Venus, named for the Roman goddess of love, and Mars, the war god’s namesake, come together by moonlight in this serene skyview, recorded on July 11 from Lualaba province, Democratic Republic of Congo, planet Earth. Taken in the western twilight sky shortly after sunset the exposure also records earthshine illuminating the otherwise dark surface of the young crescent Moon. Of course the Moon has moved on. Venus still shines in the west though as the evening star, third brightest object in Earth’s sky, after the Sun and the Moon itself. Seen here above a brilliant Venus, Mars moved even closer to the brighter planet and by July 13 could be seen only about a Moon’s width away. Mars has since slowly wandered away from much brighter Venus in the twilight, but both are sliding toward bright star Regulus. Alpha star of the constellation Leo, Regulus lies off the top of this frame and anticipates a visit from Venus and then Mars in twilight skies of the coming days.
In silhouette against a crowded star field along the tail of the arachnalogical constellation Scorpius, this dusty cosmic cloud evokes for some the image of an ominous dark tower. In fact, clumps of dust and molecular gas collapsing to form stars may well lurk within the dark nebula, a structure that spans almost 40 light-years across this gorgeous telescopic portrait. Known as a cometary globule, the swept-back cloud, is shaped by intense ultraviolet radiation from the OB association of very hot stars in NGC 6231, off the upper edge of the scene. That energetic ultraviolet light also powers the globule’s bordering reddish glow of hydrogen gas. Hot stars embedded in the dust can be seen as bluish reflection nebulae. This dark tower, NGC 6231, and associated nebulae are about 5,000 light-years away.
What will become of our Sun? The first hint of our Sun’s future was discovered inadvertently in 1764. At that time, Charles Messier was compiling a list of diffuse objects not to be confused with comets. The 27th object on Messier’s list, now known as M27 or the Dumbbell Nebula, is a planetary nebula, one of the brightest planetary nebulae on the sky — and visible toward the constellation of the Fox (Vulpecula) with binoculars. It takes light about 1000 years to reach us from M27, featured here in colors emitted by hydrogen and oxygen. We now know that in about 6 billion years, our Sun will shed its outer gases into a planetary nebula like M27, while its remaining center will become an X-ray hot white dwarf star. Understanding the physics and significance of M27 was well beyond 18th century science, though. Even today, many things remain mysterious about planetary nebulas, including how their intricate shapes are created.
Where’s the Moon? Somewhere in this image, the Earth’s Moon is hiding. The entire Moon is visible, in its completely full phase, in plain sight. Even the photographer’s keen eye couldn’t find it even though he knew exactly where to look — only the long exposure of his camera picked it up — barely. Although by now you might be congratulating yourself on finding it, why was it so difficult to see? For one reason, this photograph was taken during a total lunar eclipse, when the Earth’s shadow made the Moon much dimmer than a normal full Moon. For another, the image, taken in Colorado, USA, was captured just before sunrise. With the Moon on the exact opposite side of the sky from the Sun, this meant that the Sun was just below the horizon, but still slightly illuminating the sky. Last, as the Moon was only about two degrees above the horizon, the large volume of air between the camera and the horizon scattered a lot of light away from the background Moon. Twelve minutes after this image was acquired in 2012, the Sun peeked over the horizon and the Moon set.
On sol 46 (April 6, 2021) the Perseverance rover held out a robotic arm to take its first selfie on Mars. The WATSON camera at the end of the arm was designed to take close-ups of martian rocks and surface details though, and not a quick snap shot of friends and smiling faces. In the end, teamwork and weeks of planning on Mars time was required to program a complex series of exposures and camera motions to include Perseverance and its surroundings. The resulting 62 frames were composed into a detailed mosiac, one of the most complicated Mars rover selfies ever taken. In this version of the selfie, the rover’s Mastcam-Z and SuperCam instruments are looking toward WATSON and the end of the rover’s outstretched arm. About 4 meters (13 feet) from Perseverance is a robotic companion, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter.
Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula’s glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula’s energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view – providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. The featured image of the Orion Nebula is among the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The entire Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.
It may look like a paper Moon. Sailing past a canvas Sun. But those are not cardboard clouds. And it’s not make believe. The featured picture of an orange colored sky is real — a digital composite of two exposures of the solar eclipse that occurred earlier this month. The first exposure was taken with a regular telescope that captured an overexposed Sun and an underexposed Moon, while the second image was taken with a solar telescope that captured details of the chromosphere of the background Sun. The Sun’s canvas-like texture was brought up by imaging in a very specific shade of red emitted by hydrogen. Several prominences can be seen around the Sun’s edge. The image was captured just before sunset from Xilingol, Inner Mongolia, China. It’s also not make-believe to imagine that the Moon is made of dense rock, the Sun is made of hot gas, and clouds are made of floating droplets of water and ice.