Messier 10 and Comet


Imaged on July 15 2022, comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) had a Messier moment, sharing this wide telescopic field of view with globular star cluster Messier 10. Of course M10 was cataloged by 18th century comet hunter Charles Messier as the 10th object on his list of things that were definitely not comets. While M10 is about 14 thousand light-years distant, this comet PanSTARRS was about 15 light-seconds from our fair planet following its its July 14 closest approach. Its greenish coma and dust tail entertaining 21st century comet watchers, C/2017 K2 is expected to remain a fine telescopic comet in northern summer skies. On a maiden voyage from our Solar System’s remote Oort Cloud this comet PanSTARRS was discovered in May 2017 when it was beyond the orbit of Saturn. At the time that made it the most distant active inbound comet known. Its closest approach the Sun will be within 1.8 astronomical units on December 19, beyond the orbital distance of Mars.

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Jupiter and Ring in Infrared from Webb


Why does Jupiter have rings? Jupiter’s main ring was discovered in 1979 by NASA’s passing Voyager 1 spacecraft, but its origin was then a mystery. Data from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, however, confirmed the hypothesis that this ring was created by meteoroid impacts on small nearby moons. As a small meteoroid strikes tiny Metis, for example, it will bore into the moon, vaporize, and explode dirt and dust off into a Jovian orbit. The featured image of Jupiter in infrared light by the James Webb Space Telescope shows not only Jupiter and its clouds, but this ring as well. Also visible is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) — in comparatively light color on the right, Jupiter’s large moon Europa — in the center of diffraction spikes on the left, and Europa’s shadow — next to the GRS. Several features in the image are not yet well understood, including the seemingly separated cloud layer on Jupiter’s right limb.

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Pleiades over Half Dome


Stars come in bunches. The most famous bunch of stars on the sky is the Pleiades, a bright cluster that can be easily seen with the unaided eye. The Pleiades lies only about 450 light years away, formed about 100 million years ago, and will likely last about another 250 million years. Our Sun was likely born in a star cluster, but now, being about 4.5 billion years old, its stellar birth companions have long since dispersed. The Pleiades star cluster is pictured over Half Dome, a famous rock structure in Yosemite National Park in California, USA. The featured image is a composite of 28 foreground exposures and 174 images of the stellar background, all taken from the same location and by the same camera on the same night in October 2019. After calculating the timing of a future juxtaposition of the Pleiades and Half Dome, the astrophotrographer was unexpectedly rewarded by an electrical blackout, making the background sky unusually dark.

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Stephans Quintet from Webb, Hubble, and Subaru


OK, but why can’t you combine images from Webb and Hubble? You can, and today’s featured image shows one impressive result. Although the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) has a larger mirror than Hubble, it specializes in infrared light and can’t see blue — only up to about orange. Conversely, the Hubble Space Telescope (Hubble) has a smaller mirror than Webb and can’t see as far into the infrared as Webb, but can image not only blue light but even ultraviolet. Therefore, Webb and Hubble data can be combined to create images across a wider variety of colors. The featured image of four galaxies from Stephan’s Quintet shows Webb images as red and also includes images taken by Japan‘s ground-based Subaru telescope in Hawaii. Because image data for Webb, Hubble, and Subaru are made freely available, anyone around the world can process it themselves, and even create intriguing and scientifically useful multi-observatory montages.

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Europa and Jupiter from Voyager 1


What are those spots on Jupiter? Largest and furthest, just right of center, is the Great Red Spot — a huge storm system that has been raging on Jupiter possibly since Giovanni Cassini‘s likely notation of it 357 years ago. It is not yet known why this Great Spot is red. The spot toward the lower left is one of Jupiter’s largest moons: Europa. Images from Voyager in 1979 bolster the modern hypothesis that Europa has an underground ocean and is therefore a good place to look for extraterrestrial life. But what about the dark spot on the upper right? That is a shadow of another of Jupiter’s large moons: Io. Voyager 1 discovered Io to be so volcanic that no impact craters could be found. Sixteen frames from Voyager 1’s flyby of Jupiter in 1979 were recently reprocessed and merged to create the featured image. Forty-five years ago this August, Voyager 1 launched from Earth and started one of the greatest explorations of the Solar System ever.

