NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2019-6

NICER at Night

A payload on board the International Space Station, the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) twists and turns to track cosmic sources of X-rays as the station orbits planet Earth every 93 minutes. During orbit nighttime, its X-ray detectors remain on. So as NICER slews from target to target bright arcs and loops are traced across this all-sky map made from 22 months of NICER data. The arcs tend to converge on prominent bright spots, pulsars in the X-ray sky that NICER regularly targets and monitors. The pulsars are spinning neutron stars that emit clock-like pulses of X-rays. Their timing is so precise it can be used for navigation, determining spacecraft speed and position. This NICER X-ray, all-sky, map is composed in coordinates with the celestial equator horizontally across the center.

A Live View from the International Space Station

If you were floating above the Earth right now, this is what you might see. In 2014, a robotic SpaceX Dragon capsule that delivered supplies to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS) also delivered High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) cameras that take and transmit live views of Earth. Pictured here, when working, is the live video feed that switches between four cameras, each pointed differently. Watch white clouds, tan land, and blue oceans drift by. The featured live view will appear black when it is nighttime on the Earth below, but the space station's rapid 90-minute orbit compresses this dark time into only 45 minutes. The present location of the ISS above the Earth can be found on the web. If the video appears gray, this indicates that the view is either being switched between cameras, or communications with the ISS is temporarily unavailable. As the HDEV project continues, video quality will be monitored to assess the effects of high energy radiation, which types of cameras work best, and which Earth views are the most popular.

Stephan's Quintet from Hubble

When did these big galaxies first begin to dance? Really only four of the five of Stephan's Quintet are locked in a cosmic tango of repeated close encounters taking place some 300 million light-years away. The odd galaxy out is easy to spot in this recently reprocessed image by the Hubble Space Telescope -- the interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318B, 7318A, and 7317 (left to right), have a more dominant yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. The mostly bluish galaxy, large NGC 7320 on the lower left, is in the foreground at about 40 million light-years distant, and so is not part of the interacting group. Data and modeling indicate that NGC 7318B is a relatively new intruder. A recently-discovered halo of old red stars surrounding Stephan's Quintet indicate that at least some of these galaxies started tangling over a billion years. Stephan's Quintet is visible with a moderate sized-telescope toward the constellation of Winged Horse (Pegasus).

SEIS: Listening for Marsquakes

If you put your ear to Mars, what would you hear? To find out, and to explore the unknown interior of Mars, NASA's Insight Lander deployed SEIS late last year, a sensitive seismometer that can detect marsquakes. In early April, after hearing the wind and motions initiated by the lander itself, SEIS recorded an unprecedented event that matches what was expected for a marsquake. This event can be heard on this YouTube video. Although Mars is not thought to have tectonic plates like the Earth, numerous faults are visible on the Martian surface which likely occurred as the hot interior of Mars cooled -- and continues to cool. Were strong enough marsquakes to occur, SEIS could hear their rumbles reflected from large structures internal to Mars, like a liquid core, if one exists. Pictured last week, SEIS sits quietly on the Martian surface, taking in some Sun while light clouds are visible over the horizon. Create a Distant Legacy: Send your name to Mars

The Interstellar Clouds of Orion

The constellation of Orion is much more than three stars in a row. It is a direction in space that is rich with impressive nebulas. To better appreciate this well-known swath of sky, a new long exposure image was taken over several clear nights in January, February and March. After 23 hours of camera time and untold hours of image processing, the featured collage in the light of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur was produced spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon. Of the many interesting details that have become visible, one that particularly draws the eye is Barnard's Loop, the bright red orange arc just to the right of the image center. The Rosette Nebula is not the giant orange nebula just to the left of the image center -- that is larger but lesser known nebula known as the Meissa Ring. The Rosette Nebula is visible, though: it is the bright orange, blue and white nebula near the image bottom. The bright orange star just left of the frame center is Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star on the upper right is Rigel. About those famous three stars that cross the belt of Orion the Hunter -- in this busy frame they can be hard to locate, but a discerning eye will find them just to the right of the image center.

Messier 63: The Sunflower Galaxy

A bright spiral galaxy of the northern sky, Messier 63 is about 25 million light-years distant in the loyal constellation Canes Venatici. Also cataloged as NGC 5055, the majestic island universe is nearly 100,000 light-years across. That's about the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Known by the popular moniker, The Sunflower Galaxy, M63 sports a bright yellowish core in this sharp telescopic portrait. Its sweeping blue spiral arms are streaked with cosmic dust lanes and dotted with pink star forming regions. A dominant member of a known galaxy group, M63 has faint, extended features that are likely star streams from tidally disrupted satellite galaxies. M63 shines across the electromagnetic spectrum and is thought to have undergone bursts of intense star formation.

