Showing posts with label Astronomy Picture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Astronomy Picture. Show all posts

Monday, May 5, 2014

Orange Sun Sparking

Monday, May 5, 2014
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Our Sun has become quite a busy place. Taken only two weeks ago, the Sun was captured sporting numerous tumultuous regions including active sunspot regions AR 2036 near the image top and AR 2036 near the center. Only four years ago the Sun was emerging from an unusually quiet Solar Minimum that had lasted for years. The above image was recorded in a single color of light called Hydrogen Alpha, inverted, and false colored. Spicules cover much of the Sun's face like a carpet. The gradual brightening towards the Sun's edges is caused by increased absorption of relatively cool solar gas and called limb darkening. Just over the Sun's edges, several filamentary prominences protrude, while prominences on the Sun's face are seen as light streaks. Possibly the most visually interesting of all are the magnetically tangled active regions containing relatively cool sunspots, seen as white dots. Currently at Solar Maximum -- the most active phase in its 11-year magnetic cycle, the Sun's twisted magnetic field is creating numerous solar "sparks" which include eruptive solar prominencescoronal mass ejections, and flares which emit clouds of particles that may impact the Earth and cause auroras. One flare two years ago released such a torrent of charged particles into the Solar System that it might have disrupted satellites and compromised power grids had it struck planet Earth.

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Galaxy Cluster Magnifies Distant Supernova

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How do you calibrate a huge gravitational lens? In this case the lens is the galaxy cluster Abell 383, a massive conglomeration of galaxies, hot gas, and dark matter that lies about 2.5 billion light years away (redshift z=0.187). What needs calibrating is the mass of the cluster, in particular the amount and distribution of dark matter. A new calibration technique has been tested recently that consists of waiting for supernovas of a very specific type to occur behind a galaxy cluster, and then figuring out how much the cluster must have magnified these supernovas through gravitational lensing. This technique complements other measures including computing the dark matter needed to contain internal galaxy motions, to confine cluster hot gas, and to create the gravitational lens image distortions. Pictured above from the Hubble Space Telescope, galaxy cluster A383 shows its gravitational lens capabilities on the right by highly distorting background galaxies behind the cluster center. On the left is a distant galaxy shown both before and after a recent revealing supernova. To date, calibration-quality supernovas of Type Ia have been found behind two other galaxy clusters by the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH) project.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Scorpius Sky Spectacular

Sunday, May 4, 2014
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If Scorpius looked this good to the unaided eye, humans might remember it better. Scorpius more typically appears as a few bright stars in a well-known but rarely pointed out zodiacal constellation. To get a spectacular image like this, though, one needs a good camera, color filters, and a digital image processor. To bring out detail, the above image not only involved long duration exposures taken in several colors, but one exposure in a very specific red color emitted by hydrogen. The resulting image shows many breathtaking features. Vertically across the image left is part of the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. Visible there are vast clouds of bright stars and long filaments of dark dust. Jutting out diagonally from the Milky Way in the image center are dark dust bands known as the Dark River. This river connects to several bright stars on the right that are part ofScorpius' head and claws, and include the bright star Antares. Above and right of Antares is an even brighter planet Jupiter. Numerous red emission nebulas and blue reflection nebulas are visible throughout the image.Scorpius appears prominently in southern skies after sunset during the middle of the year.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Eagle Nebula from Kitt Peak

Monday, April 16, 2012
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From afar, the whole thing looks like an Eagle. A closer look at the Eagle Nebula, however, shows the bright region is actually a window into the center of a larger dark shell of dust. Through this window, a brightly-lit workshop appears where a whole open cluster of stars is being formed. In this cavity tall pillars and round globules of dark dust and cold molecular gas remain where stars are still forming. Already visible are several young bright blue stars whose light and winds are burning away and pushing back the remaining filaments and walls of gas and dust. The Eagle emission nebula, tagged M16, lies about 6500 light years away, spans about 20 light-years, and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of the Serpent (Serpens). This picture combines three specific emitted colors and was taken with the 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, USA.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fata Morgana: A Possibly Titanic Mirage

