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Lucy Launches to Eight Asteroids - 2021-10-20
Why would this mission go out as far as Jupiter -- but then not visit Jupiter? Lucy's plan is to follow different leads about the origin of our Solar System than can be found at Jupiter -- where Juno now orbits. Jupiter is such a massive planet that its gravity captures numerous asteroids that orbit the Sun ahead of it -- and behind. These trojan asteroids formed all over our Solar System and some may have been trapped there for billions of years. Flying by these trojan asteroids enables studying them as fossils that likely hold unique clues about our early Solar System. Lucy, named after a famous fossil skeleton which was named after a famous song, is scheduled to visit eight asteroids from 2025 to 2033. Pictured, Lucy's launch was captured with reflection last week aboard a powerful Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA.
Palomar 6: Globular Star Cluster - 2021-10-19
Where did this big ball of stars come from? Palomar 6 is one of about 200 globular clusters of stars that survive in our Milky Way Galaxy. These spherical star-balls are older than our Sun as well as older than most stars that orbit in our galaxy's disk. Palomar 6 itself is estimated to be about 12.5 billion years old, so old that it is close to -- and so constrains -- the age of the entire universe. Containing about 500,000 stars, Palomar 6 lies about 25,000 light years away, but not very far from our galaxy's center. At that distance, this sharp image from the Hubble Space Telescope spans about 15 light-years. After much study including images from Hubble, a leading origin hypothesis is that Palomar 6 was created -- and survives today -- in the central bulge of stars that surround the Milky Way's center, not in the distant galactic halo where most other globular clusters are now found.
Earthshine Moon over Sicily - 2021-10-18
Why can we see the entire face of this Moon? When the Moon is in a crescent phase, only part of it appears directly illuminated by the Sun. The answer is earthshine, also known as earthlight and the da Vinci glow. The reason is that the rest of the Earth-facing Moon is slightly illuminated by sunlight first reflected from the Earth. Since the Earth appears near full phase from the Moon -- when the Moon appears as a slight crescent from the Earth -- earthshine is then near its brightest. Featured here in combined, consecutively-taken, HDR images taken earlier this month, a rising earthshine Moon was captured passing slowly near the planet Venus, the brightest spot near the image center. Just above Venus is the star Dschubba (catalogued as Delta Scorpii), while the red star on the far left is Antares. The celestial show is visible through scenic cloud decks. In the foreground are the lights from Palazzolo Acreide, a city with ancient historical roots in Sicily, Italy.
The Einstein Cross Gravitational Lens - 2021-10-17
Most galaxies have a single nucleus -- does this galaxy have four? The strange answer leads astronomers to conclude that the nucleus of the surrounding galaxy is not even visible in this image. The central cloverleaf is rather light emitted from a background quasar. The gravitational field of the visible foreground galaxy breaks light from this distant quasar into four distinct images. The quasar must be properly aligned behind the center of a massive galaxy for a mirage like this to be evident. The general effect is known as gravitational lensing, and this specific case is known as the Einstein Cross. Stranger still, the images of the Einstein Cross vary in relative brightness, enhanced occasionally by the additional gravitational microlensing effect of specific stars in the foreground galaxy.
The Moona Lisa - 2021-10-16
Only natural colors of the Moon in planet Earth's sky appear in this creative visual presentation. Arranged as pixels in a framed image, the lunar disks were photographed at different times. Their varying hues are ultimately due to reflected sunlight affected by changing atmospheric conditions and the alignment geometry of Moon, Earth, and Sun. Here, the darkest lunar disks are the colors of earthshine. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written over 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. But stand farther back from your monitor or just shift your gaze to the smaller versions of the image. You might also see one of da Vinci's most famous works of art. Tonight: International Observe the Moon Night
NGC 289: Swirl in the Southern Sky - 2021-10-15
About 70 million light-years distant, gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 289 is larger than our own Milky Way. Seen nearly face-on, its bright core and colorful central disk give way to remarkably faint, bluish spiral arms. The extensive arms sweep well over 100 thousand light-years from the galaxy's center. At the lower right in this sharp, telescopic galaxy portrait the main spiral arm seems to encounter a small, fuzzy elliptical companion galaxy interacting with enormous NGC 289. Of course spiky stars are in the foreground of the scene. They lie within the Milky Way toward the southern constellation Sculptor.
NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula - 2021-10-14
A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, toward the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying. Its last few thousand years have produced the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a well studied and nearby example of a Planetary Nebula, typical of this final phase of stellar evolution. A total of 90 hours of exposure time have gone in to creating this expansive view of the nebula. Combining narrow band image data from emission lines of hydrogen atoms in red and oxygen atoms in blue-green hues, it shows remarkable details of the Helix's brighter inner region about 3 light-years across. The white dot at the Helix's center is this Planetary Nebula's hot, central star. A simple looking nebula at first glance, the Helix is now understood to have a surprisingly complex geometry.