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“You cannot look up at the night sky on the Planet Earth and not wonder what it’s like to be up there amongst the stars. And I always look up at the moon and see it as the single most romantic place within the cosmos” - Tom Hanks

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN) 

Do you see it? This common question frequently precedes the rediscovery of one of the most commonly recognized configurations of stars on the northern sky: the Big Dipper. This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every generation. 

The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies. Five of the Big Dipper stars are actually near each other in space and were likely formed at nearly the same time. Connecting two stars in the far part of the Big Dipper will lead one to Polaris, the North Star, which is part of the Little Dipper. Relative stellar motions will cause the Big Dipper to slowly change its configuration over the next 100,000 years. 

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN)

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaked before dawn on April 22nd, as our planet plowed through dust from the tail of long-period comet Thatcher. Seen from the high, dark, and dry Atacama desert a waning crescent Moon and brilliant Venus join Lyrid meteor streaks in this composited view. Captured over 5 hours on the night of April 21/22, the meteors stream away from the shower’s radiant, a point not very far on the sky from Vega, alpha star of the constellation Lyra.

In the foreground are domes of the Las Campanas Observatory housing (left to right) the 2.5 meter du Pont Telescope and the 1.3 meter Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) telescope.

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN)

Layers in the atmosphere

Light and air make for strange mixtures sometimes, with a great variety of beautiful optical effects produced in consequence. The reddened colour of this sunset is due to the greater amount of air that the light has to pass through to reach the ground at the grazing angle of dusk, as opposed to the right angle of noontime. Particles of dust and aerosols absorb, diffract and scatter most of the higher energy green to blue wavelengths, while the lower powered red to orange hues pass through while the shorter light paths of midday scatter all wavelengths but blue.

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Do you see it? This common question frequently precedes the rediscovery of one of the most commonly recognized configurations of stars on the northern sky: the Big Dipper. This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every generation. The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies. Five of the Big Dipper stars are actually near each other in space and were likely formed at nearly the same time. Connecting two stars in the far part of the Big Dipper will lead one to Polaris, the North Star, which is part of the Little Dipper. Relative stellar motions will cause the Big Dipper to slowly change its configuration over the next 100,000 years. Pictured in late April, the Big Dipper was actually imaged twice – above and below distant Chilean volcanoes, the later reflected from an unusually calm lagoon.

Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN)

ALMA Milky Way

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.

Image credit & copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)

“The brightest planet, Venus, beams at bottom. Jupiter, the second-brightest, shines to Venus’ upper left. Mars shines in between the two, though closer to Venus. That bright star on line with the morning planets is Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. And that star cluster to the upper left is the Beehive cluster (Messier 44) in the constellation Cancer the Crab.” -EarthSky

Location: Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, Atacama desert, Chile
Photo: Yuri Beletsky

Eclipse at Moonset

The Pacific Ocean and Chilean coast lie below this sea of clouds. Seen through the subtle colors of the predawn sky a lunar eclipse is in progress above, the partially eclipsed Moon growing dark. The curved edge of planet Earth’s shadow still cuts across the middle of the lunar disk as the Moon sinks lower toward the western horizon. In fact, from this southern hemisphere location as well as much of eastern North America totality, the Moon completely immersed within Earth’s shadow, began near the time of moonset and sunrise on October 8. From farther west the total phase could be followed for almost an hour though, the darker reddened Moon still high in the night sky.

Image credit & copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution)