A Bright Nova in Cassiopeia

What’s that new spot of light in Cassiopeia? A nova. Although novas occur frequently throughout the universe, this nova, known as Nova Cas 2021 or V1405 Cas, became so unusually bright in the skies of Earth last month that it was visible to the unaided eye. Nova Cas 2021 first brightened in mid-March but then, unexpectedly, became even brighter in mid-May and remained quite bright for about a week. The nova then faded back to early-May levels, but now is slightly brightening again and remains visible through binoculars. Identified by the arrow, the nova occurred toward the constellation of Cassiopeia, not far from the Bubble Nebula. A nova is typically caused by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star that is accreting matter from a binary-star companion — although details of this outburst are currently unknown. Novas don’t destroy the underlying star, and are sometimes seen to recur. The featured image was created from 14 hours of imaging from Detroit, Michigan, USA. Both professional and amateur astronomers will likely continue to monitor Nova Cas 2021 and hypothesize about details of its cause. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3x3b3fW

A Distorted Sunrise Eclipse

Yes, but have you ever seen a sunrise like this? Here, after initial cloudiness, the Sun appeared to rise in two pieces and during partial eclipse, causing the photographer to describe it as the most stunning sunrise of his life. The dark circle near the top of the atmospherically-reddened Sun is the Moon — but so is the dark peak just below it. This is because along the way, the Earth’s atmosphere had an inversion layer of unusually warm air which acted like a gigantic lens and created a second image. For a normal sunrise or sunset, this rare phenomenon of atmospheric optics is known as the Etruscan vase effect. The featured picture was captured in December 2019 from Al Wakrah, Qatar. Some observers in a narrow band of Earth to the east were able to see a full annular solar eclipse — where the Moon appears completely surrounded by the background Sun in a ring of fire. The next solar eclipse, also an annular eclipse for well-placed observers, will occur later this week on June 10. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/34Tg66C

The Shining Clouds of Mars

The weathered and layered face of Mount Mercou looms in the foreground of this mosaic from the Curiosity Mars rover’s Mast Camera. Made up of 21 individual images the scene was recorded just after sunset on March 19, the 3,063rd martian day of Curiosity’s on going exploration of the Red Planet. In the martian twilight high altitude clouds still shine above, reflecting the light from the Sun below the local horizon like the noctilucent clouds of planet Earth. Though water ice clouds drift through the thin martian atmosphere, these wispy clouds are also at extreme altitudes and could be composed of frozen carbon dioxide, crystals of dry ice. Curiosity’s Mast Cam has also imaged iridescent or mother of pearl clouds adding subtle colors to the martian sky. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3vTssYb

Blood Monster Moon

On May 26, the Full Flower Moon was caught in this single exposure as it emerged from Earth’s shadow and morning twilight began to wash over the western sky. Posing close to the horizon near the end of totality, an eclipsed lunar disk is framed against bare oak trees at Pinnacles National Park in central California. The Earth’s shadow isn’t completely dark though. Faintly suffused with sunlight scattered by the atmosphere, the inner shadow gives the totally eclipsed moon a reddened appearance and the very dramatic popular moniker of a Blood Moon. Still, the monstrous visage of a gnarled tree in silhouette made this view of a total lunar eclipse even scarier. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3phMPff

Millions of Stars in Omega Centauri

Globular star cluster Omega Centauri, also known as NGC 5139, is some 15,000 light-years away. The cluster is packed with about 10 million stars much older than the Sun within a volume about 150 light-years in diameter. It’s the largest and brightest of 200 or so known globular clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way galaxy. Though most star clusters consist of stars with the same age and composition, the enigmatic Omega Cen exhibits the presence of different stellar populations with a spread of ages and chemical abundances. In fact, Omega Cen may be the remnant core of a small galaxy merging with the Milky Way. Omega Centauri’s red giant stars (with a yellowish hue) are easy to pick out in this sharp, color telescopic view. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2Rg8p78

