The Extraordinary Spiral in LL Pegasi


What created the strange spiral structure on the upper left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

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A Northern Summer s Night


Near a summer’s midnight a mist haunts the river bank in this dreamlike skyscape taken on July 3rd from northern Denmark. Reddened light from the Sun a little below the horizon gives an eerie tint to low hanging clouds. Formed near the edge of space, the silvery apparitions above them are noctilucent or night shining clouds. The icy condensations on meteoric dust or volcanic ash are still in full sunlight at the extreme altitudes of the mesophere. Usually seen at high latitudes in summer months, wide spread displays of the noctilucent clouds are now being reported.

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Shadow Rise on the Inside Passage


At sunset look east not west. As Earth’s dark shadow rises from the eastern horizon, faint and subtle colors will appear opposite the setting Sun. This beautiful evening sea and skyscape records the reflective scene from a cruise on the well-traveled Alaskan Inside Passage in the Pacific Northwest. Along the horizon the fading sunset gives way to the the pinkish anti-twilight arch, more poetically known as the Belt of Venus. Often overlooked at sunset in favor of the brighter western horizon, the lovely arch is tinted by filtered sunlight backscattered in the dense atmosphere, hugging the planet’s rising blue-grey shadow.

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Dawn s Early Light, Rocket s Red Glare


If you saw the dawn’s early light from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last Friday, June 29, then you could have seen this rocket’s red glare. The single 277-second long exposure, made from the roof of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly building, shows a predawn Falcon 9 launch, the rocket streaking eastward into the sky about 45 minutes before sunrise. At high altitude, its stage separation plume is brightly lit by the Sun still below the eastern horizon. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage had been launched before, lofting the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit on April 18, only 72 days earlier. For this launch of SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission 15 (CRS-15) it carried an also previously flown Dragon capsule. But no further reuse of this Falcon 9 was planned so no dramatic first stage landing followed the launch. The Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station on July 2.

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An Airplane in Front of the Moon


If you look closely at the Moon, you will see a large airplane in front of it. Well, not always. OK, hardly ever. Actually, to capture an image like this takes precise timing, an exposure fast enough to freeze the airplane and not overexpose the Moon — but slow enough to see both, a steady camera, and luck — because not every plane that approaches the Moon crosses in front. Helpful equipment includes a camera with fast continuous video mode and a mount that automatically tracks the Moon. The featured fleeting superposition was captured from Seoul, South Korea two weeks ago during a daytime waxing gibbous moonrise. Within 1/10th of a second, the airplane crossing was over.

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From the Galactic Plane through Antares


Behold one of the most photogenic regions of the night sky, captured impressively. Featured, the band of our Milky Way Galaxy runs diagonally along the far left, while the colorful Rho Ophiuchus region including the bright orange star Antares is visible just right of center, and the nebula Sharpless 1 (Sh2-1) appears on the far right. Visible in front of the Milk Way band are several famous nebulas including the Eagle Nebula (M16), the Trifid Nebula (M21), and the Lagoon Nebula (M8). Other notable nebulas include the Pipe and Blue Horsehead. In general, red emanates from nebulas glowing in the light of exited hydrogen gas, while blue marks interstellar dust preferentially reflecting the light of bright young stars. Thick dust appears otherwise dark brown. Large balls of stars visible include the globular clusters M4, M9, M19, M28, and M80, each marked on the annotated companion image. This extremely wide field — about 50 degrees across — spans the constellations of Sagittarius is on the lower left, Serpens on the upper left, Ophiuchus across the middle, and Scorpius on the right. It took over 100 hours of sky imaging, combined with meticulous planning and digital processing, to create this image.

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Fresh Tiger Stripes on Saturns Enceladus


Do underground oceans vent through the tiger stripes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus? Long features dubbed tiger stripes are known to be spewing ice from the moon’s icy interior into space, creating a cloud of fine ice particles over the moon’s South Pole and creating Saturn‘s mysterious E-ring. Evidence for this has come from the robot Cassini spacecraft that orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Pictured here, a high resolution image of Enceladus is shown from a close flyby. The unusual surface features dubbed tiger stripes are visible in false-color blue. Why Enceladus is active remains a mystery, as the neighboring moon Mimas,approximately the same size, appears quite dead. A recent analysis of ejected ice grains has yielded evidence that complex organic molecules exist inside Enceladus. These large carbon-rich molecules bolster — but do not prove — that oceans under Enceladus’ surface could contain life.

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