September 20, 2017

The Big Corona

Most photographs don't adequately portray the magnificence of the Sun's corona. Seeing the corona first-hand during a total solar eclipse is unparalleled. The human eye can adapt to see coronal features and extent that average cameras usually cannot. Welcome, however, to the digital age. The featured picture is a combination of forty exposures from one thousandth of a second to two seconds that, together, were digitally combined and processed to highlight faint features of the total solar eclipse that occurred in August of 2017. Clearly visible are intricate layers and glowing caustics of an ever changing mixture of hot gas and magnetic fields in the Sun's corona. Looping prominences appear bright pink just past the Sun's limb. Faint details on the night side of the New Moon can even be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from the dayside of the Full Earth. via NASA

September 18, 2017

Veil Nebula: Wisps of an Exploded Star

Wisps like this are all that remain visible of a Milky Way star. About 7,000 years ago that star exploded in a supernova leaving the Veil Nebula. At the time, the expanding cloud was likely as bright as a crescent Moon, remaining visible for weeks to people living at the dawn of recorded history. Today, the resulting supernova remnant, also known as the Cygnus Loop, has faded and is now visible only through a small telescope directed toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). The remaining Veil Nebula is physically huge, however, and even though it lies about 1,400 light-years distant, it covers over five times the size of the full Moon. The featured picture is a Hubble Space Telescope mosaic of six images together covering a span of only about two light years, a small part of the expansive supernova remnant. In images of the complete Veil Nebula, even studious readers might not be able to identify the featured filaments. via NASA

September 17, 2017

Orion above Easter Island

Why were the statues on Easter Island built? No one is sure. What is sure is that over 800 large stone statues exist there. The Easter Island statues, stand, on the average, over twice as tall as a person and have over 200 times as much mass. Few specifics are known about the history or meaning of the unusual rock sculptures, but many believe that they were created about 700 years ago in the images of local leaders of a lost civilization. Featured here, one of the ancient Moai sculptures was imaged in 2016 before the constellation of Orion, including the famous line of three belt stars and brilliant stars Betelgeuse (far left in red) and Rigel (upper center). The stone giant appears, however, to be inspecting the brightest star in the night sky (far right): Sirius. via NASA

September 16, 2017

Bright Spiral Galaxy M81

One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed view reveals M81's bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81's other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy -- 11.8 million light-years. via NASA

September 14, 2017

100 Steps Forward

A beautiful conjunction of Venus and Moon, human, sand, and Milky Way is depicted in this night skyscape from planet Earth. The scene is a panorama of 6 photos taken in a moment near the end of a journey. In the foreground, footsteps along the wind-rippled dunes are close to the Huacachina oasis in the southwestern desert of Peru. An engaging perspective on the world at night, the stunning final image was also chosen as a winner in The World at Night's 2017 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. via NASA

September 12, 2017

NGC 6334: The Cats Paw Nebula

Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat's Paw Nebula visible in Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat's Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula or NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured here is a deep field image of the Cat's Paw Nebula in light emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. via NASA

September 8, 2017

Calm Waters and Geomagnetic Storm

Very recognizable stars of the northern sky are a backdrop for calm waters in this moonlit sea and skyscape off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Taken on September 7, the photo also records a colorful display of northern lights or aurora borealis triggered by a severe geomagnetic storm. Visible crossing the Sun, the giant solar active region responsible, AR 2673, is much larger than planet Earth. It has produced the strongest flare of the current solar cycle and and the Earth-directed coronal mass ejection in the last few days. via NASA

September 7, 2017

The Great Gig in the Sky

There were no crowds on the beach at Phillips Lake, Oregon on August 21. But a few had come there to stand, for a moment, in the dark shadow of the Moon. From the beach, this unscripted mosaic photo records their much anticipated solar eclipse. In two vertical panels it catches the last few seconds of totality and the first instant of 3rd contact, just as the eclipse ends and sunlight faintly returns. Across the US those gathered along the path of totality also took pictures and shared their moment. And like those at Phillips Lake they may treasure the experience more than any planned or unplanned photograph of the total eclipse of the Sun. via NASA

