NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 July 29 

The Deep Lagoon 

Ridges of glowing interstellar gas and dark dust clouds inhabit the turbulent, cosmic depths of the Lagoon Nebula. Also known as M8, the bright star forming region is about 5,000 light-years distant. But it still makes for a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius, toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Dominated by the telltale red emission of ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with stripped electrons, this stunning, deep view of the Lagoon’s central reaches is about 40 light-years across. Near the center of the frame, the bright hourglass shape is gas ionized and sculpted by energetic radiation and extreme stellar winds from a massive young star.

The Deep Lagoon

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, Univ. Arizona )

Ridges of glowing interstellar gas and dark dust clouds inhabit the turbulent, cosmic depths of the Lagoon Nebula. Also known as M8, The bright star forming region is about 5,000 light-years distant. But it still makes for a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius, toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Dominated by the telltale red emission of ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with stripped electrons, this stunning, deep view of the Lagoon’s central reaches is about 40 light-years across. Near the center of the frame, the bright hourglass shape is gas ionized and sculpted by energetic radiation and extreme stellar winds from a massive young star.

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 7/29/15 — Carina Nebula in Bi-Color

Given its size, close distance, and how often it is photographed, it would be easy to surmise that the Orion Molecular Cloud tops the list of the largest star forming regions in our galaxy. But, in fact, that distinction currently belongs to the *Carina Nebula: a stunning stellar nursery found approximately 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the southern constellation of (you probably guessed it) Carina.

Simply put, the Carina nebula dwarfs the Great Nebula of Orion—home to the Eagle Nebula, the Pillars of Creation and the Trapezium Cluster—by several magnitudes, though its most notable features—including the Keyhole and Homunculus Nebulae, Trumpler 16 and (a personal favorite) Mystic Mountain—are decidedly lesser-known.

And, of course, one can’t mention the Carina Nebula without talking about its most famous star—the huge, bright and very unstable supernova candidate, Eta Carinae.

This image of the nebula was taken by Terry Robison, and is up for the Astronomy Photograph of the Year award. See the other entries here: http://bit.ly/1LRhMxE

Image Credit: Terry Robison

Milky Way over Erupting Volcano

The view was worth the trip. Battling high winds, cold temperatures, and low oxygen, the trek to near the top of the volcano Santa Maria in Guatemala – while carrying sensitive camera equipment – was lonely and difficult. Once set up, though, the camera captured this breathtaking vista during the early morning hours of February 28. Visible on the ground are six volcanoes of the Central America Volcanic Arc, including Fuego, the Volcano of Fire, which is seen erupting in the distance. Visible in the sky, in separate exposures taken a few minutes later, are many stars much further in the distance, as well as the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy situated horizontally overhead.

Image Credit & Copyright: Sergio Montúfar

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 7/19/15 — Milky Way Over Bolivia

In a stunning image by Xiaohua Zhao, the heart of the Milky Way galaxy is projected onto the surface of Earth by a thin layer of water that stretches farther than the eye can see—wherein the universe and our planet are one and the same.

Taken from a Bolivian Salt Flat—the largest in the world, called Salar de Uyuni—a stargazer stands in the center of the frame, seemingly walking on water. Of course, this is just an illusion. Salt flats, which contain salt and various other reflective minerals, are very, very shallow when water is present. This particular one encompasses 4,086 square miles (10,582 square kilometers), and—coupled with Bolivia’s dark skies—is especially beautiful at night.

Resources: http://bit.ly/1MizoUv

Image Credit: Xiaohua Zhao

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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 July 23

Comet PanSTARRS, Moon, and Venus 

It is the object to the left of the big tree that’s generating much recent excitement. If you look closely, there you can see Comet PanSTARRS, complete with two tails. During July, this comet has increased markedly in brightness and has just passed its closest approach to Earth. The statuesque tree in the center is a Norfolk Island Pine, and to either side of this tree are New Zealand Pohutukaw trees. Over the trees, far in the distance, are bright Venus and an even brighter crescent Moon. If you look even more closely, you can find Jupiter hidden in the branches of the pine. The featured image was taken a few days ago in Fergusson Park, New Zealand, looking over Tauranga Harbour Inlet. In the coming days and weeks, Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) will slowly move away from the Sun and the Earth, drift deep into southern skies, and fade.

