This beautiful telephoto composition spans light-years in a natural night skyscape from the island of Crete. Looking south, exposures both track the stars and record a fixed foreground in three merged panels that cover a 10×12 degree wide field of view. The May 15 waxing gibbous moonlight illuminates the church and mountainous terrain. A mere 18 thousand light-years away, huge globular star cluster Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) shining above gives a good visual impression of its appearance in binoculars on that starry night. Active galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128) is near the top of the frame, some 11 million light-years distant. Also found toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus and about the size of our own Milky Way is edge on spiral galaxy NGC 4945. About 13 million light-years distant it’s only a little farther along, and just above the horizon at the right.
What’s happening over the horizon? Although the scene may appear somehow supernatural, nothing more unusual is occurring than a setting Sun and some well placed clouds. Pictured above are anticrepuscular rays. To understand them, start by picturing common crepuscular rays that are seen any time that sunlight pours though scattered clouds. Now although sunlight indeed travels along straight lines, the projections of these lines onto the spherical sky are great circles. Therefore, the crepuscular rays from a setting (or rising) sun will appear to re-converge on the other side of the sky. At the anti-solar point 180 degrees around from the Sun, they are referred to as anticrepuscular rays. Featured here is a particularly striking display of anticrepuscular rays photographed earlier this month in Westminster, Colorado, USA.
The New Horizons spacecraft took some stunning images of Jupiter on its way out to Pluto. Famous for its Great Red Spot, Jupiter is also known for its regular, equatorial cloud bands, visible through even modest sized telescopes. The featured image, horizontally compressed, was taken in 2007 near Jupiter’s terminator and shows the Jovian giant’s wide diversity of cloud patterns. On the far left are clouds closest to Jupiter’s South Pole. Here turbulent whirlpools and swirls are seen in a dark region, dubbed a belt, that rings the planet. Even light colored regions, called zones, show tremendous structure, complete with complex wave patterns. The energy that drives these waves surely comes from below. New Horizons is the fastest space probe ever launched, has successfully complete its main flyby of Pluto in 2015, and is now heading further out and on track to flyby Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 in 2019. In the near term, many space enthusiasts excitedly await Juno‘s arrival at Jupiter next Monday.
Near the horizon the Full Moon often seems to loom large, swollen in appearance by the famous Moon illusion. But timelapse images demonstrate that the Moon’s apparent size doesn’t really change as it climbs toward the zenith. Its color does, though. Recording a frame every 10 seconds, this image shows how dramatic that color change can be. The composite follows a solstice Full Moon climbing above a rugged horizon over northwestern Indiana. A shrinking line-of-sight through planet Earth’s dense and dusty atmosphere shifted the moonlight from strawberry red through honey-colored and paler yellowish hues. That change seems appropriate for a northern June Full Moon also known as the Strawberry or Honey Moon.
These three bright nebulae are often featured in telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius and the crowded starfields of the central Milky Way. In fact, 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged two of them; M8, the large nebula left of center, and colorful M20 near the bottom of the frame The third, NGC 6559, is right of M8, separated from the larger nebula by dark dust lanes. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. The expansive M8, over a hundred light-years across, is also known as the Lagoon Nebula. M20’s popular moniker is the Trifid. In the composite image, narrowband data records ionized hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur atoms radiating at visible wavelengths. The mapping of colors and range of brightness used to compose this cosmic still life were inspired by Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers. Just right of the Trifid one of Messier’s open star clusters, M21, is also included on the telescopic canvas.
What’s that over Paris? Cirrus. Typically, cirrus clouds appear white or gray when reflecting sunlight, can appear dark at sunset (or sunrise) against a better lit sky. Cirrus are among the highest types of clouds and are usually thin enough to see stars through. Cirrus clouds may form from moisture released above storm clouds and so may herald the arrival of a significant change in weather. Conversely, cirrus clouds have also been seen on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Uranus, and Neptune. The featured image was taken two days ago from a window in District 15, Paris, France, Earth. The brightly lit object on the lower right is, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
In the center of this serene stellar swirl is likely a harrowing black-hole beast. The surrounding swirl sweeps around billions of stars which are highlighted by the brightest and bluest. The breadth and beauty of the display give the swirl the designation of a grand design spiral galaxy. The central beast shows evidence that it is a supermassive black hole about 10 million times the mass of our Sun. This ferocious creature devours stars and gas and is surrounded by a spinning moat of hot plasma that emits blasts of X-rays. The central violent activity gives it the designation of a Seyfert galaxy. Together, this beauty and beast are cataloged as NGC 6814 and have been appearing together toward the constellation of the Eagle (Aquila) for roughly the past billion years.
Today the Sun reaches its northernmost point in planet Earth’s sky. Called a solstice, the date traditionally marks a change of seasons — from spring to summer in Earth‘s Northern Hemisphere and from fall to winter in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. The featured image was taken during the week of the 2008 summer solstice at Stonehenge in United Kingdom, and captures a picturesque sunrise involving fog, trees, clouds, stones placed about 4,500 years ago, and a 4.5 billion year old large glowing orb. Even given the precession of the Earth’s rotational axis over the millennia, the Sun continues to rise over Stonehenge in an astronomically significant way.
What’s older than these ancient trees? Nobody you know — but almost everything in the background of this picture. The trees are impressively old — each part of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest located in eastern California, USA. There, many of the oldest trees known are located, some dating as far back as about 5,000 years. Seemingly attached to tree branches, but actually much farther in the distance, are the bright orbs of Saturn (left) and Mars. These planets formed along with the Earth and the early Solar System much earlier — about 4.5 billion years ago. Swooping down diagonally from the upper left is the oldest structure pictured: the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy — dating back around 9 billion years. The featured image was built from several exposures all taken from the same location — but only a few weeks ago.
Pluto’s pitted plains meet rugged highlands in this stunning view. On the left lies a southeastern extent of the bright region still informally known as Sputnik Planum. At right the edge of a dark region, informally Krun Macula, rises some 2.5 kilometers above the icy plains. Along the boundary, connected clusters of large pits form deep valleys, some over 40 kilometers long with shadowy floors. Nitrogen ice is likely responsible for the more reflective plains. The dark red color of the highlands is thought to be from complex compounds called tholins, a product of ultraviolet light induced chemical reactions with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere. The enhanced color image includes portions of the highest and second highest resolution image data from the New Horizons July 2015 flyby of the distant world.