What created this unusual hill on Mars? No one is sure. A good outlook to survey the surrounding area, Siccar Point stands out from its surroundings in Gale Crater. The unusual mound was visited by the robotic Curiosity rover exploring Mars late last year. Siccar Point not only has a distinctive shape, it has dark rocks above lighter rocks. The apparent much younger age of the dark rocks indicates a time-break in the usual geological ordering of rock layers — by a process yet unknown. The Martian hill is named for Siccar Point on Earth, a place in Scotland itself distinctive as a junction between two different rock layers. Curiosity continues to explore Gale crater on Mars, looking for clues of ancient life. Simultaneously, 2300 kilometers away, its sister rover Perseverance explores Jezero crater, there assisted by the flight-capable scout Ingenuity.
This new view of Jupiter is illuminating. High-resolution infrared images of Jupiter from the new James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) reveal, for example, previously unknown differences between high-floating bright clouds — including the Great Red Spot — and low-lying dark clouds. Also clearly visible in the featured Webb image are Jupiter’s dust ring, bright auroras at the poles, and Jupiter’s moons Amalthea and Adrastea. Large volcanic moon Io‘s magnetic funneling of charged particles onto Jupiter is also visible in the southern aurora. Some objects are so bright that light noticeably diffracts around Webb’s optics creating streaks. Webb, which orbits the Sun near the Earth, has a mirror over 6 meters across making it the largest astronomical telescope ever launched — with 15 times more light-collecting area than Hubble.
The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just right of center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. The featured spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Flame Nebula is visible in orange just to the Horsehead’s left. To highlight the dust and gas, most of the stars have been digitally removed, although a notable exception is Alnitak, just above the Flame Nebula, which is the rightmost star in Orion’s famous belt of three aligned stars. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion.
Here comes Jupiter! NASA‘s robotic spacecraft Juno is continuing on its highly-elongated orbits around our Solar System’s largest planet. The featured video is from perijove 11 in early 2018, the eleventh time Juno has passed near Jupiter since it arrived in mid-2016. This time-lapse, color-enhanced movie covers about four hours and morphs between 36 JunoCam images. The video begins with Jupiter rising as Juno approaches from the north. As Juno reaches its closest view — from about 3,500 kilometers over Jupiter’s cloud tops — the spacecraft captures the great planet in tremendous detail. Juno passes light zones and dark belt of clouds that circle the planet, as well as numerous swirling circular storms, many of which are larger than hurricanes on Earth. After the perijove, Jupiter recedes into the distance, then displaying the unusual clouds that appear over Jupiter’s south. To get desired science data, Juno swoops so close to Jupiter that its instruments are exposed to very high levels of radiation.
Inside the Cocoon Nebula is a newly developing cluster of stars. Cataloged as IC 5146, the beautiful nebula is nearly 15 light-years wide. Climbing high in northern summer night skies, it’s located some 4,000 light years away toward the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Like other star forming regions, it stands out in red, glowing, hydrogen gas excited by young, hot stars, and dust-reflected starlight at the edge of an otherwise invisible molecular cloud. In fact, the bright star found near the center of this nebula is likely only a few hundred thousand years old, powering the nebular glow as it clears out a cavity in the molecular cloud’s star forming dust and gas. A 29 hour long integration with a small telescope from Ayr, Ontario, Canada resulted in this exceptionally deep color view tracing tantalizing features within and surrounding the dusty stellar nursery.
Lights play around the horizon of this snowy little planet as it drifts through a starry night sky. Of course the little planet is actually planet Earth. Recorded on August 21, the digitally warped, nadir centered panorama covers nearly 360×180 degrees outside the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. The southernmost research outpost is near the horizon at the top where the light of dawn is approaching after nearly six months of darkness. Along the bottom is the ceremonial pole marker surrounded by the 12 flags of the original signatories of the Antarctic treaty, with a wild display of the aurora australis above.
The rugged lunar south polar region lies at the top of this colorful portrait of a last quarter Moon made on August 20. Constructed from video frames and still images taken at Springrange, New South Wales, Australia it also captures a transit of China’s Tiangong Space Station. The transit itself was fleeting, taking the space station less than a second to cross the shadowed and sunlit lunar disk. The low Earth orbiting Tiangong is at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, while the Moon is some 400,000 kilometers away. Subtle color differences along the bright lunar surface are revealed in the multiple stacked frames. Not visible to the eye, they indicate real differences in chemical makeup across the lunar surface.
To some, it looks like a wheel of a cart. In fact, because of its outward appearance, the presence of a central galaxy, and its connection with what looks like the spokes of a wheel, the galaxy on the right is known as the Cartwheel Galaxy. To others, however, it looks like a complicated interaction between galaxies awaiting explanation. Along with the two galaxies on the left, the Cartwheel is part of a group of galaxies about 500 million light years away in the constellation Sculptor. The large galaxy’s rim spans over 100,000 light years and is composed of star forming regions filled with extremely bright and massive stars. The Cartwheel’s ring-like shape is the result of gravitational disruption caused by a smaller galaxy passing through a large one, compressing the interstellar gas and dust and causing a star formation wave to move out like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The featured recent image of the Cartwheel Galaxy by the Webb Space Telescope reveals new details not only about where stars are forming, but also about activity near the galaxy’s central black hole.
Careful planning made this a nightscape to remember. First, the night itself was chosen to occur during the beginning of this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower. Next, the time of night was chosen to be before the bright Moon would rise and dominate the night sky’s brightness. The picturesque foreground was selected to be a rocky beach of the Mediterranean Sea in Le Dramont, France, with, at the time, Ã®le dâ€™Or island situated near the ominously descending central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Once everything was set and with the weather cooperating, all of the frames for this seemingly surreal nightscape were acquired within 15 minutes. What you can’t see is that, on this night, the astrophotographer brought along his father who, although unskilled in modern sky-capture techniques, once made it a point to teach his child about the sky.
Is our Earth warming? Compared to the past 250 million years, the Earth is currently enduring a relative cold spell, possibly about four degrees Celsius below average. Over the past 120 years, though, data indicate that the average global temperature of the Earth has increased by nearly one degree Celsius. The featured visualization video depicts Earth’s recent global warming in graphic terms. The depicted temperatures are taken from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies‘ Surface Temperature Analysis. Already noticeable by many, Earth’s recent warming trend is causing sea levels to rise, precipitation patterns to change, and pole ice to melt. Few now disagree that recent global warming is occurring, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that we humans have created a warming surge that is likely to continue. A continuation could impact many local agricultures and even the global economy. Although there seems to be no simple solutions, geoengineering projects that might help include artificial cloud creation to reduce the amount of sunlight heating the Earth’s surface.