Phobos: Doomed Moon of Mars

This moon is doomed. Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. These martian moons may well be captured asteroids originating in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or perhaps from even more distant reaches of our Solar System. The larger moon, Phobos, is indeed seen to be a cratered, asteroid-like object in this stunning color image from the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with objects as small as 10 meters visible. But Phobos orbits so close to Mars – about 5,800 kilometers above the surface compared to 400,000 kilometers for our Moon – that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. In perhaps 50 million years, Phobos is expected to disintegrate into a ring of debris. via NASA

Solargraphic Analemmas

For the northern hemisphere June 21 was the summer solstice, the Sun reaching its northernmost declination for the year. That would put it at the top of each of these three figure-8 curves, or analemmas, as it passed through the daytime sky over the village of Proboszczow, Poland. No sequence of digital exposures was used to construct the remarkable image though. Using a pinhole camera fixed to face south during the period June 26, 2021 to June 26, 2022, the image was formed directly on a single sheet of photographic paper, a technique known as solargraphy. The three analemmas are the result of briefly exposing the photo paper through the pinhole each day at 11:00, 12:00, and 13:00 CET. Groups of dashed lines on the sides show partial tracks of the Sun from daily exposures made every 15 minutes. Over the year-long solargraphic photo opportunity clouds blocking the Sun during the pinhole exposures created the dark gaps. via NASA

The Solar System s Planet Trails

Stars trail through a clear morning sky in this postcard from a rotating planet. The timelapse image is constructed from consecutive exposures made over nearly three hours with a camera fixed to a tripod beside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China on June 24. Arcing above the eastern horizon after the series of exposures began, a waning crescent Moon left the brightest streak and watery reflection. On that date the planets of the Solar System were also lined up along the ecliptic and left their own trails before sunrise. Saturn was first to rise on that morning and the ringed planet’s trail starts close to the top right edge, almost out of the frame. Innermost planet Mercury rose only just before the Sun though. It left the shortest trail, visible against the twilight near the horizon at the far left. Uranus and Neptune are faint and hard to find, but mingled with the star trails the Solar System’s planet trails are all labeled in the scene. via NASA

Comet C 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)

Imaged on June 20 2022, comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) shares this wide telescopic field of view with open star cluster IC 4665 and bright star Beta Ophiuchi, near a starry edge of the Milky Way. On its maiden voyage to the inner Solar System from the dim and distant Oort cloud, this comet PanSTARRS was initially spotted over five years ago, in May 2017. Then it was the most distant active inbound comet ever found, discovered when it was some 2.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. That put it between the orbital distances of Uranus and Saturn. Hubble Space Telescope observations indicated the comet had a large nucleus less than 18 kilometers in diameter. Now visible in small telescopes C/2017 K2 will make its closest approach to planet Earth on July 14 and closest approach to the Sun this December. Its extended coma and developing tail are seen here at a distance of some 290 million kilometers, a mere 16 light-minutes away. via NASA

Solar System Family Portrait

Yes, but have you ever seen all of the planets at once? A rare roll-call of planets has been occurring in the morning sky for much of June. The featured fisheye all-sky image, taken a few mornings ago near the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, caught not only the entire planet parade, but the Moon between Mars and Venus. In order, left to right along the ecliptic plane, members of this Solar System family portrait are Earth, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury, and Earth. To emphasize their locations, Neptune and Uranus have been artificially enhanced. The volcano just below Mercury is Licancabur. In July, Mercury will move into the Sun’s glare but reappear a few days later on the evening side. Then, in August, Saturn will drift past the direction opposite the Sun and so become visible at dusk instead of dawn. The next time that all eight planets will be simultaneously visible in a morning sky will be in 2122. via NASA

Mercury from Passing BepiColombo

Which part of the Moon is this? No part — because this is the planet Mercury. Mercury’s old surface is heavily cratered like that of Earth’s Moon. Mercury, while only slightly larger than Luna, is much denser and more massive than any Solar System moon because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, our Earth is the only planet more dense. Because Mercury rotates exactly three times for every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury’s orbit is so elliptical, visitors on Mercury could see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. From Earth, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun causes it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise. The featured image was captured last week by ESA and JAXA’s passing BepiColombo spacecraft as it sheds energy and prepares to orbit the innermost planet starting in 2025. via NASA

