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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Where can I see the Great Conjunction? Near where the Sun just set. Directionally, this close passing of Jupiter and Saturn will be toward the southwest. Since the planetary pair, the Sun, and the Earth are nearly in a geometric straight line, the planets will be seen to set just where the Sun had set -- from every location on Earth. When can I see the Great Conjunction? Just after sunset. Since the two planets are so near the Sun directionally, they always appear in the sky near the Sun, but can best be seen when the Earth blocks the Sun but not the planets: sunset. Soon thereafter, Jupiter and Saturn will also set, so don't be late! Is tomorrow night the only night that I can see the Great Conjunction? Tomorrow night the jovian giants will appear the closest, but on any night over the next few days they will appear unusually close. Technically, the closest pass happens on 21 December at 18:20 UTC. Will there be an erupting volcano on the horizon near the Great Conjunction? Yes, for example if you live in Guatemala where the featured image was taken. Otherwise, generally, no. In the featured image captured last week, Jupiter and Saturn are visible toward the right, just above a tree, and bathed in the diffuse glow of zodiacal light. Growing Gallery: Notable images of the Great Conjunction submitted to APOD

Photo by Francisco Sojuel

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

How close will Jupiter and Saturn be at their Great Conjunction? Consider this beautiful triple conjunction of Moon, Jupiter and Saturn captured through clouds in the wintry twilight. The telephoto view looks toward the western horizon and the Alborz Mountains in Iran after sunset on December 17. The celestial gathering makes it easy to see Jupiter and fainter Saturn are separated on that date by roughly the diameter of the waxing crescent Moon. On the day of their Great Conjunction, solstice day December 21, Jupiter and Saturn may seem to nearly merge though. In their closest conjunction in 400 years they will be separated on the sky by only about 1/5 the apparent diameter of the Moon. By then the two largest worlds in the Solar System and their moons will be sharing the same field of view in telescopes around planet Earth.

Photo by Alireza Vafa

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

When the shadow of the Moon raced across planet Earth's southern hemisphere on December 14, sky watchers along the shadow's dark central path were treated to the only total solar eclipse of 2020. During the New Moon's shadow play this glistening diamond ring was seen for a moment, even in cloudy skies. Known as the diamond ring effect, the transient spectacle actually happens twice. Just before and immediately after totality, a thin sliver of solar disk visible behind the Moon's edge creates the appearance of a shiny jewel set in a dark ring. This dramatic snapshot from the path of totality in northern Patagonia, Argentina captures this eclipse's second diamond ring, along with striking solar prominences lofted beyond the edge of the Moon's silhouette.

Photo by Mariano Ribas

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Taken over the course of an hour shortly after local midnight on December 13, 35 exposures were used to create this postcard from Earth. The composited night scene spans dark skies above the snowy Italian Dolomites during our fair planet's annual Geminid meteor shower. Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major and the brightest star in the night, is grazed by a meteor streak on the right. The Praesepe star cluster, also known as M44 or the Beehive cluster, itself contains about a thousand stars but appears as a smudge of light far above the southern alpine peaks near the top. The shower's radiant is off the top of the frame though, near Castor and Pollux the twin stars of Gemini. The radiant effect is due to perspective as the parallel meteor tracks appear to converge in the distance. As Earth sweeps through the dust trail of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the dust that creates Gemini's meteors enters Earth's atmosphere traveling at about 22 kilometers per second. Submitted to APOD: Notable images of the 2020 Geminids Meteor Shower

Photo by Stefano Pellegrini

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What's the matter with the Bullet Cluster? This massive cluster of galaxies (1E 0657-558) creates gravitational lens distortions of background galaxies in a way that has been interpreted as strong evidence for the leading theory: that dark matter exists within. Different analyses, though, indicate that a less popular alternative -- modifying gravity-- could explain cluster dynamics without dark matter, and provide a more likely progenitor scenario as well. Currently, the two scientific hypotheses are competing to explain the observations: it's invisible matter versus amended gravity. The duel is dramatic as a clear Bullet-proof example of dark matter would shatter the simplicity of modified gravity theories. The featured sonified image is a Hubble/Chandra/Magellan composite with red depicting the X-rays emitted by hot gas, and blue depicting the suggested separated dark matter distribution. The sonification assigns low tones to dark matter, mid-range frequencies to visible light, and high tones to X-rays. The battle over the matter in the Bullet cluster is likely to continue as more observations, computer simulations, and analyses are completed. Submitted to APOD: Notable images of the 2020 Geminids Meteor Shower

