May 17 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 17

NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide

Image Credit & Copyright: Capture: Greg TurgeonProcessing: Kiko Fairbairn

Explanation: Astronomers turn detectives when trying to figure out the cause of startling sights like NGC 1316. Investigations indicate that NGC 1316 is an enormous elliptical galaxy that started, about 100 million years ago, to devour a smaller spiral galaxy neighbor, NGC 1317, just on the upper right. Supporting evidence includes the dark dust lanes characteristic of a spiral galaxy, and faint swirls and shells of stars and gas visible in this wide and deep image. One thing that >remains unexplained is the unusually small globular star clusters, seen as faint dots on the image. Most elliptical galaxies have more and brighter globular clusters than NGC 1316. Yet the observed globulars are too old to have been created by the recent spiral collision. One hypothesis is that these globulars survive from an even earlier galaxy that was subsumed into NGC 1316. Another surprising attribute of NGC 1316, also known as Fornax A, is its giant lobes of gas that glow brightly in radio waves.

May 16 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 16

Milky Way over French Alp Hoodoos

Image Credit & Copyright: Benjamin Barakat

Explanation: Real castles aren’t this old. And the background galaxy is even older. Looking a bit like an alien castle, the pictured rock spires are called hoodoos and are likely millions of years old. Rare, but found around the world, hoodoos form when dense rocks slow the erosion of softer rock underneath. The pictured hoodoos survive in the French Alps and are named Demoiselles Coiffées — which translates to English as “Ladies with Hairdos“. The background galaxy is part of the central disk of our own Milky Way galaxy and contains stars that are typically billions of years old. The photogenic Cygnus sky region — rich in dusty dark clouds and red glowing nebulas — appears just above and behind the hoodoos. The featured image was taken in two stages: the foreground was captured during the evening blue hour, while the background was acquired from the same location later that night.

May 15 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 15

Colors of the Moon

Image Credit & CopyrightMarcella Giulia Pace

Explanation: What color is the Moon? It depends on the night. Outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, the dark Moon, which shines by reflected sunlight, appears a magnificently brown-tinged gray. Viewed from inside the Earth’s atmosphere, though, the moon can appear quite different. The featured image highlights a collection of apparent colors of the full moon documented by one astrophotographer over 10 years from different locations across Italy. A red or yellow colored moon usually indicates a moon seen near the horizon. There, some of the blue light has been scattered away by a long path through the Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes laden with fine dust. A blue-colored moon is more rare and can indicate a moon seen through an atmosphere carrying larger dust particles. What created the purple moon is unclear — it may be a combination of several effects. The last image captures the total lunar eclipse of 2018 July — where the moon, in Earth’s shadow, appeared a faint red — due to light refracted through air around the Earth. Today there is not only another full moon but a total lunar eclipse visible to observers in North and South America — an occurrence that may lead to some unexpected lunar colorings.

May 13 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 13

The Milky Way’s Black Hole

Image Credit: X-ray – NASA/CXC/SAO, IR – NASA/HST/STScI; Inset: Radio – Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Explanation: There’s a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Stars are observed to orbit a very massive and compact object there known as Sgr A* (say “sadge-ay-star”). But this just released radio image (inset) from planet Earth’s Event Horizon Telescope is the first direct evidence of the Milky Way’s central black hole. As predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, the four million solar mass black hole’s strong gravity is bending light and creating a shadow-like dark central region surrounded by a bright ring-like structure. Supporting observations made by space-based telescopes and ground-based observatories provide a wider view of the galactic center’s dynamic environment and an important context for the Event Horizon Telescope’s black hole image. The main panel image shows the X-ray data from Chandra and infrared data from Hubble. While the main panel is about 7-light years across, the Event Horizon Telescope inset image itself spans a mere 10 light-minutes at the center of our galaxy, some 27,000 light-years away.

May 12 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 12

Young Stars of NGC 346

Image Credit: NASAESA – acknowledgement: Antonella Nota (ESA/STScIet al.,

Explanation: The massive stars of NGC 346 are short lived, but very energetic. The star cluster is embedded in the largest star forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud, some 210,000 light-years distant. Their winds and radiation sweep out an interstellar cavern in the gas and dust cloud about 200 light-years across, triggering star formation and sculpting the region’s dense inner edge. Cataloged as N66, the star forming region also appears to contain a large population of infant stars. A mere 3 to 5 million years old and not yet burning hydrogen in their cores, the infant stars are strewn about the embedded star cluster. In this false-color Hubble Space Telescope image, visible and near-infrared light are seen as blue and green, while light from atomic hydrogen emission is red.

