APOD Retrospective: June 15

A nostalgic look back at Astronomy Picture of the Day
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APOD Retrospective: June 15

Post by bystander » Mon May 21, 2012 6:58 pm


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2015 What are those colorful rings around the Moon? A corona. Rings like this will sometimes appear when the Moon is seen through thin clouds. The effect is created by the quantum mechanical diffraction of light around individual, similarly-sized water droplets in an intervening but mostly-transparent cloud. Since light of different colors has different wavelengths, each color diffracts differently. Lunar Coronae are one of the few quantum mechanical color effects that can be easily seen with the unaided eye. The featured lunar corona was captured around a Strawberry Moon on June 2 from La Plata, Argentina. Similar coronae that form around the Sun are typically harder to see because of the Sun's great brightness.

2014 Our Earth is not at rest. The Earth moves around the Sun. The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy orbits in the Local Group of Galaxies. The Local Group falls toward the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. But these speeds are less than the speed that all of these objects together move relative to the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). In the above all-sky map from the COBE satellite, radiation in the Earth's direction of motion appears blueshifted and hence hotter, while radiation on the opposite side of the sky is redshifted and colder. The map indicates that the Local Group moves at about 600 kilometers per second relative to this primordial radiation. This high speed was initially unexpected and its magnitude is still unexplained. Why are we moving so fast? What is out there?

2013 Over a five hour period last Tuesday morning, exposures captured this tantalizing view of meteor streaks and the Milky Way in dark skies above Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. During that time, astronomers had hoped to see an outburst from the gamma Delphinid meteor shower as Earth swept through the dust trail left by an unknown comet. Named for the shower's radiant point in the constellation Delphinus, a brief but strong outburst was reported in bright, moonlit skies on June 10, 1930. While no strong Delphinid meteor activity was reported since, an outburst was tentatively predicted to occur again in 2013. But even though Tuesday's skies were dark, the overall rate of meteors in this field is low, and only the three lower meteor streaks seem to point back to the shower's estimated radiant.

2012 Nearby and bright, spiral galaxies M65 (top) and M66 stand out in this engaging cosmic snapshot. The pair are just 35 million light-years distant and around 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own spiral Milky Way. While both exhibit prominent dust lanes sweeping along their broad spiral arms, M66 in particular is a striking contrast in red and blue hues; the telltale pinkish glow of hydrogen gas in star forming regions and young blue star clusters. M65 and M66 make up two thirds of the well-known Leo Triplet of galaxies with warps and tidal tails that offer evidence of the group's past close encounters. The larger M66 has been host to four supernovae discovered since 1973.

2011 Featured in this sharp telescopic image, globular star cluster Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) is some 15,000 light-years away. Some 150 light-years in diameter, the cluster is packed with about 10 million stars much older than the Sun. Omega Cen is the largest of 200 or so known globular clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way galaxy. Though most star clusters consist of stars with the same age and composition, the enigmatic Omega Cen exhibits the presence of different stellar populations with a spread of ages and chemical abundances. In fact, Omega Cen may be the remnant core of a small galaxy merging with the Milky Way.

2010 Did you know that Van Gogh's painting Starry Night includes Comet Hale-Bopp? Hopefully not, because it doesn't. But the above image does. Although today's featured picture may appear at first glance to be a faithful digital reproduction of the original Starry Night, actually it is a modern rendition meant not only to honor one of the most famous paintings of the second millennium, but to act as a scavenger hunt. Can you find, in the above image, a comet, a spiral galaxy, an open star cluster, and a supernova remnant? Too easy? OK, then find, the rings of Supernova 1987A, the Eskimo Nebula, the Crab Nebula, Thor's Helmet, the Cartwheel Galaxy, and the Ant Nebula. Still too easy? Then please identify any more hidden images not mentioned here -- and there are several -- on APOD's main discussion board: Starship Asterisk. Finally, the collagist has graciously hidden APOD's 10th anniversary Vermeer photomontage to help honor APOD on its 15th anniversary tomorrow.

2009 Dark dust lit by the bright yellow star Antares highlight this photogenic starscape of the southern sky. A wider angle image shows the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy connected to Antares by streams of dust knows as the Dark River. At the head of the Dark River the dust appears in dense knots. One of the densest knots is B44, pictured near the bottom of the above image. Off to the left of the above image lies Antares, a star so bright that the pictured dust reflects its light, giving it a distinct yellow hue. Light from the blue star on the image left creates a surrounding blue reflection nebula named IC 4605. B44 and IC 4605 lies about 500 light years distant toward the constellation of the Scorpion.