Sunday, April 15, 2012
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Did this mirage help sink the Titanic? The optical phenomenon called Fata Morgana can make strange shapes or a false wall of water appear above a watery horizon. When conditions are right, light reflecting off of cold water will be bent by an unusual layer of warm air above to arrive at the observer from several different angles. A conceptually comparable mirage can make a setting Sun appear strangely distorted or a distant pavement appear wet. One hundred years ago today, such a Fata Morgana mirage might have obscured real icebergs from the clear view of crew onboard the Titanic. Additional evidence for this distortion hypothesis arises from the nearby vessel SS Californian which reported sightings consistent with Fata Morgana mirages. The above Fata Morgana mirage was taken off the US Pacific coast in 2008.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Six Moons of Saturn

Saturday, April 14, 2012
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How many moons does Saturn have? So far 62 have been discovered, the smallest only a fraction of a kilometer across. Six of its largest satellites can be seen here, though, in a sharp Saturnian family portrait taken on March 9. Larger than Earth's Moon and even slightly larger than Mercury, Titan has a diameter of 5,150 kilometers and starts the line-up at the lower left. Continuing to the right across the frame are Mimas, Tethys, [Saturn], Enceladus, Dione, and Rhea at far right. Saturn's first known natural satellite, Titan was discovered in 1655 by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, while most recently the satellite provisionally designated S/2009 S1 was found by the Cassini Imaging Science Team in 2009. Tonight, Saturn reaches opposition in planet Earth's sky, offering the best telescopic views of the ringed planet and moons

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Friday, April 13, 2012

A Dust Devil of Mars

Friday, April 13, 2012
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It was late in the northern martian spring when the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spied this local denizen. Tracking south and east (down and right) across the flat, dust-covered Amazonis Planitia the core of the whirling dust devil is about 30 meters in diameter. Lofting dust into the thin martian atmosphere, its plume reaches more than 800 meters above the surface. Not following the path of the dust devil, the plume is blown toward the east by a westerly breeze. Common in this region, dust devils occur as the surface is heated by the Sun, generating warm, rising air currents that begin to rotate. Tangential wind speeds of up to 110 kilometers per hour are reported for dust devils in other HiRISE images.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yuri's Planet

Thursday, April 12, 2012
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On another April 12th, in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human to see planet Earth from space. Commenting on his view from orbit he reported, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". To celebrate, consider this recent image from the orbiting International Space Station. A stunning view of the planet at night from an altitude of 240 miles, it was recorded on March 28. The lights of Moscow, Russia are near picture center and one of the station's solar panel arrays is on the left. Aurora and the glare of sunlight lie along the planet's gently curving horizon. Stars above the horizon include the compact Pleiades star cluster, immersed in the auroral glow.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Geostationary Satellites Beyond the Alps

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
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Why don't those stars move? Stars in the sky will typically appear to rise and set as the Earth turns. Those far to the north or south will appear to circle the pole. If you look closely at the above time-lapse movie, however, there are points of light that appear stationary. These objects are not stars but human-launched robotic spacecraft that remain fixed high above the Earth's equator. Called geostationary satellites, they don't fall down because they do orbit the Earth -- they just orbit at exactly the same speed that the Earth rotates. The orbital distance where this is possible is much farther than the International Space Station but much closer than the Moon. The video was taken from one of the highest revolving restaurants in the world located on the Mittelallalin in the Swiss Alps. In the foreground is a mountain known as the Allalinhorn. An even closer inspection will show that the geostationary satellites flash with glints of reflected sunlight. The satellites also all appear on a single line -- actually the projection of the Earth's equator onto the sky.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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What do the following things have in common: a cone, the fur of a fox, and a Christmas tree? Answer: they all occur in the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros). Pictured above as a star forming region cataloged as NGC 2264, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The above image spans about 3/4 degree or nearly 1.5 full moons, covering 40 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the Fox Fur Nebula, whose convoluted pelt lies below center, bright variable star S Mon immersed in the blue-tinted haze, and the Cone Nebula near the tree's top. Of course, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster. The triangular tree shape traced by the stars appears sideways here, with its apex at the Cone Nebula and its broader base centered near S Mon.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Blue Straggler Stars in Globular Cluster M53

