3D 67P

Get out your red/blue glasses and float next to a comet! The Rosetta mission lander Philae's ROLIS camera snapped the two frames used to create this stereo anaglyph for 3D viewing during its November 12 descent to the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet's curious double lobed nucleus is seen nearly end on from a distance of about 3 kilometers, about 1 hour before Philae arrived at the surface. Philae's initial landing site is near the center of the front facing lobe. Part of a landing gear foot cuts across the upper right corner, in the close foreground of the 3D-view. Philae bounced twice in the comet's weak gravity after its first contact with the surface. Using high resolution camera images from the Rosetta orbiter along with data from the lander's instruments, controllers have followed Philae's impromptu journey over the comet's surface and have identified a likely area for its final resting place. via NASA http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap141129.html


Portrait of NGC 281

Look through the cosmic cloud cataloged as NGC 281 and you might miss the stars of open cluster IC 1590. But, formed within the nebula, that cluster's young, massive stars ultimately power the pervasive nebular glow. The eye-catching shapes looming in this portrait of NGC 281 are sculpted columns and dense dust globules seen in silhouette, eroded by intense, energetic winds and radiation from the hot cluster stars. If they survive long enough, the dusty structures could also be sites of future star formation. Playfully called the Pacman Nebula because of its overall shape, NGC 281 is about 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. This sharp composite image was made through narrow-band filters, combining emission from the nebula's hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen atoms in green, red, and blue hues. It spans over 80 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 281. via NASA http://ift.tt/1zBXmQP


Black Hole Friday

In this artist's illustration, turbulent winds of gas swirl around a black hole. Some of the gas is spiraling inward toward the black hole, but another part is blown away. A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying. Because no light can get out, people can't see black holes. They are invisible. Space telescopes with special tools can help find black holes. The special tools can see how stars that are very close to black holes act differently than other stars. How Big Are Black Holes? Black holes can be big or small. Scientists think the smallest black holes are as small as just one atom. These black holes are very tiny but have the mass of a large mountain. Mass is the amount of matter, or "stuff," in an object. More information on black holes. Artwork Credit: NASA, and M. Weiss (Chandra X -ray Center) via NASA http://ift.tt/1xZVGT3

Galileo s Europa Remastered

Looping through the Jovian system in the late 1990s, the Galileo spacecraft recorded stunning views of Europa and uncovered evidence that the moon's icy surface likely hides a deep, global ocean. Galileo's Europa image data has been newly remastered here, using improved new calibrations to produce a color image approximating what the human eye might see. Europa's long curving fractures hint at the subsurface liquid water. The tidal flexing the large moon experiences in its elliptical orbit around Jupiter supplies the energy to keep the ocean liquid. But more tantalizing is the possibility that even in the absence of sunlight that process could also supply the energy to support life, making Europa one of the best places to look for life beyond Earth. What kind of life could thrive in a deep, dark, subsurface ocean? Consider planet Earth's own extreme shrimp. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vnilHS


Io and Callisto Mutual Event

A 24 minute sequence from top to bottom, this intriguing series of telescopic frames tracks the occultation of Io by Callisto, two of Jupiter's Galilean moons, from San Pietro Polesine, Italy, planet Earth. A challenging observational project using a small telescope, the two contrasting Jovian worlds are both slightly larger than Earth's Moon. In fact, bright, volcanic Io and dark, cratered Callisto are about 3,640 and 4,820 kilometers in diameter respectively. With Earth itself now crossing near the orbital plane of Jupiter's moons, astronomers are enjoying a season of Galilean moon mutual events ranging from eclipses to occultations. The series of orbital plane crossings produce a mutual event season every 5 to 6 years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1CdOXZv


