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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

In this evocative night scene a dusty central Milky Way rises over the ancient Andean archaeological site of Yacoraite in northwestern Argentina. The denizens of planet Earth reaching skyward are the large Argentine saguaro cactus currently native to the arid region. The unusual yellow-hued reflection nebula above is created by dust scattering starlight around red giant star Antares. Alpha star of the constellation Scorpius, Antares is over 500 light-years distant. Next to it bright blue Rho Ophiuchi is embedded in more typical dusty bluish reflection nebulae though. The deep night skyscape was created from a series of background exposures of the rising stars made while tracking the sky, and a foreground exposure of the landscape made with the camera and lens fixed on the tripod. In combination they produce the single stunning image and reveal a range of brightness and color that your eye can't quite perceive on its own.

Photo by Franco Meconi

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Sixty years ago, near the dawn of the space age, NASA controllers "lit the candle" and sent Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard arcing into space atop a Redstone rocket. His cramped space capsule was dubbed Freedom 7. Broadcast live to a global television audience, the historic Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Florida at 9:34 a.m. Eastern Time on May 5, 1961. The flight of Freedom 7, the first space flight by an American, followed less than a month after the first human venture into space by Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The 15 minute sub-orbital flight achieved an altitude of 116 miles and a maximum speed of 5,134 miles per hour. As Shepard looked back near the peak of Freedom 7's trajectory, he could see the outlines of the west coast of Florida, Lake Okeechobe in central Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bahamas. Shepard would later view planet Earth from a more distant perspective and walk on the Moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

NGC 3199 lies about 12,000 light-years away, a glowing cosmic cloud in the nautical southern constellation of Carina. The nebula is about 75 light-years across in this narrowband, false-color view. Though the deep image reveals a more or less complete bubble shape, it does look very lopsided with a much brighter edge along the top. Near the center is a Wolf-Rayet star, a massive, hot, short-lived star that generates an intense stellar wind. In fact, Wolf-Rayet stars are known to create nebulae with interesting shapes as their powerful winds sweep up surrounding interstellar material. In this case, the bright edge was thought to indicate a bow shock produced as the star plowed through a uniform medium, like a boat through water. But measurements have shown the star is not really moving directly toward the bright edge. So a more likely explanation is that the material surrounding the star is not uniform, but clumped and denser near the bright edge of windblown NGC 3199.

Photo by Mike Selby

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What creates STEVEs? Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancements (STEVEs) have likely been seen since antiquity, but only in the past five years has it been realized that their colors and shapes make them different from auroras. Seen as single bright streaks of pink and purple, the origin of STEVEs remain an active topic of research. STEVEs may be related to subauroral ion drifts (SAIDs), a supersonic river of hot atmospheric ions. For reasons currently unknown, STEVEs are frequently accompanied by green "picket-fence" auroras. The featured STEVE image is a combination of foreground and background exposures taken consecutively in mid-March from Copper Harbor, Michigan, USA. This bright STEVE lasted several minutes, spanned from horizon to horizon, and appeared in between times of normal auroras.

Photo by MaryBeth Kiczenski

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

That's no sunspot. It's the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no Dragon capsules attached. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most complicated spacecraft ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots circle the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one's location, timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. The featured picture combined three images all taken from the same location and at nearly the same time. One image -- overexposed -- captured the faint prominences seen across the top of the Sun, a second image -- underexposed -- captured the complex texture of the Sun's chromosphere, while the third image -- the hardest to get -- captured the space station as it shot across the Sun in a fraction of a second. Close inspection of the space station's silhouette even reveals a docked Dragon Crew capsule.

Photo by Mehmet Ergün

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

After the most famous voyage of modern times, it was time to go home. After proving that humanity has the ability to go beyond the confines of planet Earth, the first humans to walk on another world -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin -- flew the ascent stage of their Lunar Module back to meet Michael Collins in the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. Pictured here on 1969 July 21 and recently digitally restored, the ascending spaceship was captured by Collins making its approach, with the Moon below, and Earth far in the distance. The smooth, dark area on the lunar surface is Mare Smythii located just below the equator on the extreme eastern edge of the Moon's near side. It is said of this iconic image that every person but one was in front of the camera. - NASA Remembers Michael Collins -

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What forms lurk in the mists of the Carina Nebula? The dark ominous figures are actually molecular clouds, knots of molecular gas and dust so thick they have become opaque. In comparison, however, these clouds are typically much less dense than Earth's atmosphere. Featured here is a detailed image of the core of the Carina Nebula, a part where both dark and colorful clouds of gas and dust are particularly prominent. The image was captured in mid-2016 from Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. Although the nebula is predominantly composed of hydrogen gas -- here colored green, the image was assigned colors so that light emitted by trace amounts of sulfur and oxygen appear red and blue, respectively. The entire Carina Nebula, cataloged as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically.

