Rocket Launch between Mountains


What’s happening between those mountains? A rocket is being launched to space. Specifically, a Long March 3B Carrier Rocket was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in China about two week ago. The rocket lifted two navigation satellites to about 2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, well above the orbit of the International Space Station, but well below the orbit of geostationary satellites. China’s Chang’e 3 mission that landed the robotic Yutu rover on the Moon was launched from Xichang in 2013. The featured image was taken about 10 kilometers from the launch site and is actually a composite of nine exposures, including a separate background image.

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Spiraling Supermassive Black Holes


Do black holes glow when they collide? When merging, co-orbiting black holes are sure to emit a burst of unusual gravitational radiation, but will they emit light, well before that, if they are surrounded by gas? To help find out, astrophysicists created a sophisticated computer simulation. The simulation and featured resulting video accurately depicts two spiraling supermassive black holes, including the effects of Einstein’s general relativity on the surrounding gas and light. The video first shows the system from the top, and later from the side where unusual gravitational lens distortions are more prominent. Numerical results indicate that gravitational and magnetic forces should energize the gas to emit high-energy light from the ultraviolet to the X-ray. The emission of such light may enable humanity to detect and study supermassive black hole pairs well before they spiral together.

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The Fairy of Eagle Nebula


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 in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Mount Everest Star Trails


The highest peak on planet Earth is framed in this mountain and night skyscape. On September 30, the digital stack of 240 sequential exposures made with a camera fixed to a tripod at an Everest Base Camp captured the sheer north face of the Himalayan mountain and foreground illuminated by bright moonlight. Taken over 1.5 hours, the sequence also recorded colorful star trails. Reflecting the planet’s daily rotation on its axis, their motion is along gentle concentric arcs centered on the south celestial pole, a point well below the rugged horizon. The color of the trails actually indicates the temperatures of the stars. Blueish hues are from hotter stars, and yellow to reddish hues are from stars cooler than the Sun.

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A Cold River to Orion


Ice is forming on the river Lielupe as it flows through the landscape in this winter’s night scene. Even in motion the frigid water still reflects a starry sky, though. The well planned, Orion-centered panorama looks toward the south, taken in three exposures from a bridge near the village of Stalgene, Latvia, planet Earth. Drifting pancakes of ice leave streaks in the long exposures, while familiar stars of Orion and the northern winter night appear above and below the horizon. Village lights along the horizon include skyward beams from the local community church. This image was a first place winner in the 2018 StarSpace astrophotography competition.

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IC 1871: Inside the Soul Nebula


This cosmic close-up looks deep inside the Soul Nebula. The dark and brooding dust clouds on the left, outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas, are cataloged as IC 1871. About 25 light-years across, the telescopic field of view spans only a small part of the much larger Heart and Soul nebulae. At an estimated distance of 6,500 light-years the star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, seen in planet Earth’s skies toward the constellation Cassiopeia. An example of triggered star formation, the dense star-forming clouds of IC 1871 are themselves sculpted by the intense winds and radiation of the region’s massive young stars. The featured image appears mostly red due to the emission of a specific color of light emitted by excited hydrogen gas.

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Rocket Launch as Seen from the Space Station


Have you ever seen a rocket launch — from space? A close inspection of the featured time-lapse video will reveal a rocket rising to Earth orbit as seen from the International Space Station (ISS). The Russian Soyuz-FG rocket was launched ten days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a Progress MS-10 (also 71P) module to bring needed supplies to the ISS. Highlights in the 90-second video (condensing about 15-minutes) include city lights and clouds visible on the Earth on the lower left, blue and gold bands of atmospheric airglow running diagonally across the center, and distant stars on the upper right that set behind the Earth. A lower stage can be seen falling back to Earth as the robotic supply ship fires its thrusters and begins to close on the ISS, a space laboratory that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Currently, three astronauts live aboard the Earth-orbiting ISS, and conduct, among more practical duties, numerous science experiments that expand human knowledge and enable future commercial industry in low Earth orbit.

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