jueves, 24 de julio de 2014

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ALMA Milky Way
Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)

Explanation: This alluring all-skyscape was taken 5,100 meters above sea level, from the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. Viewed through the site's rarefied atmosphere at about 50% sea level pressure, the gorgeous Milky Way stretches through the scene. Its cosmic rifts of dust, stars, and nebulae are joined by Venus, a brilliant morning star immersed in a strong band of predawn Zodiacal light. Still not completely dark even at this high altitude, the night sky's greenish cast is due to airglow emission from oxygen atoms. Around the horizon the dish antenna units of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA, explore the universe at wavelengths over 1,000 times longer than visible light.

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Tomorrow's picture: pixels in space


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miércoles, 23 de julio de 2014

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IC 4603: Reflection Nebula in Ophiuchius
Image Credit & Copyright: Rolf Olsen

Explanation: Why does this starfield photograph resemble an impressionistic painting? The effect is created not by digital trickery but by large amounts of interstellar dust. Dust, minute globs rich in carbon and similar in size to cigarette smoke, frequently starts in the outer atmospheres of large, cool, young stars. The dust is dispersed as the star dies and grows as things stick to it in the interstellar medium. Dense dust clouds are opaque to visible light and can completely hide background stars. For less dense clouds, the capacity of dust to preferentially reflect blue starlight becomes important, effectively blooming the stars blue light out and marking the surrounding dust. Nebular gas emissions, typically brightest in red light, can combine to form areas seemingly created on an artist's canvas. Photographed above is the central part of the nebula IC 4603 surrounding the bright star SAO 184376 (actually 8th magnitude) which mostly illuminates the blue reflection nebula. IC 4603 can be seen near the very bright star Antares (1st magnitude) toward the constellation of Ophiuchus.

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Tomorrow's picture: open space


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martes, 22 de julio de 2014

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Cave with Aurora Skylight
Image Credit & Copyright: Ingólfur Bjargmundsson

Explanation: Yes, but have you ever seen aurora from a cave? To capture this fascinating juxtaposition between below and above, astrophotographer Bjargmundsson spent much of a night alone in the kilometer-long Raufarhólshellir lava cave in Iceland during late March. There, he took separate images of three parts of the cave using a strobe for illumination. He also took a deep image of the sky to capture faint aurora, and digitally combined the four images later. The 4600-year old lava tube has several skylights under which stone rubble and snow have accumulated. Oh -- the person standing on each mound -- it's the artist.

Tomorrow's picture: dust impression


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lunes, 21 de julio de 2014

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Spacecraft Rosetta Shows Comet has Two Components
Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team; MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Explanation: Why does this comet's nucleus have two components? The surprising discovery that Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has a double nucleus came late last week as ESA's robotic interplanetary spacecraft Rosetta continued its approach toward the ancient comet's core. Speculative ideas on how the double core was created include, currently, that Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko is actually the result of the merger of two comets, that the comet is a loose pile of rubble pulled apart by tidal forces, that ice evaporation on the comet has been asymmetric, or that the comet has undergone some sort of explosive event. Pictured above, the comet's unusual 5-km sized comet nucleus is seen rotating over the course of a few hours, with each frame taken 20-minutes apart. Better images -- and hopefully more refined theories -- are expected as Rosetta is on track to enter orbit around Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko's nucleus early next month, and by the end of the year, if possible, land a probe on it.

Tomorrow's picture: view from a cave


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viernes, 18 de julio de 2014

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Ou4: A Giant Squid Nebula
Image Credit: Romano Corradi (IAC),
Nicolas Grosso, Agnès Acker, Robert Greimel, Patrick Guillout

Explanation: A mysterious, squid-like apparition, this nebula is very faint, but also very large in planet Earth's sky. In the mosaic image, composed with narrowband data from the 2.5 meter Isaac Newton Telescope, it spans some 2.5 full moons toward the constellation Cepheus. Recently discovered by French astro-imager Nicolas Outters, the remarkable nebula's bipolar shape and emission are consistent with it being a planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star, but its actual distance and origin are unknown A new investigation suggests Ou4 really lies within the emission region SH2-129 some 2,300 light-years away. Consistent with that scenario, the cosmic squid would represent a spectacular outflow of material driven by a triple system of hot, massive stars, cataloged as HR8119, seen near the center of the nebula. If so, this truly giant squid nebula would physically be nearly 50 light-years across.