Orion Spring

As spring comes to planet Earth’s northern hemisphere, familiar winter constellation Orion sets in early evening skies and budding trees frame the Hunter’s stars. The yellowish hue of cool red supergiant Alpha Orionis, the great star Betelgeuse, mingles with the branches at the top of this colorful skyscape. Orion’s alpha star is joined on the far right by Alpha Tauri. Also known as Aldebaran and also a giant star cooler than the Sun, it shines with a yellow light at the head of Taurus, the Bull. Contrasting blue supergiant Rigel, Beta Orionis, is Orion’s other dominant star though, and marks the Hunter’s foot below center. Of course, the sword of Orion hangs from the Hunter’s three blue belt stars near picture center, but the middle star in the sword is not a star at all. A slightly fuzzy pinkish glow hints at its true nature, a nearby stellar nursery visible to the unaided eye known as the Orion Nebula.

Image Credit &Copyright: Bill Dickinson

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 5/30/15 — Vividly Blue NGC 7822

This beautifully blue image comes from Manuel Fernández Suarez—an award winning astrophotographer. It provides a window into the heart of a stellar nursery, found approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth in the Cepheus constellation.

Called NGC 7822, it lurks on the outskirts of a behemoth molecular cloud (one of the largest in our galaxy), and contains numerous features, like the star cluster known as Berkeley 59, along with one of the hottest stars in our local part of the galaxy—called BD+66 1673 (there, temperatures can exceed 45,000 K).

As we noted before, “The region, formally known as NGC 7822, contains hundreds of newborn stars that are leaving their own mark on the interstellar material surrounding them, seeding it with heavy elements that will ultimately collapse to give life to a new generation of stars. These same stars are also slowly chipping away at some of the material, they in turn, give it its distinct shape and its designation as an emission nebula.”

Sources & Other Resources: http://bit.ly/1LPOf5M

Image Credit: Manuel Fernández Suarez

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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 July 11 

Geology on Pluto 

Pluto is coming into focus. As the robotic New Horizons spacecraft bears down on this unexplored world of the distant Solar System, new features on its surface are becoming evident. In the displayed image taken last Thursday and released yesterday, an unusual polygonal structure roughly 200 kilometers wide is visible on the left, while just below it relatively complex terrain runs diagonally across the dwarf planet. New Horizon’s images and data on these structures will likely be studied for years to come in an effort to better understand the geologic history of Pluto and our Solar System. After suffering a troublesome glitch last week, New Horizons will make its historic flyby of Pluto and its moons on Tuesday.

Sun and Moon Halo

Two pictures captured on April 1 are combined in this creative day and night composite. Separated in time by about 10 hours the images otherwise match, looking along the coast at Östersund, Sweden. The relative times were chosen to show the Sun and a nearly full Moon at the same place in the cold, early springtime sky. In the night scene Jupiter also shines above the waterfront lights, while Sun and Moon are both surrounded by a beautiful circular ice halo. The Sun and Moon halos really do align, each with an angular radius of 22 degrees. That radius is a constant, not determined by the brightness of Sun or Moon but only by the hexagonal geometry of atmospheric ice crystals and the reflection and refraction of light. Of course tomorrow, April 4, will find the Sun and Moon on opposite sides of planet Earth for a total lunar eclipse.

Image Credit & Copyright: Göran Strand

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 7/25/15 - Milky Way & Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier—the highest mountain within the Cascade Mountain Range, and in the state of Washington (USA) as a whole—is no stranger to astrophotographers. Because light pollution is scarce around the mountain and its base, the bands of the Milky Way come into focus, proving especially beautiful using a long exposure technique.

This image, taken by Brad Goldpaint, almost certainly involved long-exposure astrophotography, given the meteor streaking through the sky on the far left. The white dots standing against the snow-capped mountains (beneath the streak of light) are from climbers attempting to summit Mount Rainier, which stands 4,392 meters (2.7 miles) high.

His image, along with about a dozen other ones (like this), made the shortlist for astronomy photographer of the year.

Sources & Resources: http://bit.ly/1gUs4BA

Image Credit: Brad Goldpaint