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] https://ift.tt/2Joytbm

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] https://ift.tt/2Tcf90R

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] https://ift.tt/2Y4gWIX

NGC 3324 in Carina

This bright cosmic cloud was sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from the hot young stars of open cluster NGC 3324. With dust clouds in silhouette against its glowing atomic gas, the pocket-shaped star-forming region actually spans about 35 light-years. It lies some 7,500 light-years away toward the nebula rich southern constellation Carina. A composite of narrowband image data, the telescopic view captures the characteristic emission from ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms mapped to red, green, and blue hues in the popular Hubble Palette. For some, the celestial landscape of bright ridges of emission bordered by cool, obscuring dust along the right side create a recognizable face in profile. The region’s popular name is the Gabriela Mistral Nebula for the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2ULHY5C

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] https://ift.tt/2ChIam4

Perseverance Valley Panorama

Mars exploration rover Opportunity’s parting panorama from Perseverance Valley spans 360 degrees in this false color mosaic. The scene is composed of 354 individual images recorded through 3 different color filters by the rover’s panoramic camera from May 13 through June 10, 2018. A few frames remain in black and white at the lower left though. Those were obtained through only one filter just before a dust storm engulfed Mars in June 2018, ultimately ending the solar-powered rover’s trailblazing 15 year mission. Just right of center, the annotation identifies Opportunity’s entry point to Perseverance Valley along the Endeavor crater’s western rim. The rover’s tracks begin there, extending from over the horizon toward the far right and its final resting spot on the Red Planet. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2F42VSX

The Central Magnetic Field of the Cigar Galaxy

Are galaxies giant magnets? Yes, but the magnetic fields in galaxies are typically much weaker than on Earth’s surface, as well as more complex and harder to measure. Recently, though, the HAWC+ instrument onboard the airborne (747) SOFIA observatory has been successful in detailing distant magnetic fields by observing infrared light polarized by reflection from dust grains. Featured here, HAWC+ observations of the M82, the Cigar galaxy, show that the central magnetic field is perpendicular to the disk and parallel to the strong supergalactic wind. This observation bolsters the hypothesis that M82’s central magnetic field helps its wind transport the mass of millions of stars out from the central star-burst region. The featured image shows magnetic field lines superposed on top of an optical light (gray) and hydrogen gas (red) image from Kitt Peak National Observatory, further combined with infrared images (yellow) from SOFIA and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Cigar Galaxy is about 12 million light years distant and visible with binoculars towards the constellation of the Great Bear. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2XJQC6R