What does the solar wind sound like? A wind of fast moving particles blows out from our Sun, and although space transmits sound poorly, particle impact and variable-field data from NASA’s near-Sun Parker Solar Probe is being translated into sound. The disarming audio track of the featured video recounts several of these reverberations, including spooky-sounding Langmuir Waves (heard first), hurricane-sounding Whistler Mode Waves (heard next), and hard-to-describe Dispersive Chirping Waves (heard last). Also impressive is the video’s time-lapse visual track which shows Parker’s view to the side of its sun shield, and where the planets Earth, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus appear in succession, interspersed with bursts of powerful cosmic rays impacting the imager. The nature of the solar wind near Mercury is surprisingly different from near the Earth, and much study is underway to better understand the differences.
Why are these meteor trails nearly parallel? Because they were all shed by the same space rock and so can be traced back to the same direction on the sky: the radiant of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. This direction used to be toward the old constellation of Quadrans Muralis, hence the name Quadrantids, but when the International Astronomical Union formulated its list of modern constellations in 1922, this constellation did not make the list. Even though the meteors are now considered to originate from the recognized constellation of Bootes, the old name stuck. Regardless of the designation, every January the Earth moves through a dust stream and bits of this dust glow as meteors as they heat up in Earth’s atmosphere. The featured image composite was taken on January 4 with a picturesque snowy Slovakian landscape in the foreground, and a deep-exposure sky prominently featuring the constellation Orion in the background. The red star Betelgeuse appears unusually dim — its fading over the past few months is being tracked by astronomers.
Are your eyes good enough to see the Crab Nebula expand? The Crab Nebula is cataloged as M1, the first on Charles Messier’s famous list of things which are not comets. In fact, the Crab is now known to be a supernova remnant, an expanding cloud of debris from the explosion of a massive star. The violent birth of the Crab was witnessed by astronomers in the year 1054. Roughly 10 light-years across today, the nebula is still expanding at a rate of over 1,000 kilometers per second. Over the past decade, its expansion has been documented in this stunning time-lapse movie. In each year from 2008 to 2017, an image was produced with the same telescope and camera from a remote observatory in Austria. Combined in the time-lapse movie, the 10 images represent 32 hours of total integration time. The sharp, processed frames even reveal the dynamic energetic emission within the incredible expanding Crab. The Crab Nebula lies about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus.
This composited series of images follows the Moon on January 10, the first Full Moon of 2020, in Hungarian skies. The lunar disk is in mid-eclipse at the center of the sequence though. It looks only slightly darker there as it passes through the light outer shadow or penumbra of planet Earth. In fact during this penumbral lunar eclipse the Moon almost crossed into the northern edge of Earth’s dark central shadow or umbra. Subtle and hard to see, this penumbral lunar eclipse was the first of four lunar eclipses in 2020, all of which will be penumbral lunar eclipses.
Why would these clouds multi-colored? A relatively rare phenomenon in clouds known as iridescence can bring up unusual colors vividly or even a whole spectrum of colors simultaneously. These polar stratospheric clouds clouds, also known as nacreous and mother-of-pearl clouds, are formed of small water droplets of nearly uniform size. When the Sun is in the right position and, typically, hidden from direct view, these thin clouds can be seen significantly diffracting sunlight in a nearly coherent manner, with different colors being deflected by different amounts. Therefore, different colors will come to the observer from slightly different directions. Many clouds start with uniform regions that could show iridescence but quickly become too thick, too mixed, or too angularly far from the Sun to exhibit striking colors. The featured image and an accompanying video were taken late last year over Ostersund, Sweden.
Are volcanoes still active on Venus? More volcanoes are known on Venus than Earth, but when Venusian volcanoes last erupted is not directly known. Evidence bolstering very recent volcanism on Venus has recently been uncovered, though, right here on Earth. Lab results showed that images of surface lava would become dim in the infrared in only months in the dense Venusian atmosphere, a dimming not seen in ESA’s Venus Express images. Venus Express entered orbit around Venus in 2006 and remained in contact with Earth until 2014. Therefore, the infrared glow (shown in false-color red) recorded by Venus Express for Idunn Mons and featured here on a NASA Magellan image indicates that this volcano erupted very recently — and is still active today. Understanding the volcanics of Venus might lead to insight about the volcanics on Earth, as well as elsewhere in our Solar System.
A good place to see a ring-of-fire eclipse, it seemed, would be from a desert. In a desert, there should be relatively few obscuring clouds and trees. Therefore late last December a group of photographers traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Rub al-Khali, the largest continuous sand desert in world, to capture clear images of an unusual eclipse that would be passing over. A ring-of-fire eclipse is an annular eclipse that occurs when the Moon is far enough away on its elliptical orbit around the Earth so that it appears too small, angularly, to cover the entire Sun. At the maximum of an annular eclipse, the edges of the Sun can be seen all around the edges of the Moon, so that the Moon appears to be a dark spot that covers most — but not all — of the Sun. This particular eclipse, they knew, would peak soon after sunrise. After seeking out such a dry and barren place, it turned out that some of the most interesting eclipse images actually included a tree in the foreground, because, in addition to the sand dunes, the tree gave the surreal background a contrasting sense of normalcy, scale, and texture.