APOD Retrospective: September 7

A nostalgic look back at Astronomy Picture of the Day
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APOD Retrospective: September 7

Post by bystander » Wed Sep 07, 2011 3:25 am

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2015 There is no sea on Earth large enough to contain the Shark nebula. This predator apparition poses us no danger, though, as it is composed only of interstellar gas and dust. Dark dust like that featured here is somewhat like cigarette smoke and created in the cool atmospheres of giant stars. After being expelled with gas and gravitationally recondensing, massive stars may carve intricate structures into their birth cloud using their high energy light and fast stellar winds as sculpting tools. The heat they generate evaporates the murky molecular cloud as well as causing ambient hydrogen gas to disperse and glow red. During disintegration, we humans can enjoy imagining these great clouds as common icons, like we do for water clouds on Earth. Including smaller dust nebulae such as Lynds Dark Nebula 1235 and Van den Bergh 149 & 150, the Shark nebula spans about 15 light years and lies about 650 light years away toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus).

Video Credit & Copyright: Mark Gee; Music: Tenderness (Dan Phillipson)

Have you ever watched the Moon rise? The slow rise of a nearly full moon over a clear horizon can be an impressive sight. One impressive moonrise was imaged in early 2013 over Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand. With detailed planning, an industrious astrophotographer placed a camera about two kilometers away and pointed it across the lookout to where the Moon would surely soon be making its nightly debut. The above single shot sequence is unedited and shown in real time -- it is not a time lapse. People on Mount Victoria Lookout can be seen in silhouette themselves admiring the dawn of Earth's largest satellite. Seeing a moonrise yourself is not difficult: it happens every day, although only half the time at night. Each day the Moon rises about fifty minutes later than the previous day, with a full moon always rising at sunset. A good time to see a moonrise will occur at sunset on Tuesday as the Moon's relative closeness to Earth during a full phase -- called a supermoon -- will cause it to appear slightly larger and brighter than usual.

2013 This forest of snow and ice penitentes reflects moonlight shining across the Chajnantor plateau. The region lies in the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5,000 meters, not far from one of planet Earth's major astronomical observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Up to several meters high, the flattened, sharp-edged shapes, and orientation of the penitentes tend to minimize their shadows at local noon. In the dry, cold, thin atmosphere, sublimation driven by sunlight is important for their formation. A direct transition from a solid to a gaseous state, sublimation shapes other solar system terrains too, like icy surfaces of comets and the polar caps of Mars. Above the dreamlike landscape stretches the southern night sky. Their own forms rooted in myth, look for the constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, and Perseus near the panorama's left edge. Bright and colorful stars of Orion the Hunter are near center, with the Large Magellanic Cloud and the South Celestial Pole on the far right.

2012 South of Antares, in the tail of the nebula-rich constellation Scorpius, lies emission nebula IC 4628. Nearby hot, massive stars, millions of years young, radiate the nebula with invisible ultraviolet light, stripping electrons from atoms. The electrons eventually recombine with the atoms to produce the visible nebular glow, dominated by the red emission of hydrogen. At an estimated distance of 6,000 light-years, the region shown is about 250 light-years across, spanning an area equivalent to four full moons on the sky. The nebula is also cataloged as Gum 56 for Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum, but seafood-loving astronomers might know this cosmic cloud as The Prawn Nebula.

2011 Why does this star have so few heavy elements? Stars born in the generation of our Sun have an expected abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium mixed into their atmospheres. Stars born in the generation before our Sun, Population II stars, the stars that created most of the heavy elements around us today, are seen to have some, although fewer, elements heavier than H and He. Furthermore, even the elusive never-seen first stars in the universe, so-called Population III stars, are predicted to have a large mass and a small but set amount of heavy elements. Yet low-mass Milky Way star SDSS J102915+172927, among others, appears to have fewer metals than ever predicted for any stars, including at least 50 times less lithium than came out of the Big Bang. The unusual nature of this star, initially cataloged by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and pictured above, was discovered by detailed spectroscopic observations by a large VLT telescope in Chile. Many models of star formation indicate that such a star should not even form. Research is ongoing, however, with one leading hypothesis holding that fragile primordial lithium was destroyed in the star's hot core.

2010 They are some of the most complex machines ever built. From a standing start they can launch a school- bus sized object up so high and moving so fast that it won't fall back down. They have launched numerous revolutionary satellites that enable humans to communicate across the globe, to better understand Earth's atmosphere, and to peer into the distance universe. They are NASA's Space Shuttles, and NASA has recently released large digital posters to honor them. While the inaugural flight was in 1981, the shuttle fleet is aging and is now nearing retirement. Pictured above, the space shuttle Endeavour is shown rising to orbit, with patches for each of its missions shown in a spiral. Endeavour was named for the HMS Endeavour, a British research ship that explored the south Pacific Ocean in the 1700s, depicted on the lower right. On the upper left are panoramic windows delivered by Endeavour to the International Space Station earlier this year. In the background near the top is the NGC 602 nebula as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was serviced by Endeavour in 1993. Posters for all of the shuttles, including Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Endeavour are available.

