Tag Archives: NASA

Conjunction of Four

On January 31, a waxing crescent Moon, brilliant Venus, and fainter Mars gathered in the fading twilight, hanging above the western horizon just after sunset on planet Earth. In this combined evening skyscape, the lovely celestial triangle is seen through clouds and haze. Still glinting in sunlight, from low Earth orbit the International Space Station briefly joined the trio that evening in skies near Le Lude, France. The photographer’s line-of-sight to the space station was remarkably close to Mars as the initial exposure began. As a result, the station’s bright streak seems to leap from the Red Planet, moving toward darker skies at the top of the frame. via NASA

NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide

An example of violence on a cosmic scale, enormous elliptical galaxy NGC 1316 lies about 75 million light-years away toward Fornax, the southern constellation of the Furnace. Investigating the startling sight, astronomers suspect the giant galaxy of colliding with smaller neighbor NGC 1317 seen just above, causing far flung loops and shells of stars. Light from their close encounter would have reached Earth some 100 million years ago. In the deep, sharp image, the central regions of NGC 1316 and NGC 1317 appear separated by over 100,000 light-years. Complex dust lanes visible within also indicate that NGC 1316 is itself the result of a merger of galaxies in the distant past. Found on the outskirts of the Fornax galaxy cluster, NGC 1316 is known as Fornax A. One of the visually brightest of the Fornax cluster galaxies it is one of the strongest and largest radio sources with radio emission extending well beyond this telescopic field-of-view, over several degrees on the sky. via NASA

Red Aurora Over Australia

Why would the sky glow red? Aurora. A solar storm in 2012, emanating mostly from active sunspot region 1402, showered particles on the Earth that excited oxygen atoms high in the Earth’s atmosphere. As the excited element’s electrons fell back to their ground state, they emitted a red glow. Were oxygen atoms lower in Earth’s atmosphere excited, the glow would be predominantly green. Pictured here, this high red aurora is visible just above the horizon last week near Flinders, Victoria, Australia. The sky that night, however, also glowed with more familiar but more distant objects, including the central disk of our Milky Way Galaxy on the left, and the neighboring Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies on the right. A time-lapse video highlighting auroras visible that night puts the picturesque scene in context. Why the sky did not also glow green remains unknown. via NASA

N159 in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Over 150 light-years across, this cosmic maelstrom of gas and dust is not too far away. It lies south of the Tarantula Nebula in our satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud a mere 180,000 light-years distant. Massive stars have formed within. Their energetic radiation and powerful stellar winds sculpt the gas and dust and power the glow of this HII region, entered into the Henize catalog of emission stars and nebulae in the Magellanic Clouds as N159. The bright, compact, butterfly-shaped nebula above and left of center likely contains massive stars in a very early stage of formation. Resolved for the first time in Hubble images, the compact blob of ionized gas has come to be known as the Papillon Nebula. via NASA

Daphnis the Wavemaker

Plunging close to the outer edges of Saturn’s rings, on January 16 the Cassini spacecraft captured this closest yet view of Daphnis. About 8 kilometers across and orbiting within the bright ring system’s Keeler gap, the small moon is making waves. The 42-kilometer wide outer gap is foreshortened in the image by Cassini’s viewing angle. Raised by the influenced of the small moon’s weak gravity as it crosses the frame from left to right, the waves are formed in the ring material at the edge of the gap. A faint wave-like trace of ring material is just visible trailing close behind Daphnis. Remarkable details on Daphnis can also be seen, including a narrow ridge around its equator, likely an accumulation of particles from the ring. via NASA

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula in Cepheus

Like an illustration in a galactic Just So Story, the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant’s trunk is over 20 light-years long. This colorful close-up view includes image data from a narrow band filter that transmits the light from ionized hydrogen atoms in the region. The resulting composite highlights the bright swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field, about the size of 2 Full Moons. via NASA

Space Station Vista: Planet and Galaxy

If you could circle the Earth aboard the International Space Station, what might you see? Some amazing vistas, one of which was captured in this breathtaking picture in mid-2015. First, visible at the top, are parts of the space station itself including solar panels. Just below the station is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy, glowing with the combined light of billions of stars, but dimmed in patches by filaments of dark dust. The band of red light just below the Milky Way is airglow — Earth’s atmosphere excited by the Sun and glowing in specific colors of light. Green airglow is visible below the red. Of course that’s our Earth below its air, with the terminator between day and night visible near the horizon. As clouds speckle the planet, illumination from a bright lightning bolt is seen toward the lower right. Between work assignments, astronauts from all over the Earth have been enjoying vistas like this from the space station since the year 2000. via NASA

Fly Me to the Moon

No, this is not a good way to get to the Moon. What is pictured is a chance superposition of an airplane and the Moon. The contrail would normally appear white, but the large volume of air toward the setting Sun preferentially knocks away blue light, giving the reflected trail a bright red hue. Far in the distance, to the right of the plane, is the young Moon. This vast world shows only a sliver of itself because the Sun is nearly lined up behind it. Captured two weeks ago, the featured image was framed by an eerie maroon sky, too far from day to be blue, too far from night to be black. Within minutes the impromptu sky show ended. The plane crossed the Moon. The contrail dispersed. The Sun set. The Moon set. The sky faded to black, only to reveal thousands of stars that had been too faint to see through the rustic red din. via NASA

Stardust in the Perseus Molecular cloud

Clouds of stardust drift through this deep skyscape. The cosmic scene spans nearly 2 degrees across the Perseus molecular cloud some 850 light-years away. A triangle of dusty nebulae reflecting light from embedded stars is captured in the telescopic field of view. With a characteristic bluish color reflection nebula NGC 1333 is at left, vdB13 at bottom right, and rare yellowish reflection nebula vdB12 lies at the top. Stars are forming in the Perseus 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. At the estimated distance of the molecular cloud, legs of the triangle formed by the reflection nebulae would be about 20 light-years long. via NASA

Sharpless 249 and the Jellyfish Nebula

Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring telescopic mosaic. The scene is anchored below by bright star Eta Geminorum, at the foot of the celestial twin, while the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with tentacles dangling below and left of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the Jellyfish Nebula is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. An emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper right. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this narrowband composite image presented in the Hubble Palette would be about 300 light-years across. via NASA