Saturday, July 21, 2018

Planck Maps the Microwave Background

What is our universe made of? To help find out, ESA launched the Planck satellite from 2009 to 2013 to map, in unprecedented detail, slight temperature differences on the oldest optical surface known -- the background sky when our universe first became transparent to light. Visible in all directions, this cosmic microwave background is a complex tapestry that could only show the hot and cold patterns observed were the universe to be composed of specific types of energy that evolved in specific ways. The final results, reported last week, confirm again that most of our universe is mostly composed of mysterious and unfamiliar dark energy, and that even most of the remaining matter energy is strangely dark. Additionally, the "final" 2018 Planck data impressively peg the age of the universe at about 13.8 billion years and the local expansion rate -- called the Hubble constant -- at 67.4 (+/- 0.5) km/sec/Mpc. Oddly, this early-universe determined Hubble constant is slightly lower than that determined by other methods in the late-universe, creating a tension that is causing much discussion and speculation. via NASA

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Cerealia Facula

Cerealia Facula, also known as the brightest spot on Ceres, is shown in this stunning mosaic close-up view. The high-resolution image data was recorded by the Dawn spacecraft, in a looping orbit, from altitudes as low as 34 kilometers (21 miles) above the dwarf planet's surface. Cerealia Facula is about 15 kilometers wide, found in the center of 90 kilometer diameter Occator crater. Like the other bright spots (faculae) scattered around Ceres, Cerealia Facula is not ice, but an exposed salty residue with a reflectivity like dirty snow. The residue is thought to be mostly sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride from a slushy brine within or below the dwarf planet's crust. Driven by advanced ion propulsion on an 11-year mission, Dawn explored main-belt asteriod Vesta before traveling on to Ceres. But sometime between this August and October, the interplanetary spacecraft is expected to finally run out of fuel for its hydrazine thrusters, with the subsequent loss of control of its orientation, losing power and the ability to communicate with Earth. Meanwhile Dawn will continue to explore Ceres in unprecedented detail, and ultimately retire in its orbit around the small world. via NASA

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dark Slope Streaks Split on Mars

What is creating these dark streaks on Mars? No one is sure. Candidates include dust avalanches, evaporating dry ice sleds, and liquid water flows. What is clear is that the streaks occur through light surface dust and expose a deeper dark layer. Similar streaks have been photographed on Mars for years and are one of the few surface features that change their appearance seasonally. Particularly interesting here is that larger streaks split into smaller streaks further down the slope. The featured image was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars-orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) several months ago. Currently, a global dust storm is encompassing much of Mars. via NASA

Monday, July 16, 2018

Moon and Venus over Cannon Beach

What's that spot next to the Moon? Venus. Two days ago, the crescent Moon slowly drifted past Venus, appearing within just two degrees at its closest. This conjunction, though, was just one of several photographic adventures for our Moon this month (moon-th), because, for one, a partial solar eclipse occurred just a few days before, on July 12. Currently, the Moon appears to be brightening, as seen from the Earth, as the fraction of its face illuminated by the Sun continues to increase. In a few days, the Moon will appear more than half full, and therefore be in its gibbous phase. Next week the face of the Moon that always faces the Earth will become, as viewed from the Earth, completely illuminated by the Sun. Even this full phase will bring an adventure, though, as a total eclipse of this Thunder Moon will occur on July 27. Don't worry about our Luna getting tired, though, because she'll be new again next month (moon-th) -- August 11 to be exact -- just as she causes another partial eclipse of the Sun. Pictured, Venus and the Moon were captured from Cannon Beach above a rock formation off the Oregon (USA) coast known as the Needles. About an hour after this image was taken, the spin of the Earth caused both Venus and the Moon to set. via NASA

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Neutrino Associated with Distant Blazar Jet

With equipment frozen deep into ice beneath Earth's South Pole, humanity appears to have discovered a neutrino from far across the universe. If confirmed, this would mark the first clear detection of cosmologically-distant neutrinos and the dawn of an observed association between energetic neutrinos and cosmic rays created by powerful jets emanating from blazing quasars (blazars). Once the Antarctican IceCube detector measured an energetic neutrino in 2017 September, many of humanity's premier observatories sprang into action to try to identify a counterpart in light. And they did. An erupting counterpart was pinpointed by high energy observatories including AGILE, Fermi, HAWC, H.E.S.S., INTEGRAL, NuSTAR, Swift, and VERITAS, which found that gamma-ray blazar TXS 0506+056 was in the right direction and with gamma-rays from a flare arriving nearly coincidental in time with the neutrino. Even though this and other position and time coincidences are statistically strong, astronomers will await other similar neutrino - blazar light associations to be absolutely sure. Pictured here is an artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar. via NASA

