A September Morning Sky


The Moon, three planets, and a bright star gathered near the ecliptic plane in the September 18 morning sky over Veszprem Castle, Hungary. In this twilight skyscape, Mercury and Mars still shine close to the eastern horizon, soon to disappear in the glare of the Sun. Regulus, alpha star of the constellation Leo, is the bright point next to a waning crescent Moon, with brilliant Venus near the top of the frame. The beautiful morning conjunction of Moon, planets, and bright star could generally be followed by early morning risers all around planet Earth. But remarkably, the Moon also occulted, or passed directly in front of, Regulus and each of the three planets within 24 hours, all on September 18 UT. Visible from different locations, timing and watching the lunar occultations was much more difficult though, and mostly required viewing in daytime skies.

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The Big Corona


Most photographs don’t adequately portray the magnificence of the Sun‘s corona. Seeing the corona first-hand during a total solar eclipse is unparalleled. The human eye can adapt to see coronal features and extent that average cameras usually cannot. Welcome, however, to the digital age. The featured picture is a combination of forty exposures from one thousandth of a second to two seconds that, together, were digitally combined and processed to highlight faint features of the total solar eclipse that occurred in August of 2017. Clearly visible are intricate layers and glowing caustics of an ever changing mixture of hot gas and magnetic fields in the Sun’s corona. Looping prominences appear bright pink just past the Sun’s limb. Faint details on the night side of the New Moon can even be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from the dayside of the Full Earth.

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Orion above Easter Island


Why were the statues on Easter Island built? No one is sure. What is sure is that over 800 large stone statues exist there. The Easter Island statues, stand, on the average, over twice as tall as a person and have over 200 times as much mass. Few specifics are known about the history or meaning of the unusual rock sculptures, but many believe that they were created about 700 years ago in the images of local leaders of a lost civilization. Featured here, one of the ancient Moai sculptures was imaged in 2016 before the constellation of Orion, including the famous line of three belt stars and brilliant stars Betelgeuse (far left in red) and Rigel (upper center). The stone giant appears, however, to be inspecting the brightest star in the night sky (far right): Sirius.

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Bright Spiral Galaxy M81


One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth’s sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed view reveals M81’s bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81‘s other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy — 11.8 million light-years.

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100 Steps Forward


A beautiful conjunction of Venus and Moon, human, sand, and Milky Way is depicted in this night skyscape from planet Earth. The scene is a panorama of 6 photos taken in a moment near the end of a journey. In the foreground, footsteps along the wind-rippled dunes are close to the Huacachina oasis in the southwestern desert of Peru. An engaging perspective on the world at night, the stunning final image was also chosen as a winner in The World at Night’s 2017 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest.

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Flare Well AR2673


Almost out of view from our fair planet, rotating around the Sun’s western edge giant active region AR2673 lashed out with another intense solar flare followed by a large coronal mass ejection on September 10. The flare itself is seen here at the right in an extreme ultraviolet image from the sun-staring Solar Dynamics Observatory. This intense flare was the fourth X-class flare from AR2673 this month. The active region’s most recent associated coronal mass ejection collided with Earth’s magnetosphere 2 days later. Say farewell to the mighty AR2673, for now. For the next two weeks, the powerful sunspot group will be on the Sun’s far side.

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NGC 6334: The Cats Paw Nebula


Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat’s Paw Nebula visible in Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat’s Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula or NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured here is a deep field image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula in light emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur.

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