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Mercury and the Quiet Sun

Posted by Specola • Posted on 11/14/2019 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

On November 11, 2019 the Sun was mostly quiet, experiencing a minimum in its 11 year cycle of activity. In fact, the only spot visible was actually planet Mercury, making a leisurely 5 1/2 hour transit in front of the calm solar disk. About 1/200th the apparent diameter of the Sun, the silhouette of the solar system's inner most planet is near center in this sharp, full Sun snapshot. Taken with a hydrogen alpha filter and safe solar telescope, the image also captures prominences around the solar limb, the glowing plasma trapped in arcing magnetic fields. Of course, only inner planets Mercury and Venus can transit the Sun to appear in silhouette when viewed from planet Earth. Following its transit in 2016, this was Mercury's 4th of 14 transits across the solar disk in the 21st century. The next transit of Mercury will be on November 13, 2032.

Photo by John Chumack

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Full Moon Geminids

Posted by Specola • Posted on 12/13/2019 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The dependable annual Geminid meteor shower will be near its peak tonight (December 13/14) and before tomorrow's dawn. As Earth crosses through the dusty trail of active asteroid 3200 Phaethon the meteors will flash through the sky from the shower's radiant in Gemini. Gemini will be pretty easy for skygazers to find too as it won't be far from a nearly full waning gibbous Moon. You don't have look at the shower's radiant to see meteors though. The almost full moonlight won't hide the brightest of the Geminids from view either, but it will substantially reduce the rate of visible meteors for those who are counting. In fact, the 2019 Geminids should look a lot like the 2016 meteor shower This composite image from the 2016 Geminids aligns individual short exposures to capture many of the brighter Geminid meteors, inspite of a Full Moon shining near the constellation of the Twins. Along the horizon are the Teide Observatory's Solar Laboratory (right) and the Teide volcano on the Canary Island of Tenerife.

Photo by Juan Carlos Casado

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Decorating the Sky

Posted by Specola • Posted on 12/12/2019 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Bright stars, clouds of dust and glowing nebulae decorate this cosmic scene, a skyscape just north of Orion's belt. Close to the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, the wide field view spans about 5.5 degrees. Striking bluish M78, a reflection nebula, is on the right. M78's tint is due to dust preferentially reflecting the blue light of hot, young stars. In colorful contrast, the red sash of glowing hydrogen gas sweeping through the center is part of the region's faint but extensive emission nebula known as Barnard's Loop. At lower left, a dark dust cloud forms a prominent silhouette cataloged as LDN 1622. While M78 and the complex Barnard's Loop are some 1,500 light-years away, LDN 1622 is likely to be much closer, only about 500 light-years distant from our fair planet Earth.

Photo by Leonardo Julio

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N63A: Supernova Remnant in Visible and X-ray

Posted by Specola • Posted on 12/11/2019 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What has this supernova left behind? As little as 2,000 years ago, light from a massive stellar explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) first reached planet Earth. The LMC is a close galactic neighbor of our Milky Way Galaxy and the rampaging explosion front is now seen moving out - destroying or displacing ambient gas clouds while leaving behind relatively dense knots of gas and dust. What remains is one of the largest supernova remnants in the LMC: N63A. Many of the surviving dense knots have been themselves compressed and may further contract to form new stars. Some of the resulting stars may then explode in a supernova, continuing the cycle. Featured here is a combined image of N63A in the X-ray from the Chandra Space Telescope and in visible light by Hubble. The prominent knot of gas and dust on the upper right -- informally dubbed the Firefox -- is very bright in visible light, while the larger supernova remnant shines most brightly in X-rays. N63A spans over 25 light years and lies about 150,000 light years away toward the southern constellation of Dorado.

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