NASA Latest Images




Central Cygnus Skyscape
Image Credit & Copyright: Paul C. Swift
Explanation: In cosmic brush strokes of glowing hydrogen gas, this beautiful skyscape unfolds across the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy and the center of the northern constellation Cygnus the Swan. The featured image spans about six degrees. Bright supergiant star Gamma Cygni (Sadr) to the upper left of the image center lies in the foreground of the complex gas and dust clouds and crowded star fields. Left of Gamma Cygni, shaped like two luminous wings divided by a long dark dust lane is IC 1318, whose popular name is understandably the Butterfly Nebula. The more compact, bright nebula at the lower right is NGC 6888, the Crescent Nebula. Some distance estimates for Gamma Cygni place it at around 1,800 light-years while estimates for IC 1318 and NGC 6888 range from 2,000 to 5,000 light-years.


Announcing Comet Catalina
Image Credit & Copyright: Ian Sharp
Explanation: Will Comet Catalina become visible to the unaided eye? Given the unpredictability of comets, no one can say for sure, but it seems like a good bet. The comet was discovered in 2013 by observations of the Catalina Sky Survey. Since then, Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) has steadily brightened and is currently brighter than 8th magnitude, making it visible with binoculars and long-duration camera images. As the comet further approaches the inner Solar System it will surely continue to intensify, possibly becoming a naked eye object sometime in October and peaking sometime in late November. The comet will reside primarily in the skies of the southern hemisphere until mid-December, at which time its highly inclined orbit will bring it quickly into northern skies. Featured above, Comet Catalina was imaged last week sporting a green coma and two growing tails.


Andromeda Rising over the Alps
Image Credit & Copyright: Matteo Dunchi
Explanation: Have you ever seen the Andromeda galaxy? Although M31 appears as a faint and fuzzy blob to the unaided eye, the light you see will be over two million years old, making it likely the oldest light you ever will see directly. Now rising near a few hours after sunset from mid-latitude northern locations, Andromeda is rising earlier each night and will be visible to northerners all night long starting in September. The featured image captured Andromeda rising above the Italian Alps last month. As cool as it may be to see this neighboring galaxy to our Milky Way with your own eyes, long duration camera exposures can pick up many faint and breathtaking details. Recent data indicates that our Milky Way Galaxy will collide and coalesce with the slightly larger Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years.


M1: The Crab Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester, A. Loll (ASU)
Explanation: This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The featured image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.


Perihelion Approaches
Image Credit: ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team; MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Explanation: This dramatic outburst from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko occured on August 12, just hours before perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun. Completing an orbit of the Sun once every 6.45 years, perihelion distance for this periodic comet is about 1.3 astronomical units (AU), still outside the orbit of planet Earth (at 1 AU). The stark image of the 4 kilometer wide, double-lobed nucleus in bright sunlight and dark shadows was taken by the Rosetta spacecraft's science camera about 325 kilometers away. Too close to see the comet's growing tail, Rosetta maintains its ringside seat to watch the nucleus warm and become more active in coming weeks, as primordial ices sublimating from the surface produce jets of gas and dust. Of course, dust from the nucleus of periodic comet Swift-Tuttle, whose last perihelion passage was in 1992 at a distance of 0.96 AU, fell to Earth just this week.


Comet Dust over Enchanted Rock
Image Credit & Copyright: Jared Tennant
Explanation: Dusty debris from periodic Comet Swift-Tuttle was swept up by planet Earth this week. Vaporized by their passage through the dense atmosphere at 59 kilometers per second, the tiny grains produced a stream of Perseid meteors. A bright, colorful Perseid meteor flash was captured during this 20 second exposure. It made its ephemeral appearance after midnight on August 12, in the moonless skies over the broad granite dome of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, central Texas, USA. Below the Perseid meteor, trees stand in silhouette against scattered lights along the horizon and the faint Milky Way, itself cut by dark clouds of interstellar dust.


Moonless Meteors and the Milky Way
Image Credit & Copyright: Petr Horálek
Explanation: Have you watched the Perseid meteor shower? Though the annual shower's predicted peak was last night, meteor activity should continue tonight (August 13/14), best enjoyed by just looking up in clear, dark skies after midnight. Of course, this year's Perseid shower has the advantage of being active near the August 14 New Moon. Since the nearly New Moon doesn't rise before the morning twilight many fainter meteors are easier to spot until then, with no interference from bright moonlight. The Perseid meteor shower last occurred near a New Moon in 2013. That's when the exposures used to construct this image were made, under dark, moonless skies from Hvar Island off the coast of Croatia. The widefield composite includes 67 meteors streaming from the heroic constellation Perseus, the shower's radiant, captured during 2013 August 8-14 against a background of faint zodiacal light and the Milky Way. The next moonless Perseid meteor shower will be in August 2018.


Milky Way and Exploding Meteor
Image Credit & Copyright: André van der Hoeven
Explanation: Tonight the Perseid Meteor Shower reaches its maximum. Grains of icy rock will streak across the sky as they evaporate during entry into Earth's atmosphere. These grains were shed from Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids result from the annual crossing of the Earth through Comet Swift-Tuttle's orbit, and are typically the most active meteor shower of the year. Although it is hard to predict the level of activity in any meteor shower, in a clear dark sky an observer might see a meteor a minute. This year's Perseids occur just before a new Moon and so the relatively dark sky should make even faint meteors visible. Meteor showers in general are best be seen from a relaxing position, away from lights. Featured here is a meteor caught exploding two weeks ago above Austria next to the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy.


A Blue Moon Halo over Antarctica
Image Credit & Copyright: LI Hang
Explanation: Have you ever seen a halo around the Moon? Such 22 degree rings around the Moon -- caused by ice crystals falling in the Earth's atmosphere -- are somewhat rare. OK, but have you ever seen a blue moon? Given the modern definition of blue moon -- the second full moon occurring in a calendar month -- these are also rare. What is featured above might therefore be considered doubly rare -- a halo surrounding a blue moon. The featured image was taken late last month near Zhongshan Station in Antarctica. Visible in the foreground are a power generating house and a snowmobile. What might seem to be stars in the background are actually illuminated snowflakes near the camera.


A Sagittarius Triplet
Image Credit & Copyright: Christian vd Berge (DSLR Astrophotograhy)
Explanation: 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 by a dark dust lane. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. The expansive M8, over a hundred light-years across, is also known as the Lagoon Nebula. M20's popular moniker is the Trifid. Glowing hydrogen gas creates the dominant red color of the emission nebulae, with contrasting blue hues, most striking in the Trifid, due to dust reflected starlight. The colorful skyscape recorded with telescope and digital camera also includes one of Messier's open star clusters, M21, just above the Trifid.


HCG 87: A Small Group of Galaxies
Image Credit: GMOS-S Commissioning Team, Gemini Observatory
Explanation: Sometimes galaxies form groups. For example, our own Milky Way Galaxy is part of the Local Group of Galaxies. Small, compact groups, like Hickson Compact Group 87 (HCG 87) shown above, are interesting partly because they slowly self-destruct. Indeed, the galaxies of HCG 87 are gravitationally stretching each other during their 100-million year orbits around a common center. The pulling creates colliding gas that causes bright bursts of star formation and feeds matter into their active galaxy centers. HCG 87 is composed of a large edge-on spiral galaxy visible near the image center, an elliptical galaxy visible to its right, and a spiral galaxy visible near the top. The small spiral near the center might be far in the distance. Several stars from our Galaxy are also visible in the foreground. Studying groups like HCG 87 allows insight into how all galaxies form and evolve.
Source - NASA