bizarre alien planet is this ? It's planet Earth of course, seen through the shimmering glow of aurorae from the International Space Station
. About 400 kilometers (250 miles) above, the orbiting station is itself within the upper realm
of the auroral displays, also watched from the planet's surface on June 23rd. Aurorae have the signature colors of excited
molecules and atoms at the low densities found at extreme altitudes. The eerie greenish glow of molecular oxygen dominates this view. But higher, just above the space station's horizon, is a rarer red band of aurora from atomic oxygen. The ongoing geomagnetic storm
began after a coronal mass ejection's recent impact on Earth's magnetosphere.
Early morning risers were treated to a beautiful conjunction of Venus and waning Crescent Moon on June 24, captured in this seaside photo near Belmar, New Jersey, USA, planet Earth. The serene celestial pairing is seen above the Atlantic Ocean horizon as the eastern sky grows brighter with dawn's early light. Wispy, scattered clouds appear in silhouette. But the exposure also reveals the night side of the lunar orb in the arms of the sunlit crescent. That shadowed part of the Moon, with hints of the smooth, dark lunar seas or maria, is illuminated by Earthshine, sunlight reflected from planet Earth itself.
Andromeda is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 was taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including how it acquired its unusual double-peaked center.
What time is it? If the time and day are right, this sundial will tell you: SOLSTICE. Only then will the Sun be located just right for sunlight to stream through openings and spell out the term for the longest and shortest days of the year. And that happened last week and twice each year. The sundial was constructed by Jean Salins in 1980 and is situated at the Ecole Supérieure des Mines de Paris in Valbonne Sophia Antipolis of south-eastern France. On two other days of the year, watchers of this sundial might get to see it produce another word: EQUINOXE.
It's the dim star, not the bright one, near the center of NGC 3132 that created this odd but beautiful planetary nebula. Nicknamed the Eight-Burst Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula, the glowing gas originated in the outer layers of a star like our Sun. In this representative color picture, the hot blue pool of light seen surrounding this binary system is energized by the hot surface of the faint star. Although photographed to explore unusual symmetries, it's the asymmetries that help make this planetary nebula so intriguing. Neither the unusual shape of the surrounding cooler shell nor the structure and placements of the cool filamentary dust lanes running across NGC 3132 are well understood.
Dusty stellar nursery RCW 49 surrounds young star cluster Westerlund 2 in this remarkable composite skyscape from beyond the visible spectrum of light. Infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope is shown in black and white, complementing the Chandra X-ray image data (in false color) of the hot energetic stars within the cluster's central region. Looking toward the grand southern constellation Centaurus, both views reveal stars and structures hidden from optical telescopes by obscuring dust. Westerlund 2 itself is a mere 2 million years old or less, and contains some of our galaxy's most luminous, massive and therefore short-lived stars. The infrared signatures of proto-planetary disks have also been identified in the intense star forming region. At the cluster's estimated distance of 20,000 light-years, the square marking the Chandra field of view would be about 50 light-years on a side.
This six month long exposure compresses the time from solstice to solstice (~ December 21, 2008 to June 20, 2009) into a single point of view. Dubbed a solargraph, the unconventional picture was recorded with a pinhole camera made from an aluminum can lined with a piece of photographic paper. Fixed to a single spot for the entire exposure, the simple camera continuously records the Sun's daily path as a glowing trail burned into the photosensitive paper. Breaks and gaps in the trails are caused by cloud cover. In this case, the spot was chosen to look out from inside a radio telescope at the Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic. At the end of the exposure, the paper was removed from the can and immediately scanned digitally. Contrasts and colors were then enhanced and added to the digital image. Of course, in December, the Sun trails begin lower down at the northern hemisphere's winter solstice. The trails climb higher in the sky as the June 21st summer solstice approaches.
Born on June 26th in 1730, astronomer Charles Messier scanned 18th century French skies for comets. To avoid confusion and aid his comet hunting, he diligently recorded this object as number 27 on his list of things which are definitely not comets. In fact, 21st century astronomers would classify it as a Planetary Nebula, but it's not a planet either, even though it may appear round and planet-like in a small telescope. Messier 27 (M27) is now known to be an excellent example of a gaseous emission nebula created as a sun-like star runs out of nuclear fuel in its core. The nebula forms as the star's outer layers are expelled into space, with a visible glow generated by atoms excited by the dying star's intense but invisible ultraviolet light. Known by the popular name of the Dumbbell Nebula, the beautifully symmetric interstellar gas cloud is over 2.5 light-years across and about 1,200 light-years away in t