Wednesday, January 31, 2024

NGC 1365: Majestic Island Universe

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the faint but heated constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax Cluster of galaxies. This sharp color image shows the intense, reddish star forming regions near the ends of the galaxy's central bar and along its spiral arms. Seen in fine detail, obscuring dust lanes cut across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole. ( February 01, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/30/2024



Cygnus NG-20 Launch: The Cygnus NG-20 cargo vehicle launched today, January 30th, at 11:07 AM CST, and is planned to be captured and berthed to the ISS on Thursday, February 1st, at 3:20 AM CT and 7:40 AM CT respectively. Cygnus will be berthed to the Node 1 Nadir port and will deliver more than … ...

January 30, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

What does Orion rising look like to a camera? During this time of the year, the famous constellation is visible to the southeast just after sunset. From most Earthly locations, Orion's familiar star pattern, highlighted by the three-stars-in-a-row belt stars, rises sideways. An entire section of the night sky that includes Orion was photographed rising above Śnieżka, a mountain on the border between Poland and the Czech Republic. The long duration exposure sequence brings up many faint features including the Orion and Flame Nebulas, both encompassed by the curving Barnard's Loop. The featured wide-angle camera composite also captured night sky icons including the blue Pleiades star cluster at the image top and the red Rosette Nebula to the left of Orion. Famous stars in the frame include Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and Aldebaran. Orion will appear successively higher in the sky at sunset during the coming months. ( January 31, 2024)

Monday, January 29, 2024

New landers are on the Moon. Nearly two weeks ago, Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) released two rovers as it descended, before its main lander touched down itself. The larger of the two rovers can hop like a frog, while the smaller rover is about the size of a baseball and can move after pulling itself apart like a transformer. The main lander, nicknamed Moon Sniper, is seen in the featured image taken by the smaller rover. Inspection of the image shows that Moon Sniper's thrusters are facing up, meaning that the lander is upside down from its descent configuration and on its side from its intended landing configuration. One result is that Moon Sniper's solar panels are not in the expected orientation, so that powering the lander had to be curtailed and adapted. SLIM's lander has already succeeded as a technology demonstration, its main mission, but was not designed to withstand the lunar night -- which starts tomorrow. ( January 30, 2024)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The well-known Pleiades star cluster is slowly destroying part of a passing cloud of gas and dust. The Pleiades is the brightest open cluster of stars on Earth's sky and can be seen from almost any northerly location with the unaided eye. Over the past 100,000 years, a field of gas and dust is moving by chance right through the Pleiades star cluster and is causing a strong reaction between the stars and dust. The passing cloud might be part of the Radcliffe wave, a newly discovered structure of gas and dust connecting several regions of star formation in the nearby part of our Milky Way galaxy. Pressure from the stars' light significantly repels the dust in the surrounding blue reflection nebula, with smaller dust particles being repelled more strongly. A short-term result is that parts of the dust cloud have become filamentary and stratified. The featured deep image incorporates nearly 9 hours of exposure and was captured from Utah Desert Remote Observatory in Utah, USA, last year. ( January 29, 2024)

Saturday, January 27, 2024

What color is Pluto, really? It took some effort to figure out. Even given all of the images sent back to Earth when the robotic New Horizons spacecraft sped past Pluto in 2015, processing these multi-spectral frames to approximate what the human eye would see was challenging. The result featured here, released three years after the raw data was acquired by New Horizons, is the highest resolution true color image of Pluto ever taken. Visible in the image is the light-colored, heart-shaped, Tombaugh Regio, with the unexpectedly smooth Sputnik Planitia, made of frozen nitrogen, filling its western lobe. New Horizons found the dwarf planet to have a surprisingly complex surface composed of many regions having perceptibly different hues. In total, though, Pluto is mostly brown, with much of its muted color originating from small amounts of surface methane energized by ultraviolet light from the Sun. ( January 28, 2024)