The Gum Nebula over Snowy Mountains

The Gum Nebula is so large and close it is actually hard to see. This interstellar expanse of glowing hydrogen gas frequently evades notice because it spans 35 degrees — over 70 full Moons — while much of it is quite dim. This featured spectacular 90-degree wide mosaic, however, was designed to be both wide and deep enough to bring up the Gum — visible in red on the right. The image was acquired late last year with both the foreground — including Haba Snow Mountain — and the background — including the Milky Way’s central band — captured by the same camera and from the same location in Shangri-La, Yunnan, China. The Gum Nebula is so close that we are only about 450 light-years from the front edge, while about 1,500 light-years from the back edge. Named for a cosmic cloud hunter, Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum (1924-1960), the origin of this complex nebula is still being debated. A leading theory for the origin of the Gum Nebula is that it is the remnant of a million year-old supernova explosion, while a competing theory holds that the Gum is a molecular cloud shaped over eons by multiple supernovas and the outflowing winds of several massive stars. via NASA

Light Echoes from V838 Mon

What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon’s outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became one of the brighter stars in the Milky Way Galaxy in early 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it shrunk and faded. A stellar flash like this had never been seen before — supernovas and novas expel matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the featured image from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly expanding light echo of the original flash. In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant surfaces in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter. via NASA

Planets of the Solar System

Simultaneous images from four cameras were combined to construct this atmospheric predawn skyscape. The cooperative astro-panorama captures all the planets of the Solar System, just before sunrise on June 24. That foggy morning found innermost planet Mercury close to the horizon but just visible against the twilight, below and left of brilliant Venus. Along with the waning crescent Moon, the other bright naked-eye planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie near the ecliptic, arcing up and to the right across the wide field of view. Binoculars would have been required to spot the much fainter planets Uranus and Neptune, though they also were along the ecliptic in the sky. In the foreground are excavations at an ancient Roman villa near Marina di San Nicola, Italy, planet Earth. via NASA

Filaprom on the Western Limb

A solar filament is an enormous stream of incandescent plasma suspended above the active surface of the Sun by looping magnetic fields. Seen against the solar disk it looks dark only because it’s a little cooler, and so slightly dimmer, than the solar photosphere. Suspended above the solar limb the same structure looks bright when viewed against the blackness of space and is called a solar prominence. A filaprom would be both of course, a stream of magnetized plasma that crosses in front of the solar disk and extends beyond the Sun’s edge. In this hydrogen-alpha close-up of the Sun captured on June 22, active region AR3038 is near the center of the frame. Active region AR3032 is seen at the far right, close to the Sun’s western limb. As AR3032 is carried by rotation toward the Sun’s visible edge, what was once a giant filament above it is now partly seen as a prominence, How big is AR3032’s filaprom? For scale planet Earth is shown near the top right corner. via NASA

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744

Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo but appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy’s elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past smaller satellite galaxy NGC 6744A at the lower right. NGC 6744’s galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. via NASA

Supernova Remnant: The Veil Nebula

Ten thousand years ago, before the dawn of recorded human history, a new light would have suddenly have appeared in the night sky and faded after a few weeks. Today we know this light was from a supernova, or exploding star, and record the expanding debris cloud as the Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant. Imaged with color filters featuring light emitted by sulfur (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue), this deep wide-angle view was processed to remove the stars and so better capture the impressive glowing filaments of the Veil. Also known as the Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula is roughly circular in shape and covers nearly 3 degrees on the sky toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). Famous nebular sections include the Bat Nebula, the Witch’s Broom Nebula, and Fleming’s Triangular Wisp. The complete supernova remnant lies about 1,400 light-years away. via NASA

Analemma over Taipei

Does the Sun return to the same spot on the sky every day? No. A better and more visual answer to that question is an analemma, a composite of images taken at the same time and from the same place over the course of a year. The featured analemma was compiled at 4:30 pm many afternoons from Taiwan during 2021, with the city skyline of Taipei in the foreground, including tall Taipei 101. The Sun’s location in December — at the December solstice — is shown on the far left, while its location at the June solstice is captured on the far right. Also shown are the positions of the Sun throughout the rest of the day on the solstices and equinoxes. Today is the June solstice of 2022, the day in Earth’s northern hemisphere when the Sun spends the longest time in the sky. In many countries, today marks the official beginning of a new season, for example winter in Earth’s southern hemisphere. via NASA

