Firefly Milky Way over Russia

It started with a pine tree. The idea was to photograph a statuesque pine in front of the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. And the plan, carried out two months ago, was successful — they both appear prominently. But the resulting 3-frame panorama captured much more. Colorful stars, for example, dot the distant background, with bright Altair visible on the upper left. The planet Saturn, a bit closer, was captured just over the horizon on the far left. Just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, seen in the upper right, an Earth-orbiting satellite was caught leaving a streak during the 25-second exposure. The Earth’s atmosphere itself was surprisingly visible — as green airglow across the image top. Finally, just by chance, there was a firefly. Do you see it? Near the image bottom, the firefly blinked in yellow several times as it fluttered before the rolling hills above Milogradovka River in Primorsky Krai, Russia. [via NASA]

Earth and Moon

The Earth and Moon are rarely photographed together. One of most spectacular times this occurred was about 30 years ago when the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft zoomed past our home planetary system. Then, robotic Galileo watched from about 15-times the Earth-Moon separation as our only natural satellite glided past our home world. The featured video combines 52 historic color-enhanced images. Although our Moon may appear small next to the Earth, no other planet in our Solar System has a satellite so comparable in size . The Sun, far off to the right, illuminated about half of each sphere, and shows the spinning Earth’s white clouds, blue oceans, and tan continents. [via NASA]

A Falcon 9 Nebula

Not the Hubble Space Telescope’s latest view of a distant galactic nebula, this illuminated cloud of gas and dust dazzled early morning spacecoast skygazers on August 29. The snapshot was taken at 3:17am from Space View Park in Titusville, Florida. That’s about 3 minutes after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the CRS-23 mission to resupply the International Space Station. It captures drifting plumes and exhaust from the separated first and second stage of the rocket rising through still dark skies. The lower bright dot is the second stage continuing on to low Earth orbit. The upper one is the rocket’s first stage performing a boostback burn. Of course the first stage booster returned to make the first landing on the latest autonomous drone ship to arrive in the Atlantic, A Short Fall of Gravitas. [via NASA]

NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula

These cosmic clouds have blossomed 1,300 light-years away, in the fertile starfields of the constellation Cepheus. Called the Iris Nebula, NGC 7023 is not the only nebula to evoke the imagery of flowers. Still, this deep telescopic image shows off the Iris Nebula’s range of colors and symmetries, embedded in surrounding fields of interstellar dust. Within the Iris itself, dusty nebular material surrounds a hot, young star. The dominant color of the brighter reflection nebula is blue, characteristic of dust grains reflecting starlight. Central filaments of the reflection nebula glow with a faint reddish photoluminesence as some dust grains effectively convert the star’s invisible ultraviolet radiation to visible red light. Infrared observations indicate that this nebula contains complex carbon molecules known as PAHs. The dusty blue petals of the Iris Nebula span about six light-years. [via NASA]

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

Find the Big Dipper and follow the handle away from the dipper’s bowl until you get to the last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you’ll come upon this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier’s famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (top), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the eye, deep images like this one reveal its striking colors and galactic tidal debris. [via NASA]

Dancing Ghosts: Curved Jets from Active Galaxies

Why would galaxies emit jets that look like ghosts? And furthermore, why do they appear to be dancing? The curled and fluffy jets from the supermassive black holes at the centers of two host galaxies (top center and lower left) are unlike anything seen before. They were found by astronomers using the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope when creating maps tracing the evolution of galaxies. Images preceding this Evolutionary Map of the Universe survey only showed amorphous blobs. Eventually, comparisons of relative amounts of energy emitted revealed the glowing elongated structures were created by electrons streaming around magnetic field lines. Overlaying the radio data on an optical view of the sky (Dark Energy Survey) confirmed that the electron streams originated from the centers of active galaxies. Usually such Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) produce straight jets. A leading hypothesis for the geometric origin of these unusually graceful shapes involves the flow of large-scale intergalactic winds. [via NASA]

A Blue Moon in Exaggerated Colors

The Moon is normally seen in subtle shades of grey or gold. But small, measurable color differences have been greatly exaggerated to make this telescopic, multicolored, moonscape captured during the Moon’s full phase. The different colors are recognized to correspond to real differences in the chemical makeup of the lunar surface. Blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. The familiar Sea of Tranquility, or Mare Tranquillitatis, is the blue area toward the upper right. White lines radiate across the orange-hued southern lunar highlands from 85-kilometer wide ray-crater Tycho at bottom right. The full moon that occurred earlier this month could be counted as a seasonal blue moon because it was, unusually, the third of four full moons to occur during northern summer (and hence southern winter). The featured 272-image composite demonstrates that the full Moon is always blue, but usually not blue enough in hue to ooh. [via NASA]

A Fire Rainbow over West Virginia

What’s happening to this cloud? Ice crystals in a distant cirrus cloud are acting like little floating prisms. Known informally as a fire rainbow for its flame-like appearance, a circumhorizon arc appears parallel to the horizon. For a circumhorizontal arc to be visible, the Sun must be at least 58 degrees high in a sky where cirrus clouds present below — in this case cirrus fibrates. The numerous, flat, hexagonal ice-crystals that compose the cirrus cloud must be aligned horizontally to properly refract sunlight in a collectively similar manner. Therefore, circumhorizontal arcs are somewhat unusual to see. The featured fire rainbow was photographed earlier this month near North Fork Mountain in West Virginia, USA. [via NASA]

Orbits of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids

Are asteroids dangerous? Some are, but the likelihood of a dangerous asteroid striking the Earth during any given year is low. Because some past mass extinction events have been linked to asteroid impacts, however, humanity has made it a priority to find and catalog those asteroids that may one day affect life on Earth. Pictured here are the orbits of the over 1,000 known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs). These documented tumbling boulders of rock and ice are over 140 meters across and will pass within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth — about 20 times the distance to the Moon. Although none of them will strike the Earth in the next 100 years — not all PHAs have been discovered, and past 100 years, many orbits become hard to predict. Were an asteroid of this size to impact the Earth, it could raise dangerous tsunamis, for example. To investigate Earth-saving strategies, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is planned for launch later this year. Of course rocks and ice bits of much smaller size strike the Earth every day, usually pose no danger, and sometimes creating memorable fireball and meteor displays. [via NASA]

Mars Rock Rochette

Taken on mission sol 180 (August 22) this sharp image from a Hazard Camera on the Perseverance rover looks out across a rock strewn floor of Jezero crater on Mars. At 52.5 centimeters (21 inches) in diameter, one of the rover’s steerable front wheels is at lower left in the frame. Near center is a large rock nicknamed Rochette. Mission planners don’t want to avoid Rochette though. Instead Perseverance will be instructed to reach out with its 2 meter long robotic arm and abrade the rock’s surface, to determine whether it has a consistency suitable for obtaining a sample, slightly thicker than a pencil, using the rover’s coring bit. Samples collected by Perseverance would be returned to Earth by a future Mars mission. [via NASA]