NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015-8

Stripping ESO 137-001

Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 hurtles through massive galaxy cluster Abell 3627 some 220 million light years away. The distant galaxy is seen in this colorful Hubble/Chandra composite image through a foreground of the Milky Way's stars toward the southern constellation Triangulum Australe. As the spiral speeds along at nearly 7 million kilometers per hour, its gas and dust are stripped away when ram pressure with the cluster's own hot, tenuous intracluster medium overcomes the galaxy's gravity. Evident in Hubble's near visible light data, bright star clusters have formed in the stripped material along the short, trailing blue streaks. Chandra's X-ray data shows off the enormous extent of the heated, stripped gas as diffuse, darker blue trails stretching over 400,000 light-years toward the bottom right. The significant loss of dust and gas will make new star formation difficult for this galaxy. A yellowish elliptical galaxy, lacking in star forming dust and gas, is just to the right of ESO 137-001 in the frame.

Apollo 17 at Shorty Crater

On the Moon, it is easy to remember where you parked. In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent about 75 hours on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow valley, while colleague Ronald Evans orbited overhead. This sharp image was taken by Cernan as he and Schmitt roamed the valley floor. The image shows Schmitt on the left with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater, near the spot where geologist Schmitt discovered orange lunar soil. The Apollo 17 crew returned with 110 kilograms of rock and soil samples, more than was returned from any of the other lunar landing sites. Now forty three years later, Cernan and Schmitt are still the last to walk on the Moon. APOD Editor to Speak: Saturday, August 8 at Keweenaw Science & Engineering Festival

A Proton Arc Over Lake Superior

The setting had been picked out -- all that was needed was an aurora. And late last August, forecasts predicted that an otherwise beautiful night sky would be lit up with auroral green. Jumping into his truck, the astrophotographer approached his secret site -- but only after a five hour drive across the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan. What he didn't know was that his luck was just beginning. While setting up for the image, a proton arc -- a rare type of aurora -- appeared. The red arc lasted only about 15 minutes, but that was long enough to capture in a 30-second exposure. As the name indicates, proton arcs are caused not by electrons but by more massive protons that bombard the Earth's atmosphere following an energetic event on the Sun. In the featured image, the yellow lights on the horizon are the city lights of Marquette, Michigan, USA. The blue and yellow rocks in the Lake Superior foreground are lit by a LED flashlight. Also captured, to the left of the red proton arc, was the band of our Milky Way Galaxy. APOD Editor to Speak: Saturday, August 8 at Keweenaw Science & Engineering Festival

Virgo Cluster Galaxies

Well over a thousand galaxies are known members of the Virgo Cluster, the closest large cluster of galaxies to our own local group. In fact, the galaxy cluster is difficult to appreciate all at once because it covers such a large area on the sky. This careful wide-field mosaic of telescopic images clearly records the central region of the Virgo Cluster through faint foreground dust clouds lingering above the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. The cluster's dominant giant elliptical galaxy M87, is just below and to the left of the frame center. To the right of M87 is a string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. A closer examination of the image will reveal many Virgo cluster member galaxies as small fuzzy patches. Sliding your cursor over the image will label the larger galaxies using NGC catalog designations. Galaxies are also shown with Messier catalog numbers, including M84, M86, and prominent colorful spirals M88, M90, and M91. On average, Virgo Cluster galaxies are measured to be about 48 million light-years away. The Virgo Cluster distance has been used to give an important determination of the Hubble Constant and the scale of the Universe. Follow APOD on: Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter

X-ray Echoes from Circinus X-1

Circinus X-1 is an X-ray binary star known for its erratic variability. In the bizarre Circinus X-1 system, a dense neutron star, the collapsed remnant of a supernova explosion, orbits with a more ordinary stellar companion. Observations of the X-ray binary in months following an intense X-ray flare from the source in 2013 progressively revealed striking concentric rings - bright X-ray light echoes from four intervening clouds of interstellar dust. In this X-ray/optical composite, the swaths of Chandra Observatory X-ray image data showing partial outlines of the rings are in false colors. Remarkably, timing the X-ray echoes, along with known distances to the interstellar dust clouds, determines the formerly highly uncertain distance to Circinus X-1 itself to be 30,700 light-years.

