The small, dark, round spot in this solar close up is planet Mercury. In the high resolution telescopic image, a colorized stack of 61 sharp video frames, a turbulent array of photospheric convection cells tile the bright solar surface. Mercury’s more regular silhouette still stands out though. Of course, only inner planets Mercury and Venus can transit the Sun to appear in silhouette when viewed from planet Earth. For this November 11, 2019 transit of Mercury, the innermost planet’s silhouette was a mere 1/200th the solar diameter. So even under clear daytime skies it was difficult to see without the aid of a safe solar telescope. Following its transit in 2016, this was Mercury’s 4th of 14 transits across the solar disk in the 21st century. The next transit of Mercury will be on November 13, 2032.
Some spiral galaxies are seen nearly sideways. Most bright stars in spiral galaxies swirl around the center in a disk, and seen from the side, this disk can appear quite thin. Some spiral galaxies appear even thinner than NGC 3717, which is actually seen tilted just a bit. Spiral galaxies form disks because the original gas collided with itself and cooled as it fell inward. Planets may orbit in disks for similar reasons. The featured image by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a light-colored central bulge composed of older stars beyond filaments of orbiting dark brown dust. NGC 3717 spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 60 million light years away toward the constellation of the Water Snake (Hydra). Mercury Crosses the Sun: Some notable images of 2019 transit submitted to APOD
The history of the Moon is partly written in its craters. Pictured here is a lunar panorama taken from Earth featuring the large craters Langrenus, toward the left, and Petavius, toward the right. The craters formed in separate impacts. Langrenus spans about 130 km, has a terraced rim, and sports a central peak rising about 3 km. Petavius is slightly larger with a 180 km diameter and has a distinctive fracture that runs out from its center. Although it is known that Petravius crater is about 3.9 billion years old, the origin of its large fracture is unknown. The craters are best visible a few days after a new Moon, when shadows most greatly accentuate vertical walls and hills. The featured image is a composite of the best of thousands of high-resolution, infrared, video images taken through a small telescope. Although mountains on Earth will likely erode into soil over a billion years, lunar craters Langrenus and Petavius will likely survive many billions more years, possibly until the Sun expands and engulfs both the Earth and Moon. Watch: the November 11 Transit of Mercury from Earth or from Space.
Tomorrow — Monday — Mercury will cross the face of the Sun, as seen from Earth. Called a transit, the last time this happened was in 2016. Because the plane of Mercury’s orbit is not exactly coincident with the plane of Earth’s orbit, Mercury usually appears to pass over or under the Sun. The featured time-lapse sequence, superimposed on a single frame, was taken from a balcony in Belgium shows the entire transit of 2003 May 7. That solar crossing lasted over five hours, so that the above 23 images were taken roughly 15 minutes apart. The north pole of the Sun, the Earth’s orbit, and Mercury’s orbit, although all different, all occur in directions slightly above the left of the image. Near the center and on the far right, sunspots are visible. After Monday, the next transit of Mercury will occur in 2032. Watch: the November 11 Transit of Mercury from Earth or from Space.
On May 25, 1961 U.S. president John Kennedy announced the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by the end of the decade. By November 9, 1967 this Saturn V rocket was ready for launch and the first full test of its capabilities on the Apollo 4 mission. Its development directed by rocket pioneer Wernher Von Braun, the three stage Saturn V stood over 36 stories tall. It had a cluster of five first stage engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene which together were capable of producing 7.9 million pounds of thrust. Giant Saturn V rockets ultimately hurled nine Apollo missions to the Moon and back again with six landing on the lunar surface. The first landing mission, Apollo 11, achieved Kennedy’s goal on July 20, 1969. Watch: the November 11 Transit of Mercury from Earth or from Space.
This cosmic skyscape features glowing gas and dark dust clouds along side the young stars of NGC 3572. A beautiful emission nebula and star cluster in far southern skies, the region is often overlooked by astroimagers in favor of its brighter neighbor, the nearby Carina Nebula. Stars from NGC 3572 are toward the upper left in the telescopic frame that would measure about 100 light-years across at the cluster’s estimated distant of 9,000 light-years. The visible interstellar gas and dust is part of the star cluster’s natal molecular cloud. Dense streamers of material within the nebula, eroded by stellar winds and radiation, clearly trail away from the energetic young stars. They are likely sites of ongoing star formation with shapes reminiscent of the cosmic Tadpoles of IC 410 better known to northern skygazers. In the coming tens to hundreds of millions of years, gas and stars in the cluster will be dispersed though, by gravitational tides and by violent supernova explosions that end the short lives of the massive cluster stars.
Hurtling through a cosmic dust cloud a mere 400 light-years away, the lovely Pleiades or Seven Sisters open star cluster is well-known for its striking blue reflection nebulae. It lies in the night sky toward the constellation Taurus and the Orion Arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. The sister stars and cosmic dust cloud are not related though, they just happen to be passing through the same region of space. Known since antiquity as a compact grouping of stars, Galileo first sketched the star cluster viewed through his telescope with stars too faint to be seen by eye. Charles Messier recorded the position of the cluster as the 45th entry in his famous catalog of things which are not comets. In Greek myth, the Pleiades were seven daughters of the astronomical Titan Atlas and sea-nymph Pleione. Their parents names are included in the cluster’s nine brightest stars. This deep and wide telescopic image spans over 20 light-years across the Pleides star cluster.