Photo by John Ebersole

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Flying at an altitude of 5 meters (just over 16 feet), on April 25 the Ingenuity helicopter snapped this sharp image. On its second flight above the surface of Mars, its color camera was looking back toward Ingenuity's current base at Wright Brothers Field and Octavia E. Butler Landing marked by the tracks of the Perseverance rover at the top of the frame. Perseverance itself looks on from the upper left corner about 85 meters away. Tips of Ingenuity's landing legs just peek over the left and right edges of the camera's field of view. Its record setting fourth flight completed on April 30, Ingenuity collected images of a potential new landing zone before returning to Wright Brothers Field. Ingenuity's fifth flight would be one-way though as the Mars aircraft moves on to the new airfield, anticipating a new phase of operational demonstration flights.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

On April 25 a nearly full moon rose just before sunset. Welcomed in a clear blue sky and framed by cherry blossoms, its familiar face was captured in this snapshot from Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. Known to some as a Pink Moon, April's full lunar phase occurred with the moon near perigee. That's the closest point in its not-quite-circular orbit around planet Earth, making this Pink Moon one of the closest and brightest full moons of the year. If you missed it, don't worry. Your next chance to see a full perigee moon will be on May 26. Known to some as a Flower Moon, May's full moon will actually be closer to you than April's by about 98 miles (158 kilometers), or about 0.04% the distance from the Earth to the Moon at perigee.

Photo by Alice Ross

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Our fair planet sports a curved, sunlit crescent against the black backdrop of space in this stunning photograph. From the unfamiliar perspective, the Earth is small and, like a telescopic image of a distant planet, the entire horizon is completely within the field of view. Enjoyed by crews on board the International Space Station, only much closer views of the planet are possible from low Earth orbit. Orbiting the planet once every 90 minutes, a spectacle of clouds, oceans, and continents scrolls beneath them with the partial arc of the planet's edge in the distance. But this digitally restored image presents a view so far only achieved by 24 humans, Apollo astronauts who traveled to the Moon and back again between 1968 and 1972. The original photograph, AS17-152-23420, was taken by the homeward bound crew of Apollo 17, on December 17, 1972. For now it's the last picture of Earth from this planetary perspective taken by human hands. - NASA Remembers Michael Collins -

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Why is Polaris called the North Star? First, Polaris is the nearest bright star toward the north spin axis of the Earth. Therefore, as the Earth turns, stars appear to revolve around Polaris, but Polaris itself always stays in the same northerly direction -- making it the North Star. Since no bright star is near the south spin axis of the Earth, there is currently no South Star. Thousands of years ago, Earth's spin axis pointed in a slightly different direction so that Vega was the North Star. Although Polaris is not the brightest star on the sky, it is easily located because it is nearly aligned with two stars in the cup of the Big Dipper. Polaris is near the center of the eight-degree wide featured image, an image that has been digitally manipulated to suppress surrounding dim stars but accentuate the faint gas and dust of the Integrated Flux Nebula (IFN). The surface of Cepheid Polaris slowly pulsates, causing the star to change its brightness by a few percent over the course of a few days. Portal Universe: Random APOD Generator

Photo by Bray Falls

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What happens if a star gets too close to a black hole? The black hole can rip it apart -- but how? It's not the high gravitational attraction itself that's the problem -- it's the difference in gravitational pull across the star that creates the destruction. In the featured animated video illustrating this disintegration, you first see a star approaching the black hole. Increasing in orbital speed, the star's outer atmosphere is ripped away during closest approach. Much of the star's atmosphere disperses into deep space, but some continues to orbit the black hole and forms an accretion disk. The animation then takes you into the accretion disk while looking toward the black hole. Including the strange visual effects of gravitational lensing, you can even see the far side of the disk. Finally, you look along one of the jets being expelled along the spin axis. Theoretical models indicate that these jets not only expel energetic gas, but create energetic neutrinos -- one of which may have been seen recently on Earth.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

These three bright nebulae are often featured on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius and the crowded starfields of the central Milky Way. In fact, 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged two of them; M8, the large nebula below and right of center, and colorful M20 near the top of the frame. The third emission region includes NGC 6559, left of M8 and separated from the larger nebula by a dark dust lane. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. Over a hundred light-years across the expansive M8 is also known as the Lagoon Nebula. M20's popular moniker is the Trifid. Glowing hydrogen gas creates the dominant red color of the emission nebulae. But for striking contrast, blue hues in the Trifid are due to dust reflected starlight. The broad interstellarscape spans almost 4 degrees or 8 full moons on the sky.

