Earth from space

From the vantage point of space, astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency reminds us of the the beauty and wonder of our planet. Gerst is a geophysicist, volcanologist and currently one of six humans aboard the International Space Station.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA-A.Gerst


Source: www.nasa.gov

Why is the Sun so quiet? As the Sun enters into a period of time known as a Solar Minimum, it is, as expected, showing fewer sunspots and active regions than usual. The quietness is somewhat unsettling, though, as so far this year, most days show no sunspots at all. In contrast, from 2011 - 2015, during Solar Maximum, the Sun displayed spots just about every day. Maxima and minima occur on an 11-year cycle, with the last Solar Minimum being the most quiet in a century. Will this current Solar Minimum go even deeper? Even though the Sun's activity affects the Earth and its surroundings, no one knows for sure what the Sun will do next, and the physics behind the processes remain an active topic of research. The featured image was taken three weeks ago and shows that our Sun is busy even on a quiet day. Prominences of hot plasma, some larger than the Earth, dance continually and are most easily visible over the edge.


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Kalidasa lanata is a species of Hemiptera in the genus Kalidasa of the family Fulgoridae found in South India. Here it is enjoying the sap of Ailanthus triphysa.


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View of the tower in Strakonice



Shrouded in a thick atmosphere, Saturn's largest moon Titan really is hard to see. Small particles suspended in the upper atmosphere cause an almost impenetrable haze, strongly scattering light at visible wavelengths and hiding Titan's surface features from prying eyes. But Titan's surface is better imaged at infrared wavelengths where scattering is weaker and atmospheric absorption is reduced. Arrayed around this centered visible light image of Titan are some of the clearest global infrared views of the tantalizing moon so far. In false color, the six panels present a consistent processing of 13 years of infrared image data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on board the Cassini spacecraft. They offer a stunning comparison with Cassini's visible light view.


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Gene Kranz

Mission Operations Director Eugene Kranz (foreground) and his colleagues, laughing, listen to crewmembers' commentary onboard Space Shuttle Discovery, during the STS-26 mission in 1988. In the Flight Control Room of Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center with Kranz are JSC Director Aaron Cohen and Flight Crew Operations Deputy Director Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr. (far right).

During his storied career, Kranz worked as an aerospace engineer, a fighter pilot and retired as Director of Mission Operations at the Johnson Space Center. He was one of the original Project Mercury assistant flight directors and the flight director for the first lunar landing on Apollo 11. Kranz is perhaps best known for the role he played for directing the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13.

Image Credit: NASA


Source: www.nasa.gov

Before local midnight on August 12, this brilliant Perseid meteor flashed above the Poloniny Dark Sky Park, Slovakia, planet Earth. Streaking beside the summer Milky Way, its initial color is likely due to the shower meteor's characteristically high speed. Moving at about 60 kilometers per second, Perseid meteors can excite green emission from oxygen atoms while passing through the thin atmosphere at high altitudes. Also characteristic of bright meteors, this Perseid left a lingering visible trail known as a persistent train, wafting in the upper atmosphere. Its development is followed in the inset frames, exposures separated by one minute and shown at the scale of the original image. Compared to the brief flash of the meteor, the wraith-like trail really is persistent. After an hour faint remnants of this one could still be traced, expanding to over 80 degrees on the sky.


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C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is a long-period comet discovered on 17 August 2014 by Terry Lovejoy.


Image of Sun with magnetic field lines around the surface

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) scientists used their computer models to generate a view of the Sun's magnetic field on August 10, 2018. The bright active region right at the central area of the Sun clearly shows a concentration of field lines, as well as the small active region at the Sun's right edge, but to a lesser extent. Magnetism drives the dynamic activity near the Sun's surface.

SDO is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Its Atmosphere Imaging Assembly was built by the Lockheed Martin Solar Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL), Palo Alto, California.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory


Source: www.nasa.gov

The brief flash of a bright Perseid meteor streaks across the upper right in this composited series of exposures made early Sunday morning near the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Set up about two miles from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the photographer also captured the four minute long trail of a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe into the dark morning sky. Perseid meteors aren't slow. The grains of dust from periodic comet Swift-Tuttle vaporize as they plow through Earth's upper atmosphere at about 60 kilometers per second (133,000 mph). On its way to seven gravity-assist flybys of Venus over its seven year mission, the Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun will steadily decrease, finally reaching a distance of 6.1 million kilometers (3.8 million miles). That's about 1/8 the distance between Mercury and the Sun, and within the solar corona, the Sun's tenuous outer atmosphere. By then it will be traveling roughly 190 kilometers per second (430,000 mph) with respect to the Sun, a record for fastest spacecraft from planet Earth.


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With a rainbow serving as a backdrop in the sky, space shuttle Atlantis (foreground) sits on Launch Pad A and Endeavour on Launch Pad B in this September 2008 photograph. This was the first time since July 2001 that two shuttles were on the launch pads at the same time at the Kennedy Space Center.


Aurora seen from the Space Station

Ever wondered what auroras look like from space? Astronaut Alexander Gerst, also known as @Astro_Alex, gives us his bird's-eye view from aboard the International Space Station, tweeting that the experience is "[m]ind-blowing, every single time."

