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Launch of the Solar Orbiter

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/11/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

How does weather on the Sun affect humanity? To help find out, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have just launched the Solar Orbiter. This Sun-circling robotic spaceship will monitor the Sun's changing light, solar wind, and magnetic field not only from the usual perspective of Earth but also from above and below the Sun. Pictured, a long duration exposure of the launch of the Solar Orbiter shows the graceful arc of the bright engines of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket as they lifted the satellite off the Earth. Over the next few years, the Solar Orbiter will use the gravity of Earth and Venus to veer out of the plane of the planets and closer to the Sun than Mercury. Violent weather on the Sun, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections, has shown the ability to interfere with power grids on the Earth and communications satellites in Earth orbit. The Solar Orbiter is expected to coordinate observations with the also Sun-orbiting Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018. Solar Orbiter to Space: Watch the Launch

Photo by Derek Demeter

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Orion over the Central Bohemian Highlands

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/18/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Do you recognize this constellation? Setting past the Central Bohemian Highlands in the Czech Republic is Orion, one of the most identifiable star groupings on the sky and an icon familiar to humanity for over 30,000 years. Orion has looked pretty much the same during this time and should continue to look the same for many thousands of years into the future. Prominent Orion is high in the sky at sunset this time of year, a recurring sign of (modern) winter in Earth's northern hemisphere and summer in the south. The featured picture is a composite of over thirty images taken from the same location and during the same night last month. Below and slightly to the left of Orion's three-star belt is the Orion Nebula, while four of the bright stars surrounding the belt are, clockwise, Sirius (far left, blue), Betelgeuse (top, orange, unusually faint), Aldebaran (far right), and Rigel (below). As future weeks progress, Orion will set increasingly earlier. Infinite Random Loop: Create an APOD Station in your classroom or Science Center.

Photo by Vojtěch Bauer

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The Changing Surface of Fading Betelgeuse

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/17/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

Besides fading, is Betelgeuse changing its appearance? Yes. The famous red supergiant star in the familiar constellation of Orion is so large that telescopes on Earth can actually resolve its surface -- although just barely. The two featured images taken with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope show how the star's surface appeared during the beginning and end of last year. The earlier image shows Betelgeuse having a much more uniform brightness than the later one, while the lower half of Betelgeuse became significantly dimmer than the top. Now during the first five months of 2019 amateur observations show Betelgeuse actually got slightly brighter, while in the last five months the star dimmed dramatically. Such variability is likely just normal behavior for this famously variable supergiant, but the recent dimming has rekindled discussion on how long it may be before Betelgeuse does go supernova. Since Betelgeuse is about 700 light years away, its eventual supernova -- probably thousands of years in the future -- will likely be an amazing night-sky spectacle, but will not endanger life on Earth.

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NGC 2392: Double-Shelled Planetary Nebula

Posted by Specola • Posted on 02/16/2020 at 12:16PM Photography See more by Specola

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:

To some, this huge nebula resembles a person's head surrounded by a parka hood. In 1787, astronomer William Herschel discovered this unusual planetary nebula: NGC 2392. More recently, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the nebula in visible light, while the nebula was also imaged in X-rays by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The featured combined visible-X ray image, shows X-rays emitted by central hot gas in pink. The nebula displays gas clouds so complex they are not fully understood. NGC 2392 is a double-shelled planetary nebula, with the more distant gas having composed the outer layers of a Sun-like star only 10,000 years ago. The outer shell contains unusual light-year long orange filaments. The inner filaments visible are being ejected by strong wind of particles from the central star. The NGC 2392 Nebula spans about 1/3 of a light year and lies in our Milky Way Galaxy, about 3,000 light years distant, toward the constellation of the Twins (Gemini).

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