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The Sky This Week: Look for the zodiacal light

Friday, January 28th 2022 09:22 AM

  Zodiacal light at Veronica: The bright white cone of the zodiacal light appears to pierce the Milky Way in this 2012 image taken from Veronica, Argentina.   Friday, January 28 Although there are no major meteor showers for the next two months, it doesn’t mean there isn’t something a little extra special to search for in the night sky. On moonless evenings like tonight, turn your gaze west an hour or so after sunset. If you’ve got a clear, dark observing site, you may just spot a yellow-white cone-shaped glow angling upward from the horizon, spreading steeply toward Taurus the Bull. It is visible by eye under good conditions and also photographs well. This glow is the zodiacal light, created by sunlight scattering off myriad grains of dust spread throughout the solar system and aligned with the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system). Astronomers believe this dust is the debris left behind by countless comets approaching the Sun, although recent resea...

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  An artist's concept of the James Webb Space Telescope. When the historic Hubble Space Telescope launched in April 1990, the world waited with bated breath as Hubble soared to the heavens, promising to give the world a window to the cosmos like never before. Unfortunately, the first pictures Hubble returned to Earth were disappointing — instead of pointlike, stars were surrounded by large fuzzy halos. As it turned out, the telescope’s primary mirror was just a fraction too flat, by less than the width of a human hair. But NASA was determined to fix their flagship instrument. In 1993, astronauts mounted a repair mission, installing new optics and a new instrument onto the telescope. Today, Hubble’s fuzzy vision is just a blip on an otherwise awe inspiring 30-year history observing the universe. Yet when it came time for a new flagship telescope, that mistake weighed heavily on scientists’ minds. First discussed before Hubble had even launched, the Jame...

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Snapshot: A stellar jet with a sinuous shape

Wednesday, January 26th 2022 09:12 AM

  International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Acknowledgments: Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab); PI: L. Ferrero (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) Located 10,000 light-years from Earth, this stellar jet with an opaque, winding appearance was captured by the Gemini South telescope. A stellar jet is created when the magnetic field of a rotating young star interacts with the plumes of gas surrounding each one. The ionized gas then spits into opposite directions from the star’s poles, emitting cloud-like formations. The featured jet is named MHO 2147 and lies in the plane of the Milky Way in the constellation Sagittarius. Astronomers think its curved appearance is due to the gravitational pull of stars surrounding a central star, named IRAS 17527-2439. Over time, the tug of its companion stars cause the central star to slowly wobble over tim...

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  Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets, or those planets outside our solar system. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is designing mission concepts to survive the planet's extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA's Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. Venus is Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. The two new Discovery Program missions to study our neighbor aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world when it has so many other characteristics similar to ours – and may have been the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.   Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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The Sky This Week: Catch Mars in the morning

Friday, January 21st 2022 09:14 AM

  Seeing red: Mars (lower left) sits near the Lagoon (right of center) and Trifid (upper right) nebulae in October 2016. The stunning trio will recreate this alignment later in the week. Friday, January 21 As the sky grows dark after sunset this evening, look west to catch a glimpse of the large constellation Pegasus, slowly flying toward the horizon in the coming hours. The most recognizable portion of this constellation is the asterism called the Great Square of Pegasus, formed by Markab (Alpha [α] Pegasi), Scheat (Beta [β] Pegasi), Algenib (Gamma [γ] Pegasi), and Alpheratz (which actually sits just over the celestial border in Andromeda as its alpha star). Also easily recognizable is Enif (Epsilon [ϵ] Pegasi), which marks the Winged Horse’s nose in the southwestern region of the constellation. After darkness falls and before the Moon rises, let’s try to find one of Pegasus’ premier targets: Stephan’s Quintet. Discovered by French as...

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Solar filters for observing the Sun

Thursday, January 20th 2022 03:19 PM

  Limb darkening is evident in this image of the Sun viewed through a simple Coronado Personal Solar Telescope (PST). The PST is a Hydrogen-alpha-filtered refractor with a 40mm aperture and a 400mm focal length that can only be used for solar observing. For many, astronomy is a late-night pursuit. We anxiously wait for Sol to set and twilight to fade before we begin to enjoy the sky. But by doing so, we are missing an amazing matinee every day — one performed by the Sun. Our star is the perfect target for observers. No chart is needed to find it. You can’t beat it for convenience. And light pollution doesn’t even enter into the equation. With the Sun, there’s no need to pull an all-nighter. Best of all, it is always changing. While most distant deep-sky objects appear static over the course of a human lifespan, the Sun changes every day. That makes it exciting to watch! But in order to enjoy the show, you need to come prepared. The Sun is the only celes...

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Image of the Day: Peering Through a Window to the World

Thursday, January 20th 2022 09:12 AM

  In this image from Jan. 9, 2022, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron peered out from a window inside the cupola, the International Space Station's "window to the world." Prominent station components in this photograph include the Kibo laboratory module and its external pallet, the Japanese robotic arm, and the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module.   Image Credit: NASA  

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Grab-and-go astrophotography

Wednesday, January 19th 2022 10:15 AM

  This bicolor image of the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237-9) using Astrodon Hydrogen-alpha and Oxygen-III filters required six hours of exposures through a Starlight Xpress H694 monochrome camera attached to a William Optics GT81 refractor on an iOptron CEM60 mount. With more of us living in cities and urban environments, the problem of light pollution is all too familiar. Even those lucky enough to live outside large metropolises don’t escape untouched, because the sky near the horizon is often lost to sky glow. This leaves astroimagers with a choice to make: Invest in a fixed setup with narrowband or light pollution filters, or make the best of a lightweight, portable setup and head to dark-sky sites. In my case, the choice was made for me. I live in the center of a city, so a permanent setup was neither a viable nor secure option.   The author stands next to one of his portable astroimaging setups. But how far can one go in this hobby with a kit light enough to be t...

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Image of the Day: Drilling Holes on the Red Planet

Tuesday, January 18th 2022 09:15 AM

  This image shows the Highfield drill hole, on Vera Rubin Ridge in Gale crater on Mars, made by NASA’s Curiosity rover. Just recently, scientists announced that an analysis of rock samples collected by the rover were enriched in carbon 12, a type of carbon that on Earth is associated with biological processes. While the finding is intriguing, it doesn’t necessarily point to ancient life on Mars, as scientists have not yet found conclusive supporting evidence of ancient or current biology there, such as sedimentary rock formations produced by ancient bacteria, or a diversity of complex organic molecules formed by life. The image of this drill hole was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager of the Curiosity rover on the 2,247th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.   Image credits: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS  

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The Sky This Week: The morning star reappears

Friday, January 14th 2022 09:57 AM

Friday, January 14   The Circlet and the carbon star: A bright Moon floats inside the Circlet of Pisces, which includes the red carbon star 19 Piscium, visible as the red point below the Moon. The Moon reaches apogee, the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, at 4:26 A.M. EST. At that time, our satellite will be 252,155 miles (405,804 km) away. With the bright Moon in Taurus tonight, let’s cast our gaze across the sky to Pisces to discover one of the sky’s reddest rubies. 19 Piscium, also called TX Piscium, is a deep red carbon star. This means it’s in the later stages of its life and has puffed up into a cool red giant. That alone will make a star appear redder, but carbon stars go one step further: These stars have abundant carbon in their atmosphere, which readily scatters blue and green wavelengths of light so only the red can shine through. Thus, carbon stars appear particularly red. To find 19 Psc, step outside early in the evening, before Pisces has...

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