2009 This vacation included a sight to remember. Pictured above, a picturesque starscape capped a serene seascape as seen from Turkey this past August. In the above digitally stitched panorama, the Gelidonya Lighthouse shines in the foreground before a calm Mediterranean Sea. On the left, Jupiter is the brightest point in the image and since on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, was near its yearly brightest. Glowing just shy of magnitude -3, Jupiter was brighter than any star in the sky, and brighter even than Mars was during its famously bright opposition of 2003 August. On the right, the band of the Milky Way Galaxy fades into distant atmospheric haze above the horizon. Jupiter is nearing the closest part of its elliptical orbit to the Sun and so will appear even brighter during its next opposition in 2010 September.

2008 Where is the best place on Earth to find meteorites? Although meteors fall all over the world, they usually just sink to the bottom of an ocean, are buried by shifting terrain, or are easily confused with terrestrial rocks. At the bottom of the Earth, however, in East Antarctica, huge sheets of blue ice remain pure and barren. When traversing such a sheet, a dark rock will stick out. These rocks have a high probability of being true meteorites -- likely pieces of another world. An explosion or impact might have catapulted these meteorites from the Moon, Mars, or even an asteroid, yielding valuable information about these distant worlds and our early Solar System. Small teams of snowmobiling explorers so far have found thousands. Pictured above, ice-trekkers search a field 25-kilometers in front of Otway Massif in the Transantarctic Mountain Range during the Antarctic summer of 1995-1996.

2007 The Moon was up continuously for 14 days in August -- when viewed from the South Pole. But during the total lunar eclipse on August 28, it circled only about 10 degrees above the horizon. For Robert Schwarz, the resulting long line-of-sight through the atmosphere that blurred his images was a minor problem when he recorded this four hour long lunar eclipse sequence. A more severe problem was the outdoor air temperature of -68 C (-90 F). The extreme cold required him to make the series of exposures through a slit in a window from inside a heated room. Though the heat produced convection and further blurring, it was the only way to keep the camera at a reasonable operating temperature for an extended period of time. Still, he was rewarded with this impressive record of August's lunar eclipse from a unique perspective on planet Earth.

2006 No single exposure can easily capture faint stars along with the subtle colors of the Moon. But this dramatic composite view highlights both. The mosaic digitally stitches together fifteen carefully exposed high resolution images of a bright, gibbous Moon and a representative background star field. The fascinating color differences along the lunar surface are real, though highly exaggerated, corresponding to regions with different chemical compositions. And while these color differences are not visible to the eye even with a telescope, moon watchers can still see a dramatic lunar presentation tonight. A partial eclipse of the Moon will be visible from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

2005 Scroll right to see a breathtaking panorama of Mars from the top of Husband Hill. The image was taken by the robotic rover Spirit now exploring the red planet. Spirit, situated in expansive Gusev Crater, has been exploring the Columbia Hills for some time including climbing Husband Hill over the last few months. On the way up, Spirit took in a color vista from Larry's Lookout. Visible in the above image is the vast eastern landscape previously blocked from view by the Columbia Hills themselves. The horizon is mostly defined by the rim of Thira crater visible some 15 kilometers in the distance. Spirit will now examine rocks and soil at the top of Husband Hill, looking for clues as to how the hills and local rocks formed in the distant past.

2004 The closest and brightest supernova in over a decade was recorded just over a month ago in the outskirts of nearby galaxy NGC 2403. Officially tagged SN 2004dj, the Type IIP explosion likely annihilated most of a blue supergiant star as central fusion could no longer hold it up. The supernova can be seen as the bright object in the above image in the direction of the arrow. The home galaxy to the supernova, spiral galaxy NGC 2403, is located only 11 million light years away and is visible with binoculars toward the northern constellation of Camelopardalis (the Giraffe). The supernova is fading but still visible with a telescope, once peaking at just brighter than magnitude 12. Supernovas of this type change brightness in a predictable way and may be searched for in the distant universe as distance indicators.

2003 The center of our Galaxy is a busy place. In visible light, much of the Galactic Center is obscured by opaque dust. In infrared light, however, dust glows more and obscures less, allowing nearly one million stars to be recorded in the above photograph. The Galactic Center itself appears on the right and is located about 30,000 light years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The Galactic Plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, the plane in which the Sun orbits, is identifiable by the dark diagonal dust lane. The absorbing dust grains are created in the atmospheres of cool red-giant stars and grow in molecular clouds. The region directly surrounding the Galactic Center glows brightly in radio and high-energy radiation, and is thought to house a large black hole.

