November 23, 2018

MFJ-1886 Loop Receiving Antenna

Decided to order the MFJ-1886 loop receiving antenna to have some fun experimenting on MF and HF bands.  I have been wanting to try out a loop antenna for years and the MFJ-1886 fit my requirements.


  • Magnetic loop antenna design
  • Cover the medium wave broadcast band (525 kHz to 1705 kHz)
  • Cover the high frequency band (1700 kHz to 30 mHz)
  • Directional capability
  • Compact size
  • Weatherproof for outdoor use
  • SO-239/PL-259

Looking forward to giving the MFJ-1886 loop antenna a complete workout with MW DXing and shortwave listening.  Stay tuned for follow up articles.

MFJ-1886 Receiving Magnetic Loop Antenna

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

August 25, 2018

Radio Merit Badge at Camp Lehi

The Radio Merit Badge is earned by approximately 6,500 Boy Scouts in the US each year.  The Radio Merit Badge requirements are demanding and require both classroom learning as well as applied learning in front of a radio.  I really like the design of the merit badge with its hidden Morse code message and lighting bolts.

Radio Merit Badge
I had an opportunity to teach the radio merit badge at a recent Merit Badge Pow Wow at Camp Lehi here in the Bay Area.  My co-instructor for the course was Ray Wentz, W6LPW.

Camp Lehi is a beautiful location in the Santa Cruz mountains

The night before the course the Merit Badge Pow Wow organizer (Jon) and I installed three antennas: a 40 meters home-brew wire dipole, a 20 meters rotatable dipole, and a vhf/uhf antenna.  We setup the radios and class room in the great outdoors under a couple of canopies.  Power was provide a generator.

Rotatable Dipole and VHF/UHF antenna 

Home brew 40 Meters wire dipole between two trees
The 40 Meters wire dipole worked really well for the scouts.  They made contacts with 100W into the North Carolina to the East, Vancouver to the North, San Diego to the South, and Hawaii to the West.  We were using a Kenwood TS-480SAT.  It was a lot of fun to see the scouts make their first radio contacts ever.

Ray tried several times to call on the local repeater using his HT and found no one to talk to.  Fortunately 40 Meters was in good shape and there plenty of hams for the scouts to talk to.

The rotatable dipole was not functioning properly.  I had brought my antenna analyzer and measured SWR exceeding 3.0.  We didn't have time to determine where the failure was occurring in the system.  That will be a job for another day back at the shack.

A big thank you to the patient hams who talked the scouts and helped them log their first contacts.  This event helped create interest in radio.  Several of the scouts mentioned their interest in studying for their own amateur radio licenses.  Support your local scouting organization and radio merit badge, jamboree on the air, and other outstanding programs.

Good DX and 73,

March 11, 2018

Flying over the Earth at Night II

What would it be like to orbit the Earth? The International Space Station (ISS) does this every 90 minutes, and sometimes the astronauts on board take image sequences that are made into videos. The featured time-lapse video shows many visual spectacles of the dark Earth below. First, as the video begins, green and red auroras are visible on the upper left above white clouds. Soon city lights come into view, and it becomes clear you are flying over North America, eventually passing over Florida. In the second sequence you fly over Europe and Africa, eventually passing over the Nile River. Brief flashes of light are lightning in storms. Stars far in the distance can be seen rising through the greenish-gold glow of the Earth's atmosphere. via NASA

March 9, 2018

Horsehead: A Wider View

Combined image data from the massive, ground-based VISTA telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope was used to create this wide perspective of the interstellar landscape surrounding the famous Horsehead Nebula. Captured at near-infrared wavelengths, the region's dusty molecular cloud sprawls across the scene that covers an angle about two-thirds the size of the Full Moon on the sky. Left to right the frame spans just over 10 light-years at the Horsehead's estimated distance of 1,600 light-years. Also known as Barnard 33, the still recognizable Horsehead Nebula stands at the upper right, the near-infrared glow of a dusty pillar topped with newborn stars. Below and left, the bright reflection nebula NGC 2023 is itself the illuminated environs of a hot young star. Obscuring clouds below the base of the Horsehead and on the outskirts of NGC 2023 show the tell-tale far red emission of energetic jets, known as Herbig-Haro objects, also associated with newborn stars. via NASA