Stereo Pluto

These two detailed, true color images of Pluto were captured during the historic New Horizons flyby last month. With slightly different perspectives on the now recognizeable surface features they are presented in this first high quality stereo pair intended for viewing by denizens of planet Earth. The left hand image (left eye) is a mosaic recorded when the spacecraft was about 450,000 kilometers from Pluto. The right single image was acquired earlier, a last full look before the spacecraft's closest approach. Despite a difference in resolution, the pair combine for a stunning 3D perception of the distant, underworldly terrain.

Full Moon, Full Earth

The Moon was new on July 16. Its familiar nearside facing the surface of planet Earth was in shadow. But on that date a million miles away, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) captured this view of an apparently Full Moon crossing in front of a Full Earth. In fact, seen from the spacecraft's position beyond the Moon's orbit and between Earth and Sun, the fully illuminated lunar hemisphere is the less familiar farside. Only known since the dawn of the space age, the farside is mostly devoid of dark lunar maria that sprawl across the Moon's perpetual Earth-facing hemisphere. Only the small dark spot of the farside's Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) is clear, at the upper left. Planet Earth's north pole is near 11 o'clock, with the North America visited by Hurricane Dolores near center. Slight color shifts are visible around the lunar edge, an artifact of the Moon's motion through the field caused by combining the camera's separate exposures taken in quick succession through different color filters. While monitoring the Earth and solar wind for space weather forcasts, about twice a year DSCOVR can capture similar images of Moon and Earth together as it crosses the orbital plane of the Moon.

Curiosity's View

By planet Earth's calendar, the Curiosity Mars Rover reached its 3rd anniversary on the surface of the Red Planet on August 6. To celebrate, gaze across this dramatic panoramic view of diverse terrain typical of the rover's journey to the layered slopes of Aeolis Mons, also known as Mount Sharp. Recorded with Curiosity's Mast Camera instrument, the scene looks south across gravel, sand ripples, and boulders toward rounded buttes. In the background, higher layers at left are toward the southeast, with southwest at panorama right. The individual images composing the view were taken on Curiosity's mission sols (martian days) 952 and 953 since the rover's landing on August 6, 2012.

HCG 87: A Small Group of Galaxies

Sometimes galaxies form groups. For example, our own Milky Way Galaxy is part of the Local Group of Galaxies. Small, compact groups, like Hickson Compact Group 87 (HCG 87) shown above, are interesting partly because they slowly self-destruct. Indeed, the galaxies of HCG 87 are gravitationally stretching each other during their 100-million year orbits around a common center. The pulling creates colliding gas that causes bright bursts of star formation and feeds matter into their active galaxy centers. HCG 87 is composed of a large edge-on spiral galaxy visible near the image center, an elliptical galaxy visible to its right, and a spiral galaxy visible near the top. The small spiral near the center might be far in the distance. Several stars from our Galaxy are also visible in the foreground. Studying groups like HCG 87 allows insight into how all galaxies form and evolve. Follow APOD on: Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter

A Sagittarius Triplet

These three bright nebulae are often featured in 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 left of center, and colorful M20 on the right. The third, NGC 6559, is above M8, separated from the larger nebula by a dark dust lane. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. The expansive M8, over a hundred light-years across, 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, with contrasting blue hues, most striking in the Trifid, due to dust reflected starlight. The colorful skyscape recorded with telescope and digital camera also includes one of Messier's open star clusters, M21, just above the Trifid. Astrophysicists: Browse 1,000+ codes in the Astrophysics Source Code Library

A Blue Moon Halo over Antarctica

Have you ever seen a halo around the Moon? Such 22 degree rings around the Moon -- caused by ice crystals falling in the Earth's atmosphere -- are somewhat rare. OK, but have you ever seen a blue moon? Given the modern definition of blue moon -- the second full moon occurring in a calendar month -- these are also rare. What is featured above might therefore be considered doubly rare -- a halo surrounding a blue moon. The featured image was taken late last month near Zhongshan Station in Antarctica. Visible in the foreground are a power generating house and a snowmobile. What might seem to be stars in the background are actually illuminated snowflakes near the camera.