Monday, April 9, 2012
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If our Sun were part of M53, the night sky would glow like a jewel box of bright stars. M53, also known as NGC 5024, is one of about 250 globular clusters that survive in our Galaxy. Most of the stars in M53 are older and redder than our Sun, but some enigmatic stars appear to be bluer and younger. These young stars might contradict the hypothesis that all the stars in M53 formed at nearly the same time. These unusual stars are known as blue stragglers and are unusually common in M53. After much debate, blue stragglers are now thought to be stars rejuvenated by fresh matter falling in from a binary star companion. By analyzing pictures of globular clusters like the above image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers use the abundance of stars like blue stragglers to help determine the age of the globular cluster and hence a limit on the age of the universe. M53, visible with a binoculars towards the constellation of Bernice's Hair (Coma Berenices), contains over 250,000 stars and is one of the furthest globulars from the center of our Galaxy.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Io: Moon Over Jupiter

Sunday, April 8, 2012
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How big is Jupiter's moon Io? The most volcanic body in the Solar System, Io (usually pronounced "EYE-oh") is 3,600 kilometers in diameter, about the size of planet Earth's single large natural satellite. Gliding past Jupiter at the turn of the millennium, the Cassini spacecraft captured this awe inspiring view of active Io with the largest gas giant as a backdrop, offering a stunning demonstration of the ruling planet's relative size. Although in the above picture Io appears to be located just in front of the swirling Jovian clouds, Io hurtles around its orbit once every 42 hours at a distance of 420,000 kilometers or so from the center of Jupiter. That puts Io nearly 350,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops, roughly equivalent to the distance between Earth and Moon. The Cassini spacecraft itself was about 10 million kilometers from Jupiter when recording the image data.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Shell Galaxy NGC 7600

Friday, December 23, 2011
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Similar in size to the Milky Way, elliptical galaxy NGC 7600 is about 150 thousand light-years distant. In this deep image, spanning about 1/2 degree on the sky toward the constellation Aquarius, NGC 7600 sports a remarkable outer halo of nested shells and broad circumgalactic structures. The tantalizing features can be explained by the accretion of dark matter and stars on a cosmic timescale. In fact, a movie generated by simulating galaxy formation using a cosmological model with cold dark matter for the halos of merging galaxies reproduces the appearance of NGC 7600 in amazing detail. The remarkable simulation movie is available here on Vimeo and here in other formats. It presents compelling evidence that detailed features of galaxy mergers observed with small, wide field telescopes on planet Earth, are natural consequences of galaxy formation and fundamental properties of dark matter.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Through a Sun Tunnel

Thursday, December 22, 2011
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Today the Sun stands still at 05:30 UT. Halting its steady march toward southern declinations and begining its annual journey north, the event is known as a solstice. In the northern hemisphere December's solstice marks the astronomical start of winter. And if you're in the Great Basin Desert outside of Lucin, Utah, USA, near solstice dates you can watch the Sun rise and set through Sun Tunnels. A monumental earthwork by artist Nancy Holt, the Sun Tunnels are constructed of four 9 foot diameter cast concrete pipes each 18 feet long. The tunnels are arranged in a wide X to achieve the solstitial sunset and sunrise alignments. In this dramatic snapshot through a Sun Tunnel the Sun is just on the horizon. The cold, cloudy sunset was near the 2010 winter solstice. During daylight hours, holes in the sides of the pipes project spots of sunlight on their interior walls, forming a map of the principal stars in the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Fans of planet earthworks and celestial landart should note that the Sun Tunnels are about 150 miles by car from Robert Smithson's (Holt's late husband) Spiral Jetty.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Horseshoe Einstein Ring from Hubble

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
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What's large and blue and can wrap itself around an entire galaxy? A gravitational lens mirage. Pictured above, the gravity of a luminous red galaxy (LRG) has gravitationally distorted the light from a much more distant blue galaxy. More typically, such light bending results in two discernible images of the distant galaxy, but here the lens alignment is so precise that the background galaxy is distorted into a horseshoe -- a nearly complete ring. Since such a lensing effect was generally predicted in some detail by Albert Einstein over 70 years ago, rings like this are now known as Einstein Rings. Although LRG 3-757 was discovered in 2007 in data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the image shown above is a follow-up observation taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. Strong gravitational lenses like LRG 3-757 are more than oddities -- their multiple properties allow astronomers to determine the mass and dark matter content of the foreground galaxy lenses.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NGC 253: The Sculptor Galaxy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
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NGC 253 is not only one of the brightest spiral galaxies visible, it is also one of the dustiest. Discovered in 1783 by Caroline Herschel in the constellation of Sculptor, NGC 253 lies only about ten million light-years distant. NGC 253 is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest group to our own Local Group of Galaxies. The dense dark dust accompanies a high star formation rate, giving NGC 253 the designation of starburst galaxy. Visible in the above photograph is the active central nucleus, also known to be a bright source of X-rays and gamma rays.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

