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A bright pair of sky objects will be visible together during the next few months. Mars will shine brightly in its familiar rusty hue as it reaches its brightest of 2014 next week. The reason that Mars appears so bright is that Earth and Mars are close to each other in their long orbits around the Sun. Spica, on the other hand, shines constantly as one of the brightest blue stars in the night sky. Pronounced “spy-kah”, the blue-hued star has been visible throughout human history and the sounds that identify it today date back to ancient times. Pictured above, the planet and the star were photographed rising together toward the southeast after sunset last week through old oak trees in Sweden.

Image Credit & Copyright: P-M Hedén (Clear Skies, TWAN)

If you see a sky like this — photograph it. A month ago in Iceland, an adventurous photographer chanced across a sky full of aurora and did just that. In the foreground lies the stratovolcano Öræfajökull. In the background, among other sky delights, lies the constellation of Orion, visible to the aurora’s left. Auroras are sparked by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the magnetic environment around the Earth. Resultant energetic particles such as electrons and protons rain down near the Earth’s poles and impact the air. The impacted air molecules obtain excited electrons, and when electrons in oxygen molecules fall back to their ground state, they emit green light. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.

Image Credit & Copyright: Þorvarður Árnason

What’s happened to the sky? A time warp, of sorts, and a digital space warp too. The time warp occurs because this image captured in a single frame a two and a half hour exposure of the night sky. As a result, prominent star trails are visible. The space warp occurs because the picture is actually a full 360 degree panorama, horizontally compressed to fit your browser. As the Earth rotated, stars appeared to circle both the North Celestial Pole, on the left, and the South Celestial Pole, just below the horizon on the right. The above panorama over Arches National Park in Utah, USA, was captured two weeks ago during early morning hours. While the eye-catching texture of ancient layered sandstone covers the image foreground, twenty-meter tall Delicate Arch is visible on the far right, and the distant arch of our Milky Way Galaxy is visible near the image center.

Image Credit & Copyright: Vincent Brady

Two galaxies are squaring off in Corvus and here are the latest pictures. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. That’s because galaxies are mostly empty space and, however bright, stars only take up only a small amount of that space. During the slow, hundred million year collision, one galaxy can still rip the other apart gravitationally, and dust and gas common to both galaxies does collide. In this clash of the titans, dark dust pillars mark massive molecular clouds are being compressed during the galactic encounter, causing the rapid birth of millions of stars, some of which are gravitationally bound together in massive star clusters.

Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA; Processing & Copyright: Davide Coverta

Will this caterpillar-shaped interstellar cloud one day evolve into a butterfly-shaped nebula? No one is sure. What is sure is that IRAS 20324+4057, on the inside, is contracting to form a new star. On the outside, however, energetic winds are blowing and energetic light is eroding away much of the gas and dust that might have been used to form the star. Therefore, no one is sure what mass the resulting star will have, and, therefore, no one knows the fate of this star. Were the winds and light to whittle the protostar down near the mass of the Sun, the outer atmosphere of this new star may one day expand into a
planetary nebula, possibly even one that looks like a butterfly. Alternatively, if the stellar cocoon retains enough mass, a massive star will form that will one day explode in a supernova. The eroding protostellar nebula IRAS 20324+4057 spans about one light year and lies about 4,500 light years away toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). The above image of IRAS 20324+4057 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2006 but released last week. The battle between gravity and light will likely take over 100,000 years to play out, but clever observations and deductions may yet yield telling clues well before that.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and IPHAS

NGC 2359: Thor’s Helmet

Image Credit & Copyright: Bob and Janice Fera (Fera Photography)

This helmet-shaped cosmic cloud with wing-like appendages is popularly called Thor’s Helmet. Heroically sized even for a Norse god, Thor’s Helmet is about 30 light-years across. In fact, the helmet is more like an interstellar bubble, blown as a fast wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble’s center sweeps through a surrounding molecular cloud. Known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the central star is an extremely hot giant thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova stage of evolution. Cataloged as NGC 2359, the nebula is located about 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Canis Major. The sharp image, made using broadband and narrowband filters, captures striking details of the nebula’s filamentary structures. It shows off a blue-green color from strong emission due to oxygen atoms in the glowing gas.


 Long after sunset on January 25 an unusually intense red airglow floods this south-looking skyscape. The scene was recorded with a long exposure using a digital camera over Yunnan Province in southwest China. At best faintly visible to the eye, the lingering airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation. Originating at an altitude similar to aurora, it can found around the globe. The chemical energy is initially provided by the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet radiation On this night, despite the luminous atmosphere, the band of the Milky Way clearly stretches above the horizon with bright star Sirius near the top of the frame. Both airglow and starry sky are beautifully reflected in region’s watery Yuanyang rice terraces below.

Image Credit & Copyright: Cui Yongjiang
Zoom Info
Camera
Canon EOS 6D
ISO
6400
Aperture
f/2.8
Exposure
25"
Focal Length
14mm

 Long after sunset on January 25 an unusually intense red airglow floods this south-looking skyscape. The scene was recorded with a long exposure using a digital camera over Yunnan Province in southwest China. At best faintly visible to the eye, the lingering airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation. Originating at an altitude similar to aurora, it can found around the globe. The chemical energy is initially provided by the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet radiation On this night, despite the luminous atmosphere, the band of the Milky Way clearly stretches above the horizon with bright star Sirius near the top of the frame. Both airglow and starry sky are beautifully reflected in region’s watery Yuanyang rice terraces below.

Image Credit & Copyright: Cui Yongjiang

There is a road that connects the Northern to the Southern Cross but you have to be at the right place and time to see it. The road, as pictured above, is actually the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy; the right place, in this case, is dark Laguna Cejar in Salar de Atacama of Northern Chile; and the right time was in early October, just after sunset. Many sky wonders were captured then, including the bright Moon, inside the Milky Way arch; Venus, just above the Moon; Saturn and Mercury, just below the Moon; the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds satellite galaxies, on the far left; red airglow near the horizon on the image left; and the lights of small towns at several locations across the horizon. One might guess that composing this 30-image panorama would have been a serene experience, but for that one would have required earplugs to ignore the continued brays of wild donkeys.

Image Credit & Copyright: Nicholas Buer

This was the APOD for June 25, 1995, with this explanation:

"Imagine a hurricane that lasted for 300 years! This picture of the planet Jupiter was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed the planet in 1979. Jupiter, a gas giant planet with no solid surface, is the largest planet in the solar system and is made mostly of the hydrogen and helium. Clearly visible in the photo is the Great Red Spot, a giant, hurricane-like storm system that rotates with the clouds of Jupiter. It is so large three complete Earths could fit inside it. Astronomers have observed this giant storm on Jupiter for over 300 years."

Crazy how much better quality our pictures have gotten!

Picture Credit: NASA, JPL, NSSDC,
Voyager

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