Symbiotic R Aquarii

Variable star R Aquarii is actually an interacting binary star system, two stars that seem to have a close symbiotic relationship. Centered in this space-based optical/x-ray composite image it lies about 710 light years away. The intriguing system consists of a cool red giant star and hot, dense white dwarf star in mutual orbit around their common center of mass. With binoculars you can watch as R Aquarii steadily changes its brightness over the course of a year or so. 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, blasting material into space. Astronomers have seen such outbursts over recent decades. Evidence for much older outbursts is seen in these spectacular structures spanning almost a light-year as observed by the Hubble Space Telescope (in red and blue). Data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (in purple) shows the X-ray glow from shock waves created as a jet from the white dwarf strikes surrounding material. [via NASA]

Moons at Twilight

Even though Jupiter was the only planet visible in the evening sky on February 2, it shared the twilight above the western horizon with the Solar System’s brightest moons. In a single exposure made just after sunset, the Solar System’s ruling gas giant is at the upper right in this telephoto field-of-view from Cancun, Mexico. The snapshot also captures our fair planet’s own natural satellite in its young crescent phase. The Moon’s disk looms large, its familiar face illuminated mostly by earthshine. But the four points of light lined-up with Jupiter are Jupiter’s own large Galilean moons. Top to bottom are Ganymede, [Jupiter], Io, Europa, and Callisto. Ganymede, Io, and Callisto are physically larger than Earth’s Moon while water world Europa is only slightly smaller. [via NASA]

Embraced by Sunlight

Even though Venus (left) was the brightest planet in the sky it was less than 1/30th the apparent size of the Moon on January 29. But as both rose before the Sun they shared a crescent phase. For a moment their visible disks were each about 12 percent illuminated as they stood above the southeastern horizon. The similar sunlit crescents were captured in these two separate images. Made at different magnifications, each panel is a composite of stacked video frames taken with a small telescope. Venus goes through a range of phases like the Moon as the inner planet wanders from evening sky to morning sky and back again with a period of 584 days. Of course the Moon completes its own cycle of phases, a full lunation, in about 29.5 days. [via NASA]

The Galactic Center in Radio from MeerKAT

What’s happening at the center of our galaxy? It’s hard to tell with optical telescopes since visible light is blocked by intervening interstellar dust. In other bands of light, though, such as radio, the galactic center can be imaged and shows itself to be quite an interesting and active place. The featured picture shows the latest image of our Milky Way’s center by the MeerKAT array of 64 radio dishes in South Africa. Spanning four times the angular size of the Moon (2 degrees), the image is impressively vast, deep, and detailed. Many known sources are shown in clear detail, including many with a prefix of Sgr, since the galactic center is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. In our Galaxy’s Center lies Sgr A, found here in the image center, which houses the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole. Other sources in the image are not as well understood, including the Arc, just to the left of Sgr A, and numerous filamentary threads. Goals for MeerKAT include searching for radio emission from neutral hydrogen emitted in a much younger universe and brief but distant radio flashes. [via NASA]

Moon Phases 2022

What will the Moon phase be on your birthday this year? It is hard to predict because the Moon’s appearance changes nightly. As the Moon orbits the Earth, the half illuminated by the Sun first becomes increasingly visible, then decreasingly visible. The featured video animates images and altitude data taken by NASA’s Moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to show all 12 lunations that appear this year, 2022 — as seen from Earth’s northern (southern) hemisphere. A single lunation describes one full cycle of our Moon, including all of its phases. A full lunation takes about 29.5 days, just under a month (moon-th). As each lunation progresses, sunlight reflects from the Moon at different angles, and so illuminates different features differently. During all of this, of course, the Moon always keeps the same face toward the Earth. What is less apparent night-to-night is that the Moon’s apparent size changes slightly, and that a slight wobble called a libration occurs as the Moon progresses along its elliptical orbit. [via NASA]