Snowy Mont Blanc is near the center of this atmospheric night skyscape. But high, thin clouds fogged the skies at the photographer’s location, looking south toward Europe’s highest peak from the southern Swiss Alps. Still, the 13 second exposure finds the faint star fields and dark rifts of the Milky Way above the famous white mountain. Bloated by the mist, bright planet Saturn and Antares (right), alpha star of Scorpius, shine through the clouds to flank the galaxy’s central bulge. The high-altitude scene is from the rewarding night of August 12/13, so it also includes the green trail of a Perseid meteor shooting along the galactic plane.
You’ve probably seen a circle around the Sun before. More common than rainbows, ice halos, like a 22 degree circular halo for example, can be easy to spot, especially if you can shade your eyes from direct sunlight. Still it’s rare to see such a diverse range of ice halos, including sundogs, tangent, infralateral, and Parry arcs, all found in this snapshot from planet Earth. The picture was quickly taken in the late morning of September 4 from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. The beautiful patterns are generated as sunlight (or moonlight) is reflected and refracted in six-sided water ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere. Of course, atmospheric ice halos in the skies of other worlds are likely to be different.
Bright enough for binocular viewing Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner stands out, even in this deep telephoto mosaic of the star cluster and nebula rich constellation Auriga the Charioteer. On the night of September 9 its greenish coma and diffuse tail contrast with the colorful stars and reddish emission nebulae in the almost 10 degree field of view along the Milky Way. The comet was near its perihelion and closest approach to Earth, about 200 light-seconds away. Riding across the distant background just above the comet’s tail are well-known Auriga star clusters M38 (left of center) and M36 (toward the right) about 4,000 light-years away. At the top left, emission region IC 405 is only 1,500 light-years distant, more dramatically known as the Flaming Star Nebula. To its right lies IC 410, 12,000 light-years away and famous for its star-forming cosmic tadpoles. A child of our Solar System Giacobini-Zinner is a periodic comet orbiting the Sun once every 6.5 years, and the parent body of October’s Draconids meteor shower.
Our Moon’s appearance changes nightly. As the Moon orbits the Earth, the half illuminated by the Sun first becomes increasingly visible, then decreasingly visible. The featured video animates images taken by NASA’s Moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to show all 12 lunations that appear this year, 2018. A single lunation describes one full cycle of our Moon, including all of its phases. A full lunation takes about 29.5 days, just under a month (moon-th). As each lunation progresses, sunlight reflects from the Moon at different angles, and so illuminates different features differently. During all of this, of course, the Moon always keeps the same face toward the Earth. What is less apparent night-to-night is that the Moon‘s apparent size changes slightly, and that a slight wobble called a libration occurs as the Moon progresses along its elliptical orbit.
You have to take a long hike to see the Troll’s Tongue — ten hours over rocky terrain. And in this case, it took three trips to capture the landform below a clear night sky. Trolltunga itself is a picturesque rock protrusion extending about 700 meters over mountainous cliffs near Lake Ringedalsvatnet in Norway. The overhang is made of billion-year-old Precambrian bedrock that was carved out by glaciers during an ice-age about 10,000 years ago. The featured picture is a composite of two exposures, a 15-second image of the foreground Earth followed 40 minutes later by an 87-second exposure of the background sky. Thousands of discernable stars dot the backdrop starscape in addition to billions of unresolved stars in the nearly vertical band of our Milky Way Galaxy.
If you could stand on Mars — what might you see? If you were NASA’s Curiosity rover, just last month you would have seen the view from Vera Rubin Ridge, an intriguing rock-strewn perch on the side of Mount Sharp. In the featured 360-degree panorama, you can spin around and take in the vista from all directions, in many browsers, just by pointing or tilting. In this virtual reality view, many instruments on the rover are labelled, including antennas, the robotic arm, and the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Dark sand and light rock cover the ground nearby in a mixture called lakebed mudstone. Towering Mount Sharp is only barely visible in the distance due to airborne dust from a planet-wide storm just winding down. Among its many discoveries, Curiosity has found that the raw ingredients for life are present on Mars. Next on Mars will be NASA’s Insight, on target to land in late November, which is scheduled to deploy a seismometer to better study the interior of the red planet.
This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The featured image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula‘s very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.