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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Big, bright, beautiful spiral, Messier 106 dominates this cosmic vista. The nearly two degree wide telescopic field of view looks toward the well-trained constellation Canes Venatici, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 is about 80,000 light-years across and 23.5 million light-years away, the largest member of the Canes II galaxy group. For a far far away galaxy, the distance to M106 is well-known in part because it can be directly measured by tracking this galaxy's remarkable maser, or microwave laser emission. Very rare but naturally occurring, the maser emission is produced by water molecules in molecular clouds orbiting its active galactic nucleus. Another prominent spiral galaxy on the scene, viewed nearly edge-on, is NGC 4217 below and right of M106. The distance to NGC 4217 is much less well-known, estimated to be about 60 million light-years, but the bright spiky stars are in the foreground, well inside our own Milky Way galaxy. Even the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way was questioned 100 years ago in astronomy's Great Debate. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

Photo by Joonhwa Lee

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Comet PanSTARRs, C/2017 T2, shared this stunning telescopic field of view with galaxies M81 and M82 on May 22/23. Of course, the galaxies were some 12 million light-years distant and the comet about 14 light-minutes away, seen in planet Earth's sky toward the Big Dipper. A new visitor from the Oort Cloud, this Comet PanSTARRs was discovered in 2017 by the PanSTARRs survey telescope when the comet was over 1 light-hour from the Sun, almost as distant as the orbit of Saturn. With a beautiful coma and dust tail, this comet has been a solid northern hemisphere performer for telescope wielding comet watchers this May, following its closest approach to the Sun on May 4. In this deep image from dark California skies the outbound comet even seems to develop a short anti-tail as it leaves the inner Solar System.

Photo by Dan Bartlett

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Still bathed in sunlight the International Space Station (ISS) arced through this Manhattan evening sky on May 30. Moving left to right, its bright trail was captured in this composite image with a series of 5 second long exposures. Stars left short trails and lights were reflected in still waters looking toward the north across the Central Park reservoir. Chasing the ISS in low Earth orbit the Crew Dragon spacecraft dubbed Endeavour also left a trail through that urban night. Seen about 6 hours after its launch the spacecraft's faint trail appears above the ISS, shown in the inset just as the two approached the bank of clouds at the right. Dragon Endeavour docked successfully with the ISS about nineteen hours after reaching orbit.

Photo by Stan Honda

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

very time Venus passes the Earth, it shows the same face. This remarkable fact has been known for only about 50 years, ever since radio telescopes have been able to peer beneath Venus' thick clouds and track its slowly rotating surface. This inferior conjunction -- when Venus and Earth are the closest -- occurs today. The featured animation shows the positions of the Sun, Venus and Earth between 2010-2023 based on NASA-downloaded data, while a mock yellow 'arm' has been fixed to the ground on Venus to indicate rotation. The reason for this unusual 1.6-year resonance is the gravitational influence that Earth has on Venus, which surprisingly dominates the Sun's tidal effect. If Venus could be seen through the Sun's glare today, it would show just a very slight sliver of a crescent. Although previously visible in the evening sky, starting tomorrow, Venus will appear in the morning sky -- on the other side of the Sun as viewed from Earth. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

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