This mountain and night skyscape stretches across the French Pyrenees National Park on August 12, near the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The multi-exposure panoramic view was composed from the Col d’Aubisque, a mountain pass, about an hour before the bright gibbous moon rose. Centered is a misty valley and lights from the region’s Gourette ski station toward the south. Taken over the following hour, frames capturing some of the night’s long bright perseid meteors were aligned against the backdrop of stars and Milky Way.
Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy’s two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar have a hook-like appearance in wide-field images. But this mosaicked close-up, constructed from Hubble Space Telescope and European Southern Observatory data, follows the galaxy’s structure in amazing detail. Obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surround a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. The sharp image data also reveal more distant background galaxies seen right through NGC 2442’s star clusters and nebulae. The image spans about 75,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442.
Just after moonrise on August 12 this grain of cosmic sand fell by the sea, its momentary flash part of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. To create the Perseid meteors, dust along the orbit of periodic comet Swift-Tuttle is swept up by planet Earth. The cometary debris plows through the atmosphere at nearly 60 kilometers per second and is quickly vaporized at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so. Perseid meteors are often bright and colorful, like the one captured in this sea and night skyscape. Against starry sky and faint Milky Way the serene view looks south and west across the Adriatic Sea, from the moonlit Dalmatian coast toward the island of Brac.
Chaos reigns in the Carina Nebula where massive stars form and die. Striking and detailed, this close-up of a portion of the famous nebula is a combination of light emitted by hydrogen (shown in red) and oxygen (shown in blue). Dramatic dark dust knots and complex features revealed are sculpted by the winds and radiation of Carina’s massive and energetic stars. One iconic feature of the Carina Nebula is the dark V-shaped dust lane that occurs in the top half of the image. The Carina Nebula spans about 200 light years, lies about 7,500 light years distant, and is visible with binoculars toward the southern constellation of Carina. In a billion years after the dust settles — or is destroyed, and the gas dissipates — or gravitationally condenses, then only the stars will remain — but not even the brightest ones.
A darkened sky holds bright planet Venus, the New Moon in silhouette, and the shimmering corona of the Sun in this image of a total solar eclipse. A composite of simultaneous telephoto and wide angle frames it was taken in the path of totality 18 years ago, August 11, 1999, near Kastamonu, Turkey. That particular solar eclipse is a member of Saros 145. Known historically from observations of the Moon’s orbit, the Saros cycle predicts when the Sun, Earth, and Moon will return to the same geometry for a solar (or lunar) eclipse. The Saros has a period of 18 years, 11 and 1/3 days. Eclipses separated by one Saros period belong to the same numbered Saros series and are very similar. But the path of totality for consecutive solar eclipses in the same Saros shifts across the Earth because the planet rotates for an additional 8 hours during the cycle’s fractional day. So the next solar eclipse of Saros 145 will also be a total eclipse, and the narrow path of totality will track coast to coast across the United States on August 21, 2017.
This weekend, meteors will rain down near the peak of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Normally bright and colorful, the Perseid shower meteors are produced by dust swept up by planet Earth from the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. They streak from a radiant in Perseus, above the horizon in clear predawn skies. Despite interfering light from August’s waning gibbous moon, this year’s Perseids will still be enjoyable, especially if you can find yourself in an open space, away from city lights, and in good company. Frames used in this composite view capture bright Perseid meteors from the 2016 meteor shower set against a starry background along the Milky Way, with even the faint Andromeda Galaxy just above center. In the foreground, astronomers of all ages have gathered on a hill above the Slovakian village of Vrchtepla.
August’s Full Moon is framed in this sharp, high dynamic range composition. Captured before sunrise on August 8 from Sydney, Australia, south is up and the Earth’s dark, umbral shadow is at the left, near the maximum phase of a partial lunar eclipse. Kicking off the eclipse season, this time the Full Moon’s grazing slide through Earth’s shadow was visible from the eastern hemisphere. Up next is the much anticipated total solar eclipse of August 21. Then, the New Moon’s shadow track will include North America, the narrow path of totality running coast to coast through the United States.