2008 What's a good recipe for preparing Martian soil? Start by filling your robot's scoop a bit less than half way. Next, dump your Martian soil into one of your TEGA ovens, being sure to watch out for clumping. Then, slowly increase the temperature to over 1000 degrees Celsius over several days. Keep checking to see when your soil becomes vaporized. Finally, your Martian soil is not ready for eating, but rather sniffing The above technique is being used by the Phoenix Lander that arrived on Mars three weeks ago. Data from the first batch of baked soil should be available in a few days. Pictured above, a circular array of the Phoenix Lander's solar panels are visible on the left, while a scoop partly filled with Martian soil is visible on the right. The robotic Phoenix Lander will spend much of the next three months digging, scooping, baking, sniffing, zapping, dissolving, and magnifying bits of Mars to help neighboring Earthlings learn more about the hydrologic and biologic possibilities of the sometimes mysterious red planet.

2007 Dust lanes seem to swirl around the core of Messier 96 in this colorful, detailed portrait of the beautiful island universe. Of course M96 is a spiral galaxy, and counting the faint arms extending beyond the brighter central region it spans 100 thousand light-years or so, about the size of our own Milky Way. M96 is known to be 38 million light-years distant, a dominant member of the Leo I galaxy group. Background galaxies and smaller Leo I group members can be found by examining the picture, but accomplished astro-imager Adam Block notes he is most intrigued by the edge-on spiral galaxy that apparently lies behind the outer spiral arm near the 10 o'clock position. The edge-on spiral appears to be about 1/5 the size of M96. If the spiral is similar in actual size to M96, then it lies about 5 times farther away.

2006 Scroll right and enjoy this 180 degree panorama across the South African Astronomical Observatory's hilltop Sutherland observing station. Featured are SAAO telescope domes and buildings, along with the dark, wedge-shaped shadow of planet Earth stretching into the distance, bounded above by the delicately colored antitwilight arch. Visible along the antisunward horizon at sunset, (or sunrise) the pinkish antitwilight arch is also known as the Belt of Venus. In order, the significant structures from left to right house; the giant SALT 11-meter instrument, the internet telescope MONET, the 1.9 meter Radcliffe, the 1.0 meter Elizabeth, a 0.75 meter reflector, a 0.5 meter reflector, a garage, YSTAR, BiSON, ACT, IRSF (open), and a storage building. (Note to SAAO fans: in this east-facing view the planet-hunter SuperWASP south is hidden behind the IRSF.)

2005 Why is the image of Cassiopeia A changing? Two images of the nearby supernova remnant taken a year apart in infrared light appear to show outward motions at tremendous speeds. This was unexpected since the supernova that created the picturesque nebula was seen 325 years ago. The reason is likely light echoes. Light from the supernova heated up distant ambient dust that is just beginning to show its glow. As time goes by, more distant dust lights up, giving the appearance of outward motion. The above image is a composite of X-ray, optical, and infrared light exposures that have been digitally combined. The infrared light image was taken by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope and was used in the discovery of the light echo. The portion of Cassiopeia A shown spans about 15 light years and lies 10,000 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia.

2004 An unusual type of solar eclipse occurred last week. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. Last week, for the first time in over 100 years, the planet Venus took a turn. Like a solar eclipse by the Moon, the phase of Venus became a continually thinner crescent as Venus became increasingly better aligned with the Sun. Eventually the alignment became perfect and the phase of Venus dropped to zero. The dark spot of Venus crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Venusian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the thick cloud tops of Venus, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase, brighter in the Venusian sky than even Mars appeared from Earth last August. Hours later, as Venus continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Venusian solar eclipse will occur in 2012.

2003 Sometimes it's night on the ground but day in the air. As the Earth rotates to eclipse the Sun, sunset rises up from the ground. Therefore, at sunset on the ground, sunlight still shines on clouds above. Under usual circumstances, a pretty sunset might be visible, but unusual noctilucent clouds float so high up they can be seen well after dark. Pictured above, a network of noctilucent clouds casts a colorful but eerie glow visible above the dark. Although noctilucent clouds are thought to be composed of small ice-coated particles, much remains unknown about them. Recent evidence indicates that at least some noctilucent clouds result from freezing water exhaust from Space Shuttles.

