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Hills, Ridges, and Tracks on Mars

Posted by Specola • Posted on 01/26/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Sometimes, even rovers on Mars stop to admire the scenery. Just late last November the Curiosity rover on Mars paused to photograph its impressive surroundings. One thing to admire, straight ahead, was Central Butte, an unusual flat hill studied by Curiosity just a few days before this image was taken. To its right was distant Mount Sharp, the five-kilometer central peak of entire Gale crater, the interior of which Curiosity is exploring. Mount Sharp, covered in sulfates, appears quite bright in this colorized, red-filtered image. To the far left, shrouded in a very dark shadow, was the south slope of Vera Rubin ridge, an elevation explored previously by Curiosity. Between the ridge and butte were tracks left by Curiosity's wheels as they rolled forward, out of the scene. In the image foreground is, of course, humanity's current eyes on Mars: the complex robotic rover Curiosity itself. Later this year, if all goes well, NASA will have another rover -- and more eyes -- on Mars. Today you can help determine the name of this rover yourself, but tomorrow is the last day to cast your vote. Help Name the Mars 2020 Rover: Vote here!

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Illustris Simulation of the Universe

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/23/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

How did we get here? Click play, sit back, and watch. A computer simulation of the evolution of the universe provides insight into how galaxies formed and perspectives into humanity's place in the universe. The Illustris project exhausted 20 million CPU hours in 2014 following 12 billion resolution elements spanning a cube 35 million light years on a side as it evolved over 13 billion years. The simulation tracks matter into the formation of a wide variety of galaxy types. As the virtual universe evolves, some of the matter expanding with the universe soon gravitationally condenses to form filaments, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies. The featured video takes the perspective of a virtual camera circling part of this changing universe, first showing the evolution of dark matter, then hydrogen gas coded by temperature (0:45), then heavy elements such as helium and carbon (1:30), and then back to dark matter (2:07). On the lower left the time since the Big Bang is listed, while on the lower right the type of matter being shown is listed. Explosions (0:50) depict galaxy-center supermassive black holes expelling bubbles of hot gas. Interesting discrepancies between Illustris and the real universe have been studied, including why the simulation produced an overabundance of old stars.

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Central Centaurus A

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/22/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

A mere 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Also known as NGC 5128, the peculiar elliptical galaxy is over 60,000 light-years across. A region spanning about 8,500 light-years, including the galaxy's center (upper left), is framed in this sharp Hubble Space telescope close-up. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a violent jumble of star forming regions, massive star clusters, and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

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LDN 1622: Dark Nebula in Orion

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/21/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The silhouette of an intriguing dark nebula inhabits this cosmic scene. Lynds' Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only visible in long telescopic exposures of the region. In contrast, the brighter reflection nebula vdB 62 is more easily seen, just above and right of center. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard's Loop, a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. With swept-back outlines, the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to lie at a similar distance, perhaps 1,500 light-years away. At that distance, this 1 degree wide field of view would span about 30 light-years. Young stars do lie hidden within the dark expanse and have been revealed in Spitzer Space telescope infrared images. Still, the foreboding visual appearance of LDN 1622 inspires its popular name, the Boogeyman Nebula.

Photo by Min Xie

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