A Geminid Meteor Over Iran

Monday, December 19, 2011
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Some beautiful things begin as grains of sand. Locked in an oyster, a granule grows into an iridescent pearl, lustrous and lovely to behold. While hurtling through the atmosphere at 35 kilometers per second, a generous cosmic sand grain becomes an awe-inspiring meteor, its transient beauty displayed for any who care to watch. This years Geminid meteor shower peaked last week with sky enthusiasts counting as many as 150 meteors per hour, despite the din of bright moon. Pictured above the Taftan volcano in southeast Iran, a meteor streaks between the bright star Sirius on the far left and the familiar constellation of Orion toward the image center. Sky watchers are looking forward to next years Geminids which should peak during a unobstructive new Moon.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hints of Higgs from the Large Hadron Collider

Sunday, December 18, 2011
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Why do objects have mass? To help find out, Europe's CERN has built the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator yet created by humans. Since 2008, the LHC has smashed protons into each other with unprecedented impact speeds. The LHC is exploring the leading explanation that mass arises from ordinary particles slogging through an otherwise invisible but pervasive field of virtual Higgs particles. Were high energy colliding particles to create real Higgs bosons, the Higgs mechanism for mass creation would be bolstered. Last week, two LHC groups reported on preliminary indications that the Higgs boson might exist around 120 GeV in mass. Data from the LHC collisions are also being scanned for micro black holes, magnetic monopoles, and exploring the possibility that every type of fundamental particle we know about has a nearly invisible supersymmetric counterpart. You can help -- the LHC@Home project will allow anyone with a home computer to help LHC scientists search archived LHC data for these strange beasts. Pictured above, a person stands in front of the huge ATLAS detector, one of six detectors attached to the LHC.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Comet Lovejoy: Sungrazing Survivor

Saturday, December 17, 2011
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Like most other sungrazing comets, Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) was not expected to survive its close encounter with the Sun. But it did. This image from a coronograph onboard the sun-staring SOHO spacecraft identifies the still inbound remnants of the tail, with the brilliant head or coma emerging from the solar glare on December 16. The Sun's position, behind an occulting disk to block the overwhelming glare, is indicated by the white circle. Separated from its tail, Comet Lovejoy's coma is so bright it saturates the camera's pixels creating the horizontal streaks. Based on their orbits, sungrazer comets are thought to belong to the Kreutz family of comets, created by successive break ups from a single large parent comet that passed very near the Sun in the twelfth century. Most have been discovered with SOHO's cameras, but unlike many sungrazers, this one was first spotted by Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy from an earth-based observatory. Comet Lovejoy is estimated to have come within 120,000 kilometers of the Sun's surface and likely had a large cometary nucleus to have survived its intense perihelion passage. Remarkable videos of the encounter from the Solar Dynamics Observatory can be found here.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Red Moon Rising

Friday, December 16, 2011
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This surreal, wintry scene is a composite picture recorded on December 10 as the Moonrose behind the Zagros Mountains of Iran. A total lunar eclipse was already in progress. The image combines nearly 500 successive frames taken over 1.5 hours beginning in twilight as the eclipsed Moon steadily climbed above the rugged landscape. The reddened lunar disk and deep blue twilight make for a striking contrast, yet the contrasting colors have the same root cause. The eclipsed Moon is red because the Earth's umbral shadow is suffused with a faint red light. The ruddy illumination is from all the reddened sunsets and sunrises, as seen from a lunar perspective. But the sunsets and sunrises are reddened because the Earth's atmosphere scatters blue light more strongly than red, creating the twilight sky's dim, blue glow.

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