In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. This sharp image was taken by Cernan as he and Schmitt roamed the valley floor. The image shows Schmitt on the left with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater, near the spot where geologist Schmitt discoveredorange lunar soil. The Apollo 17 crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than was returned from any of the other lunar landing sites. Forty five years later, Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk on the Moon.
Monday, November 27, 2017
Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, are the bright bluish stars from east to west (lower right to upper left) along the diagonal in this cosmic vista. Otherwise known as the Belt of Orion, these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. They lie from800 to 1,500 light-years away, born of Orion's well-studied interstellar clouds. In fact, clouds of gas and dust adrift in this region have some surprisingly familiar shapes, including the darkHorsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula near Alnitak at the lower right. The famous OrionNebula itself is off the right edge of this colorful starfield. This well-framed, 2-panel telescopic mosaic spans about 4 degrees on the sky.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
A broad hole in the corona was the Sun's dominant feature November 7-9, 2017, as shown in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The hole is easily recognizable as the dark expanse across the top of the Sun and extending down in each side. Coronal holes are magnetically open areas on the Sun that allow high-speed solar wind to gush out into space. They always appear darker in extreme ultraviolet. This one was likely the source of bright aurora that shimmered for numerous observers, with some reaching down even to Nebraska.
Image Credit:NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Nothing like it has ever been seen before. The unusual space rock 'Oumuamua is so intriguing mainly because it is the first asteroid ever detected from outside our Solar System -- although likely many more are to follow given modern computer-driven sky monitoring. Therefore humanity's telescopes -- of nearly every variety -- have put 'Oumuamua into their observing schedule to help better understand this unusual interstellar visitor. Pictured is an artist's illustration of what 'Oumuamua might look like up close. 'Oumuamua is also intriguing, however, because it has unexpected parallels to Rama, a famous fictional interstellar spaceship created by the late science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Like Rama, 'Oumuamua is unusually elongated, should be made of strong material to avoid breaking apart, is only passing through our Solar System, and passed unusually close to the Sun for something gravitationally unbound. Unlike a visiting spaceship, though, 'Oumuamua's trajectory, speed, color, and evenprobability of detection are consistent with it forming naturally around a normal star many millions of years ago, being expelled after gravitationally encountering a normal planet, and subsequently orbiting in our Galaxy alone. Even given 'Oumuamua's likely conventional origin, perhaps humanity can hold hope that one day we will have the technology to engineer 'Oumuamua -- or another Solar System interloper -- into an interstellar Rama of our own.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
The well-known Pleiades star cluster is slowly destroying part of a passing cloud of gas and dust. The Pleiades is the brightest open cluster of stars on Earth's sky and can be seen from almost any northerly location with the unaided eye. The passing young dust cloud is thought to be part of Gould's Belt, an unusual ring of young star formation surrounding the Sun in the local Milky Way Galaxy. Over the past 100,000 years, part of Gould's Belt is by chance moving right through the older Pleiades and is causing a strong reaction between stars and dust. Pressure from the stars' light significantly repels the dust in the surrounding bluereflection nebula, with smaller dust particles being repelled more strongly. A short-term result is that parts of the dust cloud have become filamentary and stratified. The featured deep image also captured Comet C/2015 ER61(PanSTARRS) on the lower left.
Monday, November 13, 2017
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What causes Hubble's Variable Nebula to vary? The unusual nebula featured here changes its appearance noticeably in just a few weeks. Discovered over 200 years ago and subsequently cataloged as NGC 2661, the remarkable nebula is named for Edwin Hubble, who studied it early last century. Fitting, perhaps, the featured image was taken by another namesake of Hubble: the Space Telescope. Hubble's Variable Nebula is areflection nebula made of gas and fine dustfanning out from the star R Monocerotis. The faint nebula is about one light-year across and lies about 2500 light-years away towards theconstellation of the Unicorn (Monocerotis). The leading variability explanation for Hubble's Variable Nebula holds that dense knots of opaque dust pass close to R Mon and castmoving shadows onto the reflecting dust seen in the rest of the nebula.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1055 is a dominant member of a small galaxy group a mere 60 million light-years away toward the aquatically intimidating constellation Cetus. Seen edge-on, the island universe spans over 100,000 light-years, a little larger than our own Milky Way. The colorful stars in this cosmicclose-up of NGC 1055 are in the foreground, well within the Milky Way. But the telltale pinkish star forming regions are scattered through winding dust lanes along the distant galaxy's thin disk. With a smattering of even more distant background galaxies, the deep image also reveals a boxy halo that extends far above and below the central bluge and disk of NGC 1055. The halo itself is laced with faint, narrow structures, and could represent the mixed and spread out debris from a satellite galaxy disrupted by the larger spiral some 10 billion years ago.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gasabsorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors ofmolecular clouds some of the coldest and mostisolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchusknown as Barnard 68, pictured here. That no stars are visible in the center indicates thatBarnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds likeBarnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light.
Image Credit: FORS Team, 8.2-meter VLT Antu,ESO