March 8, 2018

Cyclones at Jupiter s North Pole

Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper data was used to construct this stunning view of cyclones at Jupiter's North Pole. Measuring the thermal emission from Jovian cloud tops, the infrared the observations are not restricted to the hemisphere illuminated by sunlight. They reveal eight cyclonic features that surround a cyclone about 4,000 kilometers in diameter, just offset from the giant planet's geographic North Pole. Similar data show a cyclone at the Jovian South Pole with five circumpolar cyclones. The South Pole cyclones are slightly larger than their northern cousins. Cassini data has shown that gas giant Saturn's north and south poles each have a single cyclonic storm system. via NASA

March 6, 2018

Colorful Airglow Bands Surround Milky Way

Why would the sky glow like a giant repeating rainbow? Airglow. Now air glows all of the time, but it is usually hard to see. A disturbance however -- like an approaching storm -- may cause noticeable rippling in the Earth's atmosphere. These gravity waves are oscillations in air analogous to those created when a rock is thrown in calm water. Red airglow likely originates from OH molecules about 87-kilometers high, excited by ultraviolet light from the Sun, while orange and green airglow is likely caused by sodium and oxygen atoms slightly higher up. While driving near Keluke Lake in Qinghai Provence in China, the photographer originally noticed mainly the impressive central band of the Milky Way Galaxy. Stopping to photograph it, surprisingly, the resulting sensitive camera image showed airglow bands to be quite prominent and span the entire sky. The featured image has been digitally enhanced to make the colors more vibrant. via NASA

March 4, 2018

Clouds, Birds, Moon, Venus

Sometimes the sky above can become quite a show. In early September of 2010, for example, the Moon and Venus converged, creating quite a sight by itself for sky enthusiasts around the globe. From some locations, though, the sky was even more picturesque. In the featured image taken in Spain, a crescent Moon and the planet Venus, on the far right, were captured during sunset posing against a deep blue sky. In the foreground, dark storm clouds loom across the image bottom, while a white anvil cloud shape appears above. Black specks dot the frame, caused by a flock of birds taking flight. Very soon after this picture was taken, however, the birds passed by, the storm ended, and Venus and the Moon set. Bright Venus is again visible just after sunset this month (2018 March) and will appear quite near Mercury tonight and the rest of this week. via NASA

March 3, 2018

Southwest Mare Fecunditatis

Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders journeyed from Earth to the Moon and back again in December of 1968. From lunar orbit, their view of craters in southwest Mare Fecunditatis is featured in this stereo anaglyph, best experienced from armchairs on planet Earth with red/blue glasses. Goclenius is the large impact crater in the foreground. About 70 kilometers (45 miles) in diameter its lava-flooded floor is scarred by rilles or grooves, long, narrow depressions in the surface. Crossing the crater walls and central peaks the rilles were likely formed after the crater itself. In the background, the two large craters with smooth floors are Colombo A (top) and Magelhaens. Magelhaens A, the background crater with the irregular floor, is about 35 kilometers (20 miles) in diameter. via NASA

March 1, 2018

The Lunar X

The striking X in this lunarscape is easily visible in binoculars or a small telescope, but not too many have seen it. The catch is, this lunar X is fleeting and only apparent in the hours before the Moon's first quarter phase. Along the shadow line between lunar day and night, the X illusion is produced by a configuration of craters seen here toward the left, Blanchinus, La Caille and Purbach. Near the Moon's first quarter phase, an astronaut standing close to the craters' position would see the slowly rising Sun very near the horizon. Temporarily, crater walls would be in sunlight while crater floors would still be in darkness. Seen from planet Earth, contrasting sections of bright walls against the dark floors by chance look remarkably like an X. This sharp image of the Lunar X was captured on February 22nd. For extra credit, sweep your gaze along the lunar terminator and you can also spot the Lunar V. via NASA

