• Nearby and bright, spiral galaxies M65 (top) and M66 stand out in this engaging cosmic snapshot. The pair are just 35 million light-years distant and around 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own spiral Milky Way. While both exhibit prominent dust lanes sweeping along their broad spiral arms, M66 in particular is a striking contrast in red and
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  • Explanation: In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, “This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.” Of course, M13 is now modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Telescopic views reveal the
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  • Waiting years and traveling kilometers — all to get a shot like this. And even with all of this planning, a good bit of luck was helpful. As the Sun rose over the Baltic Sea last Wednesday as seen from Fehmarn Island in northern Germany, photographer Jens Hackmann was ready for the very unusual black dot of Venus to appear
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  • These are larger dust bunnies than you will find under your bed. Situated in rich star fields and glowing hydrogen gas, these opaque clouds of interstellar dust and gas are so large they might be able to form stars. Their home is known as IC 2944, a bright stellar nursery located about 5,900 light years away toward the constellation of
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  • What’s that black dot moving across the Sun? Venus. Possibly the clearest view of Venus crossing in front of the Sun last week was from Earth orbit. The Solar Dynamics Observatory obtained an uninterrupted vista recording it not only in optical light but also in bands of ultraviolet light. Pictured above is a composite movie of the crossing set to
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  • What if you were given a new Hubble telescope for free? How about two? The astronomical community is abuzz with just this opportunity as the US National Reconnaissance Office has unexpectedly transferred ownership of two space-qualified Hubble-quality telescopes to NASA. The usefulness of these telescopes in addressing existing science priorities has begun, but preliminary indications hold that even one of
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  • As its June 6 2012 transit begins Earth’s sister planet crosses the edge of the Sun in this stunning view from the Hinode spacecraft. The timing of limb crossings during the rare transits was used historically to triangulate the distance to Venus and determine a value for the Earth-Sun distance called the astronomical unit. Still, modern space-based views like this
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  • Explanation: This dramatic telephoto view across the Black Sea on June 6 finds Venus rising with the Sun, the planet in silhouette against a ruddy and ragged solar disk. Of course, the reddened light is due to scattering in planet Earth’s atmosphere and the rare transit of Venus didn’t influence the strangely shaped and distorted Sun. In fact, seeing the
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  • Occurring in pairs separated by over a hundred years, there have now been only eight transits of Venus since the invention of the telescope in 1608. The next will be in December of 2117. But many modern telescopes and cameras were trained on this week’s Venus transit, capturing the planet in rare silhouette against the Sun. In this sharp telescopic
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  • A setting full moon rarely looks like this. Monday morning just before a fully lit Strawberry Moon dropped behind the Absaroka Mountain Range near Cody, Wyoming, USA, the shadow of the Earth got in the way. A similarly setting partial lunar eclipse was visible throughout most of North and South America, while simultaneously the same partially darkened moon was visible
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  • Today Venus moves in front of the Sun. One way to follow this rare event is to actively reload the above live image of the Sun during the right time interval and look for an unusual circular dark dot. The smaller sprawling dark areas are sunspots. The circular dot is the planet Venus. The dark dot will only appear during
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  • Will our Milky Way Galaxy collide one day with its larger neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy? Most likely, yes. Careful plotting of slight displacements of M31’s stars relative to background galaxies on recent Hubble Space Telescope images indicate that the center of M31 could be on a direct collision course with the center of our home galaxy. Still, the errors in
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  • The rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in 2004 was one of the better-photographed events in sky history. Both scientific and artistic images flooded in from the areas that could see the transit: Europe and much of Asia, Africa, and North America. Scientifically, solar photographers confirmed that the black drop effect is really better related to
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  • Follow the handle of the Big Dipper away from the dipper’s bowl until you get to the handle’s last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you might find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined
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  • These three bright nebulae are often featured in telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius and the crowded starfields of the central Milky Way. In fact, 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged two of them; M8, the large nebula left of center, and colorful M20 on the right. The third, NGC 6559, is above M8, separated from the larger nebula
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