Although its colors may be subtle, Saturn’s moon Helene is an enigma in any light. The moon was imaged in unprecedented detail in 2012 as the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn swooped to within a single Earth diameter of the diminutive moon. Although conventional craters and hills appear, the above image also shows terrain that appears unusually smooth and streaked. Planetary astronomers are inspecting these detailed images of Helene to glean clues about the origin and evolution of the 30-km across floating iceberg. Helene is also unusual because it circles Saturn just ahead of the large moon Dione, making it one of only four known Saturnian moons to occupy a gravitational well known as a stable Lagrange point.
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Along a narrow path that mostly avoided landfall, the shadow of the New Moon raced across planet Earth’s southern hemisphere on April 20 to create a rare annular-total or hybrid solar eclipse. From the Indian Ocean off the coast of western Australia, ship-borne eclipse chasers were able to witness 62 seconds of totality though while anchored near the centerline of the total eclipse track. This ship-borne image of the eclipse captures the active Sun’s magnificent outer atmosphere or solar corona streaming into space. A composite of 11 exposures ranging from 1/2000 to 1/2 second, it records an extended range of brightness to follow details of the corona not quite visible to the eye during the total eclipse phase. Of course eclipses tend to come in pairs. On May 5, the next Full Moon will just miss the dark inner part of Earth’s shadow in a penumbral lunar eclipse.
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Like a ship plowing through cosmic seas, runaway star Alpha Camelopardalis has produced this graceful arcing bow wave or bow shock. The massive supergiant star moves at over 60 kilometers per second through space, compressing the interstellar material in its path. At the center of this nearly 6 degree wide view, Alpha Cam is about 25-30 times as massive as the Sun, 5 times hotter (30,000 kelvins), and over 500,000 times brighter. About 4,000 light-years away in the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis, the star also produces a strong stellar wind. Alpha Cam’s bow shock stands off about 10 light-years from the star itself. What set this star in motion? Astronomers have long thought that Alpha Cam was flung out of a nearby cluster of young hot stars due to gravitational interactions with other cluster members or perhaps by the supernova explosion of a massive companion star.
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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 160 thousand light-years away, it’s the largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies. The cosmic arachnid is near the center of this spectacular image taken during the flight of SuperBIT (Super Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope), NASA’s balloon-borne 0.5 meter telescope now floating near the edge of space. Within the well-studied 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. SuperBIT’s wide field of view spans over 2 degrees or 4 full moons in the southern constellation Dorado.
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Was this a lucky shot? Although many amazing photographs are taken by someone who just happenedÂ to be in the right place at the right time, this image took skill and careful planning. First was the angularÂ scale: if you shoot too close to the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, the full moon will appear too small.Â Conversely, if you shoot from too far away, the moon willÂ appearÂ too large and not fit inside the Arc. Second is timing: the Moon only appears centered inside the Arc for small periods of time — from this distance less than a minute. Other planned features include lighting, relative brightness, height, capturing a good foreground, and digital processing. And yes, there is some luck involved — for example, the sky must be clear. This time, the planning was successful, bringing two of humanity’s most famous icons photographically together for all to enjoy.
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Did you see an aurora over the past two nights? Many people who don’t live in Earth’s far north did. Reports of aurora came in not only from northern locales in the USA as Alaska, but as far south as Texas and Arizona. A huge auroral oval extended over Europe and Asia, too. Pictured, an impressively red aurora was captured last night near the town of CÃ¡ceres in central Spain. Auroras were also reported in parts of southern Spain. The auroras resulted from a strong Coronal Mass Event (CME) that occurred on the Sun a few days ago. Particles from the CME crossed the inner Solar System before colliding with the Earth’s magnetosphere. From there, electrons and protons spiraled down the Earth’s northern magnetic field lines and collided with oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere, causing picturesque auroral glows. Our unusually active Sun may provide future opportunities to see the northern lights in southern skies.
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What powers this unusual nebula? CTB-1 is the expanding gas shell that was left when a massive star toward the constellation of Cassiopeia exploded about 10,000 years ago. The star likely detonated when it ran out of elements near its core that could create stabilizing pressure with nuclear fusion. The resulting supernova remnant, nicknamed the Medulla Nebula for its brain-like shape, still glows in visible light by the heat generated by its collision with confining interstellar gas. Why the nebula also glows in X-ray light, though, remains a mystery. One hypothesis holds that an energetic pulsar was co-created that powers the nebula with a fast outwardly moving wind. Following this lead, a pulsar has recently been found in radio waves that appears to have been expelled by the supernova explosion at over 1000 kilometers per second. Although the Medulla Nebula appears as large as a full moon, it is so faint that it took many hours of exposure with a telescope in Seven Persons, Alberta, Canada to create the featured image.
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What’s happening over the water? Pictured here is one of the better images yet recorded of a waterspout, a type of tornado that occurs over water. Waterspouts are spinning columns of rising moist air that typically form over warm water. Waterspouts can be as dangerous as tornadoes and can feature wind speeds over 200 kilometers per hour. Some waterspouts form away from thunderstorms and even during relatively fair weather. Waterspouts may be relatively transparent and initially visible only by an unusual pattern they create on the water. The featured image was taken in 2013 July near Tampa Bay, Florida. The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida is arguably the most active area in the world for waterspouts, with hundreds forming each year.
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In visible light NGC 1333 is seen as a reflection nebula, dominated by bluish hues characteristic of starlight reflected by interstellar dust. A mere 1,000 light-years distant toward the heroic constellation Perseus, it lies at the edge of a large, star-forming molecular cloud. This Hubble Space Telescope close-up frames a region just over 1 light-year wide at the estimated distance of NGC 1333. It shows details of the dusty region along with telltale hints of contrasty red emission from Herbig-Haro objects, jets and shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars. In fact, NGC 1333 contains hundreds of stars less than a million years old, most still hidden from optical telescopes by the pervasive stardust. The chaotic environment may be similar to one in which our own Sun formed over 4.5 billion years ago. Hubble’s stunning image of the stellar nursery was released to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the space telescope’s launch.
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Along a narrow path that mostly avoided landfall, the shadow of the New Moon raced across planet Earth’s southern hemisphere on April 20 to create a rare annular-total or hybrid solar eclipse. A mere 62 seconds of totality could be seen though, when the dark central lunar shadow just grazed the North West Cape, a peninsula in western Australia. From top to bottom these panels capture the beginning, middle, and end of that fleeting total eclipse phase. At start and finish, solar prominences and beads of sunlight stream past the lunar limb. At mid-eclipse the central frame reveals the sight only easily visible during totality and most treasured by eclipse chasers, the magnificent corona of the active Sun. Of course eclipses tend to come in pairs. On May 5, the next Full Moon will just miss the dark inner part of Earth’s shadow in a penumbral lunar eclipse.
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