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Tycho and Clavius at Dawn


South is up in this dramatic telescopic view of the lunar terminator and the Moon’s rugged southern highlands. The lunar landscape was captured on July 7 with the moon at its first quarter phase. The Sun shines at a low angle from the right as dawn comes to the region’s young and old craters Tycho and Clavius. About 100 million years young, Tycho is the sharp-walled 85 kilometer diameter crater below and left of center. Its 2 kilometer tall central peak and far crater wall reflect bright sunlight, Its smooth floor lies in dark shadow. Debris ejected during the impact that created Tycho make it the stand out lunar crater when the Moon is near full though. They produce a highly visible radiating system of light streaks or rays that extend across much of the lunar near side. In fact, some of the material collected at the Apollo 17 landing site, about 2,000 kilometers away, likely originated from the Tycho impact. One of the oldest and largest craters on the Moon’s near side, 225 kilometer diameter Clavius is due south (above) of Tycho. Clavius crater’s own ray system resulting from its original impact event would have faded long ago. The old crater’s worn walls and smooth floor are now overlayed by newer smaller craters from impacts that occurred after Clavius was formed. Reaching above the older crater, tops of the newer crater walls reflect this dawn’s early light to create narrow shining arcs within a shadowed Clavius.

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Lubovna Full Moon


On July 13 this well-planned telephoto view recorded a Full Moon rising over Lubovna Castle in eastern Slovania. The photographer was about 3 kilometers from the castle walls and about 357,000 kilometers from this Full Moon near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit. Known to some as supermoons, full moons near perigee are a little brighter and larger in planet Earth’s sky when compared to full moons that occur near the average lunar distance of around 384,000 kilometers. Of course any Full Moon near the horizon can show the effects of refraction over a long sight-line through dense clear atmosphere. In this image, atmospheric refraction creates the slight green flash framed by thin clouds near the top, with a ragged red rim along the bottom edge of July’s perigee Full Moon.

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Webb s Southern Ring Nebula


Cataloged as NGC 3132 the Southern Ring Nebula is a planetary nebula, the death shroud of a dying sun-like star some 2,500 light-years from Earth. Composed of gas and dust the stunning cosmic landscape is nearly half a light-year in diameter, explored in unprecedented detail by the James Webb Space Telescope. In this NIRCam image the bright star near center is a companion of the dying star. In mutual orbit, the star whose transformation has ejected the nebula’s gas and dust shells over thousands of years is the fainter stellar partner. Evolving to become a white dwarf, the faint star appears along the diffraction spike extending toward the 8 o’clock position. This stellar pair’s orbital motion has resulted the complex structures within the Southern Ring Nebula.

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Webb s First Deep Field


This is the deepest, sharpest infrared image of the cosmos so far. The view of the early Universe toward the southern constellation Volans was achieved in 12.5 hours of exposure with the NIRCam instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope. Of course the stars with six visible spikes are well within our own Milky Way. That diffraction pattern is characteristic of Webb’s 18 hexagonal mirror segments operating together as a single 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror. The thousands of galaxies flooding the field of view are members of the distant galaxy cluster SMACS0723-73, some 4.6 billion light-years away. Luminous arcs that seem to infest the deep field are even more distant galaxies though. Their images are distorted and magnified by the dark matter dominated mass of the galaxy cluster, an effect known as gravitational lensing. Analyzing light from two separate arcs below the bright spiky star, Webb’s NIRISS instrument indicates the arcs are both images of the same background galaxy. And that galaxy’s light took about 9.5 billion years to reach the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Noctilucent Clouds over Paris


It’s northern noctilucent cloud season. Composed of small ice crystals forming only during specific conditions in the upper atmosphere, noctilucent clouds may become visible at sunset during late summer when illuminated by sunlight from below. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds known and now established to be polar mesospheric clouds observed from the ground. Although observed with NASA’s AIM satellite since 2007, much about noctilucent clouds remains unknown and so a topic of active research. The featured image shows expansive and rippled noctilucent clouds wafting over Paris, France. This year, several northern locations are already reporting especially vivid displays of noctilucent clouds.

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