Friday, January 26, 2024

Full Observatory Moon

A popular name for January's full moon in the northern hemisphere is the Full Wolf Moon. As the new year's first full moon, it rises over Las Campanas Observatory in this dramatic Earth-and-moonscape. Peering from the foreground like astronomical eyes are the observatory's twin 6.5 meter diameter Magellan telescopes. The snapshot was captured with telephoto lens across rugged terrain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, taken at a distance of about 9 miles from the observatory and about 240,000 miles from the lunar surface. Of course the first full moon of the lunar new year, known to some as the Full Snow Moon, will rise on February 24. ( January 27, 2024)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Epsilon Tauri: Star with Planet

Epsilon Tauri lies 146 light-years away. A K-type red giant star, epsilon Tau is cooler than the Sun, but with about 13 times the solar radius it has nearly 100 times the solar luminosity. A member of the Hyades open star cluster the giant star is known by the proper name Ain, and along with brighter giant star Aldebaran, forms the eyes of Taurus the Bull. Surrounded by dusty, dark clouds in Taurus, epsilon Tau is also known to have a planet. Discovered by radial velocity measurements in 2006, Epsilon Tauri b is a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter with an orbital period of 1.6 years. And though the exoplanet can't be seen directly, on a dark night its parent star epsilon Tauri is easily visible to the unaided eye. ( January 26, 2024)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Jyväskylä in the Sky

You might not immediately recognize this street map of a neighborhood in Jyväskylä, Finland, planet Earth. But that's probably because the map was projected into the night sky and captured with an allsky camera on January 16. The temperature recorded on that northern winter night was around minus 20 degrees Celsius. As ice crystals formed in the atmosphere overhead, street lights spilling illumination into the sky above produced visible light pillars, their ethereal appearance due to specular reflections from the fluttering crystals' flat surfaces. Of course, the projected light pillars trace a map of the brightly lit local streets, though reversed right to left in the upward looking camera's view. This light pillar street map was seen to hover for hours in the Jyväskylä night. ( January 25, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/23/2024



Private Astronaut Mission (PAM) Axiom 3: Outreach and Payload Activities: Three ESA sponsored Ice Cube events were completed today, including a joint event for Marcus Wandt and ISS Commander Andy Mogensen with the European Space Conference.  Additional outreach events included a live event with a Swedish Newspaper, Aftonbladet, and an event between Michael López-Alegría and … ...

January 23, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

What do the Earth and Moon look like from beyond the Moon? Although frequently photographed together, the familiar duo was captured with this unusual perspective in late 2022 by the robotic Orion spacecraft of NASA's Artemis I mission as it looped around Earth's most massive satellite and looked back toward its home world. Since our Earth is about four times the diameter of the Moon, the satellite’s seemingly large size was caused by the capsule being closer to the smaller body. Artemis II, the next launch in NASA’s Artemis series, is currently scheduled to take people around the Moon in 2025, while Artemis III is planned to return humans to lunar surface in late 2026. Last week, JAXA's robotic SLIM spacecraft, launched from Japan, landed on the Moon and released two hopping rovers. ( January 24, 2024)

Monday, January 22, 2024

How well do you know the night sky? OK, but how well can you identify famous sky objects in a very deep image? Either way, here is a test: see if you can find some well-known night-sky icons in a deep image filled with faint nebulosity. This image contains the Pleiades star cluster, Barnard's Loop, Horsehead Nebula, Orion Nebula, Rosette Nebula, Cone Nebula, Rigel, Jellyfish Nebula, Monkey Head Nebula, Flaming Star Nebula, Tadpole Nebula, Aldebaran, Simeis 147, Seagull Nebula and the California Nebula. To find their real locations, here is an annotated image version. The reason this task might be difficult is similar to the reason it is initially hard to identify familiar constellations in a very dark sky: the tapestry of our night sky has an extremely deep hidden complexity. The featured composite reveals some of this complexity in a mosaic of 28 images taken over 800 hours from dark skies over Arizona, USA. ( January 23, 2024)