Milky Way and Exploding Meteor

Tonight the Perseid Meteor Shower reaches its maximum. Grains of icy rock will streak across the sky as they evaporate during entry into Earth's atmosphere. These grains were shed from Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids result from the annual crossing of the Earth through Comet Swift-Tuttle's orbit, and are typically the most active meteor shower of the year. Although it is hard to predict the level of activity in any meteor shower, in a clear dark sky an observer might see a meteor a minute. This year's Perseids occur just before a new Moon and so the relatively dark sky should make even faint meteors visible. Meteor showers in general are best be seen from a relaxing position, away from lights. Featured here is a meteor caught exploding two weeks ago above Austria next to the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Note: NASA TV to Host Perseid Meteor Shower Program

Moonless Meteors and the Milky Way

Have you watched the Perseid meteor shower? Though the annual shower's predicted peak was last night, meteor activity should continue tonight (August 13/14), best enjoyed by just looking up in clear, dark skies after midnight. Of course, this year's Perseid shower has the advantage of being active near the August 14 New Moon. Since the nearly New Moon doesn't rise before the morning twilight many fainter meteors are easier to spot until then, with no interference from bright moonlight. The Perseid meteor shower last occurred near a New Moon in 2013. That's when the exposures used to construct this image were made, under dark, moonless skies from Hvar Island off the coast of Croatia. The widefield composite includes 67 meteors streaming from the heroic constellation Perseus, the shower's radiant, captured during 2013 August 8-14 against a background of faint zodiacal light and the Milky Way. The next moonless Perseid meteor shower will be in August 2018.

Comet Dust over Enchanted Rock

Dusty debris from periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle was swept up by planet Earth this week. Vaporized by their passage through the dense atmosphere at 59 kilometers per second, the tiny grains produced a stream of Perseid meteors. A bright, colorful Perseid meteor flash was captured during this 20 second exposure. It made its ephemeral appearance after midnight on August 12, in the moonless skies over the broad granite dome of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, central Texas, USA. Below the Perseid meteor, trees stand in silhouette against scattered lights along the horizon and the faint Milky Way, itself cut by dark clouds of interstellar dust.

Perihelion Approaches

This dramatic outburst from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko occured on August 12, just hours before perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun. Completing an orbit of the Sun once every 6.45 years, perihelion distance for this periodic comet is about 1.3 astronomical units (AU), still outside the orbit of planet Earth (at 1 AU). The stark image of the 4 kilometer wide, double-lobed nucleus in bright sunlight and dark shadows was taken by the Rosetta spacecraft's science camera about 325 kilometers away. Too close to see the comet's growing tail, Rosetta maintains its ringside seat to watch the nucleus warm and become more active in coming weeks, as primordial ices sublimating from the surface produce jets of gas and dust. Of course, dust from the nucleus of periodic comet Swift-Tuttle, whose last perihelion passage was in 1992 at a distance of 0.96 AU, fell to Earth just this week.

M1: The Crab Nebula from Hubble

This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The featured image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second. Students (of all ages): See free astronomy lectures online

Andromeda Rising over the Alps

Have you ever seen the Andromeda galaxy? Although M31 appears as a faint and fuzzy blob to the unaided eye, the light you see will be over two million years old, making it likely the oldest light you ever will see directly. Now rising near a few hours after sunset from mid-latitude northern locations, Andromeda is rising earlier each night and will be visible to northerners all night long starting in September. The featured image captured Andromeda rising above the Italian Alps last month. As cool as it may be to see this neighboring galaxy to our Milky Way with your own eyes, long duration camera exposures can pick up many faint and breathtaking details. Recent data indicates that our Milky Way Galaxy will collide and coalesce with the slightly larger Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years. Follow APOD on: Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter

Announcing Comet Catalina

Will Comet Catalina become visible to the unaided eye? Given the unpredictability of comets, no one can say for sure, but it seems like a good bet. The comet was discovered in 2013 by observations of the Catalina Sky Survey. Since then, Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) has steadily brightened and is currently brighter than 8th magnitude, making it visible with binoculars and long-duration camera images. As the comet further approaches the inner Solar System it will surely continue to intensify, possibly becoming a naked eye object sometime in October and peaking sometime in late November. The comet will reside primarily in the skies of the southern hemisphere until mid-December, at which time its highly inclined orbit will bring it quickly into northern skies. Featured above, Comet Catalina was imaged last week sporting a green coma and two growing tails.

