Explanation: One of our Solar System’s most tantalizing worlds, icy Saturnian moon Enceladus appears in these detailed hemisphere views from the Cassini spacecraft. In false color, the five panels present 13 years of infrared image data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer and Imaging Science Subsystem. Fresh ice is colored red, and the most dramatic features look like long gashes in the 500 kilometer diameter moon’s south polar region. They correspond to the location of tiger stripes, surface fractures that likely connect to an ocean beneath the Enceladus ice shell. The fractures are the source of the moon’s icy plumes that continuously spew into space. The plumes were discovered by by Cassini in 2005. Now, reddish hues in the northern half of the leading hemisphere view also indicate a recent resurfacing of other regions of the geologically active moon, a world that may hold conditions suitable for life.
ISS Transits Mars Image Credit & Copyright: Tom Glenn
Explanation: Yes, but have you ever seen the space station do this? If you know when and where to look, watching the bright International Space Station (ISS) drift across your night sky is a fascinating sight — but not very unusual. Images of the ISS crossing in front of the half-degree Moon or Sun do exist, but are somewhat rare as they take planning, timing, and patience to acquire. Catching the ISS crossing in front of minuscule Mars, though, is on another level. Using online software, the featured photographer learned that the unusual transit would be visible only momentarily along a very narrow stretch of nearby land spanning just 90 meters. Within this stretch, the equivalent ground velocity of the passing ISS image would be a quick 7.4 kilometers per second. However, with a standard camera, a small telescope, an exact location to set up his equipment, an exact direction to point the telescope, and sub-millisecond timing — he created a video from which the featured 0.00035 second exposure was extracted. In the resulting image capture, details on both Mars and the ISS are visible simultaneously. The featured image was acquired last Monday at 05:15:47 local time from just northeast of San Diego, California, USA. Although typically much smaller, angularly, than the ISS, Mars is approaching its maximum angular size in the next few weeks, because the blue planet (Earth) is set to pass its closest to the red planet (Mars) in their respective orbits around the Sun.
Explanation: Does the Sun set in the same direction every day? No, the direction of sunset depends on the time of the year. Although the Sun always sets approximately toward the west, on an equinox like today the Sun sets directly toward the west. After today’s September equinox, the Sun will set increasingly toward the southwest, reaching its maximum displacement at the December solstice. Before today’s September equinox, the Sun had set toward the northwest, reaching its maximum displacement at the June solstice. The featured time-lapse image shows seven bands of the Sun setting one day each month from 2019 December through 2020 June. These image sequences were taken from Alberta, Canada — well north of the Earth’s equator — and feature the city of Edmonton in the foreground. The middle band shows the Sun setting during the last equinox — in March. From this location, the Sun will set along this same equinox band again today.
Explanation: Orion is a familiar constellation. The apparent positions of its stars in two dimensions create a well-known pattern on the bowl of planet Earth’s night sky. Orion may not look quite so familiar in this 3D view though. The illustration reconstructs the relative positions of Orion’s bright stars, including data from the Hipparcus catalog of parallax distances. The most distant star shown is Alnilam. The middle one in the projected line of three that make up Orion’s belt when viewed from planet Earth, Alnilam is nearly 2,000 light-years away, almost 3 times as far as fellow belt stars Alnitak and Mintaka. Though Rigel and Betelgeuse apparently shine brighter in planet Earth’s sky, that makes more distant Alnilam intrinsically (in absolute magnitude) the brightest of the familiar stars in Orion. In the Hipparcus catalog, errors in measured parallaxes for Orion’s stars can translate in to distance errors of a 100 light-years or so.
Explanation: (xxxedit and linkxxx) Peculiar spiral galaxy Arp 78 is found within the boundaries of the head strong constellation Aries, some 100 million light-years beyond the stars and nebulae of our Milky Way galaxy. Also known as NGC 772, the island universe is over 100,000 light-years across and sports a single prominent outer spiral arm in this detailed cosmic portrait. Its brightest companion galaxy, compact NGC 770, is toward the upper right of the larger spiral. NGC 770’s fuzzy, elliptical appearance contrasts nicely with a spiky foreground Milky Way star in matching yellowish hues. Tracking along sweeping dust lanes and lined with young blue star clusters, Arp 78’s large spiral arm is likely due to gravitational tidal interactions. Faint streams of material seem to connect Arp 78 with its nearby companion galaxies.
Explanation: Why does asteroid Bennu eject gravel into space? No one is sure. The discovery, occurring during several episodes by NASA‘s visiting ORISIS-REx spacecraft, was unexpected. Leading ejection hypotheses include impacts by Sun-orbiting meteoroids, sudden thermal fractures of internal structures, and the sudden release of a water vapor jet. The featured two-image composite shows an ejection event that occurred in early 2019, with sun-reflecting ejecta seen on the right. Data and simulations show that large gravel typically falls right back to the rotating 500-meter asteroid, while smaller rocks skip around the surface, and the smallest rocks completely escape the low gravity of the Earth approaching, diamond-shaped asteroid. Jets and surface ejection events were thought to be predominantly the domain of comets, responsible for their tails, comas, and later meteor showers on Earth. Robotic OSIRIS-REx arrived at 101955 Bennu in late 2018, and is planned to touchdown to collect a surface sample in October 2020. If all goes well, this sample will then be returned to Earth for a detailed analysis during 2023. Bennu was chosen as the destination for OSIRIS-REx in part because its surface shows potential to reveal organic compounds from the early days of our Solar System, compounds that could have been the building blocks for life on Earth.
Explanation: Are stars better appreciated for their art after they die? Actually, stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. In the case of low-mass stars like our Sun and M2-9 pictured here, the stars transform themselves from normal stars to white dwarfs by casting off their outer gaseous envelopes. The expended gas frequently forms an impressive display called a planetary nebula that fades gradually over thousands of years. M2-9, a butterfly planetary nebula 2100 light-years away shown in representative colors, has wings that tell a strange but incomplete tale. In the center, two stars orbit inside a gaseous disk 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The expelled envelope of the dying star breaks out from the disk creating the bipolar appearance. Much remains unknown about the physical processes that cause and shape planetary nebulae.