Interplanetary Earth

In an interplanetary first, on July 19, 2013 Earth was photographed on the same day from two other worlds of the Solar System, innermost planet Mercury and ringed gas giant Saturn. Pictured on the left, Earth is the pale blue dot just below the rings of Saturn, as captured by the robotic Cassini spacecraft then orbiting the outermost gas giant. On that same day people across planet Earth snapped many of their own of their own pictures of Saturn. On the right, the Earth-Moon system is seen against the dark background of space as captured by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft, then in Mercury orbit. MESSENGER took its image as part of a search for small natural satellites of Mercury, moons that would be expected to be quite dim. In the MESSENGER image, the Earth (left) and Moon (right) are overexposed and shine brightly with reflected sunlight. Destined not to return to their home world, both Cassini and Messenger have since retired from their missions of Solar System exploration. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2q73ckd
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Planet Earth at Blue Hour

Nature photographers and other fans of planet Earth always look forward to the blue hour. That’s the transition in twilight, just before sunrise or after sunset, when the Sun is below the horizon but land and sky are still suffused with beautiful bluish hues of light. On August 8 this early morning blue hour panorama scanned along the clear western sky, away from the impending sunrise. A breathtaking scene, it looks down the slopes of Mt. Whitney, from along the John Muir Trail toward rugged peaks of planet Earth’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Above the horizon a faint pinkish band of back scattered sunlight, the anti-twilight arch or Belt of Venus, borders the falling grey shadow of Earth itself. Subtle bands of light across the clear sky are anti-crepuscular rays, defined by shadows of clouds near the sunward horizon. Actually following parallel lines they seem to converge along the horizon at the point opposite the rising Sun due to perspective. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2M4Jgqt

NGC 7714: Starburst after Galaxy Collision

Is this galaxy jumping through a giant ring of stars? Probably not. Although the precise dynamics behind the featured image is yet unclear, what is clear is that the pictured galaxy, NGC 7714, has been stretched and distorted by a recent collision with a neighboring galaxy. This smaller neighbor, NGC 7715, situated off to the left of the featured frame, is thought to have charged right through NGC 7714. Observations indicate that the golden ring pictured is composed of millions of older Sun-like stars that are likely co-moving with the interior bluer stars. In contrast, the bright center of NGC 7714 appears to be undergoing a burst of new star formation. The featured image was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. NGC 7714 is located about 130 million light years away toward the constellation of the Two Fish (Pisces). The interactions between these galaxies likely started about 150 million years ago and should continue for several hundred million years more, after which a single central galaxy may result. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2LXq8uK

Sprite Lightning in HD

This phenomenon occurs in the sky over our heads, not the sea. It is a type of lightning known as red sprite, and rarely has it ever been photographed in this detail. Even though sprites have been recorded for over 30 years, their root cause remains unknown. Some thunderstorms have them, but most don’t. These mysterious bursts of light in the upper atmosphere momentarily resemble gigantic jellyfish. A few years ago high speed videos were taken detailing how red sprites actually develop. The featured image was captured last month in high definition from Italy. One unusual feature of sprites is that they are relatively cold — they operate more like long fluorescent light tubes than hot compact light bulbs. In general, red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2obzIRH

Io Eclipse Shadow on Jupiter from Juno

What’s that dark spot on Jupiter? It’s the shadow of Jupiter’s most volcanic moon Io. Since Jupiter shines predominantly by reflected sunlight, anything that blocks that light leaves a shadow. If you could somehow be in that shadow, you would see a total eclipse of the Sun by Io. Io’s shadow is about 3600 kilometers across, roughly the same size as Io itself — and only slightly larger than Earth’s Moon. The featured image was taken last month by NASA’s robotic Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter. About every two months, Juno swoops close by Jupiter, takes a lot of data and snaps a series of images — some of which are made into a video. Among many other things, Juno has been measuring Jupiter’s gravitational field, finding surprising evidence that Jupiter may be mostly a liquid. Under unexpectedly thick clouds, the Jovian giant may house a massive liquid hydrogen region that extends all the way to the center. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/31VIYYw

The Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula in the center of the above photograph. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will surely alter its appearance. The emission nebula’s red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. On the image left is the Flame Nebula, an orange-tinged nebula that also contains filaments of dark dust. Just to the lower left of the Horsehead nebula featured picture is a blueish reflection nebulae that preferentially reflects the blue light from nearby stars. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/2AKR8av

Jupiter and the Moons

After sunset on October 3, some of the Solar System’s largest moons stood low along the western horizon with the largest planet. Just after nightfall, a pairing of the Moon approaching first quarter phase and Jupiter was captured in this telephoto field of view. A blend of short and long exposures, it reveals the familiar face of our fair planet’s own large natural satellite in stark sunlight and faint earthshine. At lower right are the ruling gas giant and its four Galilean moons. Left to right, the tiny pinpricks of light are Ganymede, [Jupiter], Io, Europa, and Callisto. Our own natural satellite appears to loom large because it’s close, but Ganymede, Io, and Callisto are actually larger than Earth’s Moon. Water world Europa is only slightly smaller. Of the Solar System’s six largest planetary satellites, only Saturn’s moon Titan, is missing from this scene. But be sure to check for large moons in your sky tonight. [via NASA] https://ift.tt/31QTY9y