It may look like a grazing seahorse
, but the dark object toward the image right is actually a pillar
of smoky dust
about 20 light years
long. The curiously-shaped dust structure
occurs in our neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud
, in a star forming region very near the expansive Tarantula Nebula
. The energetic nebula is creating a star cluster
, NGC 2074, whose center is visible just off the top of the image in the direction
of the neck of the seahorse. The representative color image
was taken in 2008 by the Hubble Space Telescope
's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2
in honor of Hubble's 100,000th trip
around the Earth. As young stars in the cluster form, their light and winds
will slowly erode the dust pillars
away over the next million years
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, SOHO - Video Editing: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
After failing to appear for Sun staring spacecraft at perihelion, its harrowing closest approach to the Sun, sungrazing Comet ISON was presumed lost. But ISON surprised observers yesterday as material still traveling along the comet's trajectory became visible and even developed an extensive fan-shaped dust tail. Edited and processed to HD format, this video (vimeo, youtube) is composed of frames from the SOHO spacecraft's coronographs. It follows the comet in view of the wide (blue tint) and narrow (red tint) field cameras in the hours both before and after perihelion passage. In both fields, overwhelming sunlight is blocked by a central occulting disk. A white circle indicates the Sun's positon and scale. With questions to be answered and the tantalizing possibility that a small cometary nucleus has survived in whole or part, surprising comet ISON will be rising before dawn in planet Earth's skies in the coming days.
Cosmic clouds of gas and dust drift across this magnificent mosaic covering a 12x12 degree field within the high flying constellation Cygnus. The collaborative skyscape, a combination of broad and narrow band image data presented in the Hubble palette, is anchored by bright, hot, supergiant star Deneb, below center near the left edge. Alpha star of Cygnus, Deneb, is the top of the Northern Cross asterism and is seen here next to the dark void known as the Northern Coal Sack. Below Deneb are the recognizable North America and Pelican nebulae (NGC 7000 and IC 5070). Another supergiant star, Sadr (Gamma Cygni) is near the center of the field just above the bright wings of the Butterfly Nebula. A line continuing up and right will encounter the more compact Crescent Nebula and finally the Tulip Nebula near the top of the frame. Most of these complex nebulosities are located about 2,000 light-years away. Along with the Sun, they lie in the Orion spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy.
Next stop: Mars. This past weekend the Mars Science Laboratory carrying the Curiosity Rover blasted off for the red planet atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, as pictured above. At five times the size of the Opportunity rover currently operating on Mars, Curiosity is like a strange little car with six small wheels, a head-like camera mast, a rock crusher, a long robotic arm, and a plutonium power source. Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars next August and start a two year mission to explore Gale crater, to help determine whether Mars could ever have supported life, and to help determine how humans might one day visit Earth's planetary neighbor.
Is that a spaceship or a cloud? Although it may seem like an alien mothership, it's actually a impressive thunderstorm cloud called a supercell. Such colossal storm systems center on mesocyclones -- rotating updrafts that can span several kilometers and deliver torrential rain and high winds including tornadoes. Jagged sculptured clouds adorn the supercell's edge, while wind swept dust and rain dominate the center. A tree waits patiently in the foreground. The above supercell cloud was photographed in July west of Glasgow, Montana, USA, caused minor damage, and lasted several hours before moving on.
This was just one more breathtaking view from the International Space Station. The Sun, a crescent Earth, and the long arm of a solar panel were all visible outside a window when the Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the orbiting outpost last week. Reflections from the window and hexagonal lens flares from the camera are superposed. The space shuttle landed Friday after a successful 10 day mission to expand and resupply the ISS. Numbered STS-129, the space shuttle mission returned astronaut Nicole Stott to Earth from her stay on the ISS as a Flight Engineer in the Expedition 20 and 21 crews.
