What bizarre planet are these alien creatures from? It’s only planet Earth, of course. The planet’s home galaxy the Milky Way stretches across a dark sky in the panoramic, fisheye all-sky projection composed with a wide lens. But the imposing forms gazing skyward probably look strange to many denizens of Earth. Found on the Canary Island of Tenerife in the Teide National Park, they are red tajinastes, flowering plants that grow to a height of up to 3 meters. Among the rocks of the volcanic terrain, tajinastes bloom in spring and early summer and then die after a week or so as their seeds mature. A species known as Echium wildpretii, the terrestrial life forms were individually lit by flashlight during the wide-angle exposures.
An abundance of boulders litters the surface asteroid 101955 Bennu in this dramatic close-up from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Taken on March 28 from a distance of just 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles) the field of view is about 50 meters across while the light colored boulder at top right is 4.8 meters tall. Likely a loose conglomerate rubble pile asteroid, Bennu itself spans less than 500 meters. That’s about the height of the Empire State Building. Mapping the near Earth asteroid since the spacecraft’s arrival in December of 2018, the OSIRIS-REx mission plans a TAG (Touch-and-Go) maneuver for July 2020 to sample Bennu’s rugged surface, returning the sample to planet Earth in September 2023. Citizen scientists have been invited to help choose the sample collection site.
On May 20, a nearly Full Moon and Jupiter shared this telephoto field of view. Captured when a passing cloud bank dimmed the moonlight, the single exposure reveals the familiar face of our fair planet’s own large natural satellite, along with bright Jupiter (lower right) and some of its Galilean moons. Lined up left to right the tiny pinpricks of light near Jupiter are Ganymede, Europa, [Jupiter] and Callisto. (That’s not just dust on your screen …) Closer and brighter, our own natural satellite appears to loom large. But Ganymede, and Callisto are physically larger than Earth’s Moon, while water world Europa is only slightly smaller. In fact, of the Solar System’s six largest planetary satellites, Saturn’s moon Titan is missing from the scene and a fourth Galilean moon, Io, is hidden by our ruling gas giant.
Primordial contact binary 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule, really is very red. In fact, it’s the reddest outer solar system object ever visited by a spacecraft from Earth. Its reddish hue is believed to be due to organic materials on its surface. Ruddy color and tantalizing surface details seen in this composite image are based on data from the New Horizons spacecraft recorded during the January 1 flyby of the farthest world yet explored. Embedded in the smaller lobe Thule (top), the 8 kilometer wide feature nicknamed Maryland crater is the largest depression known on the surface of Ultima Thule. Transmission of data collected from the flyby continues, and will go on until the late summer 2020 as New Horizons speeds deeper into the dim and distant Kuiper Belt.
These three bright nebulae are often featured on 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 just left of center, and colorful M20 on the top left. The third emission region includes NGC 6559 and can be found to the right of M8. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. Over a hundred light-years across, the expansive M8 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. In striking contrast, blue hues in the Trifid are due to dust reflected starlight. Recently formed bright blue stars are visible nearby. The colorful composite skyscape was recorded in 2018 in Teide National Park in the Canary Islands, Spain.
Why would clouds appear to be different colors? The reason here is that ice crystals in distant cirrus clouds are acting like little floating prisms. Sometimes known as a fire rainbow for its flame-like appearance, a circumhorizon arc lies parallel to the horizon. For a circumhorizontal arc to be visible, the Sun must be at least 58 degrees high in a sky where cirrus clouds are present. Furthermore, the numerous, flat, hexagonal ice-crystals that compose the cirrus cloud must be aligned horizontally to properly refract sunlight in a collectively similar manner. Therefore, circumhorizontal arcs are quite unusual to see. This circumhorizon display was photographed through a polarized lens above Dublin, Ohio in 2009.