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Can the Moon and a mountain really cast similar shadows? Yes, but the division between light and dark does not have to be aligned. Pictured, a quarter moon was captured above the mountain Grivola in Italy in early October of 2022. The Sun is to the right of the featured picturesque landscape, illuminating the right side of the Moon in a similar way that it illuminates the right side of the mountain. This lunar phase is called "quarter" because the lit fraction visible from Earth is one quarter of the entire lunar surface. Digital post-processing of this single exposure gave both gigantic objects more prominence. Capturing the terminator of this quarter moon in close alignment with nearly vertical mountain ridge required careful timing because the Earth rotates once a day. ( January 22, 2024)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Yes, but can your blizzard do this? In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan's Storm of the Century in 1938, some snow drifts reached the level of utility poles. Nearly a meter of new and unexpected snow fell over two days in a storm that started 86 years ago this week. As snow fell and gale-force winds piled snow to surreal heights, many roads became not only impassable but unplowable; people became stranded, cars, school buses and a train became mired, and even a dangerous fire raged. Two people were killed and some students were forced to spend several consecutive days at school. The featured image was taken by a local resident soon after the storm. Although all of this snow eventually melted, repeated snow storms like this help build lasting glaciers in snowy regions of our planet Earth. ( January 21, 2024)

Friday, January 19, 2024

Falcon Heavy Boostback Burn

The December 28 night launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the fifth launch for the rocket's reusable side boosters. About 2 minutes 20 seconds into the flight, the two side boosters separated from the rocket's core stage. Starting just after booster separation, this three minute long exposure captures the pair's remarkable boostback burns, maneuvers executed prior to their return to landing zones on planet Earth. While no attempt was made to recover the Falcon Heavy's core stage, both side boosters landed successfully and can be flown again. The four previous flights for these side boosters included last October's launch of NASA's asteroid-bound Psyche mission. ( January 20, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/18/2024



Private Astronaut Mission (PAM) Axiom 3 Launch: SpaceX Crew Dragon Freedom successfully launched at 3:49 PM CST today from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Rendezvous and docking with the ISS is scheduled for 4:15 AM CST on Saturday, January 21st. With the arrival of the four private astronauts, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravci, … ...

January 18, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Jupiter over 2 Hours and 30 Minutes

Jupiter, our Solar System's ruling gas giant, is also the fastest spinning planet, rotating once in less than 10 hours. The gas giant doesn't rotate like a solid body though. A day on Jupiter is about 9 hours and 56 minutes long at the poles, decreasing to 9 hours and 50 minutes near the equator. The giant planet's fast rotation creates strong jet streams, separating its clouds into planet girdling bands of dark belts and bright zones. You can easily follow Jupiter's rapid rotation in this sharp sequence of images from the night of January 15, all taken with a camera and small telescope outside of Paris, France. Located just south of the equator, the giant planet's giant storm system, also known as the Great Red Spot, can be seen moving left to right with the planet's rotation. From lower left to upper right, the sequence spans about 2 hours and 30 minutes. ( January 19, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/17/2024



Payloads: Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Internal Ball Camera 2: The crew performed JEM Camera Robot 2 checkout and demonstration activities. JEM Internal Ball Camera 2 demonstrates technology for automating video and photos of research activities. Crew time is one of the most valuable resources on the ISS, and many simple, repetitive tasks could be automated. … ...

January 17, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Northern Lights from the Stratosphere

Northern lights shine in this night skyview from planet Earth's stratosphere, captured on January 15. The single, 5 second exposure was made with a hand-held camera on board an aircraft above Winnipeg, Canada. During the exposure, terrestrial lights below leave colorful trails along the direction of motion of the speeding aircraft. Above the more distant horizon, energetic particles accelerated along Earth's magnetic field at the planet's polar regions excite atomic oxygen to create the shimmering display of Aurora Borealis. The aurora's characteristic greenish hue is generated at altitudes of 100-300 kilometers and red at even higher altitudes and lower atmospheric densities. The luminous glow of faint stars along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy arcs through the night, while the Andromeda galaxy extends this northern skyview to extragalactic space. A diffuse hint of Andromeda, the closest large spiral to the Milky Way, can just be seen to the upper left. ( January 18, 2024)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