Rock Fingers on Mars

There, just right of center, what is that? The surface of Mars keeps revealing new surprises with the recent discovery of finger-like rock spires. The small nearly-vertical rock outcrops were imaged last month by the robotic Curiosity rover on Mars. Although similar in size and shape to small snakes, the leading explanation for their origin is as conglomerations of small minerals left by water flowing through rock crevices. After these relatively dense minerals filled the crevices, they were left behind when the surrounding rock eroded away. Famous rock outcrops on Earth with a similar origin are called hoodoos. NASA’s Curiosity Rover continues to search for new signs of ancient water in Gale Crater on Mars, while also providing a geologic background important for future human exploration. via NASA

The Gamma Cygni Nebula

Supergiant star Gamma Cygni is at the center of the Northern Cross. Near the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, that famous asterism flies high in northern summer night skies in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Known by the proper name Sadr, Gamma Cygni also lies just below center in this telescopic skyscape, with colors mapped from both broadband and narrowband image data. The field of view spans about 3 degrees (six Full Moons) on the sky and includes emission nebula IC 1318 and open star cluster NGC 6910. Filling the upper part of the frame and shaped like two glowing cosmic wings divided by a long dark dust lane, IC 1318’s popular name is understandably the Butterfly Nebula. Right of Gamma Cygni, are the young, still tightly grouped stars of NGC 6910. The distance to Gamma Cygni is around 560 parsecs or 1,800 light-years. Estimates for IC 1318 and NGC 6910 range from 2,000 to 5,000 light-years. via NASA

Good Morning Planets from Chile

On June 15, innermost planet Mercury had wandered about as far from the Sun as it ever gets in planet Earth’s sky. Near the eastern horizon just before sunrise it stands over distant Andes mountain peaks in this predawn snapshot from the valley of Rio Hurtado in Chile. June’s other morning planets are arrayed above it, as all the naked-eye planets of the Solar System stretch in a line along the ecliptic in the single wide-field view. Tilted toward the north, the Solar System’s ecliptic plane arcs steeply through southern hemisphere skies. Northern hemisphere early morning risers will see the lineup of planets along the ecliptic at a shallower angle tilting toward the south. From both hemispheres June’s beautiful morning planetary display finds the visible planets in order of their increasing distance from the Sun. via NASA

Strawberry Supermoon from China

There are four Full Supermoons in 2022. Using the definition of a supermoon as a Full Moon near perigee, that is within at least 90% of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit, the year’s Full Supermoon dates are May 16, June 14, July 13, and August 12. Full Moons near perigee really are the brightest and largest in planet Earth’s sky. But size and brightness differences between Full Moons are relatively small and an actual comparison with other Full Moons is difficult to make by eye alone. Two exposures are blended in this supermoon and sky view from June 14. That Full Moon was also known to northern hemisphere skygazers as the Strawberry moon. The consecutive short and long exposures allow familiar features on the fully sunlit lunar nearside to be seen in the same image as a faint lunar corona and an atmospheric cloudscape. They were captured in skies over Chongqing, China. via NASA

In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster

The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky – about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured here, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarian’s Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right. via NASA

Satellites Behind Pinnacles

What are all those streaks across the background? Satellite trails. First, the foreground features picturesque rock mounds known as Pinnacles. Found in the Nambung National Park in Western Australia, these human-sized spires are made by unknown processes from ancient sea shells (limestone). Perhaps more eye-catching, though, is the sky behind. Created by low-Earth orbit satellites reflecting sunlight, all of these streaks were captured in less than two hours and digitally combined onto the single featured image, with the foreground taken consecutively by the same camera and from the same location. Most of the streaks were made by the developing Starlink constellation of communication satellites, but some are not. In general, the streaks are indicative of an increasing number of satellites nearly continuously visible above the Earth after dusk and before dawn. Understanding and removing the effects of satellite trails on images from Earth’s ground-based cameras and telescopes is now important not only for elegant astrophotography, but for humanity’s scientific understanding of the distant universe. via NASA

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy from Hubble

The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The featured image is a digital combination of images taken in different colors by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, highlighting many sharp features. Anyone with a good pair of binoculars, however, can see this Whirlpool toward the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51’s spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with the smaller galaxy on the image left. via NASA