Aurora over Icelandic Fault

Admire the beauty but fear the beast. The beauty is the aurora overhead, here taking the form of great green spiral, seen between picturesque clouds with the bright Moon to the side and stars in the background. The beast is the wave of charged particles that creates the aurora but might, one day, impair civilization. Exactly this week in 1859, following notable auroras seen all across the globe, a pulse of charged particles from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a solar flare impacted Earth’s magnetosphere so forcefully that they created the Carrington Event. A relatively direct path between the Sun and the Earth might have been cleared by a preceding CME. What is sure is that the Carrington Event compressed the Earth’s magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shocks. Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced. The featured aurora was imaged last week over Thingvallavatn Lake in Iceland, a lake that partly fills a fault that divides Earth’s large Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. via NASA

Young Suns of NGC 7129

Young suns still lie within dusty NGC 7129, some 3,000 light-years away toward the royal constellation Cepheus. While these stars are at a relatively tender age, only a few million years old, it is likely that our own Sun formed in a similar stellar nursery some five billion years ago. Most noticeable in the sharp image are the lovely bluish dust clouds that reflect the youthful starlight. But the compact, deep red crescent shapes are also markers of energetic, young stellar objects. Known as Herbig-Haro objects, their shape and color is characteristic of glowing hydrogen gas shocked by jets streaming away from newborn stars. Paler, extended filaments of reddish emission mingling with the bluish clouds are caused by dust grains effectively converting the invisible ultraviolet starlight to visible red light through photoluminesence. Ultimately the natal gas and dust in the region will be dispersed, the stars drifting apart as the loose cluster orbits the center of the Galaxy. The processing of this remarkable composite image has revealed the faint red strands of emission at the upper right. They are recently recognized as a likely supernova remnant and are currently being analyzed by Bo Reipurth (Univ. Hawaii) who obtained the image data at the Subaru telescope. At the estimated distance of NGC 7129, this telescopic view spans over 40 light-years. via NASA

Lunar Orbiter Earthset

August 10th was the 50th anniversary of the launch of Lunar Orbiter 1. It was the first of five Lunar Orbiters intended to photograph the Moon’s surface to aid in the selection of future landing sites. That spacecraft’s camera captured the data used in this restored, high-resolution version of its historic first image of Earth from the Moon on August 23, 1966 while on its 16th lunar orbit. Hanging almost stationary in the sky when viewed from the lunar surface, Earth appears to be setting beyond the rugged lunar horizon from the perspective of the orbiting spacecraft. Two years later, the Apollo 8 crew would record a more famous scene in color: Earthrise from lunar orbit. via NASA

The Milky Way Sets

Under dark skies the setting of the Milky Way can be a dramatic sight. Stretching nearly parallel to the horizon, this rich, edge-on vista of our galaxy above the dusty Namibian desert stretches from bright, southern Centaurus (left) to Cepheus in the north (right). From early August, the digitally stitched, panoramic night skyscape captures the Milky Way’s congeries of stars and rivers of cosmic dust, along with colors of nebulae not readily seen with the eye. Mars, Saturn, and Antares, visible even in more luminous night skies, form the the bright celestial triangle just touching the trees below the galaxy’s central bulge. Of course, our own galaxy is not the only galaxy in the scene. Two other major members of our local group, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy, lie near the right edge of the frame, beyond the arc of the setting Milky Way. via NASA

Tutulemma: Solar Eclipse Analemma

If you went outside at exactly the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun’s position change? With great planning and effort, such a series of images can be taken. The figure-8 path the Sun follows over the course of a year is called an analemma. At the Winter Solstice in Earth’s northern hemisphere, the Sun appears at the bottom of the analemma. Analemmas created from different latitudes appear at least slightly different, as well as analemmas created at a different time each day. With even greater planning and effort, the series can include a total eclipse of the Sun as one of the images. Pictured is such a total solar eclipse analemma or Tutulemma – a term coined by the photographers based on the Turkish word for eclipse. The featured composite image sequence was recorded from Turkey starting in 2005. The base image for the sequence is from the total phase of a solar eclipse as viewed from Side, Turkey on 2006 March 29. Venus was also visible during totality, toward the lower right. If you want to create your own USA-based tutulemma ending at next August’s total solar eclipse, now would be good time to start. via NASA

Map of Total Solar Eclipse Path in 2017 August

Would you like to see a total eclipse of the Sun? If so, do any friends or relatives live near the path of next summer’s eclipse? If yes again, then you might want to arrange a visit for one year from today. Next year on this exact date, the path of a total solar eclipse will cut right across the center of the contiguous USA. All of North America and part of South America will experience, at the least, a partial solar eclipse. Featured here is a map of the path of totality, computed by eclipse expert Fred Espenak of NASA’s GSFC. Many people who have seen a total solar eclipse tell stories about it for the rest of their lives. The last path of solar totality that included any part of the contiguous USA was in 1979, and the next two will be in 2024 and 2044. via NASA

Perseid Fireball at Sunset Crater

On the night of August 12, this bright Perseid meteor flashed above volcanic Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona, USA, planet Earth. Streaking along the summer Milky Way, its initial color is likely due to the shower meteor’s characteristically high speed. Entering at 60 kilometers per second, Perseid meteors are capable of exciting green emission from oxygen atoms while passing through the tenuous atmosphere at high altitudes. Also characteristic of bright meteors, this Perseid left a visibly glowing persistent train. Its evolution is seen over a three minute sequence (left to right) spanning the bottom of the frame. The camera ultimately captured a dramatic timelapse video of the twisting, drifting train. via NASA

Perseid Night at Yosemite

The 2016 Perseid meteor shower performed well on the night of August 11/12. The sky on that memorable evening was recorded from a perch overlooking Yosemite Valley, planet Earth, in this scene composed of 25 separate images selected from an all-night set of sequential exposures. Each image contains a single meteor and was placed in alignment using the background stars. The digital manipulation accounts for the Earth’s rotation throughout the night and allows the explosion of colorful trails to be viewed in perspective toward the shower’s radiant in the constellation Perseus. The fading alpenglow gently lights the west face of El Capitan just after sunset. Just before sunrise, a faint band zodiacal light, or the false dawn, shines upward from the east, left of Half Dome at the valley’s far horizon. Car lights illuminate the valley road. Of course, the image is filled with other celestial sights from that Perseid night, including the Milky Way and the Pleiades star cluster. via NASA

Meteor before Galaxy

What’s that green streak in front of the Andromeda galaxy? A meteor. While photographing the Andromeda galaxy last Friday, near the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, a sand-sized rock from deep space crossed right in front of our Milky Way Galaxy’s far-distant companion. The small meteor took only a fraction of a second to pass through this 10-degree field. The meteor flared several times while braking violently upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. The green color was created, at least in part, by the meteor’s gas glowing as it vaporized. Although the exposure was timed to catch a Perseids meteor, the orientation of the imaged streak seems a better match to a meteor from the Southern Delta Aquariids, a meteor shower that peaked a few weeks earlier. via NASA

Five Planets and the Moon over Australia

It is not a coincidence that planets line up. That’s because all of the planets orbit the Sun in (nearly) a single sheet called the plane of the ecliptic. When viewed from inside that plane — as Earth dwellers are likely to do — the planets all appear confined to a single band. It is a coincidence, though, when several of the brightest planets all appear in nearly the same direction. Such a coincidence was captured just last week. Featured above, six planets and Earth’s Moon were all imaged together last week, just before sunset, from Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia. A second band is visible across the top of this tall image — the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy. via NASA