International Space Station’s 3-D Printer

The International Space Station’s 3-D printer has manufactured the first 3-D printed object in space, paving the way to future long-term space expeditions. The object, a printhead faceplate, is engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer. This image of the printer, with the Microgravity Science Glovebox Engineering Unit in the background, was taken in April 2014 during flight certification and acceptance testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, prior to its launch to the station aboard a SpaceX commercial resupply mission. The first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to the identical ground control samples made on the flight printer prior to launch. The goal of this analysis is to verify that the 3-D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth. The printer works by extruding heated plastic, which then builds layer upon layer to create three-dimensional objects. Testing this on the station is the first step toward creating a working "machine shop" in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth and will create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts. Long-term missions would benefit greatly from onboard manufacturing capabilities. Data and experience gathered in this demonstration will improve future 3-D manufacturing technology and equipment for the space program, allowing a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility for astronauts. Image Credit: NASA/Emmett Given via NASA http://ift.tt/1rkkxQS

The Creature from the Red Lagoon

What creature lurks near the red Lagoon nebula? Mars. This gorgeous color deep-sky photograph has captured the red planet passing below two notable nebulae -- cataloged by the 18th century cosmic registrar Charles Messier as M8 and M20. M20 (upper right of center), the Trifid Nebula, presents a striking contrast in red/blue colors and dark dust lanes. Just below and to the left is the expansive, alluring red glow of M8, the Lagoon Nebula. Both nebulae are a few thousand light-years distant. By comparison, temporarily situated below them both, is the dominant "local" celestial beacon Mars. Taken late last month while near its closest approach to the Earth, the red planet was only a few light-minutes away. via NASA http://ift.tt/1ALafw8


Tornado and Rainbow Over Kansas

The scene might have been considered serene if it weren't for the tornado. During 2004 in Kansas, storm chaser Eric Nguyen photographed this budding twister in a different light -- the light of a rainbow. Featured here, a white tornado cloud descends from a dark storm cloud. The Sun, peeking through a clear patch of sky to the left, illuminates some buildings in the foreground. Sunlight reflects off raindrops to form a rainbow. By coincidence, the tornado appears to end right over the rainbow. Streaks in the image are hail being swept about by the high swirling winds. Over 1,000 tornadoes, the most violent type of storm known, occur on Earth every year, many in tornado alley. If you see a tornado while driving, do not try to outrun it -- park your car safely, go to a storm cellar, or crouch under steps in a basement. via NASA http://ift.tt/1uUeel3


Solar Flare from a Sharper Sun

Solar active region AR2192 was the largest recorded sunspot group of the last 24 years. Before rotating off the Earth-facing side of the Sun at the end of October, it produced a whopping six energetic X-class flares. Its most intense flare was captured on October 24 in this stunning view from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. The scene is a color combination of images made at three different wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light; 193 angstroms shown in blue, 171 angstroms in white, and 304 angstroms in red. The emission, from highly ionized Iron and Helium atoms, traces magnetic field lines looping through the hot plasma of the Sun's outer chromosphere and corona. Beneath, the cooler solar photosphere appears dark at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. The exceptionally sharp composite image has been processed with a new mathematical algorithm (NAFE) that adapts to noise and brightness in extreme ultraviolet image data to reliably enhance small details. via NASA http://ift.tt/1HxEKrf


M1: The Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is cataloged as M1, the first object on Charles Messier's famous 18th century list of things which are not comets. In fact, the Crab is now known to be a supernova remnant, debris from the death explosion of a massive star, witnessed by astronomers in the year 1054. This sharp, ground-based telescopic view uses narrowband data to track emission from ionized oxygen and hydrogen atoms (in blue and red) and explore the tangled filaments within the still expanding cloud. One of the most exotic objects known to modern astronomers, the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star spinning 30 times a second, is visible as a bright spot near the nebula's center. Like a cosmic dynamo, this collapsed remnant of the stellar core powers the Crab's emission across the electromagnetic spectrum. Spanning about 12 light-years, the Crab Nebula is a mere 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. via NASA http://ift.tt/1F6VGkm


