Friday, March 23, 2012

NASA Photos

Yesterday I spent part of the day working on the rockhounding adventures, but then I headed to the museum to pack the car for my first show of the year. I'll be in Escanaba this weekend at the WLUC TV 6 art and craft show. The event is at the UP State Fairgrounds in the Butler Building. Hours are Friday 5-9, Saturday 10-6, and Sunday 11-4.

The first picture is Messier 9, which is a globular cluster of over 300,000 stars within a diameter of about 90 light-years. It lies some 25,000 light-years away from Earth, near the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy.

These are pictures of M51, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. Each picture shows a supernova exploding star, which are short lived events. The supernova marked on the left was seen in 2005. The one on the right was seen in 2011.

A few days ago this Northern Lights photo was taken by Danial Lopez. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth's poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules obtain excited electrons, and when electrons in oxygen molecules fall back to their ground state, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

It was visible around the world. The sunset conjunction of Jupiter and Venus was visible last week almost no matter where you lived on Earth. Anyone on the planet with a clear western horizon at sunset could see them. This week the two are still notable, even though Jupiter has sunk below the brighter Venus. And if you look higher in the sky you can see Mars as well. Pictured below is a photo taken of the two planets that were separated only by three degrees. A faint red sunset still glowed in the background. Although this conjunction is drawing to a close, another conjunction between Venus and Jupiter will occur next May.

A week or so ago one of the baddest sunspot regions in years occurred. Active Region 1429 may not only look, to some, like an angry bird -- it has thrown off some of the most powerful flares and coronal mass ejections of the current solar cycle. The extended plumes from these explosions have even rained particles onto the Earth that have resulted in colorful auroras. Pictured below, AR 1429 was captured in great detail in the Sun's chromosphere by isolating a color of light emitted primarily by hydrogen. The resulting image is shown in inverted false color with dark regions being the brightest and hottest. Giant magnetically-channeled tubes of hot gas, some longer than the Earth, are known as spicules and can be seen carpeting the chromosphere. The light tendril just above AR 1429 is a cool filament hovering just over the active sunspot region. As solar maximum nears in the next few years, the increasingly wound and twisted magnetic field of the Sun may create even more furious active regions that chirp even more energetic puffs of solar plasma into our Solar System.

This floating ring is part of the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

What's causing these odd rings in supernova 1987A? Twenty five years ago, in 1987, the brightest supernova in recent history was seen in the Large Magellanic Cloud. At the center of the above picture is an object central to the remains of the violent stellar explosion. Surrounding the center are curious outer rings appearing as a flattened figure 8. Although large telescopes including the Hubble Space Telescope monitor the curious rings every few years, their origin remains a mystery. Pictured above is a Hubble image of the SN1987A remnant taken last year. Speculation into the cause of the rings includes beamed jets emanating from an otherwise hidden neutron star left over from the supernova, and the interaction of the wind from the progenitor star with gas released before the explosion.

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