Tomorrow's picture: moon breams


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jueves, 17 de julio de 2014

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3D Homunculus Nebula
Science Credit: W. Steffen (UNAM), M. Teodoro, T.I. Madura,
J.H. Groh, T.R. Gull, A. Mehner, M.F. Corcoran, A. Damineli, K. Hamaguchi

Image Credit: NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center/SVS - Inset: NASA, ESA, Hubble SM4 ERO Team

Explanation: If you're looking for something to print with that new 3D printer, try out a copy of the Homunculus Nebula. The dusty, bipolar cosmic cloud is around 1 light-year across but is slightly scaled down for printing to about 1/4 light-nanosecond or 80 millimeters. The full scale Homunculus surrounds Eta Carinae, famously unstable massive stars in a binary system embedded in the extensive Carina Nebula about 7,500 light-years distant. Between 1838 and 1845, Eta Carinae underwent the Great Eruption becoming the second brightest star in planet Earth's night sky and ejecting the Homunculus Nebula. The new 3D model of the still expanding Homunculus was created by exploring the nebula with the European Southern Observatory's VLT/X-Shooter. That instrument is capable of mapping the velocity of molecular hydrogen gas through the nebula's dust at a fine resolution. It reveals trenches, divots and protrusions, even in the dust obscured regions that face away from Earth. Eta Carinae itself still undergoes violent outbursts, a candidate to explode in a spectacular supernova in the next few million years.

Tomorrow's picture: nebula unknown


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miércoles, 16 de julio de 2014

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The Moon Eclipses Saturn
Image Credit & Copyright: Carlos Di Nallo

Explanation: What happened to half of Saturn? Nothing other than Earth's Moon getting in the way. As pictured above on the far right, Saturn is partly eclipsed by a dark edge of a Moon itself only partly illuminated by the Sun. This year the orbits of the Moon and Saturn have led to an unusually high number of alignments of the ringed giant behind Earth's largest satellite Technically termed an occultation, the above image captured one such photogenic juxtaposition from Buenos Aires, Argentina that occurred early last week. Visible to the unaided eye but best viewed with binoculars, there are still four more eclipses of Saturn by our Moon left in 2014. The next one will be on August 4 and visible from Australia, while the one after will occur on August 31 and be visible from western Africa at night but simultaneously from much of eastern North America during the day.

Tomorrow's picture: open space


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martes, 15 de julio de 2014

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A Blue Bridge of Stars between Cluster Galaxies
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Tremblay (ESO) et al.;
Acknowledgment: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Explanation: Why is there a blue bridge of stars across the center of this galaxy cluster? First and foremost the cluster, designated SDSS J1531+3414, contains many large yellow elliptical galaxies. The cluster's center, as pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope, is surrounded by many unusual, thin, and curving blue filaments that are actually galaxies far in the distance whose images have become magnified and elongated by the gravitational lens effect of the massive cluster. More unusual, however, is a squiggly blue filament near the two large elliptical galaxies at the cluster center. Close inspection of the filament indicates that it is most likely a bridge created by tidal effects between the two merging central elliptical galaxies rather than a background galaxy with an image distorted by gravitational lensing. The knots in the bridge are condensation regions that glow blue from the light of massive young stars. The central cluster region will likely undergo continued study as its uniqueness makes it an interesting laboratory of star formation.

Tomorrow's picture: missing saturn


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lunes, 14 de julio de 2014

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Auroras over Northern Canada
Image Credit & Copyright: Kwon, O Chul (TWAN)

Explanation: Gusting solar winds and blasts of charged particles from the Sun resulted in several rewarding nights last December for those anticipating auroras. The above image captured dramatic auroras stretching across a sky near the town of Yellowknife in northern Canada. The auroras were so bright that they not only inspired awe, but were easily visible on an image exposure of only 1.3 seconds. A video taken concurrently shows the dancing sky lights evolving in real time as tourists, many there just to see auroras, respond with cheers. The conical dwellings on the image right are teepees, while far in the background, near the image center, is the constellation of Orion.

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Tomorrow's picture: gravitation, distorting


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domingo, 13 de julio de 2014

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Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

Explanation: NGC 2818 is a beautiful planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star. It could well offer a glimpse of the future that awaits our own Sun after spending another 5 billion years or so steadily using up hydrogen at its core, and then finally helium, as fuel for nuclear fusion. Curiously, NGC 2818 seems to lie within an open star cluster, NGC 2818A, that is some 10,000 light-years distant toward the southern constellation Pyxis (the Compass). At the distance of the star cluster, the nebula would be about 4 light-years across. But accurate velocity measurements show that the nebula's own velocity is very different from the cluster's member stars. The result is strong evidence that NGC 2818 is only by chance found along the line of sight to the star cluster and so may not share the cluster's distance or age. The Hubble image is a composite of exposures through narrow-band filters, presenting emission from nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in the nebula as red, green, and blue hues.