LDN 988: Dark Nebula in Cygnus

Obscuring the rich starfields of northern Cygnus, dark nebula LDN 988 lies near the center of this cosmic skyscape. Composed with telescope and camera, the scene is some 2 degrees across. That corresponds to 70 light-years at the estimated 2,000 light-year distance of LDN 988. Stars are forming within LDN 988, part of a larger complex of dusty molecular clouds along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy sometimes called the Northern Coalsack. In fact, nebulosities associated with young stars abound in the region, including variable star V1331 Cygni shown in the inset. At the tip of a long dusty filament and partly surrounded by a curved reflection nebula, V1331 is thought to be a T Tauri star, a sun-like star still in the early stages of formation. via NASA http://ift.tt/1yVkqK0


Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission Marks Ten Years of Discovery

On Nov. 20, 2004, NASA's Swift spacecraft lifted off aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., beginning its mission to study gamma-ray bursts and identify their origins. Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos. Most are thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light. Astronomers at NASA and Pennsylvania State University used Swift to create the most detailed ultraviolet light surveys ever of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two closest major galaxies. Nearly a million ultraviolet sources appear in this mosaic of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which was assembled from 2,200 images taken by Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) and released on June 3, 2013. The 160-megapixel image required a cumulative exposure of 5.4 days. The image includes light from 1,600 to 3,300 angstroms -- UV wavelengths largely blocked by Earth's atmosphere -- and has an angular resolution of 2.5 arcseconds at full size. The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 14,000 light-years across. Viewing in the ultraviolet allows astronomers to suppress the light of normal stars like the sun, which are not very bright at such higher energies, and provides a clearer picture of the hottest stars and star-formation regions. No telescope other than UVOT can produce such high-resolution wide-field multicolor surveys in the ultraviolet. Pennsylvania State University manages the Swift Mission Operations Center, which controls Swift's science and flight operations. Goddard manages Swift, which was launched in November 2004. The satellite is operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. International collaborators are in the United Kingdom and Italy, and the mission includes contributions from Germany and Japan. Image Credit: NASA/Swift/S. Immler (Goddard) and M. Siegel (Penn State) via NASA http://ift.tt/1xWOvuu

Bright Spiral Galaxy M81

One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed view reveals M81's bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81's other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy -- 11.8 million light-years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1uH8tbP


Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula

Dusty emission in the Tadpole nebula, IC 410, lies about 12,000 light-years away in the northern constellation Auriga. The cloud of glowing gas is over 100 light-years across, sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from embedded open star cluster NGC 1893. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, bright cluster stars are seen all around the star-forming nebula. Notable near the image center are two relatively dense streamers of material trailing away from the nebula's central regions. Potentially sites of ongoing star formation in IC 410, these cosmic tadpole shapes are about 10 light-years long. The featured image was taken in infrared light by NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. via NASA http://ift.tt/1t0IGXN


Successful Flight Test of Shape Changing Wing Surface

NASA's green aviation project is one step closer to developing technology that could make future airliners quieter and more fuel-efficient with the successful flight test of a wing surface that can change shape in flight. This past summer, researchers replaced an airplane’s conventional aluminum flaps with advanced, shape-changing assemblies that form seamless bendable and twistable surfaces. Flight testing will determine whether flexible trailing-edge wing flaps are a viable approach to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce noise generated during takeoffs and landings. For the initial Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight, shown in this image, the experimental control surfaces were locked at a specified setting. Varied flap settings on subsequent tests will demonstrate the capability of the flexible surfaces under actual flight conditions. ACTE technology is expected to have far-reaching effects on future aviation. Advanced lightweight materials will reduce wing structural weight and give engineers the ability to aerodynamically tailor the wings to promote improved fuel economy and more efficient operations, while reducing environmental impacts. > More: NASA Tests Revolutionary Shape Changing Aircraft Flap for the First Time Image Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich via NASA http://ift.tt/1u6aVU8

