Mercury as Revealed by MESSENGER


Mercury had never been seen like this before. In 2008, the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft buzzed past Mercury for the second time and imaged terrain mapped previously only by comparatively crude radar. The featured image was recorded as MESSENGER looked back 90 minutes after passing, from an altitude of about 27,000 kilometers. Visible in the image, among many other newly imaged features, are unusually long rays that appear to run like meridians of longitude out from a young crater near the northern limb. MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury in 2011 and finished its primary mission in 2012, but took detailed measurements until 2015, at which time it ran out of fuel and so was instructed to impact Mercury’s surface.

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Apollo 11: Catching Some Sun


Bright sunlight glints and long dark shadows mark this image of the lunar surface. It was taken July 20, 1969 by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the Moon. Pictured is the mission’s lunar module, the Eagle, and spacesuited lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin unfurling a long sheet of foil also known as the Solar Wind Composition Experiment. Exposed facing the Sun, the foil trapped particles streaming outward in the solar wind, catching a sample of material from the Sun itself. Along with moon rocks and lunar soil samples, the solar wind collector was returned for analysis in earthbound laboratories.

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Ireson Hill on Mars


What created this unusual hill on Mars? Its history has become a topic of research, but its shape and two-tone structure makes it one of the more unusual hills that the robotic Curiosity rover on Mars has rolled near. Dubbed Ireson Hill, the mound rises about 5 meters high and spans about 15 meters across. Ireson Hill is located on the Bagnold Dune field on the slope of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater on Mars. The featured 41-image panorama has been horizontally compressed to include the entire hill. The image was taken on February 2 and released last week. Because Mars is moving behind the Sun as seen from the Earth, NASA will soon stop sending commands to its Martian orbiters and rovers until about August 1.

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Thunder Moon over Pisa


What’s wrong with this picture? If you figure it out, you may then realize where the image was taken. The oddity lies actually in one of the buildings — it leans. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been an iconic legend since shortly after its construction began in the year 1173. Now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, folklore holds that Galileo used the leaning tower to dramatically demonstrate the gravitational principle that objects of different mass fall the same. Between the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the right and Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistery on the left, a full “Thunder” moon was visible last week when the image was taken. Using modern analyses, the tower has been successfully stabilized and, barring the unexpected, should hold its present tilt for the next 200 years.

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Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats


Thunderstorms almost spoiled this view of the spectacular 2011 June 15 total lunar eclipse. Instead, storm clouds parted for 10 minutes during the total eclipse phase and lightning bolts contributed to the dramatic sky. Captured with a 30-second exposure the scene also inspired one of the more memorable titles (thanks to the astrophotographer) in APOD’s now 22-year history. Of course, the lightning reference clearly makes sense, and the shadow play of the dark lunar eclipse was widely viewed across planet Earth in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The picture itself, however, was shot from the Greek island of Ikaria at Pezi. That area is known as “the planet of the goats” because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks.

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Close up of the Great Red Spot


On July 11, the Juno spacecraft once again swung near to Jupiter’s turbulent cloud tops in its looping 53 day orbit around the Solar System’s ruling gas giant. About 11 minutes after perijove 7, its closest approach on this orbit, it passed directly above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. During the much anticipated fly over, it captured this close-up image data from a distance of less than 10,000 kilometers. The raw JunoCam data was subsequently processed by citizen scientists. Very long-lived but found to be shrinking, the Solar System’s largest storm system was measure to be 16,350 kilometers wide on April 15. That’s about 1.3 times the diameter of planet Earth.

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NGC 4449: Close up of a Small Galaxy


(xxxedit and linkxxx) Grand spiral galaxies often seem to get all the glory. Their young, blue star clusters and pink star forming regions along sweeping spiral arms are guaranteed to attract attention. But small irregular galaxies form stars too, like NGC 4449, about 12 million light-years distant. Less than 20,000 light-years across, the small island universe is similar in size, and often compared to our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This remarkable Hubble Space Telescope close-up of the well-studied galaxy was reprocessed to highlight the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen gas. The glow traces NGC 4449’s widespread star forming regions, some even larger than those in the LMC, with enormous interstellar arcs and bubbles blown by short-lived, massive stars. NGC 4449 is a member of a group of galaxies found in the constellation Canes Venatici. It also holds the distinction of being the first dwarf galaxy with an identified tidal star stream.

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