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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The beautiful Trifid Nebula, also known as Messier 20, is easy to find with a small telescope in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. About 5,000 light-years away, the colorful study in cosmic contrasts shares this well-composed, nearly 1 degree wide field with open star cluster Messier 21 (right). Trisected by dust lanes the Trifid itself is about 40 light-years across and a mere 300,000 years old. That makes it one of the youngest star forming regions in our sky, with newborn and embryonic stars embedded in its natal dust and gas clouds. Estimates of the distance to open star cluster M21 are similar to M20's, but though they share this gorgeous telescopic skyscape there is no apparent connection between the two. In fact, M21's stars are much older, about 8 million years old.

Photo by Emanuele Petrilli

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Ancient sun daggers will not hurt you, but they may tell you the time.  A sun dagger is a dagger-shaped gap in a shadow created by sunlight streaming through a crevice in a nearby rock. Starting over a thousand year ago, native people of the American southwest carved spiral petroglyphs into rocks that became illuminated by sun daggers in different ways as the Sun shifts in the sky. A type of sundial, where the end of the sundagger points in the spiral at high noon (for example) indicates a time of year, possibly illuminating a solstice or equinox.  Sun daggers are thought to have been used by Sun Priests during lone vigils with prayers and offerings.  Of the few known, the featured video discusses the historic Picture Rocks Sun Dagger near Tucson, Arizona, USA, likely created by a Hohokam Sun Priest around 1000 AD. 

Video by Brad Schaefer Music & License: AwakeningWojciech UsarewiczLone Tree Music

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar have a hook-like appearance in wide-field images. But this mosaicked close-up, constructed from Hubble Space Telescope and European Southern Observatory data, follows the galaxy's structure in amazing detail. Obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surround a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. The sharp image data also reveal more distant background galaxies seen right through NGC 2442's star clusters and nebulae. The image spans about 75,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442.

Photo by Robert Gendler

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Did the Earth part to show us this comet? Of course not, even if this image makes it seem that way. Pictured far in the background is Comet NEOWISE as it appeared about two weeks ago over northern Greece. Above the comet are many stars including the bright stars of the Big Dipper (also the Sorcerer, in Aztec mythology), an asterism that many people around the world used to find the naked-eye comet as it hovered in the northern sky over the past month. In the foreground is Vikos Gorge, the deepest gorge on Earth, relative to its width. The gorge was slowly created by erosion from the Voidomatis River over the past few million years. Capturing this image took a lot of planning, waiting, luck, braving high winds, and avoiding local wolves. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) continues to fade and is now best visible through binoculars as it coasts back to the outer Solar System. Notable Comet NEOWISE Images: July 31 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24

Photo by Constantine Emmanouilidi

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

How different does sunset appear from Mars than from Earth? For comparison, two images of our common star were taken at sunset, one from Earth and one from Mars. These images were scaled to have same angular width and featured here side-by-side. A quick inspection will reveal that the Sun appears slightly smaller from Mars than from Earth. This makes sense since Mars is 50% further from the Sun than Earth. More striking, perhaps, is that the Martian sunset is noticeably bluer near the Sun than the typically orange colors near the setting Sun from Earth. The reason for the blue hues from Mars is not fully understood, but thought to be related to forward scattering properties of Martian dust. The terrestrial sunset was taken in 2012 March from Marseille, France, while the Martian sunset was captured in 2015 by NASA's robotic Curiosity rover from Gale crater on Mars. Last week a new rover and a helicopter -- onboard Mars 2020 -- launched for Mars.

Photo by Damia Bouic Right Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS; Digital processing: Damia Bouic

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Like an illustration in a galactic Just So Story, the Elephant's Trunk Nebula winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant's trunk is over 20 light-years long. This detailed close-up view was recorded through narrow band filters that transmit the light from ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the region. The resulting composite highlights the bright swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field of view though, about the size of 2 Full Moons. Mars 2020 Launch: photos from planet Earth

Photo by Chad Leader

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

On Thursday this snapshot from a small plane 5,000 feet above Florida's Space Coast caught a rocket's trail rising into the blue morning sky. It was July's third launch of a mission from planet Earth bound for Mars. The Atlas V rocket left Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from Space Launch Complex 41 at 7:50am EDT carrying NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. The car-sized Perseverance is headed for a landing at Jezero Crater on the Red Planet in February 2021. On board the sophisticated rover is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Mars 2020 Launch: photos from planet Earth

