Category Archives: Astrophotography

Astronomy Picture of the Day – Dark Molecular Cloud Barnard 68

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
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Image Credit: FORS Team8.2-meter VLT AntuESOExplanation: Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68pictured here. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light.




Astronomy Picture of the Day – Eclipsosaurus Rex

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Eclipsosaurus Rex 
Image Credit & CopyrightFred Espenak ( We live in an era where total solar eclipses are possible because at times the apparent size of the Moon can just cover the disk of the Sun. But the Moon is slowly moving away from planet Earth. Its distance is measured to increase about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) per year due to tidal friction. So there will come a time, about 600 million years from now, when the Moon is far enough away that the lunar disk will be too small to ever completely cover the Sun. Then, at best only annular eclipses, a ring of fire surrounding the silhouetted disk of the too small Moon, will be seen from the surface of our fair planet. Of course the Moon was slightly closer and loomed a little larger 100 million years ago. So during the age of the dinosaurs there were more frequent total eclipses of the Sun. In front of the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College in Wyoming, this dinosaur statue posed with a modern total eclipse, though. An automated camera was placed under him to shoot his portrait during the Great American Eclipse of August 21.



Astronomy Picture of the Day – Global Aurora at Mars

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.Global Aurora at Mars 
Image Credit: MAVENLASP, University of ColoradoNASAExplanation: A strong solar event last month triggered intense global aurora at Mars. Before (left) and during (right) the solar storm, these projections show the sudden increase in ultraviolet emission from martian aurora, more than 25 times brighter than auroral emission previously detected by the orbiting MAVEN spacecraft. With a sunlit crescent toward the right, data from MAVEN’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph is projected in purple hues on the right side of Mars globes simulated to match the observation dates and times. On Mars, solar storms can result in planet-wide aurora because, unlike Earth, the Red Planet isn’t protected by a strong global magnetic field that can funnel energetic charged particles toward the poles. For all those on the planet’s surface during the solar storm, dangerous radiation levels were double any previously measured by the Curiosity rover. MAVEN is studying whether Mars lost its atmosphere due to its lack of a global magnetic field.



Hubble Hones In on a Hypergiant’s Home


Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Text credit: European Space Agency

This beautiful Hubble image reveals a young super star cluster known as Westerlund 1, only 15,000 light-years away in our Milky Way neighborhood, yet home to one of the largest stars ever discovered.

Stars are classified according to their spectral type, surface temperature, and luminosity. While studying and classifying the cluster’s constituent stars, astronomers discovered that Westerlund 1 is home to an enormous star.  Originally named Westerlund 1-26, this monster star is a red supergiant (although sometimes classified as a hypergiant) with a radius over 1,500 times that of our sun. If Westerlund 1-26 were placed where our sun is in our solar system, it would extend out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

Most of Westerlund 1’s stars are thought to have formed in the same burst of activity, meaning that they have similar ages and compositions. The cluster is relatively young in astronomical terms —at around three million years old it is a baby compared to our own sun, which is some 4.6 billion years old.

Galaxy Cluster Abell 2666


Image Credit & Copyright: Bernhard Hubl, CEDIC 2017Explanation: The galaxies of Abell 2666 lie far beyond the Milky Way, some 340 million light-years distant toward the high flying constellation Pegasus. Framed in this sharp telescopic image, the pretty cluster galaxies are gathered behind scattered, spiky, Milky Way stars. At cluster center is giant elliptical galaxy NGC 7768, the central dominant galaxy of the cluster. As the cluster forms, such massive galaxies are thought to grow by mergers of galaxies that fall through the center of the cluster’s gravitational well. Typical of dominant cluster galaxies, NGC 7768 likely harbors a supermassive black hole. At the estimated distance of Abell 2666, this cosmic frame would span about 5 million light-years.

