The Hydrogen Clouds of M33


Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies a mere 3 million light-years away. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33’s giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. To highlight the HII regions in this telescopic image, broadband data used to produce a color view of the galaxy were combined with narrowband data recorded through a hydrogen-alpha filter, transmitting the light of the strongest hydrogen emission line. Close-ups of cataloged HII regions appear in the sidebar insets. Use the individual reference number to find their location within the Triangulum Galaxy. For example, giant HII region NGC604 is identified in an inset on the right and appears at position number 15. That’s about 4 o’clock from galaxy center in this portrait of M33.

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Gigantic Jet Lightning from Puerto Rico


Have you ever seen a gigantic jet? They are extremely rare but tremendously powerful. Gigantic jets are a type of lightning discharge documented only this century that occur between some thunderstorms and the Earth’s ionosphere high above them. Pictured above is the middle and top of one such jet caught last week by a lightning and meteor camera from Puerto Rico, USA. The jet traversed perhaps 70 kilometers in just under one second. Gigantic jets are much different from regular cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning. The bottoms of gigantic jets appear similar in appearance to another type cloud-to-above strike called blue jets, while the tops appear similar to upper-atmosphere red sprites. Although the mechanism and trigger that causes gigantic jets is a topic of research, it is clear that the jets reduce charge imbalance between different parts of Earth’s atmosphere. A good way to look for gigantic jets is to watch a powerful but distant thunderstorm from a clear location.

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Night of the Perseids


Have you ever experienced a meteor shower? To help capture the wonder, a video was taken during the peak of the recent Perseid meteor shower above the Indian Astronomical Observatory in Hanle, India, high up in the Himalayan mountains. Night descends as the video begins, with the central plane of our Milky Way Galaxy approaching from the left and Earth-orbiting satellites zipping by overhead. During the night, the flash of meteors that usually takes less than a second is artificially extended. The green glow of most meteors is typically caused by vaporizing nickel. As the video continues, Orion rises and meteors flare above the 2-meter Himalayan Chandra Telescope and the seven barrels of the High Energy Gamma Ray Telescope (Hagar). The 2 minute 30 second movie ends with the Sun rising, preceded by a false dawn of zodiacal light.

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Unwrapped: Five Decade Old Lunar Selfie


Here is one of the most famous pictures from the Moon — but digitally reversed. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 and soon thereafter many pictures were taken, including an iconic picture of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong. The original image captured not only the magnificent desolation of an unfamiliar world, but Armstrong himself reflected in Aldrin’s curved visor. Enter modern digital technology. In the featured image, the spherical distortion from Aldrin’s helmet has been reversed. The result is the famous picture — but now featuring Armstrong himself from Aldrin’s perspective. Even so, since Armstrong took the picture, the image is effectively a five-decade old lunar selfie. The original visor reflection is shown on the left, while Earth hangs in the lunar sky on the upper right. A foil-wrapped leg of the Eagle lander is prominently visible. Preparations to return humans to the Moon in the next few years include the Artemis program, an international collaboration led by NASA.

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The Red Square Nebula


How did a round star create this square nebula? No one is quite sure. The round star, known as MWC 922 and possibly part of a multiple star system, appears at the center of the Red Square Nebula. The featured image combines infrared exposures from the Hale Telescope on Mt. Palomar in California, and the Keck-2 Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. A leading progenitor hypothesis for the square nebula is that the central star or stars somehow expelled cones of gas during a late developmental stage. For MWC 922, these cones happen to incorporate nearly right angles and be visible from the sides. Supporting evidence for the cone hypothesis includes radial spokes in the image that might run along the cone walls. Researchers speculate that the cones viewed from another angle would appear similar to the gigantic rings of supernova 1987A, possibly indicating that a star in MWC 922 might one day itself explode in a similar supernova.

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The Bubble and the Star Cluster


To the eye, this cosmic composition nicely balances the Bubble Nebula at the right with open star cluster M52. The pair would be lopsided on other scales, though. Embedded in a complex of interstellar dust and gas and blown by the winds from a single, massive O-type star, the Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is a mere 10 light-years wide. On the other hand, M52 is a rich open cluster of around a thousand stars. The cluster is about 25 light-years across. Seen toward the northern boundary of Cassiopeia, distance estimates for the Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex are around 11,000 light-years, while star cluster M52 lies nearly 5,000 light-years away. The wide telescopic field of view spans about 1.5 degrees on the sky or three times the apparent size of a full Moon.

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Perseid Outburst at Westmeath Lookout


This year an outburst of Perseid meteors surprised skywatchers. The reliable meteor shower’s peak was predicted for the night of August 12/13. But persistent visual observers in North America were deluged with a startling Perseid shower outburst a day later, with reports of multiple meteors per minute and sometimes per second in the early hours of August 14. The shower radiant is high in a dark night sky in this composite image. It painstakingly registers the trails of 282 Perseids captured during the stunning outburst activity between 0650 UT (02:50am EDT) and 0900 UT (05:00am EDT) on August 14 from Westmeath Lookout, Ontario. Of course the annual Perseid meteor shower is associated with planet Earth’s passage through dusty debris from periodic comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The 2021 outburst could have been caused by an unanticipated encounter with the Perseid Filament, a denser ribbon of dust inside the broader debris zone.

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Harvest Moon Trail


Famed in festival, story, and song the best known full moon is the Harvest Moon. For northern hemisphere dwellers that’s a traditional name of the full moon nearest the September equinox. Seen from Saunderstown, Rhode Island, planet Earth, this Harvest Moon left a broad streak of warm hues as it rose through a twilight sky over the Newport Bridge. On September 20 its trail was captured in a single 22 minute exposure using a dense filter and a digital camera. Only two days later the September equinox marked a change of season and the beginning of autumn in the north. In fact, recognizing a season as the time between solstice and equinox, this Harvest Moon was the fourth full moon of the season, coming just before the astronomical end of northern summer.

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Equinox on a Spinning Earth


When does the line between night and day become vertical? Today. Today is an equinox on planet Earth, a time of year when day and night are most nearly equal. At an equinox, the Earth’s terminator — the dividing line between day and night — becomes vertical and connects the north and south poles. The featured time-lapse video demonstrates this by displaying an entire year on planet Earth in twelve seconds. From geosynchronous orbit, the Meteosat 9 satellite recorded these infrared images of the Earth every day at the same local time. The video started at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator line being vertical. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the terminator was seen to tilt in a way that provides less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, causing winter in the north. As the year progressed, the March 2011 equinox arrived halfway through the video, followed by the terminator tilting the other way, causing winter in the southern hemisphere — and summer in the north. The captured year ends again with the September equinox, concluding another of billions of trips the Earth has taken — and will take — around the Sun.

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Sun Spot Hill


Is this giant orange ball about to roll down that tree-lined hill? No, because the giant orange ball is actually the Sun. Our Solar System’s central star was captured rising beyond a hill on Earth twelve days ago complete with a delightfully detailed foreground. The Sun’s disk showed five sunspots, quite a lot considering that during the solar minimum in solar activity of the past few years, most days showed no spots. A close look at the hill — Sierra del Cid in Perter, Spain — reveals not only silhouetted pine trees, but silhouetted people — by coincidence three brothers of the photographer. The trees and brothers were about 3.5-kilometers away during the morning of the well-planned, single-exposure image. A dark filter muted the usually brilliant Sun and brought up great detail on the lower sunspots. Within a few minutes, the Sun rose far above the hill, while within a week, the sunspots rotated around the Sun, out of view. The captured scene, however, is now frozen in time for all to enjoy.

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