May 11 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 11

Astronomers think that in the future the “Cheshire Cat” group will become what is known as a fossil group, a gathering of galaxies that contains one giant elliptical galaxy and other much smaller, fainter ones. Today, researchers know each “eye” galaxy is the brightest member of its own group of galaxies and these two groups are racing toward one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. Data from Chandra (purple), which has been combined with optical data from Hubble, show hot gas that has been heated to millions of degrees, which is evidence that the galaxy groups are slamming into one another. Chandra’s X-ray data also reveal that the left “eye” of the Cheshire Cat group contains an actively feeding supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

Gravity’s Grin

Image Credit: X-ray – NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical – NASA/STScI

Explanation: Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published over 100 years ago, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that’s what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group’s two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group’s total distribution of gravitational mass. Of course, that gravitational mass is dominated by dark matter. The two large elliptical “eye” galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.

May 10 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 10

NGC 6334: The Cat’s Paw Nebula

Image Credit & Copyright: Stefan Steve Bemmerl & Team Wolfatorium (Hakos/Namibia)

Explanation: Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat’s Paw Nebula visible toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat’s Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula and cataloged as NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured here is a deep field image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula in light emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur.

 

Explore Your Universe: Random APOD Generator

May 9 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 9

A Martian Eclipse: Phobos Crosses the Sun

Video Credit: NASAJPL-CaltechASU MSSSSSIExplanation: What’s that passing in front of the Sun? It looks like a moon, but it can’t be Earth’s Moon, because it isn’t round. It’s the Martian moon Phobos. The featured video was taken from the surface of Mars a month ago by the Perseverance rover. Phobos, at 11.5 kilometers across, is 150 times smaller than Luna (our moon) in diameter, but also 50 times closer to its parent planet. In fact, Phobos is so close to Mars that it is expected to break up and crash into Mars within the next 50 million years. In the near term, the low orbit of Phobos results in more rapid solar eclipses than seen from Earth. The featured video is shown in real time — the transit really took about 40 seconds,as shown. The videographer — the robotic rover Perseverance (Percy) — continues to explore Jezero Crater on Mars, searching not only for clues to the watery history of the now dry world, but evidence of ancient microbial life.

 

New Social Mirror: APOD now available on mastodon

May 7 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 7

Firefall by Moonlight

Image Credit & Copyright: Tara Mostofi

Explanation: On certain dates in February, an elusive firefall can be spotted at sunset in Yosemite National Park, when water flows, the weather cooperates and the direction to the setting Sun is just right. Often photographed from vantage points below, at the right moment the park’s seasonal Horsetail Fall is isolated in the shadows of the steep walls of El Capitan. Then, still illuminated with rays of reddened sunlight the waterfall briefly takes on a dramatic, fiery appearance. But a Horsetail firefall can be photographed by moonlight too. Even more elusive by moonlight, the firefall effect can also be seen when a bright Moon sets at the right direction along the western horizon. And skies were clear enough for this well-planned imaging of an ephemeral Horsetail firefall, lit by a bright gibbous Moon setting in the early morning hours of April 15.

May 6 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 6

NGC 3572 and the Southern Tadpoles

Image Credit & Copyright: Carlos Taylor

Explanation: This cosmic skyscape features glowing gas and dark dust clouds along side the young stars of NGC 3572. A beautiful emission nebula and star cluster it sails far southern skies within the nautical constellation Carina. Stars from NGC 3572 are toward top center in the telescopic frame that would measure about 100 light-years across at the cluster’s estimated distance of 9,000 light-years. The visible interstellar gas and dust is part of the star cluster’s natal molecular cloud. Dense streamers of material within the nebula, eroded by stellar winds and radiation, clearly trail away from the energetic young stars. They are likely sites of ongoing star formation with shapes reminiscent of the Tadpoles of IC 410 better known to northern skygazers. In the coming tens to hundreds of millions of years, gas and stars in the cluster will be dispersed though, by gravitational tides and by violent supernova explosions that end the short lives of the massive cluster stars.