New Random CAT GIF on Giphy

New Random GIF via Giphy

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Rings Around the Ring Nebula

There is much more to the familiar Ring Nebula (M57), however, than can be seen through a small telescope. The easily visible central ring is about one light-year across, but this remarkably deep exposure - a collaborative effort combining data from three different large telescopes - explores the looping filaments of glowing gas extending much farther from the nebula's central star. This remarkable composite image includes narrowband hydrogen image, visible light emission, and infrared light emission. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. The Ring Nebula is about 2,000 light-years away toward the musical constellation Lyra. via NASA

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Nibble on the Sun

The smallest of the three partial solar eclipses during 2018 was just yesterday, Friday, July 13. It was mostly visible over the open ocean between Australia and Antarctica. Still, this video frame of a tiny nibble on the Sun was captured through a hydrogen-alpha filter from Port Elliott, South Australia, during the maximum eclipse visible from that location. There, the New Moon covered about 0.16 percent of the solar disk. The greatest eclipse, about one-third of the Sun's diameter blocked by the New Moon, could be seen from East Antarctica near Peterson Bank, where the local emperor penguin colony likely had the best view. During this prolific eclipse season, the coming Full Moon will bring a total lunar eclipse on July 27, followed by yet another partial solar eclipse at the next New Moon on August 11. via NASA

New Random CAT GIF on Giphy

New Random GIF via Giphy

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Star Trails and the Bracewell Radio Sundial

Sundials use the location of a shadow to measure the Earth's rotation and indicate the time of day. So it's fitting that this sundial, at the Very Large Array Radio Telescope Observatory in New Mexico, commemorates the history of radio astronomy and radio astronomy pioneer Ronald Bracewell. The radio sundial was constructed using pieces of a solar mapping radio telescope array that Bracewell orginaly built near the Stanford University campus. Bracewell's array was used to contribute data to plan the first Moon landing, its pillars signed by visiting scientists and radio astronomers, including two Nobel prize winners. As for most sundials the shadow cast by the central gnomon follows markers that show the solar time of day, along with solstices and equinoxes. But markers on the radio sundial are also laid out according to local sidereal time. They show the position of the invisible radio shadows of three bright radio sources in Earth's sky, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, active galaxy Cygnus A, and active galaxy Centaurus A. Sidereal time is just star time, the Earth's rotation as measured with the stars and distant galaxies. That rotation is reflected in this composited hour-long exposure. Above the Bracewell Radio Sundial, the stars trace concentric trails around the north celestial pole. via NASA

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Centaurus A

Only 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy also known as NGC 5128, is featured in this sharp telescopic view. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a fantastic jumble of star clusters and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A. via NASA

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Symbiotic R Aquarii

You can see it change in brightness with just binoculars over the course of a year. Variable star R Aquarii is actually an interacting binary star system, two stars that seem to have a close, symbiotic relationship. About 710 light years away, this intriguing system consists of a cool red giant star and hot, dense white dwarf star in mutual orbit around their common center of mass. The binary system's visible light is dominated by the red giant, itself a Mira-type long period variable star. But material in the cool giant star's extended envelope is pulled by gravity onto the surface of the smaller, denser white dwarf, eventually triggering a thermonuclear explosion and blasting material into space. The featured image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the still-expanding ring of debris which spans less than a light year and originated from a blast that would have been seen in the early 1770s. The evolution of less understood energetic events producing high energy emission in the R Aquarii system has been monitored since 2000 using Chandra X-ray Observatory data. via NASA

Monday, July 9, 2018

Noctilucent Clouds over Paris Fireworks

It's northern noctilucent cloud season -- perhaps a time to celebrate! Composed of small ice crystals forming only during specific conditions in the upper atmosphere, noctilucent clouds may become visible at sunset during late summer when illuminated by sunlight from below. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds known and now established to be polar mesospheric clouds observed from the ground. Although observed with NASA's AIM satellite since 2007, much about noctilucent clouds remains unknown and so a topic of active research. The featured time-lapse video shows expansive and rippled noctilucent clouds wafting over Paris, France, during a post-sunset fireworks celebration on Bastille Day in 2009 July. This year, several locations are already reporting especially vivid displays of noctilucent clouds. via NASA

