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Posted by Specola

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Two Clusters and a Comet

Posted by Specola • Posted on 01/30/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

This lovely starfield spans some four full moons (about 2 degrees) across the heroic northern constellation of Perseus. In telescopic exposures made during the nights of January 24, 26, and 28 it holds the famous pair of open or galactic star clusters h and Chi Persei with comet PanSTARRS (C/2017 T2) captured each night as it swept left to right across the field of view. Also cataloged as NGC 869 (right) and NGC 884, both star clusters are about 7,000 light-years away and contain stars much younger and hotter than the Sun. Separated by only a few hundred light-years, the clusters are both 13 million years young based on the ages of their individual stars, evidence that they were likely a product of the same star-forming region. Discovered in 2017 while still beyond the orbit of Saturn, Comet PanSTARRs is a new visitor to the inner solar system and just over 13 light-minutes from planet Earth. Always a rewarding sight in binoculars, the Double Cluster is even visible to the unaided eye from dark locations. C/2017 T2 could remain a telescopic comet though. One of the brightest comets anticipated in 2020 it makes its closest approach to the Sun in early May.

Photo by CARA Project

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Moon Corona, Halo, and Arcs over Manitoba

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/24/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Yes, but could you get to work on time if the Moon looked like this? As the photographer was preparing to drive to work, refraction, reflection, and even diffraction of moonlight from millions of falling ice crystals turned the familiar icon of our Moon into a menagerie of other-worldly halos and arcs. The featured scene was captured with three combined exposures two weeks ago on a cold winter morning in Manitoba, Canada. The colorful rings are a corona caused by quantum diffraction by small drops of water or ice near the direction of the Moon. Outside of that, a 22-degree halo was created by moonlight refracting through six-sided cylindrical ice crystals. To the sides are moon dogs, caused by light refracting through thin, flat, six-sided ice platelets as they flittered toward the ground. Visible at the top and bottom of the 22-degree halo are upper and lower tangent arcs, created by moonlight refracting through nearly horizontal hexagonal ice cylinders. A few minutes later, from a field just off the road to work, the halo and arcs had disappeared, the sky had returned to normal -- with the exception of a single faint moon dog.

Photo by Brent Mckean

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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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