The Galactic Center in Stars, Gas, and Magnetism

What’s going on near the center of our galaxy? To help find out, a newly detailed panorama has been composed that explores regions just above and below the galactic plane in radio and X-ray light. X-ray light taken by the orbiting Chandra Observatory is shown in orange (hot), green (hotter), and purple (hottest) and superposed with a highly detailed image in radio waves, shown in gray, acquired by the MeerKAT array. Interactions are numerous and complex. Galactic beasts such as expanding supernova remnants, hot winds from newly formed stars, unusually strong and colliding magnetic fields, and a central supermassive black hole are all battling in a space only 1000 light years across. Thin bright stripes appear to result from twisting and newly connecting magnetic fields in colliding regions, creating an energetic type of inner galactic space weather with similarities to that created by our Sun. Continued observations and study hold promise to not only shed more light on the history and evolution of our own galaxy — but all galaxies. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2Re30gZ

Starlink over Orion

What are those streaks across Orion? Most are reflections of sunlight from numerous Earth-orbiting Starlink satellites. Appearing by eye as a series of successive points floating across a twilight sky, the increasing number of SpaceX Starlink communication satellites are causing concern among many astronomers. On the positive side, Starlink and similar constellations make the post-sunset sky more dynamic, satellite-based global communications faster, and help provide digital services to currently underserved rural areas. On the negative side, though, these low Earth-orbit satellites make some deep astronomical imaging programs more difficult, in particular observing programs that need images taken just after sunset and just before dawn. Planned future satellite arrays that function in higher orbits may impact investigations of the deep universe planned for large ground-based telescopes at any time during the night. The featured picture, taken in 2019 December, is a digital combination of over 65 3-minutes exposures, with some images taken to highlight the background Orion Nebula, while others to feature the passing satellites. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3p8MivT

Mimas: Small Moon with a Big Crater

Whatever hit Mimas nearly destroyed it. What remains is one of the largest impact craters on one of Saturn’s smallest round moons. Analysis indicates that a slightly larger impact would have destroyed Mimas entirely. The huge crater, named Herschel after the 1789 discoverer of Mimas, Sir William Herschel, spans about 130 kilometers and is featured here. Mimas’ low mass produces a surface gravity just strong enough to create a spherical body but weak enough to allow such relatively large surface features. Mimas is made of mostly water ice with a smattering of rock – so it is accurately described as a big dirty snowball. The featured image was taken during the closest-ever flyby of the robot spacecraft Cassini past Mimas in 2010 while in orbit around Saturn. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3vOenuQ

Aurora over Clouds

Auroras usually occur high above the clouds. The auroral glow is created when fast-moving particles ejected from the Sun impact the Earth’s magnetosphere, from which charged particles spiral along the Earth’s magnetic field to strike atoms and molecules high in the Earth’s atmosphere. An oxygen atom, for example, will glow in the green light commonly emitted by an aurora after being energized by such a collision. The lowest part of an aurora will typically occur about 100 kilometers up, while most clouds exist only below about 10 kilometers. The relative heights of clouds and auroras are shown clearly in the featured picture in 2015 from Dyrholaey, Iceland. There, a determined astrophotographer withstood high winds and initially overcast skies in an attempt to capture aurora over a picturesque lighthouse, only to take, by chance, the featured picture including elongated lenticular clouds, along the way. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3fysbEb

Lunar Dust and Duct Tape

Why is the Moon so dusty? On Earth, rocks are weathered by wind and water, creating soil and sand. On the Moon, the history of constant micrometeorite bombardment has blasted away at the rocky surface creating a layer of powdery lunar soil or regolith. For the Apollo astronauts and their equipment, the pervasive, fine, gritty dust was definitely a problem. On the lunar surface in December 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan needed to repair one of their rover’s fenders in an effort to keep the rooster tails of dust away from themselves and their gear. This picture reveals the wheel and fender of their dust covered rover along with the ingenious application of spare maps, clamps, and a grey strip of “duct tape”. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/3urPVhr