Astronomy Picture of the Day

A Furious Sky over Mount Shasta
Image Credit & Copyright: Ralf Rohner

Explanation: Is the sky angry with Mount Shasta? According to some ancient legends, the spirits of above and below worlds fight there, sometimes quite actively during eruptions of this enormous volcano in California, USA. Such drama can well be imagined in this deep sky image taken in late June. Evident above the snow-covered peak is the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy, on the left, and a picturesque sky toward the modern constellations of Scorpius and Ophiuchus, above and to the right. The bright orange star Antares and the colorful rho Ophiuchi cloud complex are visible just to the right of Mount Shasta, while the red emission nebula surrounding the star zeta Ophiuchi appears on the top right. The static earth image in the featured composite was taken during the blue hour, while a two-panel panorama tracking the background sky was taken later that night with the same camera and from the same location. Within a few million years, Antares, some stars in the rho Ophiuchi system, and zeta Ophiuchi will all likely explode as supernovas.

Tomorrow’s picture: asteroid safety

Astronomy Picture of the Day

DART: Impact on Asteroid Dimorphos
Video Credit: NASA, JHUAPL, DART

Explanation: Could humanity deflect an asteroid headed for Earth? Yes. Deadly impacts from large asteroids have happened before in Earth‘s past, sometimes causing mass extinctions of life. To help protect our Earth from some potential future impacts, NASA tested a new planetary defense mechanism yesterday by crashing the robotic Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into Dimorphos, a small asteroid spanning about 170-meters across. As shown in the featured video, the impact was a success. Ideally, if impacted early enough, even the kick from a small spacecraft can deflect a large asteroid enough to miss the Earth. In the video, DART is seen in a time-lapse video first passing larger Didymos, on the left, and then approaching the smaller Dimorphos. Although the video ends abruptly with DART’s crash, observations monitoring the changed orbit of Dimorphos — from spacecraft and telescopes around the world — have just begun.

Tomorrow’s picture: furious sky

Astronomy Picture of the Day

All the Water on Planet Earth
Illustration Credit: Jack Cook, Adam Nieman, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Data source: Igor Shiklomanov

Explanation: How much of planet Earth is made of water? Very little, actually. Although oceans of water cover about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, these oceans are shallow compared to the Earth’s radius. The featured illustration shows what would happen if all of the water on or near the surface of the Earth were bunched up into a ball. The radius of this ball would be only about 700 kilometers, less than half the radius of the Earth’s Moon, but slightly larger than Saturn’s moon Rhea which, like many moons in our outer Solar System, is mostly water ice. The next smallest ball depicts all of Earth‘s liquid fresh water, while the tiniest ball shows the volume of all of Earth’s fresh-water lakes and rivers. How any of this water came to be on the Earth and whether any significant amount is trapped far beneath Earth‘s surface remain topics of research.

Tomorrow’s picture: furious sky

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
Image Credit: Image Credit: NASA, ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image is in scientifically re-assigned colors and was taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

Tomorrow’s picture: earth without water

Astronomy Picture of the Day

September Sunrise Shadows
Image Credit & Copyright: Donato Lioce

Explanation: The defining astronomical moment for this September’s equinox was on Friday, September 23, 2022 at 01:03 UTC, when the Sun crossed the celestial equator moving south in its yearly journey through planet Earth’s sky. That marked the beginning of fall for our fair planet in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere, when day and night are nearly equal around the globe. Of course, if you celebrate the astronomical change of seasons by watching a sunrise you can also look for crepuscular rays. The shadows cast by clouds can have a dramatic appearance in the twilight sky during any sunrise or sunset. Due to perspective, the parallel shadows will seem to point back to the rising Sun and a place due east on your horizon near the equinox date. Taken on September 15, this sunrise sea and skyscape captured crepuscular rays in the sky and watery specular reflections from the Mediterranean coast near the village of Petacciato, Italy.

