NASA Latest Images ( 12-09-2015 to 20-09-2015 )

Global Ocean Suspected on Saturn's Enceladus
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
Explanation: Do some surface features on Enceladus roll like a conveyor belt? A leading interpretation of images taken of Saturn's most explosive moon indicate that they do. This form of asymmetric tectonic activity, very unusual on Earth, likely holds clues to the internal structure of Enceladus, which may contain subsurface seas where life might be able to develop. Pictured above is a composite of 28 images taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2008 just after swooping by the ice-spewing orb. Inspection of these images show clear tectonic displacements where large portions of the surface all appear to move all in one direction. On the image right appears one of the most prominent tectonic divides: Labtayt Sulci, a canyon about one kilometer deep. The small magnitude of Enceladus' wobble as it orbits Saturn might indicate damping by a globally extending underground ocean layer.

A Prominence on the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)
Explanation: This eerie landscape of incandescent plasma suspended in looping and twisted magnetic fields stretched toward the Sun's eastern horizon on September 16. Captured through a backyard telescope and narrowband filter in light from ionized hydrogen, the scene reveals a gigantic prominence lofted above the solar limb. Some 600,000 kilometers across, the magnetized plasma wall would dwarf worlds of the Solar System. Ruling gas giant Jupiter can only boast a diameter of 143,000 kilometers or so, while planet Earth's diameter is less than 13,000 kilometers. Known as a hedgerow prominence for its appearance, the enormous structure is far from stable though, and such large solar prominences often erupt.

A Plutonian Landscape
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ./APL, Southwest Research Institute
Explanation: This shadowy landscape of majestic mountains and icy plains stretches toward the horizon of a small, distant world. It was captured from a range of about 18,000 kilometers when New Horizons looked back toward Pluto, 15 minutes after the spacecraft's closest approach on July 14. The dramatic, low-angle, near-twilight scene follows rugged mountains still popularly known as Norgay Montes from foreground left, and Hillary Montes along the horizon, giving way to smooth Sputnik Planum at right. Layers of Pluto's tenuous atmosphere are also revealed in the backlit view. With a strangely familiar appearance, the frigid terrain likely includes ices of nitrogen and carbon monoxide with water-ice mountains rising up to 3,500 meters (11,000 feet). That's comparable in height to the majestic mountains of planet Earth. This Plutonian landscape is 380 kilometers (230 miles) across.

Pickering's Triangle in the Veil
Image Credit & Copyright: J-P Metsävainio (Astro Anarchy)
Explanation: Chaotic in appearance, these filaments of shocked, glowing gas break across planet Earth's sky toward the constellation of Cygnus, as part of the Veil Nebula. The Veil Nebula itself is a large supernova remnant, an expanding cloud born of the death explosion of a massive star. Light from the original supernova explosion likely reached Earth over 5,000 years ago. Blasted out in the cataclysmic event, the interstellar shock waves plow through space sweeping up and exciting interstellar material. The glowing filaments are really more like long ripples in a sheet seen almost edge on, remarkably well separated into the glow of ionized hydrogen and sulfur atoms shown in red and green, and oxygen in blue hues. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula now spans nearly 3 degrees or about 6 times the diameter of the full Moon. While that translates to over 70 light-years at its estimated distance of 1,500 light-years, this field of view spans less than one third that distance. Identified as Pickering's Triangle for a director of Harvard College Observatory and cataloged as NGC 6979, the complex of filaments might be more appropriately known as Williamina Fleming's Triangular Wisp.

Bright Spots Resolved in Occator Crater on Ceres
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA
Explanation: What created these bright spots on Ceres? The spots were first noted as the robotic Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, in February, with the expectation that the mystery would soon be solved in higher resolution images. However, even after Dawn arrived at Ceres in March, the riddle remained. Surprisingly, although images including the featured composite taken in the last month do resolve many details inside Occator crater, they do not resolve the mystery. Another recent clue is that a faint haze develops over the crater's bright spots. Dawn is scheduled to continue to spiral down toward Ceres and scan the dwarf planet in several new ways that, it is hoped, will determine the chemical composition of the region and finally reveal the nature and history of the spots. In several years, after running out of power, Dawn will continue to orbit Ceres indefinitely, becoming an artificial satellite and an enduring monument to human exploration.

