your red/blue glasses and check out this stereo scene from Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon! The color anaglyph features a detailed 3D view of Apollo 17’s Lunar Rover in the foreground — behind it lies the Lunar Module and distant lunar hills. Because the world was going to be able to watch the Lunar Module’s ascent stage liftoff via the rover’s TV camera, this parking place was also known as the VIP Site. In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. The crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than from any of the other lunar landing sites. Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk (or drive) on the Moon. via NASA

Ring Scan

Scroll right and you can cruise along the icy rings of Saturn. This high resolution scan is a mosaic of images presented in natural color. The images were recorded in May 2007 over about 2.5 hours as the Cassini spacecraft passed above the unlit side of the rings. To help track your progress, major rings and gaps are labeled along with the distance from the center of the gas giant in kilometers. The alphabetical designation of Saturn’s rings is historically based on their order of discovery; rings A and B are the bright rings separated by the Cassini division. In order of increasing distance from Saturn, the seven main rings run D,C,B,A,F,G,E. (Faint, outer rings G and E are not imaged here.) Four days from now, on November 29, Cassini will make a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan and use the large moon’s gravity to nudge the spacecraft into a series of 20 daring, elliptical, ring-grazing orbits. Diving through the ring plane just 11,000 kilometers outside the F ring (far right) Cassini’s first ring-graze will be on December 4. via NASA

Plutos Sputnik Planum

Is there an ocean below Sputnik Planum on Pluto? The unusually smooth 1000-km wide golden expanse, visible in the featured image from New Horizons, appears segmented into convection cells. But how was this region created? One hypothesis now holds the answer to be a great impact that stirred up an underground ocean of salt water roughly 100-kilometers thick. The featured image of Sputnik Planum, part of the larger heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio, was taken last July and shows true details in exaggerated colors. Although the robotic New Horizons spacecraft is off on a new adventure, continued computer-modeling of this surprising surface feature on Pluto is likely to lead to more refined speculations about what lies beneath. via NASA

Nova over Thailand

A nova in Sagittarius is bright enough to see with binoculars. Detected last month, the stellar explosion even approached the limit of naked-eye visibility last week. A classical nova results from a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star — a dense star having the size of our Earth but the mass of our Sun. In the featured image, the nova was captured last week above ancient Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai, Thailand. To see Nova Sagittarius 2016 yourself, just go out just after sunset and locate near the western horizon the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius), popularly identified with an iconic teapot. Also visible near the nova is the very bright planet Venus. Don’t delay, though, because not only is the nova fading, but that part of the sky is setting continually closer to sunset. via NASA

NGC 4414: A Flocculent Spiral Galaxy

How much mass do flocculent spirals hide? The featured true color image of flocculent spiral galaxy NGC 4414 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help answer this question. The featured image was augmented with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Flocculent spirals — galaxies without well-defined spiral arms — are a quite common form of galaxy, and NGC 4414 is one of the closest. Stars and gas near the visible edge of spiral galaxies orbit the center so fast that the gravity from a large amount of unseen dark matter must be present to hold them together. Understanding the matter and dark matter distribution of NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the rest of the galaxy and, by deduction, flocculent spirals in general. Further, calibrating the distance to NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the cosmological distance scale of the entire visible universe. via NASA

The Heart and Soul Nebulas

Is the heart and soul of our Galaxy located in Cassiopeia? Possibly not, but that is where two bright emission nebulas nicknamed Heart and Soul can be found. The Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the featured image on the right, has a shape reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. Both nebulas shine brightly in the red light of energized hydrogen. Several young open clusters of stars populate the image and are visible here in blue, including the nebula centers. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years. Studies of stars and clusters like those found in the Heart and Soul Nebulas have focused on how massive stars form and how they affect their environment. via NASA

Cold Weather Delayed over North America

Why is it so warm in northern North America? Usually during this time of year — mid-November — temperatures average as much as 30 degrees colder. Europe is not seeing a similar warming. One factor appears to be an unusually large and stable high pressure region that has formed over Canada, keeping normally colder arctic air away. Although the fundamental cause of any weather pattern is typically complex, speculation holds that this persistent Canadian anticyclonic region is related to warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the mid-Pacific — an El Niño — operating last winter. North Americans should enjoy it while it lasts, though. In the next week or two, cooler-than-average temperatures now being recorded in the mid-Pacific — a La Niña — might well begin to affect North American wind and temperature patterns. via NASA