Observe the Moon every night and you’ll see its visible sunlit portion gradually change. In phases progressing from New Moon to Full Moon to New Moon again, a lunar cycle or lunation is completed in about 29.5 days. Top left to bottom right, this 7×4 matrix of telescopic images captures the range of lunar phases for 28 consecutive nights, from the evening of July 29 to the morning of August 26, following an almost complete lunation. No image was taken 24 hours or so just after and just before New Moon, when the lunar phase is at best a narrow crescent, close to the Sun and really hard to see. Finding mostly clear Mediterranean skies required an occasional road trip to complete this lunar cycle project, imaging in early evening for the first half and late evening and early morning for the second half of the lunation. Since all the images are registered at the same scale you can use this matrix to track the change in the Moon’s apparent size during the single lunation. For extra credit, find the lunar phase that occurred closest to perigee.
A planet-wide collaboration resulted in this remarkable array of sunrise photographs taken around the September 2022 equinox. The images were contributed by 24 photographers, one in each of 24 nautical time zones around the world. Unlike more complicated civil time zone boundaries, the 24 nautical time zones are simply 15 degree longitude bands corresponding to 1 hour steps that span the globe. Start at the upper right for the first to experience a sunrise in the nautical time zone corresponding to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 12 hours. In that time zone, the photographer was located in Christchurch, New Zealand. Travel to the west by looking down the column and then moving to the column toward the left for later sunrises as the time zone offset in hours from UTC decreases. Or, you can watch a video of September 2022 equinox sunrises around planet Earth.
Fifteen days before impact, the DART spacecraft deployed a small companion satellite to document its historic planetary defense technology demonstration. Provided by the Italian Space Agency, the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids, aka LICIACube, recorded this image of the event’s aftermath. A cloud of ejecta is seen near the right edge of the frame captured only minutes following DART’s impact with target asteroid Dimorphos while LICIACube was about 80 kilometers away. Presently about 11 million kilometers from Earth, 160 meter diameter Dimorphos is a moonlet orbiting 780 meter diameter asteroid Didymos. Didymos is seen off center in the LICIACube image. Over the coming weeks, ground-based telescopic observations will look for a small change in Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos to evaluate how effectively the DART impact deflected its target.
Is the sky angry with Mount Shasta? According to some ancient legends, the spirits of above and below worlds fight there, sometimes quite actively during eruptions of this enormous volcano in California, USA. Such drama can well be imagined in this deep sky image taken in late June. Evident above the snow-covered peak is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy, on the left, and a picturesque sky toward the modern constellations of Scorpius and Ophiuchus, above and to the right. The bright orange star Antares and the colorful rho Ophiuchi cloud complex are visible just to the right of Mount Shasta, while the red emission nebula surrounding the star zeta Ophiuchi appears on the top right. The static earth image in the featured composite was taken during the blue hour, while a two-panel panorama tracking the background sky was taken later that night with the same camera and from the same location. Within a few million years, Antares, some stars in the rho Ophiuchi system, and zeta Ophiuchi will all likely explode as supernovas.
Could humanity deflect an asteroid headed for Earth? Yes. Deadly impacts from large asteroids have happened before in Earth‘s past, sometimes causing mass extinctions of life. To help protect our Earth from some potential future impacts, NASA tested a new planetary defense mechanism yesterday by crashing the robotic Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into Dimorphos, a small asteroid spanning about 170-meters across. As shown in the featured video, the impact was a success. Ideally, if impacted early enough, even the kick from a small spacecraft can deflect a large asteroid enough to miss the Earth. In the video, DART is seen in a time-lapse video first passing larger Didymos, on the left, and then approaching the smaller Dimorphos. Although the video ends abruptly with DART’s crash, observations monitoring the changed orbit of Dimorphos — from spacecraft and telescopes around the world — have just begun.
How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. The next smallest ball depicts all of Earth‘s liquid fresh water, while the tiniest ball shows the volume of all of Earth’s fresh-water lakes and rivers. How any of this water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth‘s surface remain topics of research.
The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image is in scientifically re-assigned colors and was taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
The defining astronomical moment for this September’s equinox was on Friday, September 23, 2022 at 01:03 UTC, when the Sun crossed the celestial equator moving south in its yearly journey through planet Earth’s sky. That marked the beginning of fall for our fair planet in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere, when day and night are nearly equal around the globe. Of course, if you celebrate the astronomical change of seasons by watching a sunrise you can also look for crepuscular rays. The shadows cast by clouds can have a dramatic appearance in the twilight sky during any sunrise or sunset. Due to perspective, the parallel shadows will seem to point back to the rising Sun and a place due east on your horizon near the equinox date. Taken on September 15, this sunrise sea and skyscape captured crepuscular rays in the sky and watery specular reflections from the Mediterranean coast near the village of Petacciato, Italy.
Ringed, ice giant Neptune lies near the center of this sharp near-infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope. The dim and distant world is the farthest planet from the Sun, about 30 times farther away than planet Earth. But in the stunning Webb view the planet’s dark and ghostly appearance is due to atmospheric methane that absorbs infrared light. High altitude clouds that reach above most of Neptune’s absorbing methane easily stand out in the image though. Coated with frozen nitrogen, Neptune’s largest moon Triton is brighter than Neptune in reflected sunlight and is seen at upper left sporting the Webb’s characteristic diffraction spikes. Including Triton, seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons can be identified in the field of view. Neptune’s faint rings are striking in this new space-based planetary portrait. Details of the complex ring system are seen here for the first time since Neptune was visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in August 1989.
Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier’s famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy’s disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. This Hubble Space Telescope close-up spans some 40,000 light-years. The galaxy’s magnificent spiral arms feature dark obscuring dust lanes, bright bluish clusters of massive young stars, and the telltale reddish glow of active star forming regions. The bright yellowish central regions harbor populations of older, cooler stars. Like the Milky Way, a supermassive black hole lies at the core of spiral galaxy NGC 7331.