• What would Saturn’s rings look like if the ring plane pointed directly at the Sun? That situation occurred earlier this month when equinox occurred on Saturn. Since the Earth is nearly in the same direction as the Sun from Saturn, the rings appeared to disappear from Earth. From the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, however, the unusually illuminated ring plane
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  • What causes these long, strange clouds? No one is sure. A rare type of cloud known as a Morning Glory cloud can stretch 1,000 kilometers long and occur at altitudes up to two kilometers high. Although similar roll clouds have been seen at specific places across the world, the ones over Burketown, Queensland Australia occur predictably every spring. Long, horizontal,
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  • What are those strange blue objects? Many of the brightest blue images are of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here typically appear yellow and — together with the cluster’s dark matter — act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of
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  • Named for Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum (1924-1960), The Gum Nebula is so large and close it is actually hard to see. In fact, we are only about 450 light-years from the front edge and 1,500 light-years from the back edge of this cosmic cloud of glowing hydrogen gas. Covered in this 41 degree-wide mosaic of H-alpha images, the faint
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  • NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy seen edge-on (top right) only 25 million light-years away towards the small northern constellation Canes Venatici. This galaxy’s slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others the popular moniker of The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this
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  • During July 22nd’s solar eclipse, the Moon’s dark shadow traced a narrow path as it raced eastward across India and China and on into the Pacific. Hong Kong was south of the shadow’s path, so a total eclipse was not visible there, but a partial eclipse was still enjoyed by inhabitants of the populous city. And while many were (safely!)
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  • Sprawling across hundreds of light-years, emission nebula IC 1396, visible on the upper right, mixes glowing cosmic gas and dark dust clouds. Stars are forming in this area, only about 3,000 light-years from Earth. This wide angle view also captures surrounding emission and absorption nebula. The red glow in IC 1396 and across the image is created by cosmic hydrogen
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  • Why take a picture of just the Badlands when you can take one that also shows the spectacular sky above it? Just such a picture, actually a digital stitched panorama of four images, was taken in late June near midnight, looking southwest. In the foreground, the unusual buttes of the Badlands Wall, part of the Badlands National Park in South
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  • Where are all of these meteors coming from? In terms of direction on the sky, the pointed answer is the constellation of Perseus. That is why the last week’s meteor shower was known as the Perseids — the meteors all appear to come from a radiant toward Perseus. Three dimensionally, however, sand-sized debris expelled from Comet Swift-Tuttle follows a well-defined
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  • Why are these people shooting a powerful laser into the center of our Galaxy? Fortunately, this is not meant to be the first step in a Galactic war. Rather, astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) site in Chile are trying to measure the distortions of Earth’s ever changing atmosphere. Constant imaging of high-altitude atoms excited by the laser —
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  • Dark skies are favored for viewing meteor showers. But the annual Perseid Meteor Shower still entertained skygazers around the world this week even though the Moon brightened the night. At its last quarter phase and rising around midnight on August 13, after the shower’s anticipated peak, the Moon is seen here above rock formations in the Alborz Mountains near Firouzkooh,
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  • This early morning skyscape was captured last week on August 4th, looking northeast across calm waters in the Turn Basin at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In a striking contrast in motion, the space shuttle Discovery, mounted on a massive transporter, creeps toward launch pad 39A at less than two miles per hour, while a brilliant meteor streaks through the sky
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  • What is this strange rock on Mars? Sitting on a smooth plane, the rock stands out for its isolation, odd shape, large size and unusual texture. The rock was discovered by the robotic Opportunity rover rolling across Mars late last month. Pictured above, Opportunity prepares to inspect the unusual rock. After being X-rayed, poked, and chemically analyzed, the rock has
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  • Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in
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  • What happens when a meteor hits the ground? Usually nothing much, as most meteors are small, and indentations they make are soon eroded away. About 50,000 years ago, however, a large meteor created Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona, USA. Also known simply as Meteor Crater, the resulting impact basin spans over a kilometer. Pictured above, a tour group views the
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