Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Incredible NASA photos

For today's blog posting I decided to check out some of the NASA galleries, which I have not done for many months.  The pictures included below are from NASA's astronomy pictures of the day:

December 5, 2012 Photo of the Day

Why does this galaxy emit such spectacular jets? No one is sure, but it is likely related to an active supermassive black hole at its center. The galaxy at the image center, Hercules A, appears to be a relatively normal elliptical galaxy in visible light. When imaged in radio waves, however, tremendous plasma jets over one million light years long appear. Detailed analyses indicate that the central galaxy, also known as 3C 348, is actually over 1,000 times more massive than our Milky Way Galaxy, and the central black hole is nearly 1,000 times more massive than the black hole at our Milky Way's center. Pictured above is a visible light image obtained by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope superposed with a radio image taken by the recently upgraded Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes in New Mexico, USA. The physics that creates the jets remains a topic of research with a likely energy source being infalling matter swirling toward the central black hole.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, S. Baum & C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

December 4, 2012

What's happening at the north pole of Saturn? A vortex of strange and complex swirling clouds. The center of this vortex was imaged in unprecedented detail last week by the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. These clouds lie at the center of the unusual hexagonal cloud system that surrounds the north pole of Saturn. Saturn's north pole precessed into sunlight just a few years ago, with Cassini taking only infrared images of the shadowed region previously. The above image is raw and unprocessed and is being prepared for release in 2013. Several similar images of the region have recently been condensed into a movie. Planetary scientists are sure to continue to study this most unusual cloud formation for quite some time.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

December 1, 2012

Innermost planet Mercury would probably not be a good location for an interplanetary winter olympics. But new results based on data from the Mercury orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft indicate that it does have substantial water ice in permanently shadowed regions within craters near its north pole. The possibility of ice on Mercury has been entertained for years, inspired by the discovery of radar bright, hence highly reflective, regions near the north pole. Highlighted in yellow in this map based on projected MESSENGER images, radar bright regions are seen to correspond with floors and walls of north polar impact craters. Farther from the pole the regions are concentrated on the north facing crater walls. MESSENGER's neutron spectroscopy and thermal models for the craters indicate material in these regions has a hydrogen content consistent with nearly pure water ice and is trapped in an area with temperatures that remain below 100 kelvins (-280 deg.F, -173 deg.C). In circumstances similar to permanent shadows in craters of the Moon, debris from comet impacts is thought to be the source of ice on Mercury.

Image Credit: NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab / Carnegie Inst. Washington

November 29, 2012

Did you see the big, bright, beautiful Full Moon Wednesday night? That was actually a Micro Moon! On that night, the smallest Full Moon of 2012 reached its full phase only about 4 hours before apogee, the most distant point from Earth in the Moon's elliptical orbit. Of course, earlier this year on May 6, a Full Super Moon was near perigee, the closest point in its orbit. The relative apparent size of November 28's Micro Moon (right) is compared to the famous May 6 Super Moon in these two panels, matching telescopic images from Bucharest, Romania. The difference in apparent size represents a difference in distance of just under 31,068 miles (50,000 km) between apogee and perigee, given the Moon's average distance of about 239,227 miles (385,000 km). How long do you have to wait to see another Full Micro Moon? Until January 16, 2014, when the lunar full phase will occur within about 3 hours of apogee.

Image Credit & amp; Copyright: Catalin Paduraru

November 25, 2012

They might look like trees on Mars, but they're not. Groups of dark brown streaks have been photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on melting pinkish sand dunes covered with light frost. The above image was taken in 2008 April near the North Pole of Mars. At that time, dark sand on the interior of Martian sand dunes became more and more visible as the spring Sun melted the lighter carbon dioxide ice. When occurring near the top of a dune, dark sand may cascade down the dune leaving dark surface streaks -- streaks that might appear at first to be trees standing in front of the lighter regions, but cast no shadows. Objects about 10 inches (25 cm) across are resolved on this image spanning about .62 miles (one km). Close ups of some parts of this image show billowing plumes indicating that the sand slides were occurring even when the image was being taken.

Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

November 16, 2012

On the morning of November 14, the Moon's umbral shadow tracked across northern Australia before heading into the southern Pacific. Captured from a hilltop some 30 miles west of the outback town of Mount Carbine, Queensland, a series of exposures follows the progress of the total solar eclipse in this dramatic composite image. The sequence begins near the horizon. The Moon steadily encroaches on the reddened face of the Sun, rising as the eclipse progresses. At the total phase, lasting about 2 minutes for that location, an otherwise faint solar corona shimmers around the eclipsed disk. Recorded during totality, the background exposure shows a still sunlit sky near the horizon, just beyond a sky darkened by the shadow of the Moon.

Image Credit & amp; Copyright: Ben Cooper (Launch Photography)

November 14, 2012

Could you tell the story of human existence in a minute? This thrilling video culls together multiple teasing snippets in an attempt to do just that. And sets it to music. Briefly depicted, from start to finish, is an artistic animation of the Big Bang, a trip across the early universe, the formation of the Earth and Moon, the emergence of multi-celled life and plants, the rise of  reptiles and dinosaurs  a devastating meteor strike, the rise of mammals and humans, and finally the rise of modern civilization. The minute movie ends with a flyover of the modern skyscraper and a human standing atop a snow covered mountain. The above video is the latest from the Symphony of Science project.

Video Credit & Copyright: MelodySheep, Symphony of Science, John Boswell; Music Credit: Our Story

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