Sprite Lightning in HD


This phenomenon occurs in the sky over our heads, not the sea. It is a type of lightning known as red sprite, and rarely has it ever been photographed in this detail. Even though sprites have been recorded for over 30 years, their root cause remains unknown. Some thunderstorms have them, but most don’t. These mysterious bursts of light in the upper atmosphere momentarily resemble gigantic jellyfish. A few years ago high speed videos were taken detailing how red sprites actually develop. The featured image was captured last month in high definition from Italy. One unusual feature of sprites is that they are relatively cold — they operate more like long fluorescent light tubes than hot compact light bulbs. In general, red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.

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Io Eclipse Shadow on Jupiter from Juno


What’s that dark spot on Jupiter? It’s the shadow of Jupiter‘s most volcanic moon Io. Since Jupiter shines predominantly by reflected sunlight, anything that blocks that light leaves a shadow. If you could somehow be in that shadow, you would see a total eclipse of the Sun by Io. Io‘s shadow is about 3600 kilometers across, roughly the same size as Io itself — and only slightly larger than Earth’s Moon. The featured image was taken last month by NASA’s robotic Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter. About every two months, Juno swoops close by Jupiter, takes a lot of data and snaps a series of images — some of which are made into a video. Among many other things, Juno has been measuring Jupiter’s gravitational field, finding surprising evidence that Jupiter may be mostly a liquid. Under unexpectedly thick clouds, the Jovian giant may house a massive liquid hydrogen region that extends all the way to the center.

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The Horsehead Nebula


The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula in the center of the above photograph. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will surely alter its appearance. The emission nebula‘s red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. On the image left is the Flame Nebula, an orange-tinged nebula that also contains filaments of dark dust. Just to the lower left of the Horsehead nebula featured picture is a blueish reflection nebulae that preferentially reflects the blue light from nearby stars.

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Jupiter and the Moons


After sunset on October 3, some of the Solar System’s largest moons stood low along the western horizon with the largest planet. Just after nightfall, a pairing of the Moon approaching first quarter phase and Jupiter was captured in this telephoto field of view. A blend of short and long exposures, it reveals the familiar face of our fair planet’s own large natural satellite in stark sunlight and faint earthshine. At lower right are the ruling gas giant and its four Galilean moons. Left to right, the tiny pinpricks of light are Ganymede, [Jupiter], Io, Europa, and Callisto. Our own natural satellite appears to loom large because it’s close, but Ganymede, Io, and Callisto are actually larger than Earth’s Moon. Water world Europa is only slightly smaller. Of the Solar System’s six largest planetary satellites, only Saturn’s moon Titan, is missing from this scene. But be sure to check for large moons in your sky tonight.

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InSight on a Cloudy Day


Clouds drift through the sky as the light fades near sunset in this three frame animated gif. The scene was captured on sol 145 beginning around 6:30pm local time by a camera on the Mars InSight lander. Of course, InSight’s martian day, sol 145, corresponds to Earth calendar date April 25, 2019. Under the 69 centimeter (2.3 foot) diameter dome in the foreground is the lander’s sensitive seismometer SEIS designed to detect marsquakes. Earthquakes reveal internal structures on planet Earth, and so tremors detected by SEIS can explore beneath the martian surface. In particular, two typical marsquakes were recorded by SEIS on May 22 (sol 173) and July 25 (sol 235). The subtle tremors from the Red Planet are at very low frequencies though, and for listening have to be processed into the audio frequency range. In the sped up recordings external noises more prevalent on cool martian evenings and likely caused by mechanical shifts and contractions have been technically dubbed dinks and donks.

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The Hydrogen Clouds of M33


Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies a mere 3 million light-years away. The galaxy’s inner 30,000 light-years or so are shown in this magnificent 25 panel telescopic mosaic. Based on image data from space and ground-based telescopes, the portrait of M33 shows off the galaxy’s reddish ionized hydrogen clouds or HII regions. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33’s giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous, massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. To enhance this image, broadband data was used to produce a color view of the galaxy and combined with narrowband data recorded through a hydrogen-alpha filter. That filter transmits the light of the strongest visible hydrogen emission line.

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Molecular Clouds in the Carina Nebula


They are not alive — but they are dying. The unusual forms found in the Carina nebula, a few of which are featured here, might best be described as evaporating. Energetic light and winds from nearby stars are breaking apart the dark dust grains that make the iconic forms opaque. Ironically the figures, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds or bright rimmed globules, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them. The floating space structures pictured here by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope span a few light months. The Great Nebula in Carina itself spans about 30 light years, lies about 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Keel(Carina).

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