2002 The sands of time are running out for the central star of this hourglass-shaped planetary nebula. With its nuclear fuel exhausted, this brief, spectacular, closing phase of a Sun-like star's life occurs as its outer layers are ejected - its core becoming a cooling, fading white dwarf. In 1995, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to make a series of images of planetary nebulae, including the one above. Here, delicate rings of colorful glowing gas (nitrogen-red, hydrogen-green, and oxygen-blue) outline the tenuous walls of the "hourglass". The unprecedented sharpness of the HST images has revealed surprising details of the nebula ejection process and may help resolve the outstanding mystery of the variety of complex shapes and symmetries of planetary nebulae.

2001 A telescopic tour of the constellation Sagittarius offers the many bright clusters and nebulae of dimensioned space in a starscape surrounding the galactic center. This gorgeous color deep-sky photograph visits two such lovely sights, cataloged by the 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier as M8 and M20. M20 (upper left), the Trifid Nebula, presents a striking contrast in red/blue colors and dark dust lanes. Just below and to the right is the expansive, alluring red glow of M8, the Lagoon Nebula. Both nebulae are a few thousand light-years distant but at the far right, the dominant celestial beacon is a "local" source, the planet Mars. Just passing through Sagittarius and strongly overexposed in this picture, the Red Planet is a short 4 light-minutes away. Now near its closest approach to planet Earth since 1988, Mars rises around sunset and can be seen for most of the night shining brightly at about -2.3 magnitude. Urban imager Michael Cole recorded this photograph at 3:00 AM on May 20th in clear skies over Camp Hancock, Oregon, USA.

2000 The Perseus Cluster of thousands of galaxies, 320 million light-years distant, is one of the most massive objects in the Universe. At its core lies the giant cannibal galaxy Perseus A (NGC 1275), accreting matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. Representing low, medium, and high energy x-rays as red, green, and blue colours respectively, this Chandra X-ray Observatory image shows remarkable details of x-ray emission from this monster galaxy and surrounding hot (30-70 million degrees C) cluster gas. The bright central source is the supermassive black hole at the core of Perseus A itself. Dark circular voids just above and below the galaxy center, each about half the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy, are believed to be magnetic bubbles of energetic particles blown by the accreting black hole. Settling toward Perseus A, the cluster's x-ray hot gas piles up forming bright regions around the bubble rims. Dramatically, the long greenish wisp just above the galaxy's centre is likely the x-ray shadow produced by a small galaxy falling into the burgeoning Perseus A.

1999 Our Sun is in a continual state of oscillation. Large patches of the Sun vibrate in and out, back and forth, even as the Sun rotates. One mode of Solar oscillation is depicted graphically above, with blue indicating outward motion, and red indicating inward motion. Although sensitive optical solar observatories can only directly detect surface motions, they give information about vibrations occurring much deeper in the Sun. In helioseismology, these oscillations are being analyzed and are revealing unprecedented information about the density, temperature, motion, and chemical composition of the entire Sun.

1998 Is this old galaxy up to new tricks? The barred spiral galaxy NGC 4314 is billions of years old, but its appearance has changed markedly over just the past few millions of years. During that time, a nuclear ring of bright young stars has been evolving. The inset picture of NGC 4314 taken by McDonald Observatory shows the whole galaxy and boxes the small region around the core imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. This inner region appears much like a miniature spiral galaxy itself, complete with dust lanes and spiral arms, even though it is only a few thousand light-years across. Further study of NGC 4314 might help astronomers understand how the inner and outer parts of this galaxy interact, and what caused this unusual ring of star formation.

1997 Robert H. Goddard, one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry, was born in Worcester Massachusetts in 1882. As a 16 year old, Goddard read H.G. Wells' science fiction classic "War Of The Worlds" and dreamed of spaceflight. By 1926 he had designed, built, and launched the world's first liquid fuel rocket. During his career he was ridiculed by the press for suggesting that rockets could be flown to the Moon, but he kept up his experiments in rocketry supported in part by the Smithsonian Institution and championed by Charles Lindbergh. Pictured above in 1937 in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, Goddard examines a nose cone and parachute from one of his test rockets. Widely recognized as a gifted experimenter and engineering genius, his rockets were many years ahead of their time. He died in 1945 holding over 200 patents in rocket technology. A liquid fuel rocket constructed on principles developed by Goddard landed humans on the Moon in 1969.

1996 Pictured above is the first american astronaut to walk in space: Edward White. White is seen floating outside the Gemini 4 capsule in 1965. The term "spacewalk" is deceiving since astronauts do not actually walk - they float - usually without their feet touching anything solid. White was connected to the spaceship only by a thick tether. He carried a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit which expelled gas allowing him to move around. A maneuvering device is necessary in the free-fall of space since there is nothing (besides the spacecraft) to push off of to guide movements.

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