NGC 1055 Close up


Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1055 is a dominant member of a small galaxy group a mere 60 million light-years away toward the aquatically intimidating constellation Cetus. Seen edge-on, the island universe spans over 100,000 light-years, a little larger than our own Milky Way. The colorful stars in this cosmic close-up of NGC 1055 are in the foreground, well within the Milky Way. But the telltale pinkish star forming regions are scattered through winding dust lanes along the distant galaxy’s thin disk. With a smattering of even more distant background galaxies, the deep image also reveals a boxy halo that extends far above and below the central bluge and disk of NGC 1055. The halo itself is laced with faint, narrow structures, and could represent the mixed and spread out debris from a satellite galaxy disrupted by the larger spiral some 10 billion years ago.

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The Prague Astronomical Clock


In the center of Prague there’s a clock the size of a building. During the day, crowds gather to watch the show when it chimes in a new hour. The Prague Astronomical Clock‘s face is impressively complex, giving not only the expected time with respect to the Sun (solar time), but the time relative to the stars (sidereal time), the times of sunrise and sunset, the time at the equator, the phase of the Moon, and much more. The clock began operation in 1410, and even though much of its inner workings have been modernized several times, original parts remain. Below the clock is a nearly-equal sized, but static, solar calendar. Pictured, the Prague Astronomical Clock was photographed alone during an early morning in 2009 March. The Prague Astronomical Clock and the Old Town Tower behind it are currently being renovated once again, with the clock expected to be restarted in 2018 June.

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A Dust Jet from the Surface of Comet 67P


Where do comet tails come from? There are no obvious places on the nuclei of comets from which the jets that create comet tails emanate. Last year, though, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft not only imaged a jet emerging from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but flew right through it. Featured is a telling picture showing a bright plume emerging from a small circular dip bounded on one side by a 10-meter high wall. Analyses of Rosetta data shows that the jet was composed of both dust and water-ice. The mundane terrain indicates that something likely happened far under the porous surface to create the plume. This image was taken last July, about two months before Rosetta’s mission ended with a controlled impact onto Comet 67P’s surface.

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A Year of Full Moons


Do all full moons look the same? No. To see the slight differences, consider this grid of twelve full moons. From upper left to lower right, the images represent every lunation from 2016 November through 2017 October, as imaged from Pakistan. The consecutive full moons are all shown at the same scale, so unlike the famous Moon Illusion, the change in apparent size seen here is real. The change is caused by the variation in lunar distance due to the Moon’s significantly non-circular orbit. The dark notch at the bottom of the full moon of 2017 August is the shadow of the Earth — making this a partial lunar eclipse. Besides the sometimes exaggerated coloring, a subtler change in appearance can also be noticed on close examination, as the Moon seems to wobble slightly from one full moon to the next. This effect, known as libration, is more dramatic and easier to see in this lunation video highlighting all of the ways that the Moon appears to change over a month (moon-th).

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A 2017 U1: An Interstellar Visitor


Traveling at high velocity along an extreme hyperbolic orbit and making a hairpin turn as it swung past the Sun, the now designated A/2017 U1 is the first known small body from interstellar space. A point of light centered in this 5 minute exposure recorded with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands on October 28, the interstellar visitor is asteroid-like with no signs of cometary activity. Faint background stars appear streaked because the massive 4.2 meter diameter telescope is tracking the rapidly moving A/2017 U1 in the field of view. Astronomer Rob Weryk (IfA) first recognized the moving object in nightly Pan-STARRS sky survey data on October 19. A/2017 is presently outbound, never to return to the Solar System, and already only visible from planet Earth in large optical telescopes. Though an interstellar origin has been established based on its orbit, it is still unknown how long the object could have drifted among the stars of the Milky Way. But its interstellar cruise speed would be about 26 kilometers per second. By comparison humanity’s Voyager 1 spacecraft travels about 17 kilometers per second through interstellar space.

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NGC 891 vs Abell 347


Distant galaxies lie beyond a foreground of spiky Milky Way stars in this telescopic field of view. Centered on yellowish star HD 14771, the scene spans about 1 degree on the sky toward the northern constellation Andromeda. At top right is large spiral galaxy NGC 891, 100 thousand light-years across and seen almost exactly edge-on. About 30 million light-years distant, NGC 891 looks a lot like our own Milky Way with a flattened, thin, galactic disk. Its disk and central bulge are cut along the middle by dark, obscuring dust clouds. Scattered toward the lower left are members of galaxy cluster Abell 347. Nearly 240 million light-years away, Abell 347 shows off its own large galaxies in the sharp image. They are similar to NGC 891 in physical size but located almost 8 times farther away, so Abell 347 galaxies have roughly one eighth the apparent size of NGC 891.

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Thors Helmet Emission Nebula


This helmet-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages is popularly called Thor‘s Helmet. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor’s Helmet spans about 30 light-years across. In fact, the helmet is more like an interstellar bubble, blown as a fast wind — from the bright star near the center of the bubble’s blue-hued region — sweeps through a surrounding molecular cloud. This star, a Wolf-Rayet star, is a massive and extremely hot giant star thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. Cataloged as NGC 2359, the emission nebula is located about 12,000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major). The sharp image, made using broadband and narrowband filters, captures striking details of the nebula’s filamentary gas and dust structures. The blue color originates from strong emission from oxygen atoms in the nebula.

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