Category Archives: Image

Lyrids in Southern Skies


Earth’s annual Lyrid meteor shower peaked before dawn on April 22nd, as our fair planet plowed through dust from the tail of long-period comet Thatcher. Seen from the high, dark, and dry Atacama desert a waning crescent Moon and brilliant Venus join Lyrid meteor streaks in this composited view. Captured over 5 hours on the night of April 21/22, the meteors stream away from the shower’s radiant, a point not very far on the sky from Vega, alpha star of the constellation Lyra. The radiant effect is due to perspective as the parallel meteor tracks appear to converge in the distance. In the foreground are domes of the Las Campanas Observatory housing (left to right) the 2.5 meter du Pont Telescope and the 1.3 meter Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) telescope.

Mt. Etna Lava Plume


Mt. Etna has been erupting for hundreds of thousands of years. Located in Sicily, Italy, the volcano produces lava fountains over one kilometer high. Mt. Etna is not only one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, it is one of the largest, measuring over 50 kilometers at its base and rising nearly 3 kilometers high. Pictured in mid-March, a spectacular lava plume erupts upwards, dangerous molten volcanic bombs fly off to the sides, while hot lava flows down the volcano’s exterior. The Earth’s rotation is discernable on this carefully time, moon-lit, long duration image as star trails.

Cygnus Spacecraft Approaches Space Station in the Sunset


On Saturday April 22, 2017, Expedition 51 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency photographed Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft as it approached the International Space Station. Using the station’s robotic Canadarm2, Cygnus was successfully captured by Pesquet and Commander Peggy Whitson at 6:05 a.m. EDT Saturday morning. The spacecraft’s arrival brought more than 7,600 pounds of research and supplies to support Expedition 51 and 52. The Expedition 51 crew worked to offload the new science experiments and crew supplies this week.

A Split Ion Tail for Comet Lovejoy E4


What’s happened to Comet Lovejoy? In the pictured image, a processed composite, the comet was captured early this month after brightening unexpectedly and sporting a long and intricate ion tail. Remarkably, the typically complex effect of the Sun’s wind and magnetic field here caused the middle of Comet Lovejoy’s ion tail to resemble the head of a needle. Comet C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy) was discovered only last month by noted comet discoverer Terry Lovejoy. The comet reached visual magnitude 7 earlier this month, making it a good target for binoculars and long duration exposure cameras. What’s happened to Comet Lovejoy (E4) since this image was taken might be considered even more remarkable — the comet’s nucleus appeared to be disintegrating and fading as it neared its closest approach to the Sun two days ago.

James Webb Space Telescope Mirror Seen in Full Bloom


It’s springtime and the deployed primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope looks like a spring flower in full bloom.

In this photo, NASA technicians lifted the telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Once launched into space, the Webb telescope’s 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and will help the telescope peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

A White Battle in the Black Sea


Trillions have died in the Earth’s seas. Calcified shields of the dead already make up the white cliffs of Dover. The battle between ball-shaped light-colored single-celled plants — phytoplankton called coccolithophores — and even smaller, diamond-shaped viruses dubbed coccolithoviruses — has raged for tens of millions of years. To help fight this battle, the coccolithophores create their chalky armor by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This battle is so epic that coccolithophores actually remove a significant fraction of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide, bolstering the breathability of air for animals including humans. Pictured in this 2012 image from NASA’s Aqua satellite, the Black Sea was turned light blue by coccolithophore blooms.

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets Spaceflight Record


534 days, 2 hours, 49 minutes and counting. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson flew through the standing record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut at 1:27 a.m. EDT on April 24, 2017, and with the recent extension of her stay at the International Space Station, she has five months to rack up a new one.

Record holder is a familiar title for Whitson – she’s held several over the course of her NASA career. In 2008, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station, and on April 9 became the first woman to command it twice. In March, she seized the record for most spacewalks by a female. Now, after launching on Nov. 17 with 377 days in space already under her belt, she’s surpassed astronaut Jeff Williams’ previous United States record of 534 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes of cumulative time in space.

This is Whitson’s third long-duration stay onboard the space station, and in March her mission was extended into September, increasing the amount of valuable astronaut time available for experiments on board the station. When she returns to Earth, she’ll have spent more than 650 days in space, and decades supporting spaceflight from the ground.

The Holographic Principle


Is this picture worth a thousand words? According to the Holographic Principle, the most information you can get from this image is about 3 x 1065 bits for a normal sized computer monitor. The Holographic Principle, yet unproven, states that there is a maximum amount of information content held by regions adjacent to any surface. Therefore, counter-intuitively, the information content inside a room depends not on the volume of the room but on the area of the bounding walls. The principle derives from the idea that the Planck length, the length scale where quantum mechanics begins to dominate classical gravity, is one side of an area that can hold only about one bit of information. The limit was first postulated by physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft in 1993. It can arise from generalizations from seemingly distant speculation that the information held by a black hole is determined not by its enclosed volume but by the surface area of its event horizon. The term “holographic” arises from a hologram analogy where three-dimension images are created by projecting light through a flat screen. Beware, other people looking at the featured image may not claim to see 3 x 1065 bits — they might claim to see a teapot.

Between the Rings


On April 12, as the Sun was blocked by the disk of Saturn the Cassini spacecraft camera looked toward the inner Solar System and the gas giant’s backlit rings. At the top of the mosaicked view is the A ring with its broader Encke and narrower Keeler gaps visible. At the bottom is the F ring, bright due to the viewing geometry. The point of light between the rings is Earth, 1.4 billion kilometers in the distance. Look carefully and you can even spot Earth’s large moon, a pinprick of light to the planet’s left. Today Cassini makes its final close approach to Saturn’s own large moon Titan, using Titan’s gravity to swing into the spacecraft’s Grand Finale, the final set of orbits that will bring Cassini just inside Saturn’s rings.