Explanation: The city of Veszprem, Hungary was only briefly haunted by this mysterious spectre. On the morning of August 11, its monstrous form hovered in the mist above municipal buildings near the town center. A clue to its true identity is offered by the photographer, though, who reports he took the picture from the top of a twenty story building with the rising Sun directly at his back. That special geometry suggests this is an example of an atmospheric phenomenon called the Glory or sometimes "the Spectre of the Brocken". Also seen from mountain tops and airplanes when looking opposite the Sun, the dramatic apparition is the observer's shadow on clouds or fog, the small droplets of water scattering light back towards the Sun through complex internal reflections. Careful night sky watchers can also encounter this spectre's analog in astronomy, a brightening of zodiacal light opposite the Sun known as the gegenschein.
Explanation: It was visible around the world. The sunset conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2012 was visible almost no matter where you lived on Earth. Anyone on the planet with a clear western horizon at sunset could see them. Pictured above in 2012, a creative photographer traveled away from the town lights of Szubin, Poland to image a near closest approach of the two planets. The bright planets were separated only by three degrees and his daughter striking a humorous pose. A faint red sunset still glowed in the background. Early tomorrow (Monday) morning, the two planets will pass even closer -- only 0.2 degrees apart as visible from some locations -- just before sunrise.
Explanation: On Monday morning, Venus and Jupiter gathered close in dawn skies, for some separated by about half the width of a full moon. It was their closest conjunction since 2000, captured here above the eastern horizon before sunrise. The serene and colorful view is from Istia beach near the city of Capoliveri on the island of Elba. Distant lights and rolling hills are along Italy's Tuscan coast. Of course, the celestial pair soon wandered apart. Brighter Venus headed lower, toward the eastern horizon and the glare of the Sun, while Jupiter continues to rise a little higher now in the sky near dawn. The two brightest planets meet again next June 30th, in the evening twilight above the western horizon.
Contrasting Terrains on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko Image Credit: ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team; MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Explanation: Where should Philae land? As ESA's robotic spacecraft Rosetta circles toward Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a decision must eventually be made as to where its mechanical lander should attempt to touch-down. Reaching the comet earlier this month, Rosetta is sending back detailed pictures of the comet's unusual nucleus from which a smooth landing site will be selected. Pictured above, near the image top, the head of the comet's nucleus shows rugged grooves, while near the image bottom, the body shows a patch-work of areas sometimes separated by jagged hills. Some of the patch-work areas apparent on both the head and body seem to have fields of relatively smooth terrain. In the connecting area called the neck, however, visible across the image center, a relatively large swath of light-colored smooth terrain appears, punctuated occasionally by large boulders. Rosetta is scheduled to release Philae toward the dark mountain-sized comet nucleus with an anticipated landing date in November.
Mercury's Transit: An Unusual Spot on the Sun Image Credit & Copyright: David Cortner
Explanation: What's that dot on the Sun? If you look closely, it is almost perfectly round. The dot is the result of an unusual type of solar eclipse that occurred in 2006. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. This time, the planet Mercury took a turn. Like the approach to New Moon before a solar eclipse, the phase of Mercury became a continually thinner crescent as the planet progressed toward an alignment with the Sun. Eventually the phase of Mercury dropped to zero and the dark spot of Mercury crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Mercurian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the cratered planes of the night side of Mercury, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase. Hours later, as Mercury continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Mercurian solar eclipse will occur in 2016.
Arp 188 and the Tadpole's Tail Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing & Copyright: Joachim Dietrich
Explanation: Why does this galaxy have such a long tail? In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 - from right to left in this view - and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy's stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail's star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.