February 25, 2018

Passing Jupiter

Here comes Jupiter! NASA's robotic spacecraft Juno is continuing on its 53-day, highly-elongated orbits around our Solar System's largest planet. The featured video is from perijove 11, the eleventh time Juno has passed near Jupiter since it arrived in mid-2016. This time-lapse, color-enhanced movie covers about four hours and morphs between 36 JunoCam images. The video begins with Jupiter rising as Juno approaches from the north. As Juno reaches its closest view -- from about 3,500 kilometers over Jupiter's cloud tops -- the spacecraft captures the great planet in tremendous detail. Juno passes light zones and dark belt of clouds that circle the planet, as well as numerous swirling circular storms, many of which are larger than hurricanes on Earth. After the perijove, Jupiter recedes into the distance, now displaying the unusual clouds that appear over Jupiter's south. To get desired science data, Juno swoops so close to Jupiter that its instruments may soon fail due to exposure to high levels of radiation. Because of this, in part, the Juno mission is currently schedule to conclude in mid-2018, at perijove 14, when the spacecraft will be directed to dive into Jupiter's atmosphere and melt. via NASA

February 22, 2018

When Roses Aren t Red

Not all roses are red of course, but they can still be very pretty. Likewise, the beautiful Rosette Nebula and other star forming regions are often shown in astronomical images with a predominately red hue, in part because the dominant emission in the nebula is from hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen's strongest optical emission line, known as H-alpha, is in the red region of the spectrum, but the beauty of an emission nebula need not be appreciated in red light alone. Other atoms in the nebula are also excited by energetic starlight and produce narrow emission lines as well. In this gorgeous view of the Rosette Nebula, narrowband images are combined to show emission from sulfur atoms in red, hydrogen in blue, and oxygen in green. In fact, the scheme of mapping these narrow atomic emission lines into broader colors is adopted in many Hubble images of stellar nurseries. The image spans about 100 light-years in the constellation Monoceros, at the 3,000 light-year estimated distance of the Rosette Nebula. To make the Rosette red, just follow this link or slide your cursor over the image. via NASA

February 20, 2018

A Partial Solar Eclipse over Buenos Aires

What's happened to top of the Sun? Last week, parts of Earth's southern hemisphere were treated to a partial solar eclipse, where the Moon blocks out part of the Sun. The featured image was taken toward the end of the eclipse from the coast of Uruguay overlooking Argentina's Buenos Aires. Light-house adorned Farallón Island is seen in the foreground, and a plane is visible just to the left of the Sun. The image is actually a digital combination of two consecutive exposures taken with the same camera using the same settings -- one taken of the landscape and another of the background Sun. The next solar eclipse visible on Earth will be another partial eclipse occurring in mid-July and visible from parts of southern Australia including Tasmania. via NASA

February 18, 2018

Galaxy Formation in a Magnetic Universe

How did we get here? We know that we live on a planet orbiting a star orbiting a galaxy, but how did all of this form? To understand details better, astrophysicists upgraded the famous Illustris Simulation into IllustrisTNG -- now the most sophisticated computer model of how galaxies evolved in our universe. Specifically, this featured video tracks magnetic fields from the early universe (redshift 5) until today (redshift 0). Here blue represents relatively weak magnetic fields, while white depicts strong. These B fields are closely matched with galaxies and galaxy clusters. As the simulation begins, a virtual camera circles the virtual IllustrisTNG universe showing a young region -- 30-million light years across -- to be quite filamentary. Gravity causes galaxies to form and merge as the universe expands and evolves. At the end, the simulated IllustrisTNG universe is a good statistical match to our present real universe, although some interesting differences arise -- for example a discrepancy involving the power in radio waves emitted by rapidly moving charged particles. via NASA

February 17, 2018

LL Ori and the Orion Nebula

Stars can make waves in the Orion Nebula's sea of gas and dust. This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. This beautiful painting-like photograph is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation. via NASA

February 11, 2018

Blue Comet Meets Blue Stars

What's that heading for the Pleiades star cluster? It appears to be Comet C/2016 R2 (PanSTARRS), but here, appearances are deceiving. On the right and far in the background, the famous Pleiades star cluster is dominated by blue light from massive young stars. On the left and visiting the inner Solar System is Comet PanSTARRS, a tumbling block of ice from the outer Solar System that currently sports a long ion tail dominated by blue light from an unusually high abundance of ionized carbon monoxide. Comet PanSTARRS is actually moving toward the top of the image, and its ion tail points away from the Sun but is affected by a complex solar wind of particles streaming out from the Sun. Visible through a small telescope, the comet is fading as it recedes from the Earth, even though it reaches its closest point to the Sun in early May. via NASA

