• Main belt asteroid 4 Vesta is at its brightest now. The small world is near opposition (opposite the Sun in the sky) and closest to Earth. But even at its brightest, Vesta is just too faint to spot with the naked-eye. Still, over the next few days it will be relatively easy to find in the constellation Leo, sharing a
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  • Why is this moon of Saturn so smooth? This past weekend, humanity’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft passed as close to Saturn’s small moon Calypso as it ever has, and imaged the small moon in unprecedented detail. Pictured above is an early return, raw, unprocessed image of the 20-km long irregularly shaped moon. Like its sister moon Telesto and the shepherd moon
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  • What’s that approaching? Astronauts on board the International Space Station first saw it far in the distance. Soon it enlarged to become a dark silhouette. As it came even closer, the silhouette appeared to be a spaceship. Finally, at just past 11 pm ( >CST) last Tuesday, the object, revealed to be the >Space Shuttle Endeavor, docked as expected with
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  • If this is Saturn, where are the rings? When Saturn’s “appendages” disappeared in 1612, Galileo did not understand why. Later that century, it became understood that Saturn’s unusual protrusions were rings and that when the Earth crosses the ring plane, the edge-on rings will appear to disappear. This is because Saturn’s rings are confined to a plane many times thinner,
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  • What surrounds the florid Rosette nebula? To better picture this area of the sky, the famous flowery emission nebula on the far right has been captured recently in a deep and dramatic wide field image that features several other sky highlights. Designated NGC 2237, the center of the Rosette nebula is populated by the bright blue stars of open cluster
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  • The 32nd shuttle mission to the International Space Station, STS-130, left planet Earth on February 8. Its early morning launch to orbit from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A followed the long, graceful, eastward arc seen in this 2 minute time exposure. Well composed, the dramatic picture also shows the arc’s watery reflection from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, in Ponte Vedra,
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  • The snow capped Teide volcano is reflected in a pool of water in this nearly symmetric night sky view from the Canary Island Tenerife. Bright north star Polaris stands above the peak in an exposure that also captures the brilliant trail of a polar orbiting Iridium satellite. Of course, with the camera fixed to a tripod, the stars themselves produce
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  • This pretty open cluster of stars, M34, is about the size of the Full Moon on the sky. Easy to appreciate in small telescopes, it lies some 1,800 light-years away in the constellation Perseus. At that distance, M34 physically spans about 15 light-years. Formed at the same time from the same cloud of dust and gas, all the stars of
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  • Why does a volcanic eruption sometimes create lightning? Pictured above, the Sakurajima volcano in southern Japan was caught erupting early last month. Magma bubbles so hot they glow shoot away as liquid rock bursts through the Earth’s surface from below. The above image is particularly notable, however, for the lightning bolts caught near the volcano’s summit. Why lightning occurs even
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  • Sometimes, the space shuttle >launches at night. >Pictured above, the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off in yesterday’s early morning hours from >Launch Pad 39A in Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, bound for the >International Space Station (ISS). A night launch, useful for reaching the space station easily during some times of the year, frequently creates vivid launch imagery. The shuttle,
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