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Road to Mars

What's that light at the end of the road? Mars. This is a good month to point out Mars to your friends and family because our neighboring planet will not only be its brightest in 15 years, it will be visible for much of night. During this month, Mars will be about 180 degrees around from the Sun, and near the closest it ever gets to planet Earth. In terms of orbits, Mars is also nearing the closest point to the Sun in its elliptical orbit, just as Earth moves nearly between it and the Sun -- an alignment known as perihelic opposition. In terms of viewing, orange Mars will rise in the east just as the Sun sets in the west, on the opposite side of the sky. Mars will climb in the sky during the night, reach its highest near midnight, and then set in the west just as the Sun begins to rise in the east. The red planet was captured setting beyond a stretch of road in Arches National Park in mid-May near Moab, Utah, USA. via NASA

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Northern Summer s Night

Near a summer's midnight a mist haunts the river bank in this dreamlike skyscape taken on July 3rd from northern Denmark. Reddened light from the Sun a little below the horizon gives an eerie tint to low hanging clouds. Formed near the edge of space, the silvery apparitions above them are noctilucent or night shining clouds. The icy condensations on meteoric dust or volcanic ash are still in full sunlight at the extreme altitudes of the mesophere. Usually seen at high latitudes in summer months, wide spread displays of the noctilucent clouds are now being reported. via NASA

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Charon: Moon of Pluto

A darkened and mysterious north polar region known to some as Mordor Macula caps this premier high-resolution view. The portrait of Charon, Pluto's largest moon, was captured by New Horizons near the spacecraft's closest approach on July 14, 2015. The combined blue, red, and infrared data was processed to enhance colors and follow variations in Charon's surface properties with a resolution of about 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles). A stunning image of Charon's Pluto-facing hemisphere, it also features a clear view of an apparently moon-girdling belt of fractures and canyons that seems to separate smooth southern plains from varied northern terrain. Charon is 1,214 kilometers (754 miles) across. That's about 1/10th the size of planet Earth but a whopping 1/2 the diameter of Pluto itself, and makes it the largest satellite relative to its parent body in the Solar System. Still, the moon appears as a small bump at about the 1 o'clock position on Pluto's disk in the grainy, negative,telescopic picture inset at upper left. That view was used by James Christy and Robert Harrington at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff to discover Charon 40 years ago in June of 1978. via NASA

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Shadow Rise on the Inside Passage

At sunset look east not west. As Earth's dark shadow rises from the eastern horizon, faint and subtle colors will appear opposite the setting Sun. This beautiful evening sea and skyscape records the reflective scene from a cruise on the well-traveled Alaskan Inside Passage in the Pacific Northwest. Along the horizon the fading sunset gives way to the the pinkish anti-twilight arch, more poetically known as the Belt of Venus. Often overlooked at sunset in favor of the brighter western horizon, the lovely arch is tinted by filtered sunlight backscattered in the dense atmosphere, hugging the planet's rising blue-grey shadow. via NASA

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dawn s Early Light, Rocket s Red Glare

If you saw the dawn's early light from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last Friday, June 29, then you could have seen this rocket's red glare. The single 277-second long exposure, made from the roof of NASA's Vehicle Assembly building, shows a predawn Falcon 9 launch, the rocket streaking eastward into the sky about 45 minutes before sunrise. At high altitude, its stage separation plume is brightly lit by the Sun still below the eastern horizon. The Falcon 9 rocket's first stage had been launched before, lofting the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit on April 18, only 72 days earlier. For this launch of SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission 15 (CRS-15) it carried an also previously flown Dragon capsule. But no further reuse of this Falcon 9 was planned so no dramatic first stage landing followed the launch. The Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station on July 2. via NASA

Sunday, July 1, 2018

From the Galactic Plane through Antares

Behold one of the most photogenic regions of the night sky, captured impressively. Featured, the band of our Milky Way Galaxy runs diagonally along the far left, while the colorful Rho Ophiuchus region including the bright orange star Antares is visible just right of center, and the nebula Sharpless 1 (Sh2-1) appears on the far right. Visible in front of the Milk Way band are several famous nebulas including the Eagle Nebula (M16), the Trifid Nebula (M21), and the Lagoon Nebula (M8). Other notable nebulas include the Pipe and Blue Horsehead. In general, red emanates from nebulas glowing in the light of exited hydrogen gas, while blue marks interstellar dust preferentially reflecting the light of bright young stars. Thick dust appears otherwise dark brown. Large balls of stars visible include the globular clusters M4, M9, M19, M28, and M80, each marked on the annotated companion image. This extremely wide field -- about 50 degrees across -- spans the constellations of Sagittarius is on the lower left, Serpens on the upper left, Ophiuchus across the middle, and Scorpius on the right. It took over 100 hours of sky imaging, combined with meticulous planning and digital processing, to create this image. via NASA