The Planet and the Pipe

Now posing against our galaxy's rich starfields and nebulae, brilliant planet Jupiter shines in the night sky. Its almost overwhelming glow is near the top of the frame in this colorful telephoto portrait of the central Milky Way. Spanning about 20 degrees on the sky, the scene includes the silhouette of LDN 1773 against the starlight, also know by the popular moniker the Pipe Nebula for its apparent outline of stem and bowl. The Pipe Nebula is part of the galaxy's Ophiuchus dark cloud complex. Located at a distance of about 450 light-years, dense cores of gas and dust within are collapsing to form stars. Approaching its opposition, opposite the Sun in the sky on June 12, Jupiter is only about 36 light-minutes from planet Earth. Fans of dark markings on the sky can probably spot the Snake Nebula below and left of Jupiter's glare.

On the Beach with Mars

At the end of last year's northern summer, after its dazzling opposition, Mars still shone brightly in the night. The celestial beacon easily attracted the attention of these two night skygazers who stood still for just a while, but long enough to be captured in the sea and night skyscape from Big Sur, planet Earth. Its central bulge near the southwestern horizon, the Milky Way runs through the scene too, while the long exposure also reveals a faint blue bioluminescence blooming in the waves along Pfeiffer Beach. Now much fainter, Mars can be spotted near the western horizon after sunset, but this month Jupiter is near its closest and brightest, reaching its own opposition on June 10. Night skygazers can spot brilliant Jupiter over southern horizons, glaring next to the stars toward the central Milky Way.

A Triangular Shadow of a Large Volcano

Why does the shadow of this volcano look like a triangle? The Mount Teide volcano itself does not have the strictly pyramidal shape that its geometric shadow might suggest. The triangle shadow phenomena is not unique to the Mt. Teide, though, and is commonly seen from the tops of other large mountains and volcanoes. A key reason for the strange dark shape is that the observer is looking down the long corridor of a sunset (or sunrise) shadow that extends to the horizon. Even if the huge volcano were a perfect cube and the resulting shadow were a long rectangular box, that box would appear to taper off at its top as its shadow extended far into the distance, just as parallel train tracks do. The featured spectacular image shows Pico Viejo crater in the foreground, located on Tenerife in the Canary Islands of Spain. The nearly full moon is seen nearby shortly after its total lunar eclipse. Explore the Universe: Random APOD Generator

Jupiter Abyss

What's that black spot on Jupiter? No one is sure. During the latest pass of NASA's Juno around Jupiter, the robotic spacecraft imaged an usually dark cloud feature informally dubbed the Abyss. Surrounding cloud patterns show the Abyss to be at the center of a vortex. Since dark features on Jupiter's atmosphere tend to run deeper than light features, the Abyss may really be the deep hole that it appears -- but without more evidence that remains conjecture. The Abyss is surrounded by a complex of meandering clouds and other swirling storm systems, some of which are topped by light colored, high-altitude clouds. The featured image was captured last month while Juno passed only about 15,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops. The next close pass of Juno near Jupiter will be in July.

The Cave Nebula in Infrared from Spitzer

What's happening in and around the Cave Nebula? To help find out, NASA's orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope looked into this optically-dark star-forming region in four colors of infrared light. The Cave Nebula, cataloged as Sh2-155, is quite bright in infrared, revealing details not only of internal pillars of gas and dust, but of the illuminating star cluster too - all near the top of the image. The red glow around the Cave's entrance is created by dust heated by bright young stars. To the right is Cepheus B, a star cluster that formed previously from the same cloud of gas and dust. Other interesting stars of Cepheus come to light in infrared as well, including those illuminating an even younger nebula toward the image bottom, and a runaway star pushing a bow shock, tinged in red near the image center. This region spans about 50 light years and lies about 2,500 light years toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus). Get the latest from NASA: Subscribe to NASA's Newsletter.

Sunset Analemma

Today, the solstice is at 15:54 Universal Time, the Sun reaching the northernmost declination in its yearly journey through planet Earth's sky. A June solstice marks the astronomical beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the south. It also brings the north's longest day, the longest period between sunrise and sunset. In fact the June solstice sun is near the top, at the most northern point in the analemma or figure 8 curve traced by the position of the Sun in this composite photo. The analemma was created (video) from images taken every 10 days at the same time from June 21, 2018 and June 7, 2019. The time was chosen to be the year's earliest sunset near the December solstice, so the analemma's lowest point just kisses the unobstructed sea horizon at the left. Sunsets arranged along the horizon toward the right (north) are centered on the sunset at the September equinox and end with sunset at the June solstice.

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