Solstice Illuminated: A Year of Sky

Explanation: Can you find which day is the winter solstice? Each panel shows one day. With 360 movie panels, the sky over (almost) an entire year is shown in time lapse format as recorded by a video camera on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San FranciscoCalifornia. The camera recorded an image every 10 seconds from before sunrise to after sunset and from mid-2009 to mid-2010. A time stamp showing the local time of day is provided on the lower right. The videos are arranged chronologically, with July 28 shown on the upper left, and January 1 located about half way down. In the videos, darkness indicates night, blue depicts clear day, while gray portrays pervasive daytime cloud cover. Many videos show complex patterns of clouds moving across the camera’s wide field as that day progresses. The initial darkness in the middle depicts the delayed dawn and fewer daylight hours of winter. Although every day lasts 24 hours, nighttime lasts longest in the northern hemisphere in December and the surrounding winter months. Therefore, finding the panel with the longest night will locate the day of winter solstice — which happens to be today in the northern hemisphere. As the videos collectively end, sunset and then darkness descend first on the winter days just above the middle, and last on the mid-summer near the bottom.

Solstice Illuminated: A Year of Sky 
Video Credit & Copyright: Ken Murphy (MurphLab); Music: Ariel (Moby)

The Milky Way Galaxy

Our magnificent Milky Way Galaxy sprawls across this ambitious all-sky panorama. In fact, at 800 million pixels the full resolution mosaic strives to show all the stars the eye can see in planet Earth’s night sky. As part of ESO’s Gigagalaxy Zoom Project, Serge Brunier recorded images with a digital camera over several months of 2008 and 2009 at exceptional astronomical sites—the Atacama Desert in the southern hemisphere and the Canary Islands in the northern hemisphere. The individual frames were stitched together and mapped into a single, flat, apparently seamless 360 by 180 degree view. The final result is oriented so the plane of our galaxy runs horizontally through the middle with the bulging Galactic Center at image center. Below and right of center are the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. The Andromeda galaxy is just below center about 1/6 of the way from the left edge. Also visible are bright planets (with spikes around them) and even a comet.

Star Factory Messier 17

Image Credit & CopyrightData – ESO / MPIA / OAC, Assembly – R.Colombari

Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, the star factory known as Messier 17 lies some 5,500 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation Sagittarius. At that distance, this 1/3 degree wide field of view spans over 30 light-years. The sharp composite, color image, highlights faint details of the region’s gas and dust clouds against a backdrop of central Milky Way stars. Stellar winds and energetic light from hot, massive stars formed from M17 stock of cosmic gas and dust have slowly carved away at the remaining interstellar material producing the cavernous appearance and undulating shapes. M17 is also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.

Starburst Galaxy Messier 94

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA

Beautiful island universe 
Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. A popular target for earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years or so across M94’s central region. The sharp close-up examines the galaxy’s compact, bright nucleus and prominent inner dust lanes, surrounded by a remarkable bluish ring of young, massive stars. The massive stars in the ring are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating the galaxy experienced a well-defined era of rapid star formation. As a result, while the small, bright nucleus is typical of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, M94 is also known as a starburst galaxy. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can explore in detail the reasons for the galaxy’s burst of star formation.

Charon and the Small Moons of Pluto

Image Credit: NASAJohns Hopkins U. APLSwRI

What do the moons of 
Pluto look like? Before a decade ago, only the largest moon Charon was known, but never imaged. As the robotic New Horizons spacecraft was prepared and launched, other moons were identified on Hubble images but remained only specks of light. Finally, this past summer, New Horizons swept right past Pluto, photographed Pluto and Charonin detail, and took the best images of StyxNixKerberos, and Hydra that it could. The featured image composite shows the results — each moon is seen to have a distinct shape, while underlying complexity is only hinted. Even though not satisfyingly resolved, these images are likely to be the best available to humanity for some time. This is because the moons are too small and distant for contemporary Earth-based telescopes to resolve, and no new missions to the Pluto system are planned.