America and the Sea of Serenity

Get out your red/blue glasses and check out this stereo view of another world. The scene was recorded by Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene Cernan on December 11, 1972, one orbit before descending to land on the Moon. The stereo anaglyph was assembled from two photographs (AS17-147-22465, AS17-147-22466) captured from his vantage point on board the Lunar Module Challenger as he and Dr. Harrison Schmitt flew over Apollo 17's landing site in the Taurus-Littrow Valley. The broad, sunlit face of the mountain dubbed South Massif rises near the center of the frame, above the dark floor of Taurus-Littrow to its left. Piloted by Ron Evans, the Command Module America is visible in orbit in the foreground against the South Massif's peak. Beyond the mountains, toward the lunar limb, lies the Moon's Mare Serenitatis. Four astronauts will venture around the Moon and back again on the Artemis II mission, scheduled for launch no earlier than September 2025. ( January 17, 2024)

Monday, January 15, 2024

Do you recognize this constellation? Although it is one of the most recognizable star groupings on the sky, this is a more full Orion than you can see -- an Orion only revealed with long exposure digital camera imaging and post- processing. Here the cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange tint as the brightest star on the upper left. Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse on the lower right, and Bellatrix at the upper right. Lined up in Orion's belt are three stars all about 1,500 light-years away, born from the constellation's well-studied interstellar clouds. Just below Orion's belt is a bright but fuzzy patch that might also look familiar -- the stellar nursery known as Orion's Nebula. Finally, just barely visible to the unaided eye but quite striking here is Barnard's Loop -- a huge gaseous emission nebula surrounding Orion's Belt and Nebula discovered over 100 years ago by the pioneering Orion photographer E. E. Barnard. ( January 16, 2024)

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Sometimes, it's the stars that are the hardest to see that are the most interesting. IC 348 is a young star cluster that illuminates surrounding filamentary dust. The stringy and winding dust appears pink in this recently released infrared image from the Webb Space Telescope. In visible light, this dust reflects mostly blue light, giving the surrounding material the familiar blue hue of a reflection nebula. Besides bright stars, several cool objects have been located in IC 348, visible because they glow brighter in infrared light. These objects are hypothesized to be low mass brown dwarfs. Evidence for this includes the detection of an unidentified atmospheric chemical, likely a hydrocarbon, seen previously in the atmosphere of Saturn. These objects appear to have masses slightly greater than known planets, only a few times greater than Jupiter. Together, these indicate that this young star cluster contains something noteworthy -- young planet-mass brown dwarfs that float free, not orbiting any other star. ( January 15, 2024)

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Have you ever seen a dragon in the sky? Although real flying dragons don't exist, a huge dragon-shaped aurora developed in the sky over Iceland in 2019. The aurora was caused by a hole in the Sun's corona that expelled charged particles into a solar wind that followed a changing interplanetary magnetic field to Earth's magnetosphere. As some of those particles then struck Earth's atmosphere, they excited atoms which subsequently emitted light: aurora. This iconic display was so enthralling that the photographer's mother ran out to see it and was captured in the foreground. Our active Sun continues to show an unusually high number of prominences, filaments, sunspots, and large active regions as solar maximum approaches in 2025. ( January 14, 2024)

Friday, January 12, 2024

Circling the Sun

Earth's orbit around the Sun is not a circle, it's an ellipse. The point along its elliptical orbit where our fair planet is closest to the Sun is called perihelion. This year, perihelion was on January 2 at 01:00 UTC, with the Earth about 3 million miles closer to the Sun than it was at aphelion (last July 6), the farthest point in its elliptical orbit. Of course, distance from the Sun doesn't determine the seasons, and it doesn't the determine size of Sun halos. Easier to see with the Sun hidden behind a tall tree trunk, this beautiful ice halo forms a 22 degree-wide circle around the Sun, recorded while strolling through the countryside near Heroldstatt, Germany. The Sun halo's 22 degree angular diameter is determined by the six-sided geometry of water ice crystals drifting high in planet Earth's atmosphere. ( January 13, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/11/2024



Payloads: Complement of Integrated Protocols for Human Exploration Research on Varying Mission Durations (CIPHER): CIPHER Sample Collections and tests were completed. CIPHER consists of 14 studies designed to improve our understanding of physiological and psychological changes in humans on missions that range from weeks to one year in duration. Conducting the same research over missions … ...

