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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Blowing in the solar wind the spectacular ion tail of Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8) extends far across this 10 degree wide telephoto field of view. Captured on May 2 its greenish coma was about 6 light-minutes from Earth. The pretty background starfield lies near the border of the constellations Cetus and Aquarius. This comet SWAN was discovered at home by Australian amateur Michael Mattiazzo by checking images from the Sun-staring SOHO spacecraft's SWAN (Solar Wind ANisotropies) camera. The comet has now become just visible to the naked-eye as it sweeps from southern to northern skies. Appearing in morning twilight near the eastern horizon, Comet SWAN will make its closest approach to planet Earth on May 12 and reach perihelion on May 27.

Photo by D. Peach

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

An analemma is that figure-8 curve you get when you mark the position of the Sun at the same time each day for one year. But the trick to imaging an analemma of the Moon is to wait bit longer. On average the Moon returns to the same position in the sky about 50 minutes and 29 seconds later each day. So photograph the Moon 50 minutes 29 seconds later on successive days. Over one lunation or lunar month it will trace out an analemma-like curve as the Moon's actual position wanders due to its tilted and elliptical orbit. To create this composite image of a lunar analemma, astronomer Gyorgy Soponyai chose a lunar month from March 26 to April 18 with a good stretch of weather and a site close to home near Mogyorod, Hungary. Crescent lunar phases too thin and faint to capture around the New Moon are missing though. Facing southwest, the lights of Budapest are in the distance of the base image taken on March 27.

Photo by Gyorgy Soponyai

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What is the cause of this unusual parabolic structure? This illuminated cavity, known as LDN 1471, was created by a newly forming star, seen as the bright source at the peak of the parabola. This protostar is experiencing a stellar outflow which is then interacting with the surrounding material in the Perseus Molecular Cloud, causing it to brighten. We see only one side of the cavity -- the other side is hidden by dark dust. The parabolic shape is caused by the widening of the stellar-wind blown cavity over time. Two additional structures can also be seen either side of the protostar, these are known as Herbig-Haro objects, again caused by the interaction of the outflow with the surrounding material. What causes the striations on the cavity walls, though, remains unknown. The featured image was taken by NASA and ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope after an original detection by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

You need to be in the south, looking south, to see such a sky. And only then if you're lucky. Just above the picturesque tree is the impressive Carina Nebula, one of the few nebulas in the sky that is visible to the unaided eye. The featured image had to be taken from a very dark location to capture the Carina Nebula with such perspective and so near the horizon. The Great Nebula in Carina, cataloged as NGC 3372, is home to the wildly variable star Eta Carinae that sometimes flares to become one of the brightest stars in the sky. Above Carina is IC 2944, the Running Chicken Nebula, a nebula that not only looks like a chicken, but contains impressive dark knots of dust. Above these red-glowing emission nebulas are the bright stars of the Southern Cross, while on the upper left of the image is the dark Coalsack Nebula. This image was composed from six consecutive exposures taken last summer from Padre Bernardo, Goiás, Brazil. Even with careful planning, the astrophotographer felt lucky to get this shot because clouds -- some still visible near the horizon -- kept getting in the way. Almost Hyperspace: Random APOD Generator

Photo by Carlos Kiko Fairbairn

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What it would look like to approach planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by ESA's and JAXA's robotic BepiColombo spacecraft last month as it swung back past Earth on its journey in to the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating on approach as it comes out from behind the spacecraft's high-gain antenna in this nearly 10-hour time-lapse video. The Earth is so bright that no background stars are visible. Launched in 2018, the robotic BepiColombo used the gravity of Earth to adjust its course, the first of nine planetary flybys over the next seven years -- but the only one involving Earth. Scheduled to enter orbit in 2025, BepiColombo will take images and data of the surface and magnetic field of Mercury in an effort to better understand the early evolution of our Solar System and its innermost planet. New: APOD now available through Instagram in Portuguese

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What are these Earthlings trying to tell us? The featured message was broadcast from Earth towards the globular star cluster M13 in 1974. During the dedication of the Arecibo Observatory - still one of the largest single radio telescopes in the world - a string of 1's and 0's representing the diagram was sent. This attempt at extraterrestrial communication was mostly ceremonial - humanity regularly broadcasts radio and television signals out into space accidentally. Even were this message received, M13 is so far away we would have to wait almost 50,000 years to hear an answer. The featured message gives a few simple facts about humanity and its knowledge: from left to right are numbers from one to ten, atoms including hydrogen and carbon, some interesting molecules, DNA, a human with description, basics of our Solar System, and basics of the sending telescope. Several searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are currently underway, including one where you can use your own home computer. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover ET life?

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Since the early days of radio and television we have been freely broadcasting signals into space. For some time now, we have been listening too. A large radio telescope at Ohio State University known as affectionately The Big Ear was one of the first listeners. The Big Ear was about the size of three football fields and consisted of an immense metal ground plane with two fence-like reflectors, one fixed and one tiltable. It relied on the Earth's rotation to help scan the sky. This photo, taken by former Big Ear student volunteer Rick Scott, looks out across the ground plane toward the fixed reflector with the radio frequency receiver horns in the foreground. Starting in 1965, the Big Ear was used in an ambitious survey of the radio sky. In the 1970s, it became the first telescope to continuously listen for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. For an exciting moment during August 1977 a very strong, unexpected signal, dubbed the Wow! Signal, was detected by the Big Ear. But alas, heard only once, the source of the signal could not be determined. In May 1998 the final pieces of the Big Ear were torn down. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

Photo by Rick Scott

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:

The most distant object easily visible to the unaided eye is M31, the great Andromeda Galaxy some two and a half million light-years away. But without a telescope, even this immense spiral galaxy - spanning over 200,000 light years - appears as a faint, nebulous cloud in the constellation Andromeda. In contrast, a bright yellow nucleus, dark winding dust lanes, expansive blue spiral arms and star clusters are recorded in this stunning telescopic image. While even casual skygazers are now inspired by the knowledge that there are many distant galaxies like M31, astronomers debated this fundamental concept 100 years ago. Were these "spiral nebulae" simply outlying components of our own Milky Way Galaxy or were they instead "island universes", distant systems of stars comparable to the Milky Way itself? This question was central to the famous Shapley-Curtis debate of 1920, which was later resolved by observations of M31 in favor of Andromeda, island universe. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

Photo by Yuzhe Xiao

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Newly discovered Comet SWAN has already developed an impressive tail. The comet came in from the outer Solar System and has just passed inside the orbit of the Earth. Officially designated C/2020 F8 (SWAN), this outgassing interplanetary iceberg will pass its closest to the Earth on May 13, and closest to the Sun on May 27. The comet was first noticed in late March by an astronomy enthusiast looking through images taken by NASA's Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft, and is named for this spacecraft's Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera. The featured image, taken from the dark skies in Namibia in mid-April, captured Comet SWAN's green-glowing coma and unexpectedly long, detailed, and blue ion-tail. Although the brightness of comets are notoriously hard to predict, some models have Comet SWAN becoming bright enough to see with the unaided eye during June. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

Photo by Gerald Rhemann

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