The Double Dust Disks of HD 95086

What do other star systems look like? To help find out, astronomers are carrying out detailed observations of nearby stars in infrared light to see which have dust disks that might be forming planets. Observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and ESA's Herschel Space Observatory have found that planetary system HD 95086 has two dust disks: a hot one near the parent star and a cooler one farther out. An artist's illustration of how the system might appear is featured here, including hypothetical planets with large rings that orbit between the disks. The planets may have created the large gap between the disks by absorbing and deflecting dust with their gravity. HD 95086 is a blue star about 60 percent more massive than our Sun that lies about 300 light years from Earth and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of Carina. Studying the HD 95086 system may help astronomers better understand the formation and evolution of our own Solar System as well as the Earth. via NASA http://ift.tt/1H7EezW


Mixing Paints

Nature is an artist, and this time she seems to have let her paints swirl together a bit. What the viewer might perceive to be Saturn's surface is really just the tops of its uppermost cloud layers. Everything we see is the result of fluid dynamics. Astronomers study Saturn's cloud dynamics in part to test and improve our understanding of fluid flows. Hopefully, what we learn will be useful for understanding our own atmosphere and that of other planetary bodies. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 25 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 23, 2014. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 127 degrees. Image scale is 7 miles (11 kilometers) per pixel. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://ift.tt/ZjpQgB and http://ift.tt/Jcddhk . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via NASA http://ift.tt/1xPz1bu

Leonids Above Torre de la Guaita

Leonids Meteor Shower came to an impressive crescendo in 1999. Observers in Europe saw a sharp peak in the number of meteors visible around 0210 UTC during the early morning hours of November 18. Meteor counts then exceeded 1000 per hour - the minimum needed to define a true meteor storm. At other times and from other locations around the world, observers typically reported respectable rates of between 30 and 100 meteors per hour. This photograph is a 20-minute exposure ending just before the main Leonids peak began. Visible are at least five Leonid meteors streaking high above the Torre de la Guaita, an observation tower used during the 12th century in Girona, Spain. In 2014, over the next few nights, the Leonids meteor shower will again peak. This year, although the crescent Moon should not create much competing skyglow, the Earth is predicted to pass through a more moderate stream of debris left over from Comet Tempel-Tuttle than in 1999, perhaps resulting in as many as 15 visible meteors per hour from dark locations. via NASA http://ift.tt/11dQ9e8


The Tulip in the Swan

Framing a bright emission region this telescopic view looks out along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the nebula rich constellation Cygnus the Swan. Popularly called the Tulip Nebula the glowing cloud of interstellar gas and dust is also found in the 1959 catalog by astronomer Stewart Sharpless as Sh2-101. About 8,000 light-years distant and 70 light-years across the complex and beautiful nebula blossoms at the center of this composite image. Red, green, and blue hues map emission from ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Ultraviolet radiation from young, energetic stars at the edge of the Cygnus OB3 association, including O star HDE 227018, ionizes the atoms and powers the emission from the Tulip Nebula. HDE 227018 is the bright star very near the blue arc at the cosmic tulip's center. Glowing across the electromagnetic spectrum, microquasar Cygnus X-1 and a curved shock front created by its powerful jets lie toward the top and right. via NASA http://ift.tt/1sPhuv1


Welcome to a Comet

The Rosetta Mission lander is safely on a comet. One of Philae's feet appears at the bottom left of this spectacular image of the surface of C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Still a happy lander, Philae bounced twice before settling and returning images from the surface, traveling a kilometer or so after initially touching at the targeted site Agilkia. A surface panorama suggests that the lander has come to rest tilted and near a shadowing wall, with its solar panels getting less illumination that hoped. Philae's science instruments are working as planned and data is being relayed during communications windows, when the Rosetta spacecraft is above the lander's new horizon. via NASA http://ift.tt/1BlG3cf


