What’s that strange light down the road? Dust orbiting the Sun. At certain times of the year, a band of sun-reflecting dust from the inner Solar System appears prominently just after sunset — or just before sunrise — and is called zodiacal light. Although the origin of this dust is still being researched, a leading hypothesis holds that zodiacal dust originates mostly from faint Jupiter-family comets and slowly spirals into the Sun. Recent analysis of dust emitted by Comet 67P, visited by ESA’s robotic Rosetta spacecraft, bolster this hypothesis. Pictured when climbing a road up to Teide National Park in the Canary Islands of Spain, a bright triangle of zodiacal light appeared in the distance soon after sunset. Captured on June 21, the scene includes bright Regulus, alpha star of Leo, standing above center toward the left. The Beehive Star Cluster (M44) can be spotted below center, closer to the horizon and also immersed in the zodiacal glow.
Why is the Cigar Galaxy billowing red smoke? M82, as this starburst galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn’t fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas and dust, however. Evidence indicates that this gas and dust is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind. The dust particles are thought to originate in M82’s interstellar medium and are actually similar in size to particles in cigar smoke. The featured photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas and dust. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). APOD in other languages: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese (Beijing), Chinese (Taiwan), Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Farsi, French, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Montenegrin, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish and Ukrainian
What could create such a large circular shadow on the Moon? The Earth. Last week’s full Moon — the Buck Moon — was so full that it fell almost exactly in a line with the Sun and the Earth. When that happens the Earth casts its shadow onto the Moon. The circularity of the Earth’s shadow on the Moon was commented on by Aristotle and so has been noticed since at least the 4th century BC. What’s new is humanity’s ability to record this shadow with such high dynamic range (HDR). The featured HDR composite of last week’s partial lunar eclipse combines 15 images and include an exposure as short as 1/400th of a second — so as not to overexpose the brightest part — and an exposure that lasted five seconds — to bring up the dimmest part. This dimmest part — inside Earth’s umbra — is not completely dark because some light is refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere onto the Moon. A total lunar eclipse will occur next in 2021 May. Partial Lunar Eclipse in 2019 July: Some memorable images submitted to APOD
Why are there so many moonquakes? Analyses of seismometers left on the moon by the Apollo moon landings reveals a surprising number of moonquakes occurring within 100 kilometers of the surface. In fact, 62 moonquakes were detected in data recorded between 1972 and 1977. Many of these moonquakes are not only strong enough to move furniture in a lunar apartment, but the stiff rock of the moon continues to vibrate for many minutes, significantly longer than the softer rock earthquakes on Earth. The cause of the moonquakes remains unknown, but a leading hypothesis is the collapse of underground faults. Regardless of the source, future moon dwellings need to be built to withstand the frequent shakings. Pictured here 50 years ago today, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands beside a recently deployed lunar seismometer, looking back toward the lunar landing module.
Have you seen a panorama from another world lately? Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this one sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. The images were taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module fifty years ago, shortly after the July 20, 1969 landing. The frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world. Toward the south, thruster nozzles can be seen in the foreground on the left, while at the right, the shadow of the Eagle is visible to the west. For scale, the large, shallow crater on the right has a diameter of about 12 meters. Frames taken from the Lunar Module windows about an hour and a half after landing, before walking on the lunar surface, were intended to initially document the landing site in case an early departure was necessary.
On July 20, 1969 the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle safely touched down on the Moon. It landed near the southwestern corner of the Moon’s Mare Tranquillitatis at a landing site dubbed Tranquility Base. This panoramic view of Tranquility Base was constructed from the historic photos taken from the lunar surface. On the far left astronaut Neil Armstrong casts a long shadow with Sun is at his back and the Eagle resting about 60 meters away ( AS11-40-5961). He stands near the rim of 30 meter-diameter Little West crater seen here to the right ( AS11-40-5954). Also visible in the foreground is the top of the camera intended for taking stereo close-ups of the lunar surface.
That’s no sunspot. It’s the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no solar panels. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most sophisticated machines ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots occur on the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one’s timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. Strangely, besides that fake spot, in this recent two-image composite, the Sun lacked any real sunspots. The featured picture combines two images — one capturing the space station transiting the Sun — and another taken consecutively capturing details of the Sun’s surface. Sunspots have been rare on the Sun since the dawn of the current Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity. For reasons not yet fully understood, the number of sunspots occurring during both the previous and current solar minima have been unusually low.
What’s that in the sky? An aurora. A large coronal mass ejection occurred on our Sun five days before this 2012 image was taken, throwing a cloud of fast moving electrons, protons, and ions toward the Earth. Although most of this cloud passed above the Earth, some of it impacted our Earth’s magnetosphere and resulted in spectacular auroras being seen at high northern latitudes. Featured here is a particularly photogenic auroral corona captured above Grotfjord, Norway. To some, this shimmering green glow of recombining atmospheric oxygen might appear as a large eagle, but feel free to share what it looks like to you. Although the Sun is near Solar Minimum, streams of the solar wind continue to impact the Earth and create impressive auroras visible even last week.