Highlights of the Winter Sky Illustration Credit & Copyright: Universe2go.com
Explanation: What’sup in the sky this winter? The featured graphic gives a few highlights for Earth’s northern hemisphere. Viewed as a clock face centered at the bottom, early winter sky events fan out toward the left, while late winter events are projected toward the right. Objects relatively close to Earth are illustrated, in general, as nearer to the cartoon figure with the telescope at the bottom center — although almost everything pictured can be seen without a telescope. Highlights of this winter’s sky include the Geminids meteor shower peaking this week, the constellation of Orion becoming notable in the evening sky, and many planets being visible before sunrise in February. As true in every season, the International Space Station (ISS) can be sometimes be found drifting across your sky if you know just when and where to look.
Explanation: What would it be like to fly over the planet Mercury? Images and data taken from NASA’s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015 have been digitally combined to envision a virtual flight that highlights much of the hot planet’s surface. In general, the Solar System’s innermost world appears similar to Earth’s Moon as it is covered by a heavily cratered gray terrain. MESSENGER discovered much about Mercury including that shadows near its poles likely host water ice. The featured video opens as Mercury is viewed from the Sun-facing side and concludes with the virtual spacecraft retreating into Mercury’s night. Mercury actually rotates so slowly that it only completes three rotations for every two trips around the Sun. In 2018, Europe and Japan plan to launch BepiColombo to better map Mercury’s surface and probe its magnetic field.