A Partial Eclipse Over Manila Bay

What's happened to the setting Sun? An eclipse! In early 2009, the Moon eclipsed part of the Sun as visible from parts of Africa, Australia, and Asia. In particular the featured image, taken from the Mall of Asia seawall, caught a partially eclipsed Sun setting over Manila Bay in the Philippines. Piers are visible in silhouette in the foreground. Eclipse chasers and well placed sky enthusiasts captured many other interesting and artistic images of the year's only annular solar eclipse, including movies, eclipse shadow arrays, and rings of fire. On Thursday parts of the Sun again will become briefly blocked by the Moon, again visible to some as a partial eclipse of the Sun. Thursday's eclipse, however, will only be visible from parts of southern South America and Antarctica. via NASA

February 10, 2018

Roadster, Starman, Planet Earth

Don't panic. It's just a spacesuited mannequin named Starman. As the sunlit crescent of planet Earth recedes in the background, Starman is comfortably seated at the wheel of a Tesla Roadster in this final image of the payload launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6. Internationally designated 2018-017A, roadster and Starman are headed for space beyond the orbit of Mars. The successful Falcon Heavy rocket has now become the most powerful rocket in operation and the roadster one of four electric cars launched from planet Earth. The other three were launched to the Moon by historically more powerful (but not reusable) Saturn V rockets. Still, Starman's roadster is probably the only one that would be considered street legal. via NASA

February 9, 2018

Total Solar Lunar Eclipse

This digitally processed and composited picture creatively compares two famous eclipses in one; the total lunar eclipse (left) of January 31, and the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. The Moon appears near mid-totality in both the back-to-back total eclipses. In the lunar eclipse, its surface remains faintly illuminated in Earth's dark reddened shadow. But in the solar eclipse the Moon is in silhouette against the Sun's bright disk, where the otherwise dark lunar surface is just visible due to earthshine. Also seen in the lunar-aligned image pair are faint stars in the night sky surrounding the eclipsed Moon. Stunning details of prominences and coronal streamers surround the eclipsed Sun. The total phase of the Great American Eclipse of August 21 lasted about 2 minutes or less for locations along the Moon's shadow path. From planet Earth's night side, totality for the Super Blue Blood Moon of January 31 lasted well over an hour. via NASA

February 8, 2018

Bow Tie Moon and Star Trails

On January 31, a leisurely lunar eclipse was enjoyed from all over the night side of planet Earth, the first of three consecutive total eclipses of the Moon. This dramatic time-lapse image followed the celestial performance for over three hours in a combined series of exposures from Hebei Province in Northern China. Fixed to a tripod, the camera records the Full Moon sliding through a clear night sky. Too bright just before and after the eclipse, the Moon's bow tie-shaped trail grows narrow and red during the darker total eclipse phase that lasted an hour and 16 minutes. In the distant background are the colorful trails of stars in concentric arcs above and below the celestial equator. via NASA

February 7, 2018

NGC 7331 Close Up

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy's disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. In this Hubble Space Telescope close-up, the galaxy's magnificent spiral arms feature dark obscuring dust lanes, bright bluish clusters of massive young stars, and the telltale reddish glow of active star forming regions. The bright yellowish central regions harbor populations of older, cooler stars. Like the Milky Way, a supermassive black hole lies at the core of of spiral galaxy NGC 7331. via NASA

February 6, 2018

Galaxy NGC 474: Shells and Star Streams

What's happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple through the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the featured image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with -- and accretions of -- smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces). via NASA

February 4, 2018

NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula Expanding

It's the bubble versus the cloud. NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula, is being pushed out by the stellar wind of massive star BD+602522, visible in blue toward the right, inside the nebula. Next door, though, lives a giant molecular cloud, visible to the far right in red. At this place in space, an irresistible force meets an immovable object in an interesting way. The cloud is able to contain the expansion of the bubble gas, but gets blasted by the hot radiation from the bubble's central star. The radiation heats up dense regions of the molecular cloud causing it to glow. The Bubble Nebula, pictured here is about 10 light-years across and part of a much larger complex of stars and shells. The Bubble Nebula can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Queen of Aethiopia (Cassiopeia). via NASA

Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #14 - Antenna

Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT

This is an article in a series regarding the vintage Azden AZ-61 6m FM Transceiver.

The Azden AZ-61 comes with 50 Ohm BNC antenna connector and a rubber duck style antenna.  An excellent way to get more out of this radio is to upgrade the antenna.  There are several 6m BNC antennas on the market or you could build your own.

KC0BIN (Rob Johnson) contacted me recently to share that he has had very good results with the Diamond RH-205 BNC antenna on his Azden AZ-61.  The antenna telescopes out to about 52.75 inches, and this length coincidentally resonates well on the FM portion of the 6M band.  Thank you Rob for this helpful tip.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

Other related articles on NJ2X.COM:
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #1 - How to program the radio
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #2 - disabling "the beep"
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #3 - 1993 review article
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #4 - rebuilding the battery pack
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #5 - how to reset the radio
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #6 - Automatic Power-Off
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #7 - VFO Mode
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #8 - Frequency Step
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #9 - Scanning
Azden AZ-61 6m FM HT - Tip #10 - Dual Watch

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

February 2, 2018

Moonrise Eclipse

This atmospheric picture of a distant horizon looks toward the tall Trisul peaks of India's snowy Himalayan mountains. Taken from a remote location on January 31, brightest star Sirius shines at the upper right. The red Moon rising is gliding through Earth's shadow during the evening's much anticipated total lunar eclipse. Enjoyed across the planet's night side, the eclipse was the first of two total lunar eclipses in 2018, kicking off a good year for moonwatchers. But this was a rare treat. The eclipsed Moon also loomed large near perigee, the closest point in its orbit, during the second Full Moon of the month, also known as a Blue Moon. For the July 27, 2018 total lunar eclipse, the Full Moon will be very near apogee.

January 31, 2018

The First Explorer

Sixty years ago, on January 31, 1958, the First Explorer was successfully launched by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency on a Jupiter-C rocket. Inaugurating the era of space exploration for the United States, Explorer I was a thirty pound satellite that carried instruments to measure temperatures, and micrometeorite impacts, along with an experiment designed by James A. Van Allen to measure the density of electrons and ions in space. The measurements made by Van Allen's experiment led to an unexpected and then startling discovery of two earth-encircling belts of high energy electrons and ions trapped in the magnetosphere. Now known as the Van Allen Radiation belts, the regions are located in the inner magnetosphere, beyond low Earth orbit. Explorer I ceased transmitting on February 28, 1958, but remained in orbit until March of 1970. via NASA

January 30, 2018

Venus at Night in Infrared from Akatsuki

Why is Venus so different from Earth? To help find out, Japan launched the robotic Akatsuki spacecraft which entered orbit around Venus late in 2015 after an unplanned five-year adventure around the inner Solar System. Even though Akatsuki was past its original planned lifetime, the spacecraft and instruments were operating so well that much of its original mission was reinstated. Also known as the Venus Climate Orbiter, Akatsuki's instruments investigated unknowns about Earth's sister planet, including whether volcanoes are still active, whether lightning occurs in the dense atmosphere, and why wind speeds greatly exceed the planet's rotation speed. In the featured image taken by Akatsuki's IR2 camera, Venus's night side shows a jagged-edged equatorial band of high dark clouds absorbing infrared light from hotter layers deeper in Venus' atmosphere. The bright orange and black stripe on the upper right is a false digital artifact that covers part of the much brighter day side of Venus. Analyses of Akatsuki images and data has shown that Venus has equatorial jet similar to Earth's jet stream. via NASA

January 28, 2018

The Spider and The Fly

Will the spider ever catch the fly? Not if both are large emission nebulas toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga). The spider-shaped gas cloud on the left is actually an emission nebula labelled IC 417, while the smaller fly-shaped cloud on the right is dubbed NGC 1931 and is both an emission nebula and a reflection nebula. About 10,000 light-years distant, both nebulas harbor young, open star clusters. For scale, the more compact NGC 1931 (Fly) is about 10 light-years across. via NASA