What would it be like to explore the Moon? NASA's Apollo missions gave humans just this chance in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the Apollo 15 mission was dedicated to better understanding the surface of the Moon by exploring mountains, valleys, maria, and highlands. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin spent nearly three days on the Moon while Alfred Worden orbited above in the Command Module. The mission, which blasted off from Earth on 1971 July 26, was the first to deploy a Lunar Roving Vehicle. Pictured above in this digitally stitched mosaic panorama, David Scott examines a boulder in front of the summit of Mt. Hadley Delta. The shadow of James Irwin is visible to the right, while scrolling to the right will reveal a well-lit and diverse lunar terrain. The Apollo 15 mission returned about 76 kilograms of moon rocks for detailed study. In the future, NASA and other space agencies plan to continue to lead humanity's exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Anchored in the vast lava flows of the Moon's Oceanus Procellarum lies the Aristarchus Plateau. The bright impact crater at the corner of the plateau is Aristarchus, a young crater 42 kilometers wide and 3 kilometers deep. Only slightly smaller, lava flooded Herodotus crater is above and to the left. A valley or rille feature likely carved by rapidly flowing lava or a collapsed lava tunnel, Vallis Schroteri begins just to the right of Herodotus and winds across the plateau for about 160 kilometers, eventually turning toward the top of the picture. Aristarchus Plateau itself is like a rectangular island about 200 kilometers across, raised up to 2 kilometers or so above the smooth surface of the lunar Ocean of Storms. Recorded from a backyard observatory in Buffalo, New York, the contrast of light-colored ejecta around Aristarchus with surrounding dark, smooth, lava flooded surfaces suggests more familiar snowy scenes of planet Earth.
The Pelican Nebula lies about 2,000 light-years away in the high flying constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Also known as IC 5070, this cosmic pelican is appropriately found just off the "east coast" of the North America Nebula (NGC 7000), another surprisingly familiar looking emission nebula in Cygnus. The Pelican and North America nebulae are part of the same large and complex star forming region, almost as nearby as the better-known Orion Nebula. From our vantage point, dark dust clouds (upper left) help define the Pelican's eye and long bill, while a bright front of ionized gas suggests the curved shape of the head and neck. Based on digitized black and white images from the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, this striking synthesized color view includes two bright foreground stars and spans about 30 light-years at the estimated distance of the Pelican Nebula
Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, a magnificent interstellar dust cloud by chance has assumed this recognizable shape. Fittingly named the Horsehead Nebula, it is some 1,500 light-years distant, embedded in the vast Orion cloud complex. About five light-years "tall", the dark cloud is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is visible only because its obscuring dust is silhouetted against the glowing red emission nebula IC 434. Contrasting blue reflection nebula NGC 2023 is visible on the lower left. In this gorgeous color image, both Horsehead and NGC 2023 seem to be caught in beams of light shining from above -- but the beams are actually just internal reflections from bright star Sigma Orionis, just off the upper edge of the view.
What are those strange clouds stretching out from these lakes? The clouds are caused by cold air moving over a warm water and result in bands of lake-effect snow. The rising bands of moistened, warmed air that drop lake-effect snow alternate with clear bands of falling cold air. During a winter, such bands can create hundreds of centimeters of snow more than upwind areas only a hundred kilometers away. During this lake-effect snowfall of 2000 December 5, practically all of the state of Michigan, USA got covered. A cold northwesterly wind over Great Lakes Superior and Michigan created the unusual clouds. The above image was taken with NASA's SeaWiFS satellite.
This image is part of the first color panoramic view from Venus. A TV camera on the Soviet Venera 13 lander that parachuted to the surface on 1982 March 1 transmitted it. Venus' clouds are composed of sulfuric acid droplets while its surface temperature is about 482 degrees Celsius at an atmospheric pressure of 92 times that of sea-level on Earth. Despite these harsh conditions, the Venera 13 lander survived long enough to send back a series of images and perform an analysis of the Venusian soil. Part of the lander itself is visible in the lower right portion of the image. An earlier Soviet Venus lander, Venera 7 (1970), was the first spacecraft to return data from the surface of another planet.
This panorama of the cratered lunar surface was constructed from images returned by the US Surveyor 6 lander. Surveyor 6 was not the first spacecraft to accomplish a soft landing on the Moon ... but it was the first to land and then lift off again! After the spacecraft touched down near the center of the Moon's nearside in November of 1967, NASA controllers commanded it to hop. Briefly firing its rocket engine and lifting itself some 4 meters above the surface, the Surveyor moved about 2.5 meters to one side before setting down again. The hopping success of Surveyor 6 essentially marked the completion of the Surveyor series main mission - to determine if the lunar terrain was safe for the planned Apollo landings.