January 11, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Good Morning Moon

Yesterday, the Moon was New. But on January 9, early morning risers around planet Earth were treated to the sight of an old Moon, low in the east as the sky grew bright before dawn. Above the city of Saarburg in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, this simple snapshot found the waning Moon's sunlit crescent just before sunrise. But also never wandering far from the Sun in Earth's sky, inner planets Venus and Mercury shared the cold morning skyview. In the foreground are the historic city's tower and castle with ruins from the 10th century. ( January 12, 2024)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Quadrantids of the North

Named for a forgotten constellation, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower puts on an annual show for planet Earth's northern hemisphere skygazers. The shower's radiant on the sky lies within the old, astronomically obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis. That location is not far from the Big Dipper asterism, known to some as the Plough, at the boundaries of the modern constellations Bootes and Draco. In fact the Big Dipper "handle" stars are near the upper right corner in this frame, with the meteor shower radiant just below. North star Polaris is toward the top left. Pointing back toward the radiant, Quadrantid meteors streak through the night in this skyscape from Jangsu, South Korea. The composite image was recorded in the hours around the shower's peak on January 4, 2024. A likely source of the dust stream that produces Quadrantid meteors was identified in 2003 as an asteroid. ( January 11, 2024)

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Light, the Dark, and the Dusty

This colorful skyscape spans about three full moons across nebula rich starfields along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation Cepheus. Near the edge of the region's massive molecular cloud some 2,400 light-years away, bright reddish emission region Sharpless (Sh)2-155 is at the center of the frame, also known as the Cave Nebula. About 10 light-years across the cosmic cave's bright walls of gas are ionized by ultraviolet light from the hot young stars around it. Dusty bluish reflection nebulae, like vdB 155 at the left, and dense obscuring clouds of dust also abound on the interstellar canvas. Astronomical explorations have revealed other dramatic signs of star formation, including the bright reddish fleck of Herbig-Haro (HH) 168. At the upper left in the frame, the Herbig-Haro object emission is generated by energetic jets from a newborn star. ( January 10, 2024)

ISS Daily Summary Report – 1/08/2024



Payloads: Astrobee Maneuvering by Robotic Manipulator Hopping (Astrobatics): The perching arm attachment was installed onto two Astrobees, and the crew assisted with the Astrobatics science 5 session.  Multiple sessions were performed successfully with either one or two Astrobees attached to a free-floating locker. Astrobatics demonstrates the Astrobee robotic vehicles using robotic manipulators to execute a … ...

January 08, 2024 at 11:00AM
From NASA:

Monday, January 8, 2024

Thor not only has his own day (Thursday), but a helmet in the heavens. Popularly called Thor's Helmet, NGC 2359 is a hat-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor's Helmet is about 30 light-years across. In fact, the cosmic head-covering is more like an interstellar bubble, blown with a fast wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble's center. Known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. NGC 2359 is located about 15,000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Great Overdog. This remarkably sharp image is a mixed cocktail of data from narrowband filters, capturing not only natural looking stars but details of the nebula's filamentary structures. The star in the center of Thor's Helmet is expected to explode in a spectacular supernova sometime within the next few thousand years. ( January 09, 2024)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Venus goes through phases. Just like our Moon, Venus can appear as a full circular disk, a thin crescent, or anything in between. Venus, frequently the brightest object in the post-sunset or pre-sunrise sky, appears so small, however, that it usually requires binoculars or a small telescope to clearly see its current phase. The featured time-lapse sequence was taken over the course of six months in 2015 from Surgères, Charente-Maritime, France, and shows not only how Venus changes phase, but changes angular size as well. When Venus is on the far side of the Sun from the Earth, it appears angularly smallest and nearest to full phase, while when Venus and Earth are on the same side of the Sun, Venus appears larger, but as a crescent. This month Venus rises before dawn in waxing gibbous phases. ( January 08, 2024)