Photo by Gabriel Rodrigues Santos

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Why isn't this ant a big sphere? Planetary nebula Mz3 is being cast off by a star similar to our Sun that is, surely, round. Why then would the gas that is streaming away create an ant-shaped nebula that is distinctly not round? Clues might include the high 1000-kilometer per second speed of the expelled gas, the light-year long length of the structure, and the magnetism of the star featured here at the nebula's center. One possible answer is that Mz3 is hiding a second, dimmer star that orbits close in to the bright star. A competing hypothesis holds that the central star's own spin and magnetic field are channeling the gas. Since the central star appears to be so similar to our own Sun, astronomers hope that increased understanding of the history of this giant space ant can provide useful insight into the likely future of our own Sun and Earth.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What's happening in the sky? The pre-dawn sky first seemed relatively serene yesterday morning over Indian Harbor Beach in Florida, USA. But then it lit up with a rocket launch. Just to the north, NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 Mission blasted into space aboard a powerful Falcon 9 rocket. The featured time-lapse video -- compressing 12-minutes into 8-seconds -- shows the bright launch plume starting on the far left. The rocket rises into an increasingly thin atmosphere, causing its plume to spread out just as it is lit by the rising Sun. As the Crew-2 capsule disappears over the horizon, the landing plume of the returning first stage of the Falcon 9 descending toward the SpaceX barge in the Atlantic Ocean can be seen. Up in space, the Endeavour crew capsule is expected to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning, delivering four astronauts. The Crew-2 astronauts join Expedition 65 to help conduct, among other tasks, drug tests using tissue chips -- small microfluidic chips that simulate human organs -- that run rapidly in ISS's microgravity.

Video by Eric Holland

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Recorded during 2017, timelapse sequences from the International Space Station are compiled in this serene video of planet Earth at Night. Fans of low Earth orbit can start by enjoying the view as green and red aurora borealis slather up the sky. The night scene tracks from northwest to southeast across North America, toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida coast. A second sequence follows European city lights, crosses the Mediterranean Sea, and passes over a bright Nile river in northern Africa. Seen from the orbital outpost, erratic flashes of lightning appear in thunder storms below and stars rise above the planet's curved horizon through a faint atmospheric airglow. Of course, from home you can always check out the vital signs of Planet Earth Now. Celebrate: Earth Day

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

No sudden, sharp boundary marks the passage of day into night in this gorgeous view of ocean and clouds over our fair planet Earth. Instead, the shadow line or terminator is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. With the Sun illuminating the scene from the right, the cloud tops reflect gently reddened sunlight filtered through the dusty troposphere, the lowest layer of the planet's nurturing atmosphere. A clear high altitude layer, visible along the dayside's upper edge, scatters blue sunlight and fades into the blackness of space. This picture was taken in June of 2001 from the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of 211 nautical miles. But you can check out the vital signs of Planet Earth Now. Celebrate: Earth Day

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

When galaxies collide -- what happens to their magnetic fields? To help find out, NASA pointed SOFIA, its flying 747, at galactic neighbor Centaurus A to observe the emission of polarized dust -- which traces magnetic fields. Cen A's unusual shape results from the clash of two galaxies with jets powered by gas accreting onto a central supermassive black hole. In the resulting featured image, SOFIA-derived magnetic streamlines are superposed on ESO (visible: white), APEX (submillimeter: orange), Chandra (X-rays: blue), and Spitzer (infrared: red) images. The magnetic fields were found to be parallel to the dust lanes on the outskirts of the galaxy but distorted near the center. Gravitational forces near the black hole accelerate ions and enhance the magnetic field. In sum, the collision not only combined the galaxies’ masses -- but amplified their magnetic fields. These results provide new insights into how magnetic fields evolved in the early universe when mergers were more common.

Image Credit: Optical: European Southern Observatory (ESO) Wide Field Imager;

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What's the best way to explore Mars? Perhaps there is no single best way, but a newly demonstrated method shows tremendous promise: flight. Powered flight has the promise to search vast regions and scout out particularly interesting areas for more detailed investigation. Yesterday, for the first time, powered flight was demonstrated on Mars by a small helicopter named Ingenuity. In the featured video, Ingenuity is first imaged by the Perseverance rover sitting quietly on the Martian surface. After a few seconds, Ingenuity's long rotors begin to spin, and a few seconds after that -- history is made as Ingenuity actually takes off, hovers for a few seconds, and then lands safely. More tests of Ingenuity's unprecedented ability are planned over the next few months. Flight may help humanity better explore not only Mars, but Saturn's moon Titan over the next few decades.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

What does the center of our galaxy look like? In visible light, the Milky Way's center is hidden by clouds of obscuring dust and gas. But in this stunning vista, the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared cameras, penetrate much of the dust revealing the stars of the crowded galactic center region. A mosaic of many smaller snapshots, the detailed, false-color image shows older, cool stars in bluish hues. Red and brown glowing dust clouds are associated with young, hot stars in stellar nurseries. The very center of the Milky Way has recently been found capable of forming newborn stars. The galactic center lies some 26,700 light-years away, toward the constellation Sagittarius. At that distance, this picture spans about 900 light-years.

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