Exploring the World's Protected Areas from Space

A new book released this week highlights how the view from space with Earth-orbiting sensors is being used to protect some of the world’s most interesting, changing, and threatened places. From space, Egmont National Park in New Zealand shows the benefits and limitations of protected areas. In this Landsat 8 image acquired on July 3, 2014, the park, with Mt. Taranaki at its center, was established in 1900. This isolated island of protected forest (dark green areas) is surrounded by once-forested pasturelands (light and brown green). “Sanctuary: Exploring the World’s Protected Areas from Space,” published by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (Arlington, Virginia) with support from NASA, debuted at the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. In the book’s foreword, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden writes, “NASA and numerous other space agency partners from around the globe have used this view from space to make incredible scientific advances in our understanding of how our planet works. As a result, we can now better gauge the impact of human activity on our environment and measure how and why our atmosphere, oceans, and land are changing. As a former astronaut who has looked upon our beautiful planet from space, I hope that we can advance the use of space-based remote sensing and other geospatial tools to study, understand, and improve the management of the world’s parks and protected areas as well as the precious biodiversity that thrives within their borders.” Image Credit: NASA/USGS via NASA http://ift.tt/1zUMql6

Descent to a Comet

Yesterday, the first soft landing on a comet took place some 500 million kilometers from planet Earth as the Rosetta mission lander Philae settled on the nucleus of C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The landing site, dubbed Agilkia, is located near the center of this remarkable image snapped by Philae's ROLIS (ROsetta Lander Imaging System) camera. Taken from a distance of about 3 kilometers the image has a resolution of about 3 meters per pixel at the surface. After Philae's release from the orbiter, its seven-hour long descent was made without propulsion or guidance. Following its descent the lander is in place, though its anchoring harpoon system did not fire. For 2.5 days the lander is intended to conduct its main science mission returning extensive images and data. An extended surface mission may be possible if sunlight and dust conditions allow solar panels to recharge Philae's battery. via NASA http://ift.tt/1BdDcls


Philae Attempts Comet Nucleus Landing

Today humanity will make its first attempt to land a probe on the nucleus of a comet. As the day progresses, the Philae (fee-LAY) lander will separate from the Rosetta spacecraft and head down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Since the texture of the comet's surface is unknown and its surface gravity is surely low, Philae will then attempt to harpoon itself down, something that has never been done before. Featured here is an artist's illustration of dishwasher-sized Philae as it might look on Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko's surface, along with explanation balloons detailing onboard scientific instruments. Many people on a blue planet across the Solar System will be eagerly awaiting news and updates. Whether Philae actually lands, whether it lands on a smooth patch, whether the harpoons take hold, and how far the robotic lander sinks into the surface should all become known as events unfold today. via NASA http://ift.tt/1ulak5I


Orion Spacecraft Rolls Past the Vehicle Assembly Building

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the agency's Orion spacecraft passes the spaceport's iconic Vehicle Assembly Building as it is transported to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. After arrival at the launch pad, United Launch Alliance engineers and technicians will lift Orion and mount it atop its Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion began its journey to the launch pad at at the Launch Abort System Facility, where a 52-foot-tall protective fairing and the launch abort system were attached to the 10-foot, 11-inch-tall crew module. Resting atop a specialized Kamag transporter, Orion was moved to Space Launch Complex 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The move began at 8:54 p.m. EST and concluded at 3:07 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 12. Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. Orion is scheduled to launch Dec. 4, 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in its first unpiloted flight test, and in 2018 on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. > More about Orion Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett via NASA http://ift.tt/1EBv2BG

Orion in Gas, Dust, and Stars

The constellation of Orion holds much more than three stars in a row. A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebula to star clusters, all embedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars on the far left are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Below and left of the frame center and just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. On the upper right lies M42, the Orion Nebula, an energetic caldron of tumultuous gas, visible to the unaided eye, that is giving birth to a new open cluster of stars. Immediately to the left of M42 is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man that houses many bright blue stars. The featured image covers an area with objects that are roughly 1,500 light years away and spans about 75 light years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wdzRus


