Why would the sky look like a giant target? Airglow. Following a giant thunderstorm over Bangladesh in late April, giant circular ripples of glowing air appeared over Tibet, China, as pictured above. The unusual pattern is created by atmospheric gravity waves, waves of alternating air pressure that can grow with height as the air thins, in this case about 90 kilometers up. Unlike auroras powered by collisions with energetic charged particles and seen at high latitudes, airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light in a chemical reaction. More typically seen near the horizon, airglow keeps the night sky from ever being completely dark.
From the Temple of the Sun to the Temple of the Moon
What connects the Sun to the Moon? Many answers have been given throughout history, but in the case of today’s featured image, it appears to be the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The 16-image panorama was taken in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA where two sandstone monoliths – the Temple of the Moon on the right and the Temple of the Sun on the left – rise dramatically from the desert. Each natural monument stands about 100 meters tall and survives from the Jurassic period 160 million years ago. Even older are many of the stars and nebulas that dot the celestial background, including the Andromeda Galaxy. Tomorrow the Earth will connect the Sun to the Moon by way of its shadow: a total lunar eclipse will be visible from many locations around the globe.
Strong aurora display over the landscape of Fairbanks, Alaska. Noted by the photographer: “Auroral displays dance mysteriously across the sky; "normal” photos tend to blur them and don’t capture the true detail of these marvelous curtains so, to freeze the action as much as possible, I kept my exposure time to only 1 second. Still not as amazing seeing them in person, but a bit closer!“
Higher than the highest mountain lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. Somewhat uncommon, an auroral corona appears as a center point for a surrounding display and may occur when an aurora develops directly overhead, or when auroral rays are pointed nearly toward the observer. This picturesque but brief green and purple aurora exhibition occurred last month high above Kvaløya, Tromsø, Norway. TheSessøyfjorden fjord runs through the foreground, while numerous stars are visible far in the distance.
Blasting skyward an Atlas V rocket carrying a U.S. Navy satellite pierces a cloud bank in this starry night scene captured on January 20. On its way to orbit from Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, planet Earth, the rocket streaks past brightest star Sirius, as seen from a dark beach at Canaveral National Seashore. Above the alpha star of Canis Major, Orion the Hunterstrikes a pose familiar to northern winter skygazers. Above Orion is the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, head of Taurus the Bull, and farther still above Taurus it’s easy to spot the compact Pleiades star cluster. Of course near the top of the frame you’ll find the greenish coma and long tail of Comet Lovejoy, astronomical darling of these January nights.
The young crescent moon appears in the evening sky of the Alps in Appenzell, Switzerland. While only a small percentage of the lunar disk appeared directly sunlit, the rest of the Earth-facing moon in the shadow of night is softly illuminated by the Earthshine.
The central bulge of our Milky Way Galaxy rises above a sea of clouds in this ethereal scene. An echo of the Milky Way’s dark dust lanes, the volcanic peak in foreground silhouette is on France's Réunion Island in the southern Indian Ocean. Taken in February, the photograph was voted the winner of the 2014 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest's Beauty of the Night Sky Category. This and other winning and notable images from the contest were selected from over a thousand entries from 55 countries around planet Earth.