January 27, 2018

Laguna Starry Sky

Staring toward the heavens, one of the many lagunas in the Atacama Desert salt flat calmly reflects a starry night sky near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, planet Earth. Cosmic rifts of dust, star clouds, and nebulae of the central Milky Way galaxy are rising in the east, beyond a volcanic horizon. Caught in the six frame panorama serenely recorded in the early morning hours of January 15, planets Jupiter and Mars are close. Near the ecliptic, the bright planets are immersed in the Solar System's visible band of Zodiacal light extending up and left from the galactic center. Above the horizon to the south (right) are the Large and Small clouds of Magellan, satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. via NASA

January 26, 2018

Selfie at Vera Rubin Ridge

On sol 1943 of its journey of exploration across the surface of Mars, the Curiosity Rover recorded this selfie at the south rim of Vera Rubin Ridge. Of course a sol is a Martian solar day, about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. Curiosity's sol 1943 corresponds to Earth date January 23, 2018. Also composed as an interactive 360 degree VR, the mosaicked panorama combines 61 exposures taken by the car-sized rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Frames containing the imager's arm have been edited out while the extended background used was taken by the rover's Mastcam on sol 1903. At the top of the rover's mast, sitting above the Mastcam, the laser-firing ChemCam housing blocks out the distant peak of Mount Sharp. via NASA

January 25, 2018

Cartwheel of Fortune

By chance, a collision of two galaxies has created a surprisingly recognizable shape on a cosmic scale, The Cartwheel Galaxy. The Cartwheel is part of a group of galaxies about 500 million light years away in the constellation Sculptor. Two smaller galaxies in the group are visible on the right. The Cartwheel Galaxy's rim is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. When galaxies collide they pass through each other, their individual stars rarely coming into contact. Still, the galaxies' gravitational fields are seriously distorted by the collision. In fact, the ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by a small intruder galaxy passing through a large one, compressing the interstellar gas and dust and causing a a star formation wave to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. In this case the large galaxy may have originally been a spiral, not unlike our own Milky Way, transformed into the wheel shape by the collision. But ... what happened to the small intruder galaxy? via NASA

January 23, 2018

Ribbons and Pearls of Spiral Galaxy NGC 1398

Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? Spiral galaxy NGC 1398 not only has a ring of pearly stars, gas and dust around its center, but a bar of stars and gas across its center, and spiral arms that appear like ribbons farther out. The featured image was taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and resolves this grand spiral in impressive detail. NGC 1398 lies about 65 million light years distant, meaning the light we see today left this galaxy when dinosaurs were disappearing from the Earth. The photogenic galaxy is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The ring near the center is likely an expanding density wave of star formation, caused either by a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, or by the galaxy's own gravitational asymmetries. via NASA

January 21, 2018

An Immersive Visualization of the Galactic Center

What if you could look out from the center of our Galaxy -- what might you see? Two scientifically-determined possibilities are shown in the featured video, an immersive 360-degree view which allows you to look around in every direction. The pictured computer simulation is based on infrared data from ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile and X-ray data from NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. As the video starts, you quickly approach Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole in the Galactic center. Then looking out, this 500-year time-lapse simulation shows glowing gas and many points of light orbiting all around you. Many of these points are young Wolf-Rayet stars that have visible hot winds blowing out into surrounding nebulas. Clouds approaching close become elongated, while objects approaching too close fall in. Toward the video's end the simulation repeats, but this time with the dynamic region surrounding Sgr A* expelling hot gas that pushes back against approaching material. via NASA

January 20, 2018

The Upper Michigan Blizzard of 1938

Yes, but can your blizzard do this? In Upper Michigan's Storm of the Century in 1938, some snow drifts reached the level of utility poles. Nearly a meter of new and unexpected snow fell over two days in a storm that started 80 years ago this week. As snow fell and gale-force winds piled snow to surreal heights; many roads became not only impassable but unplowable; people became stranded; cars, school buses and a train became mired; and even a dangerous fire raged. Fortunately only two people were killed, although some students were forced to spend several consecutive days at school. The featured image was taken by a local resident soon after the storm. Although all of this snow eventually melted, repeated snow storms like this help build lasting glaciers in snowy regions of our planet Earth. via NASA

Old Moon in the New Moon s Arms

Also known as the Moon's "ashen glow" or the "Old Moon in the New Moon's arms", earthshine is earthlight reflected from the Moon's night side. This stunning image of earthshine from a young crescent moon was taken from Las Campanas Observatory, Atacama Desert, Chile, planet Earth near moonset on January 18. Dramatic atmospheric inversion layers appear above the Pacific Ocean, colored by the sunset at the planet's western horizon. But the view from the Moon would have been stunning, too. When the Moon appears in Earth's sky as a slender crescent, a dazzlingly bright, nearly full Earth would be seen from the lunar surface. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans in turn illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. via NASA