This dramatic four-frame animation shows a fireball meteor and its developing persistent "smoke" train, recorded two weeks ago in skies near Salvador, Brazil. Indeed similar sights are astonishingly familiar world-wide to witnesses of this November's fireball-rich Leonid meteor storm. A few skygazers even discovered that some bright Leonid fireballs made faint, gentle, hissing sounds(!), a surprising effect only recently appreciated and understood. Accounts of fireball meteors making noise have long been viewed with skepticism, particularly because sounds were reportedly heard just as the meteor was seen overhead. But light travels much faster than sound so, like delayed thunder from a distant lightning stroke, a meteor produced sound should only be heard long after the meteor streak was seen. A sound explanation supported by laboratory tests is that turbulent plasma created by the meteor's passage generates very low frequency radio waves. Traveling at light speed the radio waves reach the ground simultaneously with visible light where they are strong enough to induce oscillating currents and audible vibrations in common objects like grass, leaves, wire-frame glasses, and perhaps even dry, frizzy hair.
Globular star cluster Palomar 13 has roamed the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy for the last 12 billion years. The apparently sparse cluster of stars just left of center in this composite color digital image, it is one of the smallest, faintest globular clusters known. (The bright foreground star near bottom is unrelated and creates the spiky imaging artifacts.) Observations spanning forty years indicate that Palomar 13's galactic halo orbit is a highly eccentric one which, every one or two billion years, brings it relatively close to the galactic center. With each close approach to the Milky Way's central regions, gravitational tidal forces strip away the delicately bound cluster stars. In fact, detailed present day studies offer evidence for a dramatic end to this dwindling cluster's tidal tug of war. Palomar 13's latest close approach was only about 70 million years ago. But, when Palomar 13 again approaches the galaxy, it could well turn out to be the cluster's last stand.
Massive stars -- upwards of tens of times the mass of the Sun - profoundly affect their galactic environment. Churning and mixing the clouds of gas and dust between the stars, they leave their mark on the compositions and locations of future generations of stars and star systems. Dramatic evidence of this is illustrated in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), by the above ring shaped nebula, Henize 70 (also known as N70 and DEM301). It is actually a luminous "superbubble" of interstellar gas about 300 light-years in diameter, blown by winds from hot, massive stars and supernova explosions, its interior filled with tenuous hot expanding gas. These superbubbles offer astronomers a chance to explore this crucial connection between the lifecycles of stars and the evolution of galaxies.
The 1998 Leonids Meteor Shower was perhaps the most photographed meteor event in history. Patient observers saw bright meteors streak across dark skies every few minutes, frequently leaving fading trails stretching across the sky. High above the Anza-Borrego Desert, a meteor was photographed streaking up from the radiant constellation of the Leonids: Leo. This meteor train covered over 40 degrees, and changed colors from green to red.
Mercury's surface looks similar to our Moon's. Each is heavily cratered and made of rock. Mercury's diameter is about 4800 km, while the Moon's is slightly less at about 3500 km (compared with about 12,700 km for the Earth). But Mercury is unique in many ways. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, orbiting at about 1/3 the radius of the Earth's orbit. As Mercury slowly rotates, its surface temperature varies from an unbearably cold -180 degrees Celsius to an unbearably hot 400 degrees Celsius. The place nearest the Sun in Mercury's orbit changes slightly each orbit - a fact used by Albert Einstein to help verify the correctness of his then newly discovered theory of gravity: General Relativity. The above picture was taken by the only spacecraft ever to pass Mercury: Mariner 10 in 1974.
Sailing upside down, 115 nautical miles above Earth, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour made this spectacular time exposure of the southern aurora (aurora australis) in October of 1994. The aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights, appear as luminous bands or streamers of light which can extend to altitudes of 200 miles. They are typically visible from the Earth's surface at high latitudes and are caused by high energy particles from the Sun. The delicate colors are caused by energetic electrons colliding with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere. In this picture, the rear structure of the Space Shuttle is visible in the foreground with the vertical tail fin pointed toward Earth. Star trails are visible as small streaks above Earth's horizon.
In the center of the above photograph lies a star with one of the hottest surface temperatures yet confirmed. This bright white dwarf star's surface has been measured at greater than 200,000 degrees Celsius - more than 30 times hotter than that of our own Sun. The white dwarf's extreme heat makes it glow extraordinarily bright: intrinsically more than 250 times brighter than the Sun. The star is at the center of the planetary nebula titled NGC 2440, which lies inside our Milky Way Galaxy. The above computer sharpened image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.