Central Cygnus Skyscape

In cosmic brush strokes of glowing hydrogen gas, this beautiful skyscape unfolds across the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy and the center of the northern constellation Cygnus the Swan. The featured image spans about six degrees. Bright supergiant star Gamma Cygni (Sadr) to the upper left of the image center lies in the foreground of the complex gas and dust clouds and crowded star fields. Left of Gamma Cygni, shaped like two luminous wings divided by a long dark dust lane is IC 1318, whose popular name is understandably the Butterfly Nebula. The more compact, bright nebula at the lower right is NGC 6888, the Crescent Nebula. Some distance estimates for Gamma Cygni place it at around 1,800 light-years while estimates for IC 1318 and NGC 6888 range from 2,000 to 5,000 light-years.

M27: Not a Comet

While hunting for comets in the skies above 18th century France, astronomer Charles Messier diligently kept a list of the things he encountered that were definitely not comets. This is number 27 on his now famous not-a-comet list. In fact, 21st century astronomers would identify it as a planetary nebula, but it's not a planet either, even though it may appear round and planet-like in a small telescope. Messier 27 (M27) is an excellent example of a gaseous emission nebula created as a sun-like star runs out of nuclear fuel in its core. The nebula forms as the star's outer layers are expelled into space, with a visible glow generated by atoms excited by the dying star's intense but invisible ultraviolet light. Known by the popular name of the Dumbbell Nebula, the beautifully symmetric interstellar gas cloud is over 2.5 light-years across and about 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. This impressive color composite highlights details within the well-studied central region and fainter, seldom imaged features in the nebula's outer halo. It incorporates broad and narrowband images recorded using filters sensitive to emission from sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Sprites from Space

An old Moon and the stars of Orion rose above the eastern horizon on August 10. The Moon's waning crescent was still bright enough to be overexposed in this snapshot taken from another large satellite of planet Earth, the International Space Station. A greenish airglow traces the atmosphere above the limb of the planet's night. Below, city lights and lightning flashes from thunderstorms appear over southern Mexico. The snapshot also captures the startling apparition of a rare form of upper atmospheric lightning, a large red sprite caught above a lightning flash at the far right. While the space station's orbital motion causes the city lights to blur and trail during the exposure, the extremely brief flash of the red sprite is sharp. Now known to be associated with thunderstorms, much remains a mystery about sprites including how they occur, their effect on the atmospheric global electric circuit, and if they are somehow related to other upper atmospheric lightning phenomena such as blue jets or terrestrial gamma flashes.

Little Planet Curiosity

A curious robot almost completely straddles this rocky little planet. Of course, the planet is really Mars and the robot is the car-sized Curiosity Rover, posing over its recent drilling target in the Marias Pass area of lower Mount Sharp. The 92 images used to assemble the little planet projection, a digitally warped and stitched mosaic covering 360x180 degrees, were taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the Curiosity mission sol (martian day) 1065. That corresponds to 2015 August 5, three Earth years since Curiosity landed on the surface of the Red Planet. The composite selfie excludes images that show the rover's robotic arm and mount of the MAHLI camera itself, but their shadow is visible beneath. Check out this spectacular interactive version of Curiosity's sol 1065 panorama.

Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images

What are those strange blue objects? Many of the brightest blue images are of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here typically appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. A blue smudge near the cluster center is likely another image of the same background galaxy. In all, a recent analysis postulated that at least 33 images of 11 separate background galaxies are discernable. This spectacular photo of galaxy cluster CL0024+1654 from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in November 2004.