January 19, 2018

Clouds in the LMC

An alluring sight in southern skies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen in this deep and detailed telescopic mosaic. Recorded with broadband and narrowband filters, the scene spans some 5 degrees or 10 full moons. The narrowband filters are designed to transmit only light emitted by hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Ionized by energetic starlight, the atoms emit their characteristic light as electrons are recaptured and the atoms transition to a lower energy state. As a result, in this image the LMC seems covered with its own clouds of ionized gas surrounding its massive, young stars. Sculpted by the strong stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation, the glowing clouds, dominated by emission from hydrogen, are known as H II (ionized hydrogen) regions. Itself composed of many overlapping H II regions, the Tarantula Nebula is the large star forming region at the left. The largest satellite of our Milky Way Galaxy, the LMC is about 15,000 light-years across and lies a mere 160,000 light-years away toward the constellation Dorado. via NASA

January 17, 2018

In the Valley of Orion

This exciting and unfamiliar view of the Orion Nebula is a visualization based on astronomical data and movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled frame transitions from a visible light representation based on Hubble data on the left to infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope on the right. The perspective at the center looks along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region's giant molecular cloud. Orion's valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The single frame is part of a multiwavelength, three-dimensional video that lets the viewer experience an immersive, three minute flight through the Great Nebula of Orion. via NASA

January 16, 2018

An Elephant s Trunk in Cepheus

With image data from telescopes large and small, this close-up features the dusty Elephant's Trunk Nebula. It winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant's trunk is over 20 light-years long. The colorful view highlights bright, swept-back ridges that outline the region's pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field, about the size of 2 Full Moons. via NASA

January 14, 2018

Rigel and the Witch Head Nebula

By starlight this eerie visage shines in the dark, a crooked profile evoking its popular name, the Witch Head Nebula. In fact, this entrancing telescopic portrait gives the impression that the witch has fixed her gaze on Orion's bright supergiant star Rigel. More formally known as IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula spans about 50 light-years and is composed of interstellar dust grains reflecting Rigel's starlight. The blue color of the Witch Head Nebula and of the dust surrounding Rigel is caused not only by Rigel's intense blue starlight but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. Rigel, the Witch Head Nebula, and gas and dust that surrounds them lie about 800 light-years away. via NASA

January 12, 2018

Blue Comet PanSTARRS

Discovered with the PanSTARRS telescope on September 7, 2016, this Comet PanSTARRS, C/2016 R2, is presently about 24 light minutes (3 AU) from the Sun, sweeping through planet Earth's skies across the background of stars in the constellation Taurus. An inbound visitor from our Solar System's distant Oort Cloud, its beautiful and complex ion tail is a remarkable shade of blue. Still relatively far from the Sun, the comet's already well-developed ion tail is very impressive. Emission from unusually abundant ionized carbon monoxide (CO+) atoms fluorescing in the increasing sunlight is largely responsible for the pretty blue tint. This color image of the blue comet is a combination of data taken from two different telescopes during the night of January 7. Located at the apex of the V-shaped Hyades star cluster in Taurus, bright star Gamma Tauri is responsible for the glow at the bottom left corner of the frame. via NASA

January 11, 2018

RCW 114: A Dragon s Heart in Ara

Large and dramatically shaped, this cosmic cloud spans nearly 7 degrees or 14 full moons across planet Earth's sky toward the southern constellation Ara. Difficult to image, the filamentary apparition is cataloged as RCW 114 and traced in this telescopic mosaic by the telltale reddish emission of ionized hydrogen atoms. In fact, RCW 114 has been recognized as a supernova remnant. Its extensive filaments of emission are produced as the still expanding shockwave from the death explosion of a massive star sweeps up the surrounding interstellar medium. Consistent estimates place its distance at over 600 light-years, indicating a diameter of about 100 light-years or so. Light from the supernova explosion that created RCW 114 would have reached Earth around 20,000 years ago. A neutron star or pulsar has recently been identified as the collapsed remains of the stellar core. via NASA

