Ice is forming on the river Lielupe as it flows through the landscape in this winter’s night scene. Even in motion the frigid water still reflects a starry sky, though. The well planned, Orion-centered panorama looks toward the south, taken in three exposures from a bridge near the village of Stalgene, Latvia, planet Earth. Drifting pancakes of ice leave streaks in the long exposures, while familiar stars of Orion and the northern winter night appear above and below the horizon. Village lights along the horizon include skyward beams from the local community church. This image was a first place winner in the 2018 StarSpace astrophotography competition.
This cosmic close-up looks deep inside the Soul Nebula. The dark and brooding dust clouds on the left, outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas, are cataloged as IC 1871. About 25 light-years across, the telescopic field of view spans only a small part of the much larger Heart and Soul nebulae. At an estimated distance of 6,500 light-years the star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, seen in planet Earth’s skies toward the constellation Cassiopeia. An example of triggered star formation, the dense star-forming clouds of IC 1871 are themselves sculpted by the intense winds and radiation of the region’s massive young stars. The featured image appears mostly red due to the emission of a specific color of light emitted by excited hydrogen gas.
Have you ever seen a rocket launch — from space? A close inspection of the featured time-lapse video will reveal a rocket rising to Earth orbit as seen from the International Space Station (ISS). The Russian Soyuz-FG rocket was launched ten days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a Progress MS-10 (also 71P) module to bring needed supplies to the ISS. Highlights in the 90-second video (condensing about 15-minutes) include city lights and clouds visible on the Earth on the lower left, blue and gold bands of atmospheric airglow running diagonally across the center, and distant stars on the upper right that set behind the Earth. A lower stage can be seen falling back to Earth as the robotic supply ship fires its thrusters and begins to close on the ISS, a space laboratory that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Currently, three astronauts live aboard the Earth-orbiting ISS, and conduct, among more practical duties, numerous science experiments that expand human knowledge and enable future commercial industry in low Earth orbit.
A crescent Moon is about to sink under the western horizon in this sea and night skyscape. The atmospheric photo was taken on September 11 from the desert shore along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. So close to moonset, the moonlight is reddened and dimmed by the low, long line-of-sight across the Atlantic. But near the center of the frame Venus still shines brightly, its light reflected in calm ocean waters. The celestial beacon above the brilliant evening star is bright planet Jupiter. Namibia’s Skeleton Coast was so named for the many seal and whale bones that were once strewn along the shoreline. In more recent times it’s better known for shipwrecks.
On November 17, just an hour before sunrise, this bright and colorful meteor flashed through clear predawn skies. Above a sea of clouds this striking autumn morning’s moment was captured from Hochblauen, a prominent 1165 meter high summit in southern Germany’s Black Forest. Shining through the twilight, Sirius as well as the familiar stars of Orion are recognizable near the southwestern horizon, and the meteor seems headed right for the hunter’s belt and sword. Still, as part of the annual Leonid meteor shower, the meteor trail does point back to the shower’s radiant. The constellation Leo is high above the horizon and off the top left of the frame.
What creates the colors in Jupiter’s clouds? No one is sure. The thick atmosphere of Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, elements which are colorless at the low temperatures of the Jovian cloud tops. Which trace elements provide the colors remains a topic of research, although small amounts of ammonium hydrosulfide are one leading candidate. What is clear from the featured color-enhanced image — and many similar images — is that lighter clouds are typically higher up than darker ones. Pictured, light clouds swirl around reddish regions toward the lower right, while they appear to cover over some darker domains on the upper right. The featured image was taken by the robotic Juno spacecraft during its 14th low pass over Jupiter earlier this year. Juno continues in its looping elliptical orbit, swooping near the huge planet every 53 days and exploring a slightly different sector each time around.
Why is ‘Oumuamua differing from its expected trajectory? Last year, 1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua became the first known asteroid from interstellar space to pass through our Solar System. Just over a year ago, this tumbling interstellar rock even passed rather close to the Earth. The asteroid’s future path should have been easy to predict given standard gravity — but ‘Oumuamua’s path has proven to be slightly different. In the featured animation, ‘Oumuamua is shown approaching and exiting the vicinity of our Sun, with the expected gravitational and observed trajectories labelled. The leading natural hypothesis for this unexpected deviation is internal gas jets becoming active on the Sun-warmed asteroid — but speculation and further computer simulations are ongoing. ‘Oumuamua will never return, but modern sky monitors are expected to find and track similar interstellar asteroids within the next few years.
This is a gibbous Moon. More Earthlings are familiar with a full moon, when the entire face of Luna is lit by the Sun, and a crescent moon, when only a sliver of the Moon’s face is lit. When more than half of the Moon is illuminated, though, but still short of full illumination, the phase is called gibbous. Rarely seen in television and movies, gibbous moons are quite common in the actual night sky. The featured image was taken in Jämtland, Sweden near the end of last month. That gibbous moon turned, in a few days, into a crescent moon, and then a new moon, then back to a crescent, and a few days ago back to gibbous. And this same gibbous moon is visible again tonight, leading up to the Full Beaver Moon that occurs Friday night. Setting up to capture a picturesque gibbous moonscape, the photographer was quite surprised to find an airplane, surely well in the foreground, appearing to fly past it.
It was Halloween and the sky looked like a creature. Exactly which creature, the astrophotographer was unsure but (possibly you can suggest one). Exactly what caused this eerie apparition in 2013 was sure: one of the best auroral displays in recent years. This spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail. Pictured here, the vivid green and purple auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons. Birch trees in Tromsø, Norway formed an also eerie foreground. Recently, new photogenic auroras have accompanied new geomagnetic storms.
The Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, is more than a thousand light-years in diameter, a giant star forming region within nearby satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. About 180 thousand light-years away, it’s the largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies. The cosmic arachnid sprawls across this spectacular view, composed with narrowband filter data centered on emission from ionized hydrogen atoms. Within the Tarantula (NGC 2070), intense radiation, stellar winds and supernova shocks from the central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136, energize the nebular glow and shape the spidery filaments. Around the Tarantula are other star forming regions with young star clusters, filaments, and blown-out bubble-shaped clouds. In fact, the frame includes the site of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A, left of center. The rich field of view spans about 1 degree or 2 full moons, in the southern constellation Dorado. But were the Tarantula Nebula closer, say 1,500 light-years distant like the local star forming Orion Nebula, it would take up half the sky.