Friday, an old Moon smiled for early morning risers. Its waning sunlit crescent is captured in this atmospheric scene from clear skies near Bursa, Turkey, planet Earth. In the subtle twilight hues nearby celestial lights are Jupiter (top) and Venus shining close to the eastern horizon. But today, Saturday, the Moon will be new and early next week its waxing crescent will follow the setting Sun as it sinks in the west. Then, a young Moon’s smile will join Saturn and Mercury in early evening skies.
Sometimes, the sky may seem to smile over much of planet Earth. On this day in 2008, visible the world over, was an unusual superposition of our Moon and the planets Venus and Jupiter. Pictures taken at the right time show a crescent Moon that appears to be a smile when paired with the planetary conjunction of seemingly nearby Jupiter and Venus. Pictured here is the scene as it appeared from Mt. Wilson Observatory overlooking Los Angeles, California, USA after sunset on 2008 November 30. Highest in the sky and farthest in the distance is the planet Jupiter. Significantly closer and visible to Jupiter‘s lower left is Venus, appearing through Earth’s atmospheric clouds as unusually blue. On the far right, above the horizon, is our Moon, in a waxing crescent phase. Thin clouds illuminated by the Moon appear unusually orange. Sprawling across the bottom of the image are the hills of Los Angeles, many covered by a thin haze, while LA skyscrapers are visible on the far left. Hours after the taking of this image, the Moon approached the distant duo, briefly eclipsed Venus, and then moved on. This week, another conjunction of Venus and Jupiter is occurring and is visible to much of planet Earth to the east just before sunrise.
The Moon is normally seen in subtle shades of grey. But small, measurable color differences have been greatly exaggerated in this mosaic of high-resolution images captured near the Moon’s full phase, to construct a multicolored, central moonscape. The different colors are recognized to correspond to real differences in the mineral makeup of the lunar surface. Blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while more orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. The intriguing Sea of Vapors, or Mare Vaporum, is below center in the frame with the sweeping arc of the lunar Montes Apenninus (Apennine Mountains) above it. The dark floor of 83 kilometer diameter Archimedes crater within the Sea of Rains, or Mare Imbrium, is toward the top left. Near the gap at the top of the Apennine’s arc is the Apollo 15 landing site. Calibrated by rock samples returned by the Apollo missions, similar multicolor images from spacecraft have been used to explore the Moon’s global surface composition.
Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1055 is a dominant member of a small galaxy group a mere 60 million light-years away toward the aquatically intimidating constellation Cetus. Seen edge-on, the island universe spans over 100,000 light-years, a little larger than our own Milky Way. The colorful stars in this cosmic close-up of NGC 1055 are in the foreground, well within the Milky Way. But the telltale pinkish star forming regions are scattered through winding dust lanes along the distant galaxy’s thin disk. With a smattering of even more distant background galaxies, the deep image also reveals a boxy halo that extends far above and below the central bluge and disk of NGC 1055. The halo itself is laced with faint, narrow structures, and could represent the mixed and spread out debris from a satellite galaxy disrupted by the larger spiral some 10 billion years ago.
In the center of Prague there’s a clock the size of a building. During the day, crowds gather to watch the show when it chimes in a new hour. The Prague Astronomical Clock‘s face is impressively complex, giving not only the expected time with respect to the Sun (solar time), but the time relative to the stars (sidereal time), the times of sunrise and sunset, the time at the equator, the phase of the Moon, and much more. The clock began operation in 1410, and even though much of its inner workings have been modernized several times, original parts remain. Below the clock is a nearly-equal sized, but static, solar calendar. Pictured, the Prague Astronomical Clock was photographed alone during an early morning in 2009 March. The Prague Astronomical Clock and the Old Town Tower behind it are currently being renovated once again, with the clock expected to be restarted in 2018 June.
Where do comet tails come from? There are no obvious places on the nuclei of comets from which the jets that create comet tails emanate. Last year, though, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft not only imaged a jet emerging from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but flew right through it. Featured is a telling picture showing a bright plume emerging from a small circular dip bounded on one side by a 10-meter high wall. Analyses of Rosetta data shows that the jet was composed of both dust and water-ice. The mundane terrain indicates that something likely happened far under the porous surface to create the plume. This image was taken last July, about two months before Rosetta’s mission ended with a controlled impact onto Comet 67P’s surface.
Do all full moons look the same? No. To see the slight differences, consider this grid of twelve full moons. From upper left to lower right, the images represent every lunation from 2016 November through 2017 October, as imaged from Pakistan. The consecutive full moons are all shown at the same scale, so unlike the famous Moon Illusion, the change in apparent size seen here is real. The change is caused by the variation in lunar distance due to the Moon’s significantly non-circular orbit. The dark notch at the bottom of the full moon of 2017 August is the shadow of the Earth — making this a partial lunar eclipse. Besides the sometimes exaggerated coloring, a subtler change in appearance can also be noticed on close examination, as the Moon seems to wobble slightly from one full moon to the next. This effect, known as libration, is more dramatic and easier to see in this lunation video highlighting all of the ways that the Moon appears to change over a month (moon-th).