September 6, 2017

The Flash Spectrum of the Sun

In clear Madras, Oregon skies, this colorful eclipse composite captured the elusive chromospheric or flash spectrum of the Sun. Only three exposures, made on August 21 with telephoto lens and diffraction grating, are aligned in the frame. Directly imaged at the far left, the Sun's diamond ring-like appearance at the beginning and end of totality brackets a silhouette of the lunar disk at maximum eclipse. Spread by the diffraction grating into the spectrum of colors toward the right, the Sun's photospheric spectrum traces the two continuous streaks. They correspond to the diamond ring glimpses of the Sun's normally overwhelming disk. But individual eclipse images also appear at each wavelength of light emitted by atoms along the thin, fleeting arcs of the solar chromosphere. The brightest images, or strongest chromospheric emission, are due to Hydrogen atoms. Red hydrogen alpha emission is at the far right with blue and purple hydrogen series emission to the left. In between, the brightest yellow emission is caused by atoms of Helium, an element only first discovered in the flash spectrum of the Sun. via NASA

September 5, 2017

The Climber and the Eclipse

What should you do if your rock climbing picture is photobombed by a total eclipse of the Sun? Rejoice -- because your planning paid off. After months of considering different venues, and a week of scouting different locations in Oregon's Smith Rock State Park, a group of photographers and rock climbers led by Ted Hesser, Martina Tibell, and Michael Shainblum settled on picturesque 100-meter tall Monkey Face tower as the dramatic foreground for their images of the pending total solar eclipse. Tension mounted as the eclipse time approached, planned juxtapositions were scrutinized, and the placement of rock climber Tommy Smith was adjusted. Right on schedule, though, the Moon moved in front of the Sun, and Smith moved in front of the Moon, just as planned. The solar eclipse image displayed here actually shows a diamond ring, an eclipse phase when a bit of the distant Sun is still visible beyond the Moon's surface. via NASA

September 4, 2017

Europa and Jupiter from Voyager 1

What are those spots on Jupiter? Largest and furthest, just right of center, is the Great Red Spot -- a huge storm system that has been raging on Jupiter possibly since Giovanni Cassini's likely notation of it 352 years ago. It is not yet known why this Great Spot is red. The spot toward the lower left is one of Jupiter's largest moons: Europa. Images from Voyager in 1979 bolster the modern hypothesis that Europa has an underground ocean and is therefore a good place to look for extraterrestrial life. But what about the dark spot on the upper right? That is a shadow of another of Jupiter's large moons: Io. Voyager 1 discovered Io to be so volcanic that no impact craters could be found. Sixteen frames from Voyager 1's flyby of Jupiter in 1979 were recently reprocessed and merged to create the featured image. Forty years ago today, Voyager 1 launched from Earth and started one of the greatest explorations of the Solar System ever. via NASA

September 3, 2017

Saturns Rings from the Inside Out

What do Saturn's rings look like from Saturn? Images from the robotic spacecraft Cassini are providing humanity with this unprecedented vantage point as it nears the completion of its mission. Previous to Cassini's Grand Finale orbits, all images of Saturn's majestic ring system were taken from outside of the rings looking in. Pictured in the inset is the remarkable video, while the spacecraft's positions are depicted in the surrounding animation. Details of the complex rings are evident as the short time-lapse sequence begins, while the paper-thin thickness of the rings becomes apparent near the video's end. The featured images were taken on August 20. Cassini has only a few more orbits around Saturn left before it is directed to dive into the giant planet on September 15. via NASA

September 2, 2017

A Waterspout in Florida

What's happening over the water? Pictured here is one of the better images yet recorded of a waterspout, a type of tornado that occurs over water. Waterspouts are spinning columns of rising moist air that typically form over warm water. Waterspouts can be as dangerous as tornadoes and can feature wind speeds over 200 kilometers per hour. Some waterspouts form away from thunderstorms and even during relatively fair weather. Waterspouts may be relatively transparent and initially visible only by an unusual pattern they create on the water. The featured image was taken in 2013 July near Tampa Bay, Florida. The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida is arguably the most active area in the world for waterspouts, with hundreds forming each year. Some people speculate that waterspouts are responsible for some of the losses recorded in the Bermuda Triangle. via NASA