The Protoplanetary Disk of HL Tauri from ALMA

Why does this giant disk have gaps? The exciting and probable answer is: planets. A mystery is how planets massive enough to create these gaps formed so quickly, since the HL Tauri star system is only about one million years old. The picture on which the gaps were discovered was taken with the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) of telescopes in Chile. ALMA imaged the protoplanetary disk, which spans about 1,500 light-minutes across, in unprecedented detail, resolving features as small as 40 light minutes. The low energy light used by ALMA was also able to peer through an intervening haze of gas and dust. The HL Tauri system lies about 450 light years from Earth. Studying HL Tauri will likely give insight into how our own Solar System formed and evolved. via NASA http://ift.tt/1tZI60q


The Cat's Eye Nebula from Hubble

To some, it may look like a cat's eye. The alluring Cat's Eye nebula, however, lies three thousand light-years from Earth across interstellar space. A classic planetary nebula, the Cat's Eye (NGC 6543) represents a final, brief yet glorious phase in the life of a sun-like star. This nebula's dying central star may have produced the simple, outer pattern of dusty concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. But the formation of the beautiful, more complex inner structures is not well understood. Seen so clearly in this digitally sharpened Hubble Space Telescope image, the truly cosmic eye is over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into this Cat's Eye, astronomers may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution ... in about 5 billion years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1slJkh9


Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660

NGC 660 is featured in this cosmic snapshot, a sharp composite of broad and narrow band filter image data from the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Over 20 million light-years away and swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, NGC 660's peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings nearly perpendicular to the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre-looking configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris eventually strung out in a rotating ring. The violent gravitational interaction would account for the myriad pinkish star forming regions scattered along NGC 660's ring. The polar ring component can also be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans over 50,000 light-years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1uKiA1h


The Map of Dione

This cylindrical projection global map is one of six new color maps of Saturn's midsized icy moons, constructed using 10 years of image data from the Cassini spacecraft. Discovered by Cassini (the astronomer) in 1684, Dione is about 1,120 kilometers across. Based on data extending from infrared to ultraviolet, the full resolution of this latest space-age map is 250 meters per pixel. The remarkable brightness difference between the tidally locked moon's lighter leading hemisphere (right) and darker trailing hemisphere clearly stands out. Like other Saturn moons orbiting within the broad E-ring, Dione's leading hemisphere is kept shiny as it picks up a coating of the faint ring's icy material. The E-ring material is constantly replenished by geysers on moon Enceladus' south pole. Lighter, younger surface fractures also appear to cross the dark, cratered trailing hemisphere. via NASA http://ift.tt/1tjB9lM


Astronaut Reid Wiseman Shares Earth Art While Preparing for Return

NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman shared this image of Yosemite via his twitter account this morning. Wiseman later tweeted: "We cranked up our #Soyuz this morning and test fired all the thrusters. Everything worked flawlessly - ready for a Sunday departure." - @astro_reid The homebound Expedition 40/41 trio, consisting of Soyuz Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineers Alexander Gerst and Wiseman, is counting down to its Nov. 9 departure inside the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft. They are packing gear to be returned home while they continue science and maintenance on the U.S. side of the International Space Station. Back on Earth, the new Expedition 42/43 crew is getting ready for its launch to the space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 23. Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov will be joined by NASA astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard a Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft to begin a 5-1/2 month mission aboard the orbital laboratory. Space Station Blog. Image Credit: NASA/Reid Wiseman via NASA http://ift.tt/1zAm7QT