Tomorrow’s picture: shadows of cosmic dust

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Ringed Ice Giant Neptune
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, NIRCam

Explanation: Ringed, ice giant Neptune lies near the center of this sharp near-infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope. The dim and distant world is the farthest planet from the Sun, about 30 times farther away than planet Earth. But in the stunning Webb view the planet’s dark and ghostly appearance is due to atmospheric methane that absorbs infrared light. High altitude clouds that reach above most of Neptune’s absorbing methane easily stand out in the image though. Coated with frozen nitrogen, Neptune’s largest moon Triton is brighter than Neptune in reflected sunlight and is seen at upper left sporting the Webb’s characteristic diffraction spikes. Including Triton, seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons can be identified in the field of view. Neptune’s faint rings are striking in this new space-based planetary portrait. Details of the complex ring system are seen here for the first time since Neptune was visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in August 1989.

Tomorrow’s picture: shadows in the sky

Astronomy Picture of the Day

NGC 7331 Close Up
Image Credit & License: ESA/Hubble & NASA/D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University)

Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier’s famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy’s disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. This Hubble Space Telescope close-up spans some 40,000 light-years. The galaxy’s magnificent spiral arms feature dark obscuring dust lanes, bright bluish clusters of massive young stars, and the telltale reddish glow of active star forming regions. The bright yellowish central regions harbor populations of older, cooler stars. Like the Milky Way, a supermassive black hole lies at the core of spiral galaxy NGC 7331.

Tomorrow’s picture: ringed planet Neptune

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble; Processing: Alexandra Nachman

Explanation: While drifting through the cosmos, a magnificent interstellar dust cloud became sculpted by stellar winds and radiation to assume a recognizable shape. Fittingly named the Horsehead Nebula, it is embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula (M42). A potentially rewarding but difficult object to view personally with a small telescope, the featured gorgeously detailed image was taken in infrared light by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light years distant, is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is seen above primarily because it is backlit by the nearby massive star Sigma Orionis. The Horsehead Nebula will slowly shift its apparent shape over the next few million years and will eventually be destroyed by high energy starlight.

Tomorrow’s picture: open space

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Star Forming Region NGC 3582 without Stars
Image Credit & Copyright: Chris Willocks

Explanation: What’s happening in the Statue of Liberty nebula? Bright stars and interesting molecules are forming and being liberated. The complex nebula resides in the star forming region called RCW 57, and besides the iconic monument, to some looks like a flying superhero or a weeping angel. By digitally removing the stars, this re-assigned color image showcases dense knots of dark interstellar dust, fields of glowing hydrogen gas ionized by these stars, and great loops of gas expelled by dying stars. A detailed study of NGC 3576, also known as NGC 3582 and NGC 3584, uncovered at least 33 massive stars in the end stages of formation, and the clear presence of the complex carbon molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are thought to be created in the cooling gas of star forming regions, and their development in the Sun’s formation nebula five billion years ago may have been an important step in the development of life on Earth.

Tomorrow’s picture: horse red nebula

 


Astronomy Picture of the Day

Star Trails and Lightning over the Pyrenees
Image Credit & Copyright: Marc Sellés Llimós

Explanation: The beauty in this image comes in layers. On the bottom layer is the picturesque village of Manlleu in Barcelona, Spain. The six-minute exposure makes car lights into streaks. The next layer is a mountain — Serra de Bellmunt — of Europe’s famous Pyrenees. Next up is a tremendous lightning storm emanating from a classically-shaped anvil cloud. The long exposure allowed for the capture of many intricate lightning bolts. Finally, at the top and furthest in the distance are stars. Here, the multi-minute exposure made stars into trails. The trailing effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth, and the curvature of the trails indicates their distance from the north spin pole of the Earth above. Taken after sunset in early June, the lightning storm soon moved off. The stars, though, will continue to circle the poll for as long as the Earth spins — surely billions of years into the future.

Tomorrow’s picture: star shells