Photo by John Kraus

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Mars looks pretty sharp in this backyard telescope image captured on July 23 from Hoegaarden, Belgium, planet Earth. The Red Planet's bright south polar cap is bathed in sunlight at the top of the inverted view, while the dark feature known as Syrtis Major extends toward the right (eastern) edge. Rising around midnight for now, the Red Planet is months away from its own opposition in early October. Telescopic views will improve even more as Earth, in its faster orbit, catches up to Mars, the ruddy disk growing larger and brighter still. The martian Jezero Crater is within the Syrtis Major region. That's the landing site for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Perseverance, scheduled for launch today. Comet NEOWISE images from planet Earth: July 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24

Photo by Luc Debeck

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

As Comet NEOWISE sweeps through northern summer skies, Jupiter and Saturn are shining brightly, near opposition. With Jupiter opposite the Sun on July 14 and Saturn on July 21, the giant planets are still near their closest to planet Earth in 2020. Sharing the constellation Sagittarius they are up all night, and offer their best and brightest views at the telescope. Both captured on July 22 from a balcony in Paris these two sharp telescopic images don't disappoint, showing off what the giant planets are famous for, Saturn's bright rings and Jupiter's Great Red Spot. These giants of the Solar System are worth following during 2020. On December 21, skygazers can watch the once-in-20-year great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Comet NEOWISE images from planet Earth: July 28, 27, 26, 25, 24

Photo by Jean-Luc Dauvergne

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Dark shapes with bright edges winging their way through dusty NGC 6188 are tens of light-years long. The emission nebula is found near the edge of an otherwise dark and large molecular cloud in the southern constellation Ara, about 4,000 light-years away. Born in that region only a few million years ago, the massive young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association sculpt the fantastic shapes and power the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. The featured image accumulated over 10 hours through a backyard telescope in Córdoba, Argentina and was false-colored using the Hubble palette highlighting emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in red, green, and blue hues. The field of view spans about four full Moons, corresponding to about 150 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188.

Photo by Ariel L. Cappelletti

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Normally, Steamboat Point looks cool -- but not this cool. Every day, the iconic peak of the Bighorn Mountains is an interesting sight, in particular from US Highway 14 in Wyoming. On some rare days, the rocky vertical ridges look even more incredible when seen in front of a distant lightning storm. Earlier this month, though, something even more unusual happened -- the naked-eye Comet NEOWISE rose above it in the middle of the night. Just as a distant lightning storm was occurring in the background. Recognizing a rare opportunity, a determined astrophotographer spent a sleepless night capturing over 1400 images of this unusual triple conjunction. The featured image is among the best of them, with the foreground lit by the Moon off to the right. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is now headed back to the outer Solar System, destined to return only in about 6700 years. Comet NEOWISE Images: July 26 || 25 || 24 || 23 || 22 || 21 || 20 || 19 || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier ||

Photo by Kevin Palmer

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What would it look like to fly through the distant universe? To find out, a team of astronomers estimated the relative distances to over 5,000 galaxies in one of the most distant fields of galaxies ever imaged: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). Because it takes light a long time to cross the universe, most galaxies visible in the featured video are seen when the universe was only a fraction of its current age, were still forming, and have unusual shapes when compared to modern galaxies. No mature looking spiral galaxies such as our Milky Way or the Andromeda galaxy yet exist. Toward the end of the video the virtual observer flies past the farthest galaxies in the HUDF field, recorded to have a redshift past 8. This early class of low luminosity galaxies likely contained energetic stars emitting light that transformed much of the remaining normal matter in the universe from a cold gas to a hot ionized plasma. Astrophysicists: Browse 2,200+ codes in the Astrophysics Source Code Library

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

On July 23, this Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket rose into a blue morning sky from China's Hainan Island Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. The rocket carried an orbiter, lander, and rover to ask Heavenly Questions on the ambitious Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. In fact Tianwen-1 was the second of three missions scheduled for a July departure to the Red Planet. The United Arab Emirates launched its Amal (Hope) Mars probe on July 19. NASA's launch of its Mars Perseverance Rover from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, USA is scheduled for July 30. That is the last planned Mars launch for 2020 though. The minimum-energy launch window for an expedition to Mars is coming to a close in 2020 and will reopen in 2022. Comet NEOWISE images from planet Earth: July 24, 23, 22

Photo by Jeff Dai

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

The multi-mirror, 17 meter-diameter MAGIC telescopes reflect 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 and 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. On July 20, two of the three telescopes in view were looking for gamma rays from the center of our Milky Way galaxy. In reflection they show the bright stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius near the galactic center to the southeast. Beyond the segmented-mirror arrays, above the northwest horizon and below the Big Dipper is Comet NEOWISE. NEOWISE stands for Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. That's the Earth-orbiting satellite used to discover the comet designated C/2020 F3, but you knew that. Comet NEOWISE Images: July 23 || 22 || 21 || 20 || 19 || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier

Photo by Urs Leutenegger

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Comet dust falls through a twilight sky in this dream-like scene, but it's not part of a fairytale movie. Still, Castle Neuschwanstein, nestled in the Bavarian Alps, did inspire Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Captured on July 20, the bright streak above the castle towers is likely a Perseid meteor. Though it peaks near mid-August, the annual summer meteor shower is active now. The meteor trail over the fairytale castle can be traced back to the shower's radiant in the heroic constellation Perseus off the top right of the frame. Perseid meteors are produced by dust from periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle. With its own broad dust tail now sweeping through northern skies the celestial apparition above the distant horizon is planet Earth's current darling, Comet NEOWISE. Comet NEOWISE Images: July 22 || 21 || 20 || 19 || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier ||

Photo by Stephane Guisard

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What is creating the structure in Comet NEOWISE's tails? Of the two tails evident, the blue ion tail on the left points directly away from the Sun and is pushed out by the flowing and charged solar wind. Structure in the ion tail comes from different rates of expelled blue-glowing ions from the comet's nucleus, as well as the always complex and continually changing structure of our Sun's wind. Most unusual for Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), though, is the wavy structure of its dust tail. This dust tail is pushed out by sunlight, but curves as heavier dust particles are better able to resist this light pressure and continue along a solar orbit. Comet NEOWISE's impressive dust-tail striations are not fully understood, as yet, but likely related to rotating streams of sun-reflecting grit liberated by ice melting on its 5-kilometer wide nucleus. The featured 40-image conglomerate, digitally enhanced, was captured three days ago through the dark skies of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia, China. Comet NEOWISE will make it closest pass to the Earth tomorrow as it moves out from the Sun. The comet, already fading but still visible to the unaided eye, should fade more rapidly as it recedes from the Earth. Notable NEOWISE Images Submitted to APOD: July 21 || 20 || 19 || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier ||

Photo by Zixuan LinBeijing Normal U.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Can stars, like caterpillars, transform themselves into butterflies? No, but in the case of the Butterfly Nebula -- it sure looks like it. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years and its estimated surface temperature exceeds 200,000 degrees, C, the dying central star of NGC 6302, the featured planetary nebula, has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in visible and ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is reprocessed here to show off the remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by iron, shown in red. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years. Great Debates in Astronomy: 2020: How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Would you brave wild animals to photograph this sky? One astrophotographer did -- and we all get to reap the rewards. First, thousands of stars were visible with many of the brightest impressively blue. Next, several red-glowing nebulae were discernible, including the California Nebula on the far right, and, above it, the Heart and Soul nebulae. But the real reason to brave the local wildlife was Comet NEOWISE, visible on the left. In the featured long-duration composite taken last week, Comet NEOWISE's blue-glowing ion tail points straight up, away from the rising Sun, while the Sun-reflecting dust tail trails off toward the right. The picture combines three exposures taken consecutively over 10 minutes from the same location near Miedzygórze, Poland. A moonlit dirt road shows the path ahead, while the Śnieznik Mountains is visible on the horizon. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) passes its closest to the Earth next week, after which the 5-km wide, evaporating, icy dirtball will fade as it glides back to the outer Solar System. Notable Images of Comet NEOWISE Submitted to APOD: July || 19 || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier ||

Photo by Jarek Oszywa

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That's because the Earth's moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has been composed. The featured time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands. Currently, over 19 new missions to the Moon are under active development from eight different countries, most of which have expected launch dates in the next three years. Notable Images of Comet NEOWISE Submitted to APOD: July || 18 || 17 || 16 || 15 || 14 || 13 || 12 || 11 || 10 & earlier ||

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

If you can see the stars of the Big Dipper, you can find comet NEOWISE in your evening sky tonight. After sunset look for the naked-eye comet below the bowl of the famous celestial kitchen utensil of the north and above your northwestern horizon. You're looking for a fuzzy 'star' with a tail, though probably not so long a tail as in this clear sky snapshot taken from Los Padres National Forest in California on the evening of July 16. Recent photographs of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) often show this comet's broad dust tail and fainter but separate ion tail extending farther than the eye can follow. Skygazers around the world have been delighted to find NEOWISE, surprise visitor from the outer Solar System. Comet NEOWISE Images: July 17 | July 16 | July 15 | July 14 | July 13 | July 12 | July 11 | July 10 & earlier

Photo by Tom Masterson

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