May 5 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 5

NGC 3521: Galaxy in a Bubble

Image Credit & Copyright: Mark Hanson and Mike Selby

Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years away, toward the northern springtime constellation Leo. Relatively bright in planet Earth’s sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65. It’s hard to overlook in this colorful cosmic portrait though. Spanning some 50,000 light-years the galaxy sports characteristic patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust, pink star forming regions, and clusters of young, blue stars. This deep image also finds NGC 3521 embedded in fainter, gigantic, bubble-like shells. The shells are likely tidal debris, streams of stars torn from satellite galaxies that have undergone mergers with NGC 3521 in the distant past.

May 4 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 4

Planets Over Egyptian Pyramid

Image Credit & Copyright: Osama Fatehi

Explanation: The early morning planet parade continues. Visible the world over, the planets Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn have been lining up in the pre-dawn sky since mid-April. In the featured image taken last month, these planets were captured over the Step Pyramid of Djoser, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Saqqara necropolis of Egypt, the pyramid was constructed in the 27th century BC and is one of the oldest pyramids known. The two-image composite includes a foreground image taken during evening blue hour, and a background image captured from the same location the following morning. The morning planet line-up is slowly changing. At the end of last month, planets Jupiter and Venus switched places, while at the end of this month, Jupiter and Mars will switch after passing within one-degree of each other. Of course, this picturesque planetary angular alignment is a coincidence, as all of these worlds continue to orbit the Sun as they have for billions of years, well before even the ancient Pyramid of Djoser was built.

 

Notable Submissions to APOD: Morning Planet Parade 2022

May 3 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 3

Mercury’s Sodium Tail

Image Credit & Copyright: Sebastian Voltmer

Explanation: That’s no comet. Below the Pleiades star cluster is actually a planet: Mercury. Long exposures of our Solar System’s innermost planet may reveal something unexpected: a tail. Mercury‘s thin atmosphere contains small amounts of sodium that glow when excited by light from the Sun. Sunlight also liberates these molecules from Mercury’s surface and pushes them away. The yellow glow from sodium, in particular, is relatively bright. Pictured, Mercury and its sodium tail are visible in a deep image taken last week from La PalmaSpain through a filter that primarily transmits yellow light emitted by sodium. First predicted in the 1980s, Mercury’s tail was first discovered in 2001. Many tail details were revealed in multiple observations by NASA‘s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015. Tails, of course, are usually associated with comets.

May 2 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 2

Partial Solar Eclipse over Argentina

Image Credit & Copyright: Aixa Andrada

Explanation: What’s happened to the Sun? Two days ago, parts of South America were treated to a partial solar eclipse — where the Moon blocked out part of the Sun. The featured image shows an image of the partially eclipsed Sun through clouds as it was setting over PatagoniaArgentina. In the tilted image, Earth is toward the right. During the eclipse, the Moon moved partly between Earth and the Sun. Although a visually impressive sight, the slight dimming of surroundings during this partial eclipse was less noticeable than dimming created by a thick cloud. In about two weeks, all of South America and part of North America will experience a total lunar eclipse — where the Earth moves completely between the Moon and the Sun. In about two years, a total solar eclipse will cross North America.

May 1 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 1

First Horizon-Scale Image of a Black Hole

Image Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Explanation: What does a black hole look like? To find out, radio telescopes from around the Earth coordinated observations of black holes with the largest known event horizons on the sky. Alone, black holes are just black, but these monster attractors are known to be surrounded by glowing gas. This first image resolves the area around the black hole at the center of galaxy M87 on a scale below that expected for its event horizonPictured, the dark central region is not the event horizon, but rather the black hole’s shadow — the central region of emitting gas darkened by the central black hole’s gravity. The size and shape of the shadow is determined by bright gas near the event horizon, by strong gravitational lensing deflections, and by the black hole’s spin. In resolving this black hole’s shadow, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) bolstered evidence that Einstein’s gravity works even in extreme regions, and gave clear evidence that M87 has a central spinning black hole of about 6 billion solar masses. Since releasing this featured image in 2019, the EHT has expanded to include more telescopes, observe more black holes, track polarized light,and is working to observe the immediately vicinity of the black hole in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

 

This week is: Black Hole Week
New EHT Results to be Announced: Next Thursday