The dancing lights of the auroras provide spectacular views on the ground and from space, but also capture the imagination of scientists who study incoming energy and particles from the Sun. Auroras are one effect of such energetic particles, which can speed out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections. After a trip toward Earth that can last 2 or 3 days, the solar particles and magnetic fields cause the release of particles already trapped near Earth, which in turn trigger reactions in the upper atmosphere in which oxygen and nitrogen molecules release photons of light. The result: the Northern and Southern lights.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA-A.Gerst


Source: www.nasa.gov

When is the best time to launch a probe to the Sun? The now historic answer -- which is not a joke because this really happened this past weekend -- was at night. Night, not only because NASA's Parker Solar Probe's (PSP) launch window to its planned orbit occurred, in part, at night, but also because most PSP instruments will operate in the shadow of its shield -- in effect creating its own perpetual night near the Sun. Before then, years will pass as the PSP sheds enough orbital energy to approach the Sun, swinging past Venus seven times. Eventually, the PSP is scheduled to pass dangerously close to the Sun, within 9 solar radii, the closest ever. This close, the temperature will be 1,400 degrees Celsius on the day side of the PSP's Sun shield -- hot enough to melt many forms of glass. On the night side, though, it will be near room temperature. A major goal of the PSP's mission to the Sun is to increase humanity's understanding of the Sun's explosions that impact Earth's satellites and power grids. Pictured is the night launch of the PSP aboard the United Launch Alliances' Delta IV Heavy rocket early Sunday morning.


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Iconostasis in the church of the Cocoș Monastery, Romania. The monastery, located in a forest clearing 6 km of Niculițel, was built between 1883 and 1913 and is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos.


Aqua image of Mendocino Complex fire

The largest fire in California's history, the Mendocino Complex, is still spewing clouds of smoke across the state.  Smoke from this fire and other California fires can be seen as far east as parts of Montana and then up into Canada.   

The Mendocino Complex is comprised of two fires, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire. These two fires are being managed in unified command by the CAL FIRE Mendocino Unit and the U.S. Forest Service. The River Fire is located northeast of the community of Hopland, and the Ranch Fire is located northeast of Ukiah, in Lake County and Mendocino County, California. The Ranch Fire is actively burning in the Mendocino National Forest north of Clearlake.  The combined total of acreage that have burned in this complex is 344,890 acres and is currently 68% contained. There have been two injuries but no fatalities with this fire. This fire has destroyed 146 residences and 119 other buildings, and another 1,025 structures are being threatened. The Ranch fire is still continuing to exhibit active fire behavior including:  uphill runs, torching and flanking.  The northwest corner of the Ranch fire remained active overnight until the early morning hours towards Lake Pillsbury. The River Fire had no movement overnight. This portion of the complex is mostly contained.  The Ranch fire portion continues to grow.

The weather still continues to be of concern to firefighters.  The hot temperatures, low humidity, and winds are all factors which can reignite slowing fires, push ongoing fires, and swiftly change the direction of a fire which can put lives at danger in an instant.

There are evacuations in place.  A list of those can be found at the Inciweb site for this incident: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6073/#

NASA's EOSDIS provides the capability to interactively browse over 600 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks "right now". This natural-color Terra satellite image was collected on August 12, 2018. Actively burning areas, detected by thermal bands, are outlined in red. NASA image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project.  Caption:  Lynn Jenner with information from Inciweb.


Source: www.nasa.gov

Is there a bridge of gas connecting these two great galaxies? Quite possibly, but it is hard to be sure. M86 on the upper left is a giant elliptical galaxy near the center of the nearby Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Our Milky Way Galaxy is falling toward the Virgo Cluster, located about 50 million light years away. To the lower right of M86 is unusual spiral galaxy NGC 4438, which, together with angular neighbor NGC 4435, are known as the Eyes Galaxies (also Arp 120). Featured here is one of the deeper images yet taken of the region, indicating that red-glowing gas surrounds M86 and seemingly connects it to NGC 4438. The image spans about the size of the full moon. It is also known, however, that cirrus gas in our own Galaxy is superposed in front of the Virgo cluster, and observations of the low speed of this gas seem more consistent with this Milky Way origin hypothesis. A definitive answer may come from future research, which may also resolve how the extended blue arms of NGC 4435 were created.

Open Science: Browse 1,750+ codes in the Astrophysics Source Code Library

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Ruin of the former Carmelite Church in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus.


Parker Solar Probe launch, August 12, 2018

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe on a mission to touch the Sun, on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Once there, it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls


Source: www.nasa.gov

This shock wave plows through interstellar space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Near the top and moving up in this sharply detailed color composite, thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a cosmic sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge-on. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its elongated appearance suggests its popular name, the Pencil Nebula. The Pencil Nebula is about 5 light-years long and 800 light-years away, but represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant. The Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the shock wave was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. In the featured narrow-band, wide field image, red and blue colors track the characteristic glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms, respectively.

Growing Galleries: Launch of the Parker Solar Probe and Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

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Toyota Land Cruiser at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. During the winter, the Salar de Uyuni is mostly dry but a small patch close to the city of Uyuni remains covered with water. This photo was taken at sunrise time.