SH2-155: The Cave Nebula

This colorful skyscape features the dusty Sharpless catalog emission region Sh2-155, the Cave Nebula. In the composite image, data taken through narrowband filters tracks the glow of ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in red, green, and blue hues. About 2,400 light-years away, the scene lies along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus. Astronomical explorations of the region reveal that it has formed at the boundary of the massive Cepheus B molecular cloud and the hot, young stars of the Cepheus OB 3 association. The bright rim of ionized interstellar gas is energized by radiation from the hot stars, dominated by the bright star just above picture center. Radiation driven ionization fronts are likely triggering collapsing cores and new star formation within. Appropriately sized for a stellar nursery, the cosmic cave is over 10 light-years across. via NASA http://ift.tt/1poyKeA


NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Captures Intense Space Weather

An active region on the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 4:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2014. This is the second mid-level flare from the same active region, labeled AR 12205, which rotated over the left limb of the sun on Nov. 3. The image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in extreme ultraviolet light that was colorized in red and gold. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This flare is classified as an M7.9-class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc. More information on NASA's SDO Mission. Image Credit: NASA/SDO via NASA http://ift.tt/1pqwcwv

NGC 4762: A Galaxy on the Edge

Why is there a bright line on the sky? What is pictured above is actually a disk galaxy being seen almost perfectly edge on. The image from the Hubble Space Telescope is a spectacular visual reminder of just how thin disk galaxies can be. NGC 4762, a galaxy in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies, is so thin that it is actually difficult to determine what type of disk galaxy it is. Its lack of a visible dust lane indicates that it is a low-dust lenticular galaxy, although it is still possible that a view from on top would reveal spiral structure. The unusual stellar line spans about 100,000 light years from end to end. Near NGC 4762's center is a slight bulge of stars, while many background galaxies are visible far in the distance. Galaxies that appear this thin are rare mostly because our Earth must reside (nearly) in the extrapolated planes of their thin galactic disks. Galaxies that actually are this thin are relatively common -- for example our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to be about this thin. via NASA http://ift.tt/1sfkkZS


Orion Prepares to Move to Launch Pad

On Dec. 4, Orion is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37 in Florida. During the test, Orion will travel 3,600 miles in altitude above Earth. 4 1/2 hours later, the spacecraft will reenter the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Orion’s first flight will verify launch and high-speed reentry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield. Four recently-installed protective panels make up Orion's Ogive. The Ogive reduces drag and acoustic load on the crew module, making it a smoother ride for the spacecraft. Pictured here, inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane brings the fourth and final Ogive panel closer for installation on Orion's Launch Abort System. The Ogive installation was one of the last pieces of the puzzle for Orion prior to its move to the launch pad on Nov. 10. There, it will be lifted and attached to the rocket for its December launch. More on Orion. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1y3NPRZ

Moon and Earth from Chang e 5 T1

Described at times as a big blue marble, from some vantage points Earth looks more like a small blue marble. Such was the case in this iconic image of the Earth and Moon system taken by the Chang'e 5-T1 mission last week. The Moon appears larger than the Earth because it was much closer to the spacecraft's camera. Displaying much of a surface usually hidden from Earth, the Moon appears dark and gray when compared to the more reflective and colorful planet that it orbits. The robotic Chang'e 5-T1 spacecraft, predominantly on an engineering test mission, rounded the Moon last Tuesday returned to Earth on Friday. via NASA http://ift.tt/1t7DwI6


Early Snow on the Great Smokies

A potent weather system with origins in Manitoba, Canada moved south across the Great Lakes on Halloween and blew all the way to Florida, bringing snow and hard frost to regions that do not see either in some winters. The storm system then moved back up the U.S. East Coast and pounded New England with a Nor'easter. This image shows the southern Appalachian Mountain range, along the border of Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, as fall color was turned to winter white. The natural-color image was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite on Nov. 2, 2014. Six inches of snow fell in Asheville, North Carolina, where snow usually doesn't fall before Christmas. Higher in the mountains, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, LeConte Lodge (elevation 6400 feet) reported 22 inches of snow and temperatures of 9 degrees Fahrenheit. In Columbia, South Carolina, measurable snow fell nine days earlier than ever recorded for that city. More information. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory via NASA http://ift.tt/1x3Hasz

