Fifty years ago, on June 3, 1965, Edward White stepped out of the orbiting Gemini 4 spacecraft to become the first US astronaut to walk in space. White is captured in this photo taken by mission commander James McDivit from inside the capsule as White's spacewalk began over the Pacific Ocean on Gemini 4's third orbit. Planet Earth, spacecraft, and tether are reflected in White's gold tinted helmet visor. A gas powered manuevering gun is held in his right hand. Though the gun ran out of gas after only 3 minutes, he continued to manuever by twisting his body and pulling on the tether for the remainder of the 23 minute long Extra Vehicular Activity. White later described his historic spacewalk as the most comfortable part of the mission, and said the order to end it was the "saddest moment" of his life.
Sweeping slowly through northern skies, the comet PanSTARRS C/2012 K1 posed for this telescopic portrait on June 2nd in the constellation Ursa Major. Now within the inner solar system, the icy body from the Oort cloud sports two tails, a lighter broad dust tail and crooked ion tail extending below and right. The comet's condensed greenish coma makes a nice contrast with the spiky yellowish background star above. NGC 3319 appears at the upper left of the frame that spans almost twice the apparent diameter of the full Moon. The spiral galaxy is about 47 million light-years away, far beyond the stars in our own Milky Way. In comparison, the comet was a mere 14 light-minutes from our fair planet. This comet PanSTARRS will slowly grow brighter in the coming months remaining a good target for telescopic comet watchers and reaching perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, while just beyond Earth's orbit in late August.
How big is our Sun compared to other stars? In a dramatic and popular video featured on YouTube, the relative sizes of planets and stars are shown from smallest to largest. The above video starts with Earth's Moon and progresses through increasingly larger planets in our Solar System. Next, the Sun is shown along as compared to many of the brighter stars in our neighborhood of the Milky Way Galaxy. Finally, some of the largest stars known spin into view. Note that the true sizes of most stars outside of the Sun and Betelgeuse are not known by direct observation, but rather inferred by measurements of their perceived brightness, temperature, and distance. Although an inspiring learning tool that is mostly accurate, APOD readers are encouraged to complete the learning experience -- and possibly help make future versions more accurate -- by pointing out slight inaccuracies in the video.
A setting full moon rarely looks like this. Monday morning just before a fully lit Strawberry Moon dropped behind the Absaroka Mountain Range near Cody, Wyoming, USA, the shadow of the Earth got in the way. A similarly setting partial lunar eclipse was visible throughout most of North and South America, while simultaneously the same partially darkened moon was visible throughout eastern Asia. Pictured in the foreground is a snowbank formation known as the Horse's Head off a tributary of the Shoshone River. Lunar eclipses occur about twice a year, and the next one -- a penumbral eclipse -- will occur in late November.
If you travel several kilometers off a main highway through Wyoming, you may see an unusual sight. In particular, near Buford, Wyoming, USA, you could run across the geometric Ames Monument, visible on the right, built to commemorate the financiers of a historic transcontinental railroad across North America. The above spectacular wide field mosaic, however, has also captured other geometric designs, many of them far in the distance. On the far left, for example, is a lunar halo surrounding by a lunar corona surrounding the setting Moon. On the right, however, is the arch of the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy surrounding the pyramidal structure. Illuminating the horizon to the right of the monument are the city lights of Cheyenne. The menagerie of images used to create this 360-degree composite were all taken during a single night last month. Still, the digital stitching of images taken over such a long period of time has led to a few unnatural land and sky justapositions. Can you identify any?
It may look like some sort of cute alien robot, but it was created here on Earth, launched to the Moon in 1970, and now reflects laser light in a scientifically useful way. On November 17, 1970 the Soviet Luna 17 spacecraft landed the first roving remote-controlled robot on the Moon. Known as Lunokhod 1, it weighed just under 2,000 pounds and was designed to operate for 90 days while guided in real-time by a five person team near Moscow, USSR. Lunokhod 1 toured the lunar Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) for 11 months in one of the greatest successes of the Soviet lunar exploration program. This Lunokhod's operations officially ceased in 1971. Earlier this year, however, the position of the rover was recovered by NASA's moon-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Given that position, laser pulses from Earth were successfully bounced off the old robot's reflector. Bouncing laser pulses off of this and other lunar reflectors could yield range data to the moon accurate enough to track millimeter-sized deviations in the Moon's orbit, effectively probing lunar composition and testing gravitational theories.
