Comet, Clusters, and Nebulae

Bright enough for binocular viewing Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner stands out, even in this deep telephoto mosaic of the star cluster and nebula rich constellation Auriga the Charioteer. On the night of September 9 its greenish coma and diffuse tail contrast with the colorful stars and reddish emission nebulae in the almost 10 degree field of view along the Milky Way. The comet was near its perihelion and closest approach to Earth, about 200 light-seconds away. Riding across the distant background just above the comet’s tail are well-known Auriga star clusters M38 (left of center) and M36 (toward the right) about 4,000 light-years away. At the top left, emission region IC 405 is only 1,500 light-years distant, more dramatically known as the Flaming Star Nebula. To its right lies IC 410, 12,000 light-years away and famous for its star-forming cosmic tadpoles. A child of our Solar System Giacobini-Zinner is a periodic comet orbiting the Sun once every 6.5 years, and the parent body of October’s Draconids meteor shower. [via NASA]


Our 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 taken by NASA’s Moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to show all 12 lunations that appear this year, 2018. 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]

Milky Way over Trolls Tongue

You have to take a long hike to see the Troll’s Tongue — ten hours over rocky terrain. And in this case, it took three trips to capture the landform below a clear night sky. Trolltunga itself is a picturesque rock protrusion extending about 700 meters over mountainous cliffs near Lake Ringedalsvatnet in Norway. The overhang is made of billion-year-old Precambrian bedrock that was carved out by glaciers during an ice-age about 10,000 years ago. The featured picture is a composite of two exposures, a 15-second image of the foreground Earth followed 40 minutes later by an 87-second exposure of the background sky. Thousands of discernable stars dot the backdrop starscape in addition to billions of unresolved stars in the nearly vertical band of our Milky Way Galaxy. [via NASA]

Curiosity Vista from Vera Rubin Ridge

If you could stand on Mars — what might you see? If you were NASA’s Curiosity rover, just last month you would have seen the view from Vera Rubin Ridge, an intriguing rock-strewn perch on the side of Mount Sharp. In the featured 360-degree panorama, you can spin around and take in the vista from all directions, in many browsers, just by pointing or tilting. In this virtual reality view, many instruments on the rover are labelled, including antennas, the robotic arm, and the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Dark sand and light rock cover the ground nearby in a mixture called lakebed mudstone. Towering Mount Sharp is only barely visible in the distance due to airborne dust from a planet-wide storm just winding down. Among its many discoveries, Curiosity has found that the raw ingredients for life are present on Mars. Next on Mars will be NASA’s Insight, on target to land in late November, which is scheduled to deploy a seismometer to better study the interior of the red planet. [via NASA]

M1: The Crab Nebula from Hubble

This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The featured image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula’s very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second. [via NASA]

Real Time Perseid

Bright meteors and dark night skies made this year’s Perseid meteor shower a great time for a weekend campout. And while packing away their equipment, skygazers at a campsite in the mountains of southern Germany found at least one more reason to linger under the stars, witnessing this brief but colorful flash with their own eyes. Presented as a 50 frame gif, the two second long video was captured during the morning twilight of August 12. In real time it shows the development of the typical green train of a bright Perseid meteor. A much fainter Perseid is just visible farther to the right. Plowing through Earth’s atmosphere at 60 kilometers per second, Perseids are fast enough to excite the characteristic green emission of atomic oxygen at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so. [via NASA]

Saturn s North Polar Hexagon

In full view, the amazing six-sided jet stream known as Saturn’s north polar hexagon is shown in this colorful Cassini image. Extending to 70 degrees north latitude, the false-color video frame is map-projected, based on infrared, visible, and ultraviolet image data recorded by the Saturn-orbiting spacecraft in late 2012. First found in the outbound Voyager flyby images from the 1980s, the bizarre, long-lived feature tied to the planet’s rotation is about 30,000 kilometers across. At its center lies the ringed gas giant’s hurricane-like north polar storm. A new long term study of Cassini data has found a remarkable higher-altitude vortex, exactly matching the outlines of the north polar hexagon, that formed as summer approached the planet’s northern hemisphere. It appears to reach hundreds of kilometers above these deeper cloud tops, into Saturn’s stratosphere. [via NASA]