In Green Company: Aurora over Norway

Raise your arms if you see an aurora. With those instructions, two nights went by with, well, clouds -- mostly. On the third night of returning to same peaks, though, the sky not only cleared up but lit up with a spectacular auroral display. Arms went high in the air, patience and experience paid off, and the amazing featured image was captured. The setting is a summit of the Austnesfjorden fjord close to the town of Svolvear on the Lofoten islands in northern Norway. The time was early March. Our Sun has been producing an abundance of picturesque aurora of late as it is near the time of its maximum surface activity in its 11-year magnetic cycle. via NASA http://ift.tt/1t5DMaz


Glaciers and Mountains in West Antarctica

Glaciers and mountains in the evening sun are seen on an Operation IceBridge research flight, returning from West Antarctica on Oct. 29, 2014. NASA is carrying out its sixth consecutive year of Operation IceBridge research flights over Antarctica to study changes in the continent’s ice sheet, glaciers and sea ice. This year’s airborne campaign revisits a section of the Antarctic ice sheet that recently was found to be in irreversible decline. IceBridge uses a suite of instruments that includes a laser altimeter, radar instruments, cameras, and a gravimeter, which is an instrument that detects small changes in gravity. These small changes reveal how much mass these glaciers have lost. Researchers plan to measure previously unsurveyed regions of Antarctica, such as the upper portions of Smith Glacier in West Antarctica, which is thinning faster than any other glaciers in the region. The mission also plans to collect data in portions of the Antarctic Peninsula, such as the Larsen C, George VI and Wilkins ice shelves and the glaciers that drain into them. The Antarctic Peninsula has been warming faster than the rest of the continent. In addition to extending the data record of NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which stopped collecting data in 2009, IceBridge will also help set the stage for ICESat-2 by measuring ice the satellite will fly over. > Operation IceBridge Antarctic 2014 Campaign Image Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger via NASA http://ift.tt/1tzK9rQ

Titan Beyond the Rings

When orbiting Saturn, be sure to watch for breathtaking superpositions of moons and rings. One such picturesque vista was visible recently to the robot Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. In 2006 April, Cassini captured Saturn's A and F rings stretching in front of cloud-shrouded Titan. Near the rings and appearing just above Titan was Epimetheus, a moon which orbits just outside the F ring. The dark space in the A ring is called the Encke Gap, although several thin knotted ringlets and even the small moon Pan orbit there. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wTn18w


The Day After Mars

October 31, 1938 was the day after Martians encountered planet Earth, and everything was calm. Reports of the invasion were revealed to be part of a Halloween radio drama, the now famous broadcast based on H.G. Wells' scifi novel War of the Worlds. On Mars October 20, 2014 was calm too, the day after its close encounter with Comet Siding Spring. Not a hoax, this comet really did come within 86,700 miles or so of Mars, about 1/3 the Earth-Moon distance. Earth's spacecraft and rovers in Mars orbit and on the surface reported no ill effects though, and had a ringside seat as a visitor from the outer solar system passed by. Spanning over 2 degrees against stars of the constellation Ophiuchus, this colorful telescopic snapshot captures our view of Mars on the day after. Bluish star 51 Ophiuchi is at the upper right and the comet is just emerging from the Red Planet's bright glare. via NASA http://ift.tt/1s2Buda


Milky Way over Devils Tower

A mysterious formation known as Devils Tower rises into the dark above northeastern Wyoming's prairie landscape in this 16 frame panoramic view. Seen against the night sky's thin, pale clouds and eerie green airglow, star clusters and nebulae of the Milky Way arc toward the galaxy's central realm at right. Of course the scene contains the Milky Way's own haunting and grisly visages of halloween, including ghosts, a flaming skull, a glowing eye and a witch's broom. To find them, slide your cursor over the picture or just follow this link, if you dare. And have a safe and Happy Halloween! via NASA http://ift.tt/1zPvpcL