While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, NGC 4725 seems to have only one. In this sharp color image, the solo spira mirabilis is tightly wound, traced by bluish, newborn star clusters. The odd galaxy also sports obscuring dust lanes, a prominent ring, and a yellowish central bar structure composed of an older population of stars. NGC 4725 is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation.
Gazing out from within the Milky Way, our own galaxy's true structure is difficult to discern. But an ambitious survey effort with the Spitzer Space Telescope now offers convincing evidence that we live in a large galaxy distinguished by two main spiral arms (the Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus arms) emerging from the ends of a large central bar. In fact, from a vantage point that viewed our galaxy face-on, astronomers in distant galaxies would likely see the Milky Way as a two-armed barred spiral similar to this artist's illustration. Previous investigations have identified a smaller central barred structure and four spiral arms. Astronomers still place the Sun about a third of the way in from the Milky Way's outer edge, in a minor arm called the Orion Spur. To locate the Sun and identify the Milky Way's newly mapped features, just place your cursor over the image.
What creates the cosmic dust sculptures in the Rosette Nebula? Noted for the common beauty of its overall shape, parts of the Rosette Nebula, also known as NGC 2244, show beauty even when viewed up close. Visible above are globules of dark dust and gas that are slowly being eroded away by the energetic light and winds by nearby massive stars. Left alone long enough, the molecular-cloud globules would likely form stars and planets. The above image was taken in very specific colors of Sulfur (shaded red), Hydrogen (green), and Oxygen (blue). The Rosette Nebula spans about 50 light-years across, lies about 4,500 light-years away, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros).
How did a star form this beautiful nebula? In the middle of emission nebula NGC 6164-5 is an unusually massive star nearing the end of its life. The star, visible in the center of the above image and catalogued as HD 148937, is so hot that the ultraviolet light it emits heats up gas that surrounds it. That gas was likely thrown off from the star, possibly by its fast rotation, like a rotating lawn sprinkler. Expelled material might have been further channeled by the magnetic field of the star, creating the symmetric shape of the bipolar nebula. Several cometary knots of gas are also visible on the lower left. NGC 6164-5 spans about four light years and is located about 4,000 light years away toward the southern constellation Norma.
Eating surface ice from Enceladus might be healthier than eating ice from Saturn's rings -- it certainly appears cleaner. From their apparent densities and reflectance properties, both the rings of Saturn and its shiniest moon, Enceladus, are thought to be composed predominantly of water ice. For reasons that are not yet understood, however, many of Saturn's ring particles have become partly coated with some sort of relatively dark dust, while the surface of Enceladus appears comparatively bright and clean. The contrast between the two can be seen in the above image taken last month by the robot Cassini spacecraft now in orbit around Saturn. Bright Enceladus shines in the background in contrast to the darker foreground rings. The reason why Enceladus is so bright is currently unknown but might involve bringing fresh water to its surface with water volcanoes.
Can you spot the planet? The diminutive disk of Mercury, the solar system's innermost planet, spent about five hours crossing in front of the enormous solar disk on 2003 May 7, as viewed from the general vicinity of planet Earth. The Sun was above the horizon during the entire transit for observers in Europe, Africa, Asia, or Australia, and the horizon was certainly no problem for the sun-staring SOHO spacecraft. Seen as a dark spot, Mercury progresses from left to right (top panel to bottom) in these four images from SOHO's extreme ultraviolet camera. The panels' false-colors correspond to different wavelengths in the extreme ultraviolet which highlight regions above the Sun's visible surface. This was the first of 14 transits of Mercury which will occur during the 21st century, but the next similar event will be a much more rare transit of Venus this coming Tuesday. Need help spotting Mercury? Just click on the picture.
Anticipating the celestial shadow play of a solar eclipse, sky gazers across Germany watched the Sun rise on May 31. In Bonn, astrophotographer Thilo Kranz had set up his small refractor telescope and camera on the Kennedy Bridge across the Rhein river to get a good view to the northeast. The timing of this eclipse must have seemed ideal for a local balloon flight too, as hot air balloonists also favor early morning hours with usually calm surface winds. Kranz and colleagues had noticed a balloon drifting in the hazy sky near the horizon and speculated about viewing the eclipse from on board. But when the eclipsed Sun finally emerged into view they were delighted to see the lighter-than-air craft make the occasion a very special show from their own vantage point. In fact, in the central panel of this montage of Kranz's telescopic eclipse images, the silhouetted balloon reminds the APOD editors of a remarkably well-fed exclamation mark!
