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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Over 4000 planets are now known to exist outside our Solar System. Known as exoplanets, this milestone was passed last month, as recorded by NASA's Exoplanet Archive. The featured video highlights these exoplanets in sound and light, starting chronologically from the first confirmed detection in 1992 and continuing into 2019. The entire night sky is first shown compressed with the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy making a giant U. Exoplanets detected by slight jiggles in their parents-star's colors (radial velocity) appear in pink, while those detected by slight dips in their parent star's brightness (transit) are shown in purple. Further, those exoplanets imaged directly appear in orange, while those detected by gravitationally magnifying the light of a background star (microlensing) are shown in green. The faster a planet orbits its parent star, the higher the accompanying tone played. The retired Kepler satellite has discovered about half of these first 4000 exoplanets in just one region of the sky, while the TESS mission is on track to find even more, all over the sky, orbiting the brightest nearby stars. Finding exoplanets not only helps humanity to better understand the potential prevalence of life elsewhere in the universe, but also how our Earth and Solar System were formed.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Mimas, small 400 kilometer-diameter moon of Saturn, is host to 130 kilometer-diameter Herschel crater, one of the larger impact craters in the entire Solar System. The robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn in 2010 recorded this startling view of small moon and big crater while making a 10,000-kilometer record close pass by the diminutive icy world. Shown in contrast-enhanced false color, the image data reveal more clearly that Herschel's landscape is colored slightly differently from heavily cratered terrain nearby. The color difference could yield surface composition clues to the violent history of Mimas. Of course, an impact on Mimas any larger than the one that created the 130-kilometer Herschel might have destroyed the small moon of Saturn.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

A star cluster around 2 million years young surrounded by natal clouds of dust and glowing gas, Messier 16 (M16) is also known as The Eagle Nebula. This beautifully detailed image of the region adopts the colorful Hubble palette and includes cosmic sculptures made famous in Hubble Space Telescope close-ups of the starforming complex. Described as elephant trunks or Pillars of Creation, dense, dusty columns rising near the center are light-years in length but are gravitationally contracting to form stars. Energetic radiation from the cluster stars erodes material near the tips, eventually exposing the embedded new stars. Extending from the ridge of bright emission left of center is another dusty starforming column known as the Fairy of Eagle Nebula. M16 lies about 7,000 light-years away, an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes in a nebula rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake). As framed, this telescopic portrait of the Eagle Nebula is about 70 light-years across.

Photo by Charles Bonafilia

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

On August 11, 2021 a multi-mirror, 17 meter-diameter MAGIC telescope reflected this starry night sky from the Roque de los Muchachos European Northern Observatory on the Canary Island of La Palma. MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov. The telescopes can see the brief flashes of optical light produced in particle air showers as high-energy gamma rays impact the Earth's upper atmosphere. To the dark-adapted eye the mirror segments offer a tantalizing reflection of stars and nebulae along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. But directly behind the segmented mirror telescope, low on the horizon, lies the constellation Perseus. And on that date the dramatic composite nightscape also captured meteors streaming from the radiant of the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year the Perseid shower activity will again peak around August 13 but perseid meteors will have to compete with the bright light of a Full Moon.

Photo by Urs Leutenegger

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Stars can create huge and intricate dust sculptures from the dense and dark molecular clouds from which they are born. The tools the stars use to carve their detailed works are high energy light and fast stellar winds. The heat they generate evaporates the dark molecular dust as well as causing ambient hydrogen gas to disperse and glow red. Pictured here, a new open cluster of stars designated IC 1590 is nearing completion around the intricate interstellar dust structures in the emission nebula NGC 281, dubbed the Pac-man Nebula because of its overall shape. The dust cloud on the upper left is classified as a Bok Globule as it may gravitationally collapse and form a star -- or stars. The Pacman Nebula lies about 10,000 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Photo by Douglas J. StrubleFuture World Media

