Delicate in appearance, these filaments of shocked, glowing gas, are draped across planet Earth’s sky toward the constellation of Cygnus.
Yes, but can your lightning bolt do this? While flying from Munich to Singapore earlier this month, an industrious passenger took images of a passing lightning storm and caught something unexpected: gigantic jet lightning. The jet was captured on a single 3.2-second exposure above Bhadrak, India. Although the gigantic jet appears connected to the airplane’s wing, it likely started in a more distant thundercloud, and can be seen extending upwards towards Earth’s ionosphere. The nature of gigantic jets and their possible association with other types of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as blue jets and red sprites remains an active topic of research.
Where else might life exist? One of humanity’s great outstanding questions, locating planets where extrasolar life might survive took a step forward recently with the discovery of a significant amount of water vapor in the atmosphere of distant exoplanet K2-18b. The planet and its parent star, K2-18, lie about 124 light years away toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo). The exoplanet is significantly larger and more massive than our Earth, but orbits in the habitable zone of its home star. K2-18, although more red than our Sun, shines in K2-18b’s sky with a brightness similar to the Sun in Earth’s sky. The discovery was made in data from three space telescopes: Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler, by noting the absorption of water-vapor colors when the planet moved in front of the star. The featured illustration imagines exoplanet K2-18b on the right, its parent red dwarf star K2-18 on the left, and an unconfirmed sister planet between them.
What are those colorful rings around the Moon? A corona. Rings like this will sometimes appear when the Moon is seen through thin clouds. The effect is created by the quantum mechanical diffraction of light around individual, similarly-sized water droplets in an intervening but mostly-transparent cloud. Since light of different colors has different wavelengths, each color diffracts differently. Lunar Coronae are one of the few quantum mechanical color effects that can be easily seen with the unaided eye. The featured lunar corona was captured around full Moon above Turin, Italy in 2014. Similar coronae that form around the Sun are usually harder to see because of the Sun’s great brightness.