Saturday, January 6, 2024

To some it looks like a cat's eye. To others, perhaps like a giant cosmic conch shell. It is actually one of the brightest and most highly detailed planetary nebula known, composed of gas expelled in the brief yet glorious phase near the end of life of a Sun-like star. This nebula's dying central star may have produced the outer circular concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. The formation of the beautiful, complex-yet-symmetric inner structures, however, is not well understood. The featured image is a composite of a digitally sharpened Hubble Space Telescope image with X-ray light captured by the orbiting Chandra Observatory. The exquisite floating space statue spans over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into this Cat's Eye, humanity may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution ... in about 5 billion years. ( January 07, 2024)

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Snows of Churyumov Gerasimenko

You couldn't really be caught in this blizzard while standing by a cliff on periodic comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Orbiting the comet in June of 2016, the Rosetta spacecraft's narrow angle camera did record streaks of dust and ice particles similar to snow as they drifted across the field of view close to the camera and above the comet's surface. Still, some of the bright specks in the scene are likely due to a rain of energetic charged particles or cosmic rays hitting the camera, and the dense background of stars in the direction of the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major). In the video, the background stars are easy to spot trailing from top to bottom. The stunning movie was constructed from 33 consecutive images taken over 25 minutes while Rosetta cruised some 13 kilometers from the comet's nucleus. In September 2016, the nucleus became the final resting place for the Rosetta spacecraft after its mission was ended with a successful controlled impact on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ( January 06, 2024)

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Trapezium: At the Heart of Orion

Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it one of the closest known black holes to planet Earth. ( January 05, 2024)

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Zeta Oph: Runaway Star

Like a ship plowing through cosmic seas, runaway star Zeta Ophiuchi produces the arcing interstellar bow wave or bow shock seen in this stunning infrared portrait. In the false-color view, bluish Zeta Oph, a star about 20 times more massive than the Sun, lies near the center of the frame, moving toward the left at 24 kilometers per second. Its strong stellar wind precedes it, compressing and heating the dusty interstellar material and shaping the curved shock front. What set this star in motion? Zeta Oph was likely once a member of a binary star system, its companion star was more massive and hence shorter lived. When the companion exploded as a supernova catastrophically losing mass, Zeta Oph was flung out of the system. About 460 light-years away, Zeta Oph is 65,000 times more luminous than the Sun and would be one of the brighter stars in the sky if it weren't surrounded by obscuring dust. The image spans about 1.5 degrees or 12 light-years at the estimated distance of Zeta Ophiuchi. In January 2020, NASA placed the Spitzer Space Telescope in safe mode, ending its 16 successful years of exploring the cosmos. ( January 04, 2024)

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

What is that unusual red halo surrounding this aurora? It is a Stable Auroral Red (SAR) arc. SAR arcs are rare and have only been acknowledged and studied since 1954. The featured wide-angle photograph, capturing nearly an entire SAR arc surrounding more common green and red aurora, was taken earlier this month from Poolburn, New Zealand, during an especially energetic geomagnetic storm. Why SAR arcs form remains a topic of research, but is likely related to Earth's protective magnetic field, a field created by molten iron flowing deep inside the Earth. This magnetic field usually redirects incoming charged particles from the Sun's wind toward the Earth's poles. However, it also traps a ring of ions closer to the equator, where they can gain energy from the magnetosphere during high solar activity. The energetic electrons in this ion ring can collide with and excite oxygen higher in Earth's ionosphere than typical auroras, causing the oxygen to glow red. Ongoing research has uncovered evidence that a red SAR arc can even transform into a purple and green STEVE. ( January 03, 2024)

Monday, January 1, 2024

Can a rocket make the Moon ripple? No, but it can make a background moon appear wavy. The rocket, in this case, was a SpaceX Falcon Heavy that blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center last week. In the featured launch picture, the rocket's exhaust plume glows beyond its projection onto the distant, rising, and nearly full moon. Oddly, the Moon's lower edge shows unusual drip-like ripples. The Moon itself, far in the distance, was really unchanged. The physical cause of these apparent ripples was pockets of relatively hot or rarefied air deflecting moonlight less strongly than pockets of relatively cool or compressed air: refraction. Although the shot was planned, the timing of the launch had to be just right for the rocket to be transiting the Moon during this single exposure. ( January 02, 2024)