Orbiting above the lunar nearside on August 21, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned to look back on a bright, Full Earth. As anticipated its Narrow Angle Camera scanned this sharp view of our fair planet, catching the shadow of the Moon racing along a path across the United States at about 1,500 miles per hour. In fact, the dark lunar shadow is centered over Hopkinsville, Kentucky at 1:25:30 Central Daylight Time. From there, the New Moon blocked the Sun high in clear skies for about 2 minutes and 40 seconds in a total solar eclipse.
What was happening in the sky during last week’s total solar eclipse? This featured little-planet, all-sky, double time-lapse, digitally-fused composite captured celestial action during both night and day from a single location. In this 360×180 panorama, north and south are at the image bottom and top, while east and west are at the left and right edges, respectively. During four hours the night before the eclipse, star trails were captured circling the north celestial pole (bottom) as the Earth spun. During the day of the total eclipse, the Sun was captured every fifteen minutes from sunrise to sunset (top), sometimes in partial eclipse. All of these images were then digitally merged onto a single image taken exactly during the total solar eclipse. Then, the Sun’s bright corona could be seen flaring around the dark new Moon (upper left), while Venus simultaneously became easily visible (top). The tree in the middle, below the camera, is a Douglas fir. The images were taken with care and planning at Magone Lake in Oregon, USA.
Why is Saturn partly blue? The featured picture of Saturn approximates what a human would see if hovering close to the giant ringed world. The image was taken in 2006 March by the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Here Saturn’s majestic rings appear directly only as a thin vertical line. The rings show their complex structure in the dark shadows they create on the image left. Saturn’s fountain moon Enceladus, only about 500 kilometers across, is seen as the bump in the plane of the rings. The northern hemisphere of Saturn can appear partly blue for the same reason that Earth’s skies can appear blue — molecules in the cloudless portions of both planet’s atmospheres are better at scattering blue light than red. When looking deep into Saturn’s clouds, however, the natural gold hue of Saturn’s clouds becomes dominant. It is not known why southern Saturn does not show the same blue hue — one hypothesis holds that clouds are higher there. It is also not known why Saturn’s clouds are colored gold. Next month, Cassini will end its mission with a final dramatic dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.
What powers the Heart Nebula? The large emission nebula dubbed IC 1805 looks, in whole, like a heart. The nebula’s glow — as well as the shape of the gas and dust clouds — is powered by by stellar winds and radiation from massive hot stars in the nebula’s newborn star cluster Melotte 15. This deep telescopic image maps the pervasive light of narrow emission lines from atoms of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur in the nebula. The field of view spans just over two degrees on the sky, so that it appears larger than four times the diameter of a full moon. The cosmic heart is found in the constellation of Cassiopeia, the boastful mythical Queen of Aethiopia .
As the Moon’s shadow swept across the US on August 21, eclipse chasers in the narrow path of totality were treated to a diamond ring in the sky. At the beginning and end of totality, the fleeting and beautiful effect often produces audible gasps from an amazed audience. It occurs just before or after the appearance of the faint solar corona with a brief ring of light and glimpse of Sun. In this scene from the end of totality at Central, South Carolina, clouds drift near the Sun’s diamond ring in the sky.
The Eagle Nebula and the Swan Nebula span this broad starscape, a telescopic view toward the Sagittarius spiral arm and the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The Eagle, also known as M16, is at top and M17, the Swan, at bottom of the frame showing the cosmic clouds as brighter regions of active star-formation. They lie along the spiral arm suffused with reddish emission charactistic of atomic hydrogen gas, and dusty dark nebulae. M17, also called the Omega Nebula, is about 5500 light-years away, while M16 is some 6500 light-years distant. The center of both nebulae are locations of well-known close-up images of star formation from the Hubble Space Telescope. In this mosaic image that extends about 3 degrees across the sky, narrowband, high-resultion image data has been used to enhance the central regions of the Eagle and Swan. The extended wings of the Eagle Nebula spread almost 120 light-years. The Swan is over 30 light-years across.
During a total solar eclipse, the Sun’s extensive outer atmosphere, or corona, is an inspirational sight. Streamers and shimmering features visible to the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a single photograph. But this composite of telescopic images covers a wide range of exposure times to reveal the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The aligned and stacked digital frames were taken in clear skies above Stanley, Idaho in the Sawtooth Mountains during the Sun’s total eclipse on August 21. A pinkish solar prominence extends just beyond the right edge of the solar disk. Even small details on the dark night side of the New Moon can be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a Full Earth.