NASA Highlights: Astronomical Photos of the Week (7/23 to 7/29/2022)

More than 50 years have passed since the first manned landing on the Moon, a historic feat of the Apollo 11 mission. Of course, the milestone would not “go unnoticed”, and you can remember it in this week’s compilation of astronomical photos, which brings a panorama of the lunar landscape with photos taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong. The Moon also appeared in another photo — only, as it was almost in its new phase, it is practically invisible in the image. Will you be able to find her?

Among other incredible records is a video of comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), which reminds us of the beauty of the object that could be seen with the naked eye in the sky a few years ago. In addition, we also have a beautiful photo of the celestial north pole and even an aurora australis, which occurred in New Zealand.

Saturday (23) — Lunar Panorama

Panorama of the Sea of ​​Tranquility, the landing site of the Apollo 11 mission (Image: Reproduction/Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, NASA)

After the Eagle lunar module landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong took a sequence of photos of our natural satellite’s gray landscape, seen through the Eagle’s window. These photos were scanned in high resolution from the original film and stitched together into this panorama, which shows us a glimpse of the Sea of ​​Tranquility, the landing site of the Apollo 11 mission.

On the left side of the panorama is the first photo ever taken by a person in another world; towards the south, we see some of the propulsion nozzles, evident in the foreground. Finally, on the right side, is part of the shadow cast by the Eagle module, towards the west. The photos were taken about an hour and a half after landing and were initially intended to document the location in case the crew needed to leave earlier than planned.

In addition to Armstorng, the mission also featured Buzz Aldrin, who served as a lunar module pilot, and Michael Collins, a command module pilot. During their stay on the Moon, they conducted scientific explorations, carried out transmissions to Earth, collected material samples from the lunar surface for analysis, and more.

Sunday (24) — Saturn in infrared light

The rings and storms stand out in this photo of Saturn (Image: Reproduction/NASA, JPL-Caltech, SSI/Maksim Kakitsev)

This photo of Saturn was taken by the Cassini spacecraft in infrared light, and it highlights some interesting features of our neighbor in the Solar System. While the rings envelop the planet and cast large shadows, we also see broad bands stretching across Saturn and even something curious at the north pole: there are clouds in a hexagonal pattern that have puzzled scientists for years.

This hexagonal formation was discovered in the 1980s during flybys of the Voyager spacecraft. In addition to its existence being unexpected for researchers, it is still not known exactly what its origin is. It may not look like it, but each side of this mysterious hexagon is almost the width of the Earth!

Considered one of the most ambitious initiatives in planetary science, the Cassini-Huygens mission was launched in 1997 as a joint initiative between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency. It made history with the landing of the Huygens probe on the moon Titan in 2005, completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn system in 2008, and received its first extension in 2010. In 2017, after 13 years of operation , the Cassini spacecraft made its final plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere.

Monday (25) — Try to find the Moon

Photo of the Moon almost in the new phase, taken in May (Image: Reproduction/Mohamad Soltanolkotabi)

At the end of May, astrophotographer Mohamad Soltano took advantage of the early morning to photograph the moon in the sky over Sant Martí d’Empúries, Spain. If you can’t see her in the image, don’t worry: she really is in this photo, but it may not be easy to find her because she was captured when she was almost at the new phase, which marks the beginning of a new lunar cycle.

In this phase, the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned, with our planet and the star on opposite sides of the natural satellite. Due to the alignment, the lunar side facing Earth does not receive direct sunlight and is dark, so it cannot be observed—but if we could travel to the other side, we would see this fully lit up.

Another factor here is that the Moon was close to the horizon, that is, the little light reflected by it had to pass through the atmosphere and ended up being filtered. New moon nights are great for observing other objects in the sky such as planets, meteor showers and even more distant objects such as nebulae and galaxies.

Tuesday (26) — The beauty of comet NEOWISE

About two