Tomorrow's picture: bright sky flapping


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sábado, 12 de julio de 2014

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SN 1006 Supernova Remnant
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Zolt Levay (STScI)

Explanation: A new star, likely the brightest supernova in recorded human history, lit up planet Earth's sky in the year 1006 AD. The expanding debris cloud from the stellar explosion, found in the southerly constellation of Lupus, still puts on a cosmic light show across the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, this composite view includes X-ray data in blue from the Chandra Observatory, optical data in yellowish hues, and radio image data in red. Now known as the SN 1006 supernova remnant, the debris cloud appears to be about 60 light-years across and is understood to represent the remains of a white dwarf star. Part of a binary star system, the compact white dwarf gradually captured material from its companion star. The buildup in mass finally triggered a thermonuclear explosion that destroyed the dwarf star. Because the distance to the supernova remnant is about 7,000 light-years, that explosion actually happened 7,000 years before the light reached Earth in 1006. Shockwaves in the remnant accelerate particles to extreme energies and are thought to be a source of the mysterious cosmic rays.

Tomorrow's picture: picturesque nebula


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viernes, 11 de julio de 2014

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Spotty Sunrise over Brisbane
Image Credit & Copyright: Stephen Mudge

Explanation: In this composite cityscape, dawn's first colors backdrop the lights along Brisbane's skyline at the southeastern corner of Queensland, Australia, planet Earth. Using a solar filter, additional exposures made every 3.5 minutes follow the winter sunrise on July 8 as planet-sized sunspots cross the visible solar disk. The sunspots mark solar active regions with convoluted magnetic fields. Even as the maximum in the solar activity cycle begins to fade, the active regions produce intense solar flares and eruptions launching coronal mass ejections (CMEs), enormous clouds of energetic particles, into our fair solar system.

Tomorrow's picture: light-weekend


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jueves, 10 de julio de 2014

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Noctilucent Clouds over London
Image Credit & Copyright: Christoph Malin (TWAN)

Explanation: This scene from the early morning hours of July 3 looks out across the River Thames from the Westminster Bridge. Part of a luminous timelapse video (vimeo), the frame captures a sight familiar in London, the nighttime glow of the London Eye. But a not-so-familiar sight is shining in the still dark sky above, widespread noctilucent clouds. From the edge of space, about 80 kilometers above Earth's surface, the icy clouds can still reflect sunlight even though the Sun itself is below the horizon as seen from the ground. Usually spotted at high latitudes in summer months the diaphanous apparitions are also known as polar mesospheric clouds. The seasonal clouds are understood to form as water vapor driven into the cold upper atmosphere condenses on the fine dust particles supplied by disintegrating meteors or volcanic ash NASA's AIM mission provides daily projections of the noctilucent clouds as seen from space.

Tomorrow's picture: southern sunspots


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miércoles, 9 de julio de 2014

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Gliese 832c: The Closest Potentially Habitable Exoplanet
Image Credit & Copyright: The Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo;
Discovery: Robert A. Wittenmyer (UNSW Australia) et al.

Explanation: This planet is only 16 light years away -- could it harbor life? Recently discovered exoplanet Gliese 832c has been found in a close orbit around a star that is less bright than our Sun. An interesting coincidence, however, is that Gliese 832c receives just about the same average energy from its parent star as does the Earth. Since the planet was discovered only by a slight wobble in its parent star's motion, the above illustration is just an artistic guess of the planet's appearance -- much remains unknown about Gliese 832c's true mass, size, and atmosphere. If Gliese 832c has an atmosphere like Earth, it may be a super-Earth undergoing strong seasons but capable of supporting life. Alternatively, if Gliese 832c has a thick atmosphere like Venus, it may be a super-Venus and so unlikely to support life as we know it. The close 16-light year distance makes the Gliese 832 planetary system currently the nearest to Earth that could potentially support life. The proximity of the Gliese 832 system therefore lends itself to more detailed future examination and, in the most spectacularly optimistic scenario, actual communication -- were intelligent life found there.

Tomorrow's picture: open space


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