January 10, 2018

NGC 2623: Merging Galaxies from Hubble

Where do stars form when galaxies collide? To help find out, astronomers imaged the nearby galaxy merger NGC 2623 in high resolution with the Hubble Space Telescope. Analysis of this and other Hubble images as well as images of NGC 2623 in infrared light by the Spitzer Space Telescope, in X-ray light by XMM-Newton, and in ultraviolet light by GALEX, indicate that two originally spiral galaxies appear now to be greatly convolved and that their cores have unified into one active galactic nucleus (AGN). Star formation continues around this core near the featured image center, along the stretched out tidal tails visible on either side, and perhaps surprisingly, in an off-nuclear region on the upper left where clusters of bright blue stars appear. Galaxy collisions can take hundreds of millions of years and take several gravitationally destructive passes. NGC 2623, also known as Arp 243, spans about 50,000 light years and lies about 250 million light years away toward the constellation of the Crab (Cancer). Reconstructing the original galaxies and how galaxy mergers happen is often challenging, sometimes impossible, but generally important to understanding how our universe evolved. via NASA

January 7, 2018

Clouds of Andromeda

What are those red clouds surrounding the Andromeda galaxy? This galaxy, M31, is often imaged by planet Earth-based astronomers. As the nearest large spiral galaxy, it is a familiar sight with dark dust lanes, bright yellowish core, and spiral arms traced by clouds of bright blue stars. A mosaic of well-exposed broad and narrow-band image data, this colorful portrait of our neighboring island universe offers strikingly unfamiliar features though, faint reddish clouds of glowing ionized hydrogen gas in the same wide field of view. These ionized hydrogen clouds surely lie in the foreground of the scene, well within our Milky Way Galaxy. They are likely associated with the pervasive, dusty interstellar cirrus clouds scattered hundreds of light-years above our own galactic plane. via NASA

January 6, 2018

A Tether in Space

One of the greatest unrequited legends of outer space is the tether. Tethers, long strands of material, hold the promise of stabilizing satellites, generating electricity, and allowing easy transportation. Possibly the most ambitious vision of the space tether is the space elevator popularized by Arthur C. Clarke, where a tether is constructed that connects the ground to geosynchronous orbit. One problem is strength - it is difficult to make a long useful tether that does not snap. Pictured here is the deployment of the Tethered Satellite System 1 (TSS-1) by the space shuttle Altantis in 1992. Like other tested tethers, TSS-1 failed to live up to its promise, although many valuable lessons were learned. via NASA

January 4, 2018

Carina over Lake Ballard

A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, is one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Easily visible to the unaided eye it stands high above the signature hill of Lake Ballard, ephemeral salt lake of Western Australia, in this serene night skyscape from December 25, 2017. The Milky Way itself stretches beyond the southern horizon. Along the Milky Way, bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri lie just above the hill's right flank, with the Southern Cross and dark Coalsack Nebula above the hill top. Based on a 22 panel mosaic, the scene was cropped to reveal more closely the beauty of this region of the southern Milky Way. On that short summer night, a star tracking camera mount was used to record the mosaic images of the sky, but turned off to image the foreground in moonlight. via NASA

January 1, 2018

Unexpected X Rays from Perseus Galaxy Cluster

Why does the Perseus galaxy cluster shine so strangely in one specific color of X-rays? No one is sure, but a much-debated hypothesis holds that these X-rays are a clue to the long-sought identity of dark matter. At the center of this mystery is a 3.5 Kilo-electronvolt (KeV) X-ray color that appears to glow excessively only when regions well outside the cluster center are observed, whereas the area directly surrounding a likely central supermassive black hole is actually deficient in 3.5 KeV X-rays. One proposed resolution -- quite controversial -- is that something never seen before might be present: florescent dark matter (FDM). This form of particle dark matter might be able to absorb 3.5 KeV X-radiation. If operating, FDM, after absorption, might later emit these X-rays from all over the cluster, creating an emission line. However, when seen superposed in front of the central region surrounding the black hole, FDM's absorption would be more prominent, creating an absorption line. Pictured, a composite image of the Perseus galaxy cluster shows visible and radio light in red, and X-ray light from the Earth-orbiting Chandra Observatory in blue. via NASA