A Spiral Aurora over Iceland
Image Credit & Copyright: Davide Necchi
Explanation: What's happened to the sky? Aurora! Captured late last month, this aurora was noted by Icelanders for its great brightness and quick development. The aurora resulted from a solar storm, with high energy particles bursting out from the Sun and through a crack in Earth's protective magnetosphere a few days later. Although a spiral pattern can be discerned, creative humans might imagine the complex glow as an atmospheric apparition of any number of common icons. In the foreground of the featured image is the Ölfusá River, while the lights illuminate a bridge in Selfoss City. Just beyond the low clouds is a nearly full Moon. The liveliness of the Sun -- and the resulting auroras on Earth -- is slowly diminishing as the Sun emerges from a Solar maximum of surface activity and evolves towards a historically more quite period in its 11-year cycle. In fact, solar astronomers are waiting to see if the coming Solar minimum will be as unusually quiet as the last one, where sometimes months would go by with no discernible sunspots or other active solar phenomena.

Pluto from above Cthulhu Regio
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ./APL, Southwest Research Inst.
Explanation: New high resolution images of Pluto are starting to arrive from the outer Solar System. The robotic New Horizons spacecraft, which zoomed by Pluto in July, has finished sending back some needed engineering data and is now transmitting selections from its tremendous storehouse of images of Pluto and its moons. The featured image, a digital composite, details a surprising terrain filled with craters, plains, landscape of unknown character, and landforms that resemble something on Earth but are quite unexpected on Pluto. The light area sprawling across the upper right has been dubbed Sputnik Planum and is being studied for its unusual smoothness, while the dark cratered area just under the spacecraft is known as Cthulhu Regio. So far, New Horizons has only shared a few percent of the images and data it took during its Pluto flyby, but will continue to send back new views of the dwarf planet even as it glides outward toward even more distant explorations.

A Partial Solar Eclipse over Texas
Image Credit & Copyright: Jimmy Westlake (Colorado Mountain College) & Linda Westlake
Explanation: It was a typical Texas sunset except that most of the Sun was missing. The location of the missing piece of the Sun was not a mystery -- it was behind the Moon. Featured here is one of the more interesting images taken of a partial solar eclipse that occurred in 2012, capturing a temporarily crescent Sun setting in a reddened sky behind brush and a windmill. The image was taken about 20 miles west of Sundown, Texas, USA, just after the ring of fire effect was broken by the Moon moving away from the center of the Sun. Today a new partial solar eclipse of the Sun will be visible from Earth. Unfortunately for people who live in Texas, today's eclipse can only be seen from southern Africa and Antarctica.

ISS Double Transit
Image Credit & Copyright: Hartwig Luethen
Explanation: Not once, but twice the International Space Station transits the Sun on consecutive orbits of planet Earth in this video frame composite. The scene was captured on August 22 from a single well-chosen location in Schmalenbeck, Germany where the ISS created intersecting shadow paths only around 7 kilometers wide. Crossing the solar disk in a second or less, the transits themselves were separated in time by about 90 minutes, corresponding to the space station's orbital period. While the large, flare-producing sunspot group below center, AR 2403, remained a comfortable 150 million kilometers away, the distance between camera and orbiting station was 656 kilometers for its first (upper) transit and 915 kilometers for the second more central transit. In sharp silhouette the ISS is noticeably larger in angular size during the closer, first pass. Of course, tomorrow the Moon will transit the Sun. But even at well-chosen locations, its dark, central shadow just misses the Earth's surface creating a partial solar eclipse.
Source - NASA