Starburst Galaxy M94 from Hubble


Why does this galaxy have a ring of bright blue stars? Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). A popular target for Earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years across M94‘s central region. The featured close-up highlights the galaxy’s compact, bright nucleus, prominent inner dust lanes, and the remarkable bluish ring of young massive stars. The ring stars are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating that M94 is a starburst galaxy that is experiencing an epoch of rapid star formation from inspiraling gas. The circular ripple of blue stars is likely a wave propagating outward, having been triggered by the gravity and rotation of a oval matter distributions. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can better explore details of its starburst ring.

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The Eagle Rises


Get out your red/blue glasses and check out this stereo view from lunar orbit. The 3D anaglyph was created from two photographs (AS11-44-6633, AS11-44-6634) taken by astronaut Michael Collins during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. It features the lunar module ascent stage, dubbed The Eagle, rising to meet the command module in lunar orbit on July 21. Aboard the ascent stage are Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first to walk on the Moon. The smooth, dark area on the lunar surface is Mare Smythii located just below the equator on the extreme eastern edge of the Moon’s near side. Poised beyond the lunar horizon is our fair planet Earth.

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SOFIA s Southern Lights


SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a large reflecting telescope into the stratosphere. The ability of the airborne facility to climb above about 99 percent of Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere has allowed researchers to observe from almost anywhere over the planet. On a science mission flying deep into the southern auroral oval, astronomer Ian Griffin, director of New Zealand’s Otago Museum, captured this view from the observatory’s south facing starboard side on July 17. Bright star Canopus shines in the southern night above curtains of aurora australis, or southern lights. The plane was flying far south of New Zealand at the time at roughly 62 degrees southern latitude. Unfortunately, after a landing at Christchurch severe weather damaged SOFIA requiring repairs and the cancellation of the remainder of its final southern hemisphere deployment.

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North Celestial Tree


An ancient tree seems to reach out and touch Earth’s North Celestial Pole in this well-planned night skyscape. Consecutive exposures for the timelapse composition were recorded with a camera fixed to a tripod in the Yiwu Desert Poplar Forests in northwest Xinjiang, China. The graceful star trail arcs reflect Earth’s daily rotation around its axis. By extension, the axis of rotation leads to the center of the concentric arcs in the night sky. Known as the North Star, bright star Polaris is a friend to northern hemisphere night sky photographers and celestial navigators alike. That’s because Polaris lies very close to the North Celestial Pole on the sky. Of course it can be found at the tip of an outstretched barren branch in a postcard from a rotating planet.

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Crepuscular Moon Rays over Denmark


This moon made quite an entrance. Typically, a moonrise is quiet and serene. Taking a few minutes to fully peek above the horizon, Earth’s largest orbital companion can remain relatively obscure until it rises high in the nighttime sky. About a week ago, however, and despite being only half lit by the Sun, this rising moon put on a show — at least from this location. The reason was that, as seen from Limfjord in Nykøbing Mors, Denmark, the moon rose below scattered clouds near the horizon. The result, captured here in a single exposure, was that moonlight poured through gaps in the clouds to created what are called crepuscular rays. These rays can fan out dramatically across the sky when starting near the horizon, and can even appear to converge on the other side of the sky. Well behind our Moon, stars from our Milky Way galaxy dot the background, and our galaxy’s largest orbital companion — the Andromeda galaxy — can be found on the upper left.

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Comet NEOWISE Rising over the Adriatic Sea


This sight was worth getting out of bed early. Two years ago this month, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) rose before dawn to the delight of northern sky enthusiasts awake that early. Up before sunrise on July 8th, the featured photographer was able to capture in dramatic fashion one of the few comets visible to the unaided eye this century, an inner-Solar System intruder that has become known as the Great Comet of 2020. The resulting video detailed Comet NEOWISE from Italy rising over the Adriatic Sea. The time-lapse video combines over 240 images taken over 30 minutes. The comet was seen rising through a foreground of bright and undulating noctilucent clouds, and before a background of distant stars. Comet NEOWISE remained unexpectedly bright until 2020 August, with its ion and dust tails found to emanate from a nucleus spanning about five kilometers across.

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Find the New Moon


Can you find the Moon? This usually simple task can be quite difficult. Even though the Moon is above your horizon half of the time, its phase can be anything from crescent to full. The featured image was taken in late May from Sant Martí d’Empúries, Spain, over the Mediterranean Sea in the early morning. One reason you can’t find this moon is because it is very near to its new phase, when very little of the half illuminated by the Sun is visible to the Earth. Another reason is because this moon is near the horizon and so seen through a long path of Earth’s atmosphere — a path which dims the already faint crescent. Any crescent moon is only visible near the direction the Sun, and so only locatable near sunrise of sunset. The Moon runs through all of its phases in a month (moon-th), and this month the thinnest sliver of a crescent — a new moon — will occur in three days.

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Saturn in Infrared from Cassini


Many details of Saturn appear clearly in infrared light. Bands of clouds show great structure, including long stretching storms. Also quite striking in infrared is the unusual hexagonal cloud pattern surrounding Saturn‘s North Pole. Each side of the dark hexagon spans roughly the width of our Earth. The hexagon‘s existence was not predicted, and its origin and likely stability remains a topic of research. Saturn’s famous rings circle the planet and cast shadows below the equator. The featured image was taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2014 in several infrared colors. In 2017 September, the Cassini mission was brought to a dramatic conclusion when the spacecraft was directed to dive into ringed giant.

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Apollo 11 Landing Panorama


Have you seen a panorama from another world lately? Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this one sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. The images were taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module shortly after the July 20, 1969 landing. The frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world. Toward the south, thruster nozzles can be seen in the foreground on the left, while at the right, the shadow of the Eagle is visible to the west. For scale, the large, shallow crater on the right has a diameter of about 12 meters. Frames taken from the Lunar Module windows about an hour and a half after landing, before walking on the lunar surface, were intended to initially document the landing site in case an early departure was necessary.

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Spiral Galaxy M74: A Sharper View


Beautiful spiral galaxy Messier 74 (also known as NGC 628) lies some 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces. An island universe of about 100 billion stars with two prominent spiral arms, M74 has long been admired by astronomers as a perfect example of a grand-design spiral galaxy. M74’s central region is brought into a stunning, sharp focus in this recently processed image using publicly available data from the James Webb Space Telescope. The colorized combination of image data sets is from two of Webb’s instruments NIRcam and MIRI, operating at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths. It reveals cooler stars and dusty structures in the grand-design spiral galaxy only hinted at in previous space-based views.

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