October 29th, 2014

Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds

Six images that combine Chandra data with those from other telescopes.


Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

When an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 — a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles –was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISE’s infrared data. What do you see?

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA.  NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

October 27th, 2014

Dragon and Robotic Arm


ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this image of the International Space Station’s robotic arm and the Dragon commercial supply spacecraft during his six-month Blue Dot mission.

The arm was used to move NASA’s Rapidscat from the Dragon to Europe’s Columbus laboratory module. Installed on Columbus, Rapidscat will scan ocean winds to aid weather predictions, including hurricane monitoring.


Follow Alexander and his mission via http://alexandergerst.esa.int

Image Credit: ESA/NASA


October 23rd, 2014

Partial solar eclipse for North America on October 23

Partial Solar Eclipse with Airplane, Image Credit & Copyright: Phillip Calais

Partial Solar Eclipse with Airplane, Image Credit & Copyright: Phillip Calais

Get those solar viewers out… the final eclipse of 2014 occurs this Thursday on October 23rd, and most of North America has a front row seat. Though this solar eclipse will be an exclusively partial one as the Moon takes a ‘bite’ out the disk of the Sun, such an event is always fascinating to witness. And for viewers across the central U.S. and Canada, it will also provide the chance to photograph the setting crescent Sun along with foreground objects.

Partial solar eclipse simulation from Star Walk 2 app.

The shadow or ‘antumbra’ of the Moon just misses northern limb of the Earth on October 23rd, resulting in a solar eclipse that reaches a maximum of 81% partial as seen from the high Canadian Arctic. The eclipse would be annular in any event had the Moon’s shadow touched down on Earth’s surface, as the Moon just passed apogee on October 18th. The penumbral cone of the Moon’s shadow touches down at 19:38 UT in the Bering Sea just west of the International Date Line before racing eastward across North America to depart the Earth over southern Texas at 23:52 UT.
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October 21st, 2014

Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 21


Meteors streak outwards from the top of Orion’s head as seen in 2012 from central Victoria. (Phil Hart)

October 21, 2014 is the best time for watching the annual Orionid meteor shower. And an awesome shower it is! For one thing, it stems from debris from the most famous of all comets, Comet Halley. In fact, the object in the picture at the top of this isn’t a meteor. It’s Comet Halley itself at its 1910 visit. The comet last visited Earth in 1986 and will return next in 2061. Debris in the orbit of this comet – the Orionid meteor stream – is now encountering Earth’s atmosphere.

Use Star Walk app (iOS or Android) to help you locate the meteor shower in the night sky. Just tap the Search icon in the lower left corner and type in “Orionids”.

Image via Star Walk2

Image via Star Walk2

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October 17th, 2014

Great Time to Spot Jupiter and Moon


Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center


This is a montage of New Horizons images of Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io, taken during the  New Horizons’s Jupiter flyby in early 2007. The image shows a major eruption in progress on Io’s night side, at the northern volcano Tvashtar. Incandescent lava glows red beneath a 330-kilometer (205-mile-high) volcanic plume, whose uppermost portions are illuminated by sunlight. The plume appears blue due to scattering of light by small particles in the plume.

Given clear skies, everyone around the world can see the waning crescent moon pairing up the brilliant planet Jupiter on October 18 – that is, if you’re willing to get up in the wee hours before sunrise. If you’re up before dawn, you might also see Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, near the moon and Jupiter.

Image from Star Walk

Image from Star Walk 2

At present, Jupiter is in front of the constellation Leo, near the Leo-Cancer border. The faint constellation Cancer lies to the west of Leo. Throughout October and November, Jupiter will be moving eastward in front of the backdrop stars, onward toward the star Regulus. But, starting in December 2014, Jupiter will change direction, to move in retrograde (westward), going away from Regulus, and toward the constellation Cancer. Jupiter will enter Cancer in early February 2015, to stay within Cancer’s borders until early June 2015.


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