Cherenkov Telescope at Sunset

On October 10, a new telescope reflected the light of the setting Sun. With dark horizon above and sunset colors below, its segmented mirror inverts an image of the beautiful evening sky in this snapshot from the Roque del Los Muchachos Observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma. The mirror segments cover a 23 meter diameter and are mounted in the open structure of the Large Scale Telescope 1, inaugurated as the first component of the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). Most ground-based telescopes are hindered by the atmosphere that blurs, scatters, and absorbs light. But cherenkov telescopes are designed to detect very high energy gamma rays and actually require the atmosphere to operate. As the gamma rays impact the upper atmosphere they produce air showers of high-energy particles. A large, fast camera at the common focus images the brief flashes of optical light, called Cherenkov light, created by the air shower particles. The flashes reveal the incoming gamma ray timing, direction, and energy. Ultimately more than 100 Cherenkov telescopes are planned for the CTA at locations in both northern and southern hemispheres on planet Earth. [via NASA]

Jupiter in Ultraviolet from Hubble

Jupiter looks a bit different in ultraviolet light. To better interpret Jupiter’s cloud motions and to help NASA’s robotic Juno spacecraft understand the planetary context of the small fields that it sees, the Hubble Space Telescope is being directed to regularly image the entire Jovian giant. The colors of Jupiter being monitored go beyond the normal human visual range to include both ultraviolet and infrared light. Featured from 2017, Jupiter appears different in near ultraviolet light, partly because the amount of sunlight reflected back is distinct, giving differing cloud heights and latitudes discrepant brightnesses. In the near UV, Jupiter’s poles appear relatively dark, as does its Great Red Spot and a smaller (optically) white oval to the right. The String of Pearl storms farther to the right, however, are brightest in near ultraviolet, and so here appear (false-color) pink. Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede appears on the upper left. Juno continues on its looping 53-day orbits around Jupiter, while Earth-orbiting Hubble is now recovering from the loss of a stabilizing gyroscope. [via NASA]

Orion in Red and Blue

When did Orion become so flashy? This colorful rendition of part of the constellation of Orion comes from red light emitted by hydrogen and sulfur (SII), and blue-green light emitted by oxygen (OIII). Hues on the featured image were then digitally reassigned to be indicative of their elemental origins — but also striking to the human eye. The breathtaking composite was painstakingly composed from hundreds of images which took nearly 200 hours to collect. Pictured, Barnard’s Loop, across the image bottom, appears to cradle interstellar constructs including the intricate Orion Nebula seen just right of center. The Flame Nebula can also be quickly located, but it takes a careful eye to identify the slight indentation of the dark Horsehead Nebula. As to Orion’s flashiness — a leading explanation for the origin of Barnard’s Loop is a supernova blast that occurred about two million years ago. [via NASA]

Skygazers on the Beach

Kona, a young boxer, is a dog who loves splashing in the waves along Solana Beach near San Diego, planet Earth. But he paused here, at least briefly, during an early evening romp on October 7. Along with two people friends he gazes skyward in this snapshot, dazzled by the flight of a Falcon 9 rocket. Their seaside view is of the sunlit exhaust plumes from the rocket’s first stage thrusters as it returns to Vandenberg Air Force base, its launch site over 250 miles to the north. [via NASA]

The Falcon 9 Nebula

Not the Hubble Space Telescope’s latest view of a distant planetary nebula, this illuminated cloud of gas and dust dazzled even casual U.S. west coast skygazers on October 7. Taken about three miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the image follows plumes and exhaust from the first and second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rising through southern California’s early evening skies. In the fading twilight, the reddish smoke drifting in the foreground at the right is from the initial ascent of the rocket. The expanding blue and orange filamentary plumes are from first and second stage separation and the first stage boostback burn, still in sunlight at extreme altitudes. But the bright spot below center is the second stage itself headed almost directly away from the camera, accelerating to orbital velocity and far downrange. Pulsed thrusters form the upside down V-shape at the top as they guide the reusable Falcon 9 first stage back to the landing site. [via NASA]

West Coast Launch and Landing

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch dazzled viewers along the U.S. west coast after sunset on October 7. Rising from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, planet Earth, the Falcon 9’s first stage then returned to a landing zone some 400 meters from the launch site less than 8 minutes after liftoff. Both launch and first stage landing (left) are captured in the frame of this two image stack, recorded by a stationary, sound-activated camera set up on a nearby hill. This Falcon 9 rocket delivered its payload, an Earth-observing satellite developed by Argentina’s national space agency, to low Earth orbit. Of course, the Falcon 9 first stage had flown before. Following a launch from Vandenberg on July 25 it was recovered after landing on the autonomous drone ship Just Read the Instructions. [via NASA]

Sun Dance

Sometimes, the surface of our Sun seems to dance. In the middle of 2012, for example, NASA’s Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft imaged an impressive prominence that seemed to perform a running dive roll like an acrobatic dancer. The dramatic explosion was captured in ultraviolet light in the featured time-lapse video covering about three hours. A looping magnetic field directed the flow of hot plasma on the Sun. The scale of the dancing prominence is huge — the entire Earth would easily fit under the flowing arch of hot gas. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, and may erupt in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) expelling hot gas into the Solar System. The energy mechanism that creates a solar prominence is still a topic of research. Unlike 2012, this year the Sun’s surface is significantly more serene, featuring fewer spinning prominences, as it is near the minimum in its 11-year magnetic cycle. [via NASA]