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What it would look like to leave planet Earth? Such an event was recorded visually in great detail by the MESSENGER spacecraft as it swung back past the Earth in 2005 on its way in toward the planet Mercury. Earth can be seen rotating in this time-lapse video, as it recedes into the distance. The sunlit half of Earth is so bright that background stars are not visible. The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft is now in orbit around Mercury and has recently concluded the first complete map of the surface. On occasion, MESSENGER has continued to peer back at its home world. MESSENGER is one of the few things created on the Earth that will never return. At the end of its mission MESSENGER crashed into Mercury's surface.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Ridges of glowing interstellar gas and dark dust clouds inhabit the turbulent, cosmic depths of the Lagoon Nebula. Also known as M8, the bright star forming region is about 5,000 light-years distant. But it still makes for a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius, toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Dominated by the telltale red emission of ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with stripped electrons, this stunning, deep view of the Lagoon is nearly 100 light-years across. Right of center, the bright, compact, hourglass shape is gas ionized and sculpted by energetic radiation and extreme stellar winds from a massive young star. In fact, although digitally removed from the featured image, the many bright stars of open cluster NGC 6530 drift within the nebula, just formed in the Lagoon several million years ago.

Photo by Sameer Dhar

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What's that green streak in front of the Andromeda galaxy? A meteor. While photographing the Andromeda galaxy in 2016, near the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, a small pebble from deep space crossed right in front of our Milky Way Galaxy's far-distant companion. The small meteor took only a fraction of a second to pass through this 10-degree field. The meteor flared several times while braking violently upon entering Earth's atmosphere. The green color was created, at least in part, by the meteor's gas glowing as it vaporized. Although the exposure was timed to catch a Perseid meteor, the orientation of the imaged streak seems a better match to a meteor from the Southern Delta Aquariids, a meteor shower that peaked a few weeks earlier. Not coincidentally, the Perseid Meteor Shower peaks later this week, although this year the meteors will have to outshine a sky brightened by a nearly full moon.

Photo by Fritz Helmut Hemmerich

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Get out your red/blue glasses and float next to Phobos, grooved moon of Mars! Captured in 2004 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, the image data was recorded at a distance of about 200 kilometers from the martian moon. This tantalizing stereo anaglyph view shows the Mars-facing side of Phobos. It highlights the asteroid-like moon's cratered and grooved surface. Up to hundreds of meters wide, the mysterious grooves may be related to the impact that created Stickney crater, the large crater at the left. Stickney crater is about 10 kilometers across, while Phobos itself is only around 27 kilometers across at its widest point.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The beautiful Trifid Nebula is a cosmic study in contrasts. Also known as M20, it lies about 5,000 light-years away toward the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. A star forming region in the plane of our galaxy, the Trifid does illustrate three different types of astronomical nebulae; red emission nebulae dominated by light from hydrogen atoms, blue reflection nebulae produced by dust reflecting starlight, and dark nebulae where dense dust clouds appear in silhouette. But the red emission region, roughly separated into three parts by obscuring dust lanes, is what lends the Trifid its popular name. Pillars and jets sculpted by newborn stars, above and right of the emission nebula's center, appear in famous Hubble Space Telescope close-up images of the region. The Trifid Nebula is about 40 light-years across. Too faint to be seen by the unaided eye, it almost covers the area of a full moon in planet Earth's sky. Open star cluster M21 just peeks into this telescopic field of view along the bottom right edge of the frame.

Photo by Vikas Chander

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, "This is but a little Patch, but it shows itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent." Of course, M13 is now less modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Sharp telescopic views like this one reveal the spectacular cluster's hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter. Approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. The remarkable range of brightness recorded in this image follows stars into the dense cluster core. Distant background galaxies in the medium-wide field of view include NGC 6207 at the upper left.

Photo by Joan Josep Isach Cogollos

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What created the unusual halo around the Cat's Eye nebula? No one is sure. What is sure is that the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae on the sky. Although haunting symmetries are seen in the bright central region, this image was taken to feature its intricately structured outer halo, which spans over three light-years across. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a Sun-like star. Only recently however, have some planetaries been found to have expansive halos, likely formed from material shrugged off during earlier puzzling episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary portions of the Cat's Eye Nebula's halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years.

Photo by Bray Falls

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