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

It's happening. Saturn and Jupiter are moving closer and will soon appear in almost exactly the same direction. Coincidentally, on the night of the December solstice -- the longest night of the year in the north and the longest day in the south -- the long-awaited Great Conjunction will occur. Then, about six days from now, Saturn and Jupiter will be right next to each other -- as they are every 20 years. But this juxtaposition is not just any Great Conjunction -- it will be the closest since 1623 because the two planetary giants will pass only 1/10th of a degree from each other -- well less than the apparent diameter of a full moon. In the next few days a crescent moon will also pass a few degrees away from the converging planets and give a preliminary opportunity for iconic photos. The featured illustration shows the approach of Saturn and Jupiter during November and December over the French Alps. Growing Gallery: Notable images of the Great Conjunction submitted to APOD

Photo by Sebastian Voltmer

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The streak across the sky is a capsule returning from an asteroid. It returned earlier this month from the near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu carrying small rocks and dust from its surface. The canister was released by its mothership, Japan's Hayabusa2, a mission that visited Ryugu in 2018, harvested a surface sample in 2019, and zoomed back past Earth. The jettisoned return capsule deployed a parachute and landed in rural Australia. A similar mission, NASA's OSIRIS- REx, recently captured rocks and dust from a similar asteroid, Bennu, and is scheduled to return its surface sample to Earth in 2023. Analyses of compounds from these asteroids holds promise to give humanity new insights about the early Solar System and new clues about how water and organic matter came to be on Earth. Experts Debate: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Where do Geminid meteors come from? In terms of location on the sky, as the featured image composite beautifully demonstrates, the sand-sized bits of rock that create the streaks of the Geminids meteor shower appear to flow out from the constellation of Gemini. In terms of parent body, Solar System trajectories point to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon -- but this results in a bit of a mystery since that unusual object appears mostly dormant. Perhaps, 3200 Phaethon undergoes greater dust-liberating events than we know. Over 50 meteors including a bright fireball were captured during the peak of the 2015 Geminids Meteor Shower streaking above Xinglong Observatory in China. The Geminids of December are one of the most predictable and active meteor showers. This year's Geminids peak tonight and should be particularly good because, in part, the nearly new Moon will only rise toward dawn and so not brighten the sky.

Photo by Steed YuNightChina.net

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

During this northern summer Saturn and Jupiter were both near opposition, opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky. Their paired retrograde motion, seen about every 20 years, is followed from 19 June through 28 August in this panoramic composite as they wander together between the stars in western Capricornus and eastern Sagittarius. But this December's skies find them drawing even closer together. Jupiter and Saturn are now close, bright celestial beacons in the west after sunset. On solstice day December 21 they will reach their magnificent 20 year Great Conjunction. Then the two largest worlds in the Solar System will appear in Earth's sky separated by only about 1/5 the apparent diameter of a Full Moon.

Photo by Tunc Tezel

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Many bright nebulae and star clusters in planet Earth's sky are associated with the name of astronomer Charles Messier from his famous 18th century catalog. His name is also given to these two large and remarkable craters on the Moon. Standouts in the dark, smooth lunar Sea of Fertility or Mare Fecunditatis, Messier (left) and Messier A have dimensions of 15 by 8 and 16 by 11 kilometers respectively. Their elongated shapes are explained by the extremely shallow-angle trajectory followed by an impactor, moving left to right, that gouged out the craters. The shallow impact also resulted in two bright rays of material extending along the surface to the right, beyond the picture. Intended to be viewed with red/blue glasses (red for the left eye), this striking stereo picture of the crater pair was recently created from high resolution scans of two images (AS11-42-6304, AS11-42-6305) taken during the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.

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