What��������s higher than the Himalayas? Although the Himalayan Mountains are the tallest on planet Earth, they don’t measure up to the Milky Way. Visible above the snow-capped mountains in the featured image is the arcing central band of our home galaxy. The bright spot just above the central plane is the planet Jupiter, while the brightest orange spot on the upper right is the star Antares. The astrophotographer braved below-zero temperatures at nearly 4,000-meters altitude to take the photographs that compose this image. The featured picture is a composite of eight exposures taken with same camera and from the same location over three hours, just after sunset, in 2019 April, from near Bimtang Lake in Nepal. Over much of planet Earth, the planets Mercury (faint) and Venus (bright) will be visible this week after sunset.
Inside the head of this interstellar monster is a star that is slowly destroying it. The huge monster, actually an inanimate series of pillars of gas and dust, measures light years in length. The in-head star is not itself visible through the opaque interstellar dust but is bursting out partly by ejecting opposing beams of energetic particles called Herbig-Haro jets. Located about 7,500 light years away in the Carina Nebula and known informally as Mystic Mountain, the appearance of these pillars is dominated by dark dust even though they are composed mostly of clear hydrogen gas. The featured image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. All over these pillars, the energetic light and winds from massive newly formed stars are evaporating and dispersing the dusty stellar nurseries in which they formed. Within a few million years, the head of this giant, as well as most of its body, will have been completely evaporated by internal and surrounding stars.
The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. By comparison, the Earth’s Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA is 800 kilometers long, 30 kilometers across, and 1.8 kilometers deep. The origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, although a leading hypothesis holds that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Several geologic processes have been identified in the canyon. The featured mosaic was created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s.
Stars shine and satellites glint in this clear, dark, night sky over Wannon Falls Reserve, South West Victoria, Australia. In fact the fuzzy, faint apparition above the tree tops is the only cloud visible, also known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way. In the foreground, an Omphalotus nidiformis (ghost fungus) from planet Earth shines with a surprisingly bright bioluminescence. Like the Magellanic cloud, the ghost fungus was easily seen with the eye. Its ghostly glow was actually a dull green, but it appears bright green in digital camera picture. Two images were blended to create the scene. One focused on the distant stars and Large Magellanic Cloud some 160,000 light-years away. Another was focused on the foreground and glowing fungus several light-nanoseconds from the camera lens.
With natal dust clouds in silhouette against glowing atomic gas, this colorful and chaotic vista lies within one of the largest star forming regions in the Milky Way galaxy, the Great Carina Nebula. The telescopic close-up frames a field of view about 80 light-years across, a little south and east of Eta Carinae, the nebula’s most energetic and enigmatic star. Captured under suburban skies improved during national restrictions, a composite of narrowband image data was used to create the final image. In it, characteristic emission from the nebula’s ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms is mapped to red, green, and blue hues, a color palette also popular in Hubble Space Telescope images. The celestial landscape of bright ridges of emission bordered by cool, obscuring dust lies about 7,500 light-years away toward the southern constellation Carina.
Just as the Moon goes through phases, Venus’ visible sunlit hemisphere waxes and wanes. This composite of backyard telescopic images illustrates the steady changes for Venus during its current stint as our evening star, as the inner planet grows larger but narrows to a thin crescent. Images from bottom to top were taken during 2020 on dates February 27, March 20, April 14, April 24, May 8, and May 14. Gliding along its interior orbit between Earth and Sun, Venus grows larger during that period because it is approaching planet Earth. Its crescent narrows, though, as Venus swings closer to our line-of-sight to the Sun. Closest to the Earth-Sun line but passing about 1/2 degree north of the Sun on June 3, Venus will reach a (non-judgmental) inferior conjunction. Soon after, Venus will shine clearly above the eastern horizon in predawn skies as planet Earth’s morning star. After sunset tonight look for Venus above the western horizon and you can also spot elusive innermost planet Mercury.
It is not a coincidence that planets line up. That’s because all of the planets orbit the Sun in (nearly) a single sheet called the plane of the ecliptic. When viewed from inside that plane — as Earth dwellers are likely to do — the planets all appear confined to a single band. It is a coincidence, though, when three of the brightest planets all appear in nearly the same direction. Such a coincidence was captured about a month ago. Featured above, Earth’s Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter were all imaged together, just before sunrise, from the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. A second band is visible diagonally across this image — the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. If you wake up early, you will find that these same planets remain visible in the morning sky this month, too.