2002 Get out your red/blue glasses and launch yourself into this stereo picture of Saturn! The picture is actually composed from two images recorded weeks apart by the Voyager 2 spacecraft during its visit to the Saturnian System in August of 1981. Traveling at about 35,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft's changing viewpoint from one image to the next produced this exaggerated but pleasing stereo effect. Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Its spectacular ring system is so wide that it would span the space between the Earth and Moon. Although they look solid here, Saturn's rings consist of individually orbiting bits of ice and rock ranging in size from grains of sand to barn-sized boulders.

2001 Today's composite image was made from 22 separate pictures of the Moon and Sun all taken from Chisamba, Zambia during the total phase of the 2001 June 21 solar eclipse. The multiple exposures were digitally processed and combined to simultaneously show a wealth of detail which no single camera exposure or naked-eye observation could easily reveal. Most striking are the incredible flowing streamers of the Sun's outer atmosphere or solar corona, notoriously difficult to see except when the new Moon blocks the bright solar disk. Features on the darkened near side of the Moon can also be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a full Earth. A giant solar prominence seems to hang just beyond the Moon's eastern (left) edge while about one diameter farther east of the eclipsed Sun is the relatively faint (4th magnitude) star 1 Geminorum.

2000 What is creating the strange texture of IC 418? Dubbed the Spirograph Nebula for its resemblance to drawings from a cyclical drawing tool, planetary nebula IC 418 shows patterns that are not well understood. Perhaps they are related to chaotic winds from the variable central star, which changes brightness unpredictably in just a few hours. By contrast, evidence indicates that only a few million years ago, IC 418 was probably a well-understood star similar to our Sun. Only a few thousand years ago, IC 418 was probably a common red giant star. Since running out of nuclear fuel, though, the outer envelope has begun expanding outward leaving a hot remnant core destined to become a white-dwarf star, visible in the image center. The light from the central core excites surrounding atoms in the nebula causing them to glow. IC 418 lies about 2000 light-years away and spans 0.3 light-years across. This recently released false-color image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the unusual details.

1999 What would you do if it rained blue water from space? On 1998 March 22, no umbrella was needed, as the blue water came attached to a stony meteorite that landed in Monahans, Texas. The meteorite fall was seen by several boys, and was being carefully scrutinized by NASA scientists within 72 hours. The scientists discovered an unusual patch of salt crystals on the meteorite's surface, turned blue by radiation in space. Inside the blue crystals was an even bigger surprise - small droplets of water. One of these water droplets is visible near the very center of the above photograph. Water is a key factor in life, and this drop of water most likely dates from 4.5 billion years ago - from the early days of the Solar System. How salt and water came to be attached to this asteroid chip still remains speculative. What did the boys do with the meteorite? First they lent it to NASA. Then they sold it on the Internet.

1998 A variety of stars and nebulae can be found towards the constellation of Sagittarius. Dense fields of stars laced with dark lanes of dust crowd this region only a few degrees from the center of our Galaxy. Prominent nebulae include the red Lagoon Nebula (M8) in the lower right and the multicolored Trifid Nebula (M20) in the upper right. Recent high-resolution images of these nebulae show unusual features such as funnel-shaped clouds and proplyds that are not well understood.


The Luna 9 spacecraft above performed the first soft landing on another planetary body. Following a series of failures, the Soviet probe touched down in the Moon's Oceanus Procellarum region February 3, 1966. It accomplished this milestone in lunar exploration only shortly after the death of Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet Space Program. Reportedly, Korolev's colleagues wished to dedicate the Luna 9 mission to him but were unable to as his role as the Chief Designer was still a state secret. A pole, just visible extending at the lower left, sensed the impact with the lunar surface, triggering the spacecraft to eject the weighted, egg-shaped capsule (upper right). The 250 pound capsule then struck the surface, rolled upright, unfolded four spring actuated petals to steady itself, and transmitted the first views from the lunar surface back to Earth.

1996 What did the universe look like two billion years after the Big Bang? According to this computer model, the universe was filled with irregular looking objects like the ones shown above. The simulation then predicts that these blobs of stars and gas collide to form galaxies more similar to the ones we see today. In fact, this simulation bears much resemblance to recent pictures of distant galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Galaxy formation is a complex phenomena which only now is becoming understood. Did most galaxies form 5 billion years ago - or 10 billion? Did galaxies fragment from larger sheets of matter, or are they conglomerations of many smaller clumps? Simulations like this one are helping to determine the answer.

1995 This Hubble Space Telescope image of a group of faint galaxies "far, far away" is a snap shot of the Universe when it was young. The bluish, irregularly shaped galaxies revealed in the image are up to eight billion light years away and seem to have commonly undergone galaxy collisions and bursts of star formation. Studying these objects is difficult because they are so faint, however they may provide clues to how our own Milky Way Galaxy formed.

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