Titan: Moon over Saturn
Fri, 27 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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Titan: Moon over Saturn
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute

Explanation: Like Earth's moon, Saturn's largest moon Titan is locked in synchronous rotation. This mosaic of images recorded by the Cassini spacecraft in May of 2012 shows its anti-Saturn side, the side always facing away from the ringed gas giant. The only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere, Titan is the only solar system world besides Earth known to have standing bodies of liquid on its surface and an earthlike cycle of liquid rain and evaporation. Its high altitude layer of atmospheric haze is evident in the Cassini view of the 5,000 kilometer diameter moon over Saturn's rings and cloud tops. Near center is the dark dune-filled region known as Shangri-La. The Cassini-delivered Huygens probe rests below and left of center, after the most distant landing for a spacecraft from Earth.

NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Thu, 26 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Image Credit & Copyright: Michael Sherick

Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's boxy, bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

The Lively Center of the Lagoon Nebula
Wed, 25 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows the center of the Lagoon Nebula
complete with funnel clouds. 
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
The Lively Center of the Lagoon Nebula
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble; Processing & Copyright: Mehmet Hakan Özsaraç

Explanation: The center of the Lagoon Nebula is a whirlwind of spectacular star formation. Visible near the image center, at least two long funnel-shaped clouds, each roughly half a light-year long, have been formed by extreme stellar winds and intense energetic starlight. A tremendously bright nearby star, Herschel 36, lights the area. Vast walls of dust hide and redden other hot young stars. As energy from these stars pours into the cool dust and gas, large temperature differences in adjoining regions can be created generating shearing winds which may cause the funnels. This picture, spanning about 10 light years, combines images taken in six colors by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The Lagoon Nebula, also known as M8, lies about 5000 light years distant toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius).

A Deep Sky Behind an Eclipsed Moon
Tue, 24 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows the Rho Ophiuchi gas clouds with a
the Moon in total lunar eclipse to the right. Also in the frame are
a bright meteor and the part of the central band of our Milky Way
galaxy.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
A Deep Sky Behind an Eclipsed Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: Andrei Ionut Dascalu

Explanation: The plan was to capture a picturesque part of the sky that was hosting an unusual guest. The result included a bonus — an additional and unexpected guest. The beautiful background features part of the central band of our Milky Way galaxy on the far left, and the colorful clouds of Rho Ophiuchi in the image center. The unusual guest, a dimmed and reddened Moon on the right, was expected because the image was taken during last week’s total lunar eclipse. The timing had to be right because the Moon — both before and after eclipse — would be so bright it would overwhelm the background. The unexpected guest was the bright meteor across the image center. The fleeting meteor streak was captured on only one of the 10 consecutively-captured deep-field images from La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands, while the eclipsed Moon image was taken immediately afterwards with the same camera and from the same location. The next total lunar eclipse — also quite expected — will occur in early November.

The Once and Future Stars of Andromeda
Mon, 23 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, in
both infrared light, colored orange, and visible light, colored 
white and blue. 
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
The Once and Future Stars of Andromeda
Image Credit: NASA, NSF, NOAJ, Hubble, Subaru, Mayall, DSS, Spitzer; Processing & Copyright: Robert Gendler & Russell Croman

Explanation: This picture of Andromeda shows not only where stars are now, but where stars will soon be. Of course, the big, beautiful Andromeda Galaxy, M31, is a spiral galaxy -- and a mere 2.5 million light-years away. Both space-based and ground-based observatories have been here combined to produce this intriguing composite image of Andromeda, at wavelengths both inside and outside normally visible light. The visible light shows where M31's stars are now -- as highlighted in white and blue hues and imaged by the Hubble, Subaru, and Mayall telescopes. The infrared light shows where M31's future stars will soon form -- as highlighted in orange hues and imaged by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The infrared light tracks enormous lanes of dust, warmed by stars, sweeping along Andromeda's spiral arms. This dust is a tracer of the galaxy's vast interstellar gas -- the raw material for future star formation. These new stars will likely form over the next hundred million years, surely well before Andromeda merges with our Milky Way Galaxy in about 5 billion years.

A Large Tsunami Shock Wave on the Sun
Sun, 22 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image is a very short video showing
the Sun's surface reacting to a large solar flare. The 
result is a large circular shockwave that begins to
circle the Sun. The image was taken by the Optical
Solar Patrol Network telescope in New Mexico in 2006.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
A Large Tsunami Shock Wave on the Sun
Image Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF and USAF Research Laboratory

Explanation: Tsunamis this large don't happen on Earth. During 2006, a large solar flare from an Earth-sized sunspot produced a tsunami-type shock wave that was spectacular even for the Sun. Pictured here, the tsunami wave was captured moving out from active region AR 10930 by the Optical Solar Patrol Network (OSPAN) telescope in New Mexico, USA. The resulting shock wave, known technically as a Moreton wave, compressed and heated up gasses including hydrogen in the photosphere of the Sun, causing a momentarily brighter glow. The featured image was taken in a very specific red color emitted exclusively by hydrogen gas. The rampaging tsunami took out some active filaments on the Sun, although many re-established themselves later. The solar tsunami spread at nearly one million kilometers per hour, and circled the entire Sun in a matter of minutes.

Planetary Nebula Abell 7
Sat, 21 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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Planetary Nebula Abell 7
Image Credit & Copyright: Donald Waid, Ron Dilulio

Explanation: Very faint planetary nebula Abell 7 is some 1,800 light-years distant, just south of Orion in planet Earth's skies in the constellation Lepus, The Hare. Surrounded by Milky Way stars and near the line-of-sight to distant background galaxies, its generally simple spherical shape, about 8 light-years in diameter, is outlined in this deep telescopic image. Within its confines are beautiful, more complex details enhanced by the use of narrowband filters. Emission from hydrogen is shown in reddish hues with oxygen emission mapped to green and blue colors, giving Abell 7 a natural appearance that would otherwise be much too faint to be appreciated by eye. A planetary nebula represents a very brief final phase in stellar evolution that our own Sun will experience 5 billion years hence, as the nebula's central, once sun-like star shrugs off its outer layers. Abell 7 itself is estimated to be 20,000 years old. Its central star is seen here as a fading white dwarf some 10 billion years old.

A View from Earth's Shadow
Fri, 20 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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A View from Earth's Shadow
Image Credit & Copyright: Maxime Oudoux

Explanation: This serene sand and skyscape finds the Dune of Pilat on the coast of France still in Earth's shadow during the early morning hours of May 16. Extending into space, the planet's dark umbral shadow covered the Moon on that date. From that location the total phase of a lunar eclipse had begun before moonset. Still in sunlight though, the International Space Station crossed from the western horizon and Earth's largest artificial moon traced the bright flat arc through the sky over 400 km above. Simply constructed, the well-planned panoramic scene was captured over a 5 minutes in a series of consecutive images.

A Digital Lunar Eclipse
Thu, 19 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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A Digital Lunar Eclipse
Image Credit & Copyright: Michael Cain

Explanation: Recorded on May 15/16 this sequence of exposures follows the Full Moon during a total lunar eclipse as it arcs above treetops in the clearing skies of central Florida. A frame taken every 5 minutes by a digital camera shows the progression of the eclipse over three hours. The bright lunar disk grows dark and red as it glides through planet Earth's shadow. In fact, counting the central frames in the sequence measures the roughly 90 minute duration of the total phase of this eclipse. Around 270 BC, the Greek astronomer Aristarchus also measured the duration of total lunar eclipses, but probably without the benefit of digital watches and cameras. Still, using geometry he devised a simple and impressively accurate way to calculate the Moon's distance in terms of the radius of planet Earth, from the eclipse duration.

A Jewel on the Flower Moon
Wed, 18 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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A Jewel on the Flower Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: Tomas Slovinsky

Explanation: Cloudy skies plagued some sky watchers on Sunday as May's Full Flower Moon slipped through Earth's shadow in a total lunar eclipse. In skies above Chile's Atacama desert this telephoto snapshot still captured an awesome spectacle though. Seen through thin high cirrus clouds just before totality began, a last sliver of sunlit crescent glistens like a hazy jewel atop the mostly shadowed lunar disk. This full moon was near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit. It passed near the center of Earth's dark umbral shadow during the 90 minute long total eclipse phase. Faintly suffused with sunlight scattered by the atmosphere, the umbral shadow itself gave the eclipsed moon a reddened appearance and the very dramatic popular moniker of a Blood Moon.

NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide
Tue, 17 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows a deep image of the giant elliptical galaxy
NGC 1316 featuring many concentric shells which embed a smaller galaxy.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide
Image Credit & Copyright: Capture: Greg Turgeon; Processing: Kiko Fairbairn

Explanation: Astronomers turn detectives when trying to figure out the cause of startling sights like NGC 1316. Investigations indicate that NGC 1316 is an enormous elliptical galaxy that started, about 100 million years ago, to devour a smaller spiral galaxy neighbor, NGC 1317, just on the upper right. Supporting evidence includes the dark dust lanes characteristic of a spiral galaxy, and faint swirls and shells of stars and gas visible in this wide and deep image. One thing that >remains unexplained is the unusually small globular star clusters, seen as faint dots on the image. Most elliptical galaxies have more and brighter globular clusters than NGC 1316. Yet the observed globulars are too old to have been created by the recent spiral collision. One hypothesis is that these globulars survive from an even earlier galaxy that was subsumed into NGC 1316. Another surprising attribute of NGC 1316, also known as Fornax A, is its giant lobes of gas that glow brightly in radio waves.

Milky Way over French Alp Hoodoos
Mon, 16 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows a hill in the French Alps
with rock spires known as hoodoos. In the background is
the Milky Way Galaxy complete with bright stars, dark
dust clouds, and red nebulae.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
Milky Way over French Alp Hoodoos
Image Credit & Copyright: Benjamin Barakat

Explanation: Real castles aren't this old. And the background galaxy is even older. Looking a bit like an alien castle, the pictured rock spires are called hoodoos and are likely millions of years old. Rare, but found around the world, hoodoos form when dense rocks slow the erosion of softer rock underneath. The pictured hoodoos survive in the French Alps and are named Demoiselles Coiffées -- which translates to English as "Ladies with Hairdos". The background galaxy is part of the central disk of our own Milky Way galaxy and contains stars that are typically billions of years old. The photogenic Cygnus sky region -- rich in dusty dark clouds and red glowing nebulas -- appears just above and behind the hoodoos. The featured image was taken in two stages: the foreground was captured during the evening blue hour, while the background was acquired from the same location later that night.

Colors of the Moon
Sun, 15 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows many images of a full moon as it 
appears on Earth. The colors of the images are seen to range 
from red to yellow to brown and blue. 
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
Colors of the Moon
Image Credit & Copyright: Marcella Giulia Pace

Explanation: What color is the Moon? It depends on the night. Outside of the Earth's atmosphere, the dark Moon, which shines by reflected sunlight, appears a magnificently brown-tinged gray. Viewed from inside the Earth's atmosphere, though, the moon can appear quite different. The featured image highlights a collection of apparent colors of the full moon documented by one astrophotographer over 10 years from different locations across Italy. A red or yellow colored moon usually indicates a moon seen near the horizon. There, some of the blue light has been scattered away by a long path through the Earth's atmosphere, sometimes laden with fine dust. A blue-colored moon is more rare and can indicate a moon seen through an atmosphere carrying larger dust particles. What created the purple moon is unclear -- it may be a combination of several effects. The last image captures the total lunar eclipse of 2018 July -- where the moon, in Earth's shadow, appeared a faint red -- due to light refracted through air around the Earth. Today there is not only another full moon but a total lunar eclipse visible to observers in North and South America -- an occurrence that may lead to some unexpected lunar colorings.

Ice Halos by Moonlight
Sat, 14 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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Ice Halos by Moonlight
Image Credit & Copyright: Alan Dyer, Amazingsky.com, TWAN

Explanation: An almost full moon on April 15 brought these luminous apparitions to a northern spring night over Alberta Canada. On that night, bright moonlight refracted and reflected by hexagonal ice crystals in high clouds created a complex of halos and arcs more commonly seen by sunlight in daytime skies. While the colors of the arcs and moondogs or paraselenae were just visible to the unaided eye, a blend of exposures ranging from 30 seconds to 1/20 second was used to render this moonlit wide-angle skyscape. The Big Dipper at the top of the frame sits just above a smiling and rainbow-hued circumzenithal arc. With Arcturus left and Regulus toward the right the Moon is centered in its often spotted 22 degree halo. May 15 will also see the bright light of a Full Moon shining in Earth's night skies. Tomorrow's Full Moon will be dimmed for a while though, as it slides through Earth's shadow in a total lunar eclipse.

