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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Pillars of the Eagle Nebula in Infrared
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HLA; Processing: LluĂ­s Romero

Explanation: Newborn stars are forming in the Eagle Nebula. Gravitationally contracting in pillars of dense gas and dust, the intense radiation of these newly-formed bright stars is causing surrounding material to boil away. This image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in near infrared light, allows the viewer to see through much of the thick dust that makes the pillars opaque in visible light. The giant structures are light years in length and dubbed informally the Pillars of Creation. Associated with the open star cluster M16, the Eagle Nebula lies about 6,500 light years away. The Eagle Nebula is an easy target for small telescopes in a nebula-rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake).

Tomorrow’s picture: pixels in space

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Ancients of Sea and Sky
Image Credit & Copyright: Jingyi Zhang

Explanation: They may look like round rocks, but they’re alive. Moreover, they are modern versions of one of the oldest known forms of life: stromatolites. Fossils indicate that stromatolites appeared on Earth about 3.7 billion years ago — even before many of the familiar stars in the modern night sky were formed. In the featured image taken in Western Australia, only the ancient central arch of our Milky Way Galaxy formed earlier. Even the Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of our Milky Way and visible in the featured image below the Milky Way’s arch, didn’t exist in their current form when stromatolites first grew on Earth. Stromatolites are accreting biofilms of billions of microorganisms that can slowly move toward light. Using this light to liberate oxygen into the air, ancient stromatolites helped make Earth hospitable to other life forms including, eventually, humans.

Tomorrow’s picture: pillars of stars

Astronomy Picture of the Day

An Active Prominence on the Sun
Video Credit: Chuck Ayoub (Chuck’s Astrophotography)

Explanation: Sometimes the Sun’s surface becomes a whirlwind of activity. Pictured is a time-lapse video of the Sun‘s surface taken over a two hour period in early May, run both forwards and backwards. The Sun’s surface was blocked out so that details over the edge could be imaged in greater detail. Hot plasma is seen swirling over the solar limb in an ongoing battle between changing magnetic fields and constant gravity. The featured prominence rises about one Earth-diameter over the Sun’s surface. Energetic events like this are becoming less common as the Sun nears a minimum in its 11-year activity cycle.

Tomorrow’s picture: oceans of ancients

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Mars Engulfed
Image Credit: J. Bell (ASU), M. Wolff (Space Science Inst.), Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA), NASA

Explanation: What’s happened to Mars? In 2001, Mars underwent a tremendous planet-wide dust storm — one of the largest ever recorded from Earth. To show the extent, these two Hubble Space Telescope storm watch images from late June and early September (2001) offer dramatically contrasting views of the martian surface. At left, the onset of smaller “seed” storms can be seen near the Hellas basin (lower right edge of Mars) and the northern polar cap. A similar surface view at right, taken over two months later, shows the fully developed extent of the obscuring global storm. Although this storm eventually waned, in recent days a new large dust storm has been taking hold of the red planet.

Tomorrow’s picture: sun seething

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Dusty With a Chance of Dust
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS, Curiosity Mars Rover

Explanation: It’s storm season on Mars. Dusty with a chance of dust is the weather report for Gale crater as a recent planet-scale dust storm rages. On June 10 looking toward the east-northeast crater rim, the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam captured this image of its local conditions so far. Meanwhile over 2,000 kilometers away, the Opportunity rover ceased science operations as the storm grew thicker at its location on the west rim of Endeavour crater, and has stopped communicating, waiting out the storm for now. Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, but the smaller Opportunity rover uses solar panels to charge its batteries. For Opportunity, the increasingly severe lack of sunlight has caused its batteries to run low.

Tomorrow’s picture: and more dust

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Little Planet Soyuz
Image Credit & Copyright: Andrew Bodrov

Explanation: Engines blazing, a large rocket bids farewell to this little planet. Of course, the little planet is really planet Earth and the large rocket is a Soyuz-FG rocket. Launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 6 it carried a Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft into orbit. On board were International Space Station Expedition 56-57 crew members Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA. Their spacecraft successfully docked with humanity’s orbiting outpost just two days later. The little planet projection is the digitally warped and stitched mosaic of images covering 360 by 180 degrees, captured during the 2018 Star Trek car expedition.

Tomorrow’s picture: dusty with a chance of dust

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Six Planets from Yosemite
Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)

Explanation: The five naked-eye planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, have been seen since ancient times to wander the night skies of planet Earth. So it could be remarkable that on this night, standing at the side of a clear, calm lake, six planets can be seen with the unaided eye. Have a look. Very bright and easy to spot for skygazers, yellowish Mars is left of a pale Milky Way. Saturn is immersed in the glow of the Milky Way’s diffuse starlight. Jupiter is very near the horizon on the right, shining beyond the trees against the glow of distant city lights. Last weekend, while admiring this night time view across beautiful, high-altitude Lake Tanaya in Yosemite National Park, a thoughtful and reflective observer could probably see three planets more.

Tomorrow’s picture: rocket from a little planet