Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Star Trails and the Equinox Sunrise

Stars trail and the Sun rises in this night and day composite panorama made on March 19. The view looks toward the eastern horizon from La Nava de Santiago, Spain. To create it, a continuous series of digital frames was recorded for about two hours and combined to trace the concentric motion of the stars through the night sky. A reflection of the Earth's rotation, star trails curve around the north celestial pole toward upper left and the south celestial pole toward the lower right. Of course on that day the Sun was near the celestial equator, a diagonal straight line in the wide-angle projection. A dense dimming filter was used to capture the Sun's image every two minutes. Superimposed on the star trails it rose due east in the morning sky. In the scene, foreground landscape and a local prehistoric monument were illuminated by full moonlight, though. The monument's corridor faces nearly to the east and the equinox sunrise. via NASA

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Equinox on Planet Earth

Welcome to an equinox on planet Earth. Today is the first day of spring in our fair planet's northern hemisphere, fall in the southern hemisphere, with day and night nearly equal around the globe. At an equinox Earth's terminator, the dividing line between day and night, connects the planet's north and south poles as seen at the start of this remarkable time-lapse video compressing an entire year into twelve seconds. To make it, the Meteosat satellite recorded these infrared images every day at the same local time from a geosynchronous orbit. The video actually starts at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator aligned vertically. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the terminator tilts to provide less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, reaching the solstice and northern hemisphere winter at the maximum tilt. As the year continues, the terminator tilts back again and March 2011 equinox arrives halfway through the video. Then the terminator swings past vertical the other way, reaching the the June 2011 solstice and the beginning of northern summer. The video ends as the September equinox returns. via NASA

NASA Mission Reveals Asteroid Has Big Surprises

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. via

Monday, March 18, 2019

Abell 370: Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens

What are those strange arcs? While imaging the cluster of galaxies Abell 370, astronomers noticed an unusual arc. The arc wasn't understood right away -- not until better images showed that the arc was a previously unseen type of astrophysical artifact of a gravitational lens, where the lens was the center of an entire cluster of galaxies. Today, we know that this arc, the brightest arc in the cluster, actually consists of two distorted images of a fairly normal galaxy that happens to lie far in the distance. Abell 370's gravity caused the background galaxies' light -- and others -- to spread out and come to the observer along multiple paths, not unlike a distant light appears through the stem of a wine glass. Almost all of the yellow images featured here are galaxies in the Abell 370 cluster. An astute eye can pick up many strange arcs and distorted arclets, however, that are actually gravitationally lensed images of distant normal galaxies. Studying Abell 370 and its images gives astronomers a unique window into the distribution of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters and the universe. via NASA

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Horsehead and Orion Nebulas

The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning two-panel mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud on the lower left, a small silhouette notched against the glow of hydrogen (alpha) gas, here tinted orange. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and can be found to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right, surrounded by the blue glow of reflecting dust. Immediately to its left is a prominent reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region. via NASA

Saturday, March 16, 2019

M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Center

What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106's appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and red dust lanes near the nucleus, as shown in the featured image. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 23.5 million light years away, spans 60 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). via NASA

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A View Toward M101

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy M101 is one of the last entries in Charles Messier's famous catalog, but definitely not one of the least. About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. M101 was also one of the original spiral nebulae observed by Lord Rosse's large 19th century telescope, the Leviathan of Parsontown. M101 shares this modern telescopic field of view with more distant background galaxies, foreground stars within the Milky Way, and a companion dwarf galaxy NGC 5474 (lower right). The colors of the Milky Way stars can also be found in the starlight from the large island universe. Its core is dominated by light from cool yellowish stars. Along its grand design spiral arms are the blue colors of hotter, young stars mixed with obscuring dust lanes and pinkish star forming regions. Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major, about 23 million light-years away. Its companion NGC 5474 has likely been distorted by its past gravitational interactions with the dominant M101. via NASA