The Milky Way's Black Hole
Fri, 13 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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The Milky Way's Black Hole
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA/CXC/SAO, IR - NASA/HST/STScI; Inset: Radio - Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Explanation: There's a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Stars are observed to orbit a very massive and compact object there known as Sgr A* (say "sadge-ay-star"). But this just released radio image (inset) from planet Earth's Event Horizon Telescope is the first direct evidence of the Milky Way's central black hole. As predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, the four million solar mass black hole's strong gravity is bending light and creating a shadow-like dark central region surrounded by a bright ring-like structure. Supporting observations made by space-based telescopes and ground-based observatories provide a wider view of the galactic center's dynamic environment and an important context for the Event Horizon Telescope's black hole image. The main panel image shows the X-ray data from Chandra and infrared data from Hubble. While the main panel is about 7 light-years across, the Event Horizon Telescope inset image itself spans a mere 10 light-minutes at the center of our galaxy, some 27,000 light-years away.

Young Stars of NGC 346
Thu, 12 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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Young Stars of NGC 346
Image Credit: NASA, ESA - acknowledgement: Antonella Nota (ESA/STScI) et al.,

Explanation: The massive stars of NGC 346 are short lived, but very energetic. The star cluster is embedded in the largest star forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud, some 210,000 light-years distant. Their winds and radiation sweep out an interstellar cavern in the gas and dust cloud about 200 light-years across, triggering star formation and sculpting the region's dense inner edge. Cataloged as N66, the star forming region also appears to contain a large population of infant stars. A mere 3 to 5 million years old and not yet burning hydrogen in their cores, the infant stars are strewn about the embedded star cluster. In this false-color Hubble Space Telescope image, visible and near-infrared light are seen as blue and green, while light from atomic hydrogen emission is red.

Gravity's Grin
Wed, 11 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
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Gravity's Grin
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical - NASA/STScI

Explanation: Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, published over 100 years ago, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that's what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group's two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass. Of course, that gravitational mass is dominated by dark matter. The two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.

NGC 6334: The Cat's Paw Nebula
Tue, 10 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows the Cat's Paw Nebula,
an emission nebula cataloged as NGC 6634. The nebula
is shown in assigned scientific colors similar to the
famous Hubble palette. 
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
NGC 6334: The Cat's Paw Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Stefan Steve Bemmerl & Team Wolfatorium (Hakos/Namibia)

Explanation: Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat's Paw Nebula visible toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat's Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula and cataloged as NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured here is a deep field image of the Cat's Paw Nebula in light emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur.

A Martian Eclipse: Phobos Crosses the Sun
Mon, 09 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
A Martian Eclipse: Phobos Crosses the Sun
Video Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU MSSS, SSI

Explanation: What's that passing in front of the Sun? It looks like a moon, but it can't be Earth's Moon, because it isn't round. It's the Martian moon Phobos. The featured video was taken from the surface of Mars a month ago by the Perseverance rover. Phobos, at 11.5 kilometers across, is 150 times smaller than Luna (our moon) in diameter, but also 50 times closer to its parent planet. In fact, Phobos is so close to Mars that it is expected to break up and crash into Mars within the next 50 million years. In the near term, the low orbit of Phobos results in more rapid solar eclipses than seen from Earth. The featured video is shown in real time -- the transit really took about 40 seconds,as shown. The videographer -- the robotic rover Perseverance (Percy) -- continues to explore Jezero Crater on Mars, searching not only for clues to the watery history of the now dry world, but evidence of ancient microbial life.

Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Inner Rings
Sun, 08 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700
The featured image shows the spiral galaxy
NGC 1512 as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. 
The galaxy shows two rings surrounding its center.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.
Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Inner Rings
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Space Telescope

Explanation: Most galaxies don't have any rings -- why does this galaxy have two? To begin, the bright band near NGC 1512's center is a nuclear ring, a ring that surrounds the galaxy center and glows brightly with recently formed stars. Most stars and accompanying gas and dust, however, orbit the galactic center in a ring much further out -- here seen near the image edge. This ring is called, counter-intuitively, the inner ring. If you look closely, you will see this the inner ring connects ends of a diffuse central bar that runs horizontally across the galaxy. These ring structures are thought to be caused by NGC 1512's own asymmetries in a drawn-out process called secular evolution. The gravity of these galaxy asymmetries, including the bar of stars, cause gas and dust to fall from the inner ring to the nuclear ring, enhancing this ring's rate of star formation. Some spiral galaxies also have a third ring -- an outer ring that circles the galaxy even further out.


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