After astronauts repaired NICMOS - the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer - during the latest Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, astronomers were quick to turn the sophisticated instrument on the photogenic stellar nursery known as the Cone Nebula. This remarkable NICMOS close-up of the Cone Nebula dramatically confirms that the Hubble's infrared vision has been restored. Gas and dust clouds at the blunted tip of the cone-shaped star-forming region are seen here in false-color covering an area about half a light-year across. Toward the left hand side of the picture, the four bright stars with diffraction spikes are also present in visible light images and are in front of the Cone Nebula, itself 2,500 light-years away. But the fainter stars to their right are embedded in or behind the nebula's obscuring dust clouds and are revealed only in this penetrating infrared view.
This spectacular color picture of the core of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1512 (bottom panel) is a composite of the seven Hubble Space Telescope images arrayed along the top. Each top panel image was made with a filter and camera sensitive to a different wavelength band in the electromagnetic spectrum. Arranged by increasing wavelength, at the far left are two ultraviolet images from Hubble's Faint Object Camera. Next are two visible light images from its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, followed on the right by three infrared images from the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrograph. To make a pleasing composite color image, blue tones were assigned to the invisible ultraviolet, greenish colors were used for the visible bands, and yellow/red for the invisible infrared band images. These images show that the center of NGC 1512 appears dramatically altered when viewed in different wavelength bands. In particular, the ultraviolet images highlight clusters of young, hot stars in a ring 2,400 light-years wide surrounding the core. What caused this cosmic starburst ring?
A volcano on Jupiter's moon Io has been photographed recently during an ongoing eruption. Hot glowing lava is visible on the left on this representative-color image. A glowing landscape of plateaus and valleys covered in sulfur and silicate rock surrounds the active volcano. Many features including several of the dark spots have evolved between February 2000, when the robot spacecraft Galileo currently orbiting Jupiter took this picture, and November 1999. Io is slightly larger than Earth's Moon and is the closest large moon to Jupiter. The above image shows a region about 250 kilometers across. How the internal structure of Io creates these active volcanoes remains under investigation.
Johannes Kepler used simple mathematics to describe how planets move. Kepler was an assistant to the most accurate astronomical observer of the time, Tycho Brahe. Kepler was able to use Brahe's data to show that planets move in ellipses around the Sun (Kepler's First Law), that planets move proportionally faster in their orbits when they are nearer the Sun (Kepler's Second Law), and that more distant planets take proportionally longer to orbit the Sun (Kepler's Third Law). Kepler lived from 1571 to 1630, during the time of discovery of the telescope. Kepler was one of the few vocal supporters of Galileo's discoveries and the Copernican system of planets orbiting the Sun instead of the Earth.
Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a Grand Design spiral galaxy. A large galaxy of over 100 billion or so stars with well defined spiral arms, it is similar to our own Milky Way. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies , M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant in the spring constellation of Coma Berenices. This Hubble Space Telescope image of the central region of M100 was made in 1993 with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. It reveals the bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of stars in M100 have recently played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe.
Even great observatories need a boost from time to time -- including the orbiting Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. Sparkling reflections and the bright limb of the Earth are visible in this 1991 window view of Compton's release into orbit by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Named after the American Nobel-prize-winning physicist, Arthur Holly Compton, the Compton Observatory has spent the last 6 years making spectacular discoveries while exploring the Universe at extreme gamma-ray energies. From its post over 240 miles above the Earth's surface, the 17 ton satellite still experiences enough atmospheric drag to cause its orbit to deteriorate over time. But NASA controllers have just completed a complex two month long series of firings of Compton's on-board thrusters which has raised its orbit to an altitude of over 300 miles. This reboost (Compton's second in 6 years) should allow it to continue its voyage of exploration of the distant high-energy Universe until about 2007. What if you could see gamma rays?
Here's a familiar shape in an unfamiliar location! This emission nebula is famous partly because it resembles Earth's North American Continent. To the right of the North America Nebula is a less luminous Pelican Nebula. Let's be grateful that pelicans aren't really that large! The two emission nebula are located about 1500 light years away and are separated by a dark absorption cloud. The nebulae can be seen without a telescope from a dark location. Look for a small nebular patch north-east of Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus. It is still unknown which star or stars ionize the red-glowing hydrogen gas.