Dione, Rings, Shadows, Saturn

What's happening in this strange juxtaposition of moon and planet? First and foremost, Saturn's moon Dione was captured here in a dramatic panorama by the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting the giant planet. The bright and cratered moon itself spans about 1100-km, with the large multi-ringed crater Evander visible on the lower right. Since the rings of Saturn are seen here nearly edge-on, they are directly visible only as a thin horizontal line that passes behind Dione. Arcing across the bottom of the image, however, are shadows of Saturn's rings, showing some of the rich texture that could not be seen directly. In the background, few cloud features are visible on Saturn. The featured image was taken during the last planned flyby of Dione by Cassini, as the spacecraft is scheduled to dive into Saturn's atmosphere during 2017. Teachers: Find classroom astronomy images through APOD's Index or Search engine.

Meteors and Milky Way over Mount Rainier

Despite appearances, the sky is not falling. Two weeks ago, however, tiny bits of comet dust were. Featured here is the Perseids meteor shower as captured over Mt. Rainier, Washington, USA. The image was created from a two-hour time lapse video, snaring over 20 meteors, including one that brightened dramatically on the image left. Although each meteor train typically lasts less than a second, the camera was able to capture their color progressions as they disintegrated in the Earth's atmosphere. Here an initial green tint may be indicative of small amounts of glowing magnesium atoms that were knocked off the meteor by atoms in the Earth's atmosphere. To cap things off, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy was simultaneously photographed rising straight up behind the snow-covered peak of Mt. Rainier. Another good meteor shower is expected in mid-November when debris from a different comet intersects Earth as the Leonids. Follow APOD on Facebook: in English or Spanish

Collinder 399: The Coat Hanger

Is this coat hanger a star cluster or an asterism? This cosmic hang-up has been debated over much of last century, as astronomers wondered whether this binocular-visible object is really a physically associated open cluster or a chance projection. Chance star projections are known as asterisms, an example of which is the popular Big Dipper. Recent precise measurements from different vantage points in the Earth's orbit around the Sun have uncovered discrepant angular shifts indicating that the Coat Hanger is better described as an asterism. Known more formally as Collinder 399, this bright stellar grouping is wider than the full moon and lies in the constellation of the Fox (Vulpecula). APOD is also available in: Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian, Catalan, Chinese, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Farsi, Farsi, Galego, German, French, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Montenegrin, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, Thai, or Turkish

The Large Cloud of Magellan

The 16th century Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably deep, colorful, image. Spanning about 15,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies and is the home of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent patch below center is 30 Doradus, also known as the magnificent Tarantula Nebula, is a giant star-forming region about 1,000 light-years across.

Puppis A Supernova Remnant

Driven by the explosion of a massive star, supernova remnant Puppis A is blasting into the surrounding interstellar medium about 7,000 light-years away. At that distance, this colorful telescopic field based on broadband and narrowband optical image data is about 60 light-years across. As the supernova remnant expands into its clumpy, non-uniform surroundings, shocked filaments of oxygen atoms glow in green-blue hues. Hydrogen and nitrogen are in red. Light from the initial supernova itself, triggered by the collapse of the massive star's core, would have reached Earth about 3,700 years ago. The Puppis A remnant is actually seen through outlying emission from the closer but more ancient Vela supernova remnant, near the crowded plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Still glowing across the electromagnetic spectrum Puppis A remains one of the brightest sources in the X-ray sky.

The Seagull Nebula

A broad expanse of glowing gas and dust presents a bird-like visage to astronomers from planet Earth, suggesting its popular moniker - The Seagull Nebula. This portrait of the cosmic bird covers a 1.6 degree wide swath across the plane of the Milky Way, near the direction of Sirius, alpha star of the constellation Canis Major. Of course, the region includes objects with other catalog designations: notably NGC 2327, a compact, dusty emission region with an embedded massive star that forms the bird's head (aka the Parrot Nebula, above center). Dominated by the reddish glow of atomic hydrogen, the complex of gas and dust clouds with bright young stars spans over 100 light-years at an estimated 3,800 light-year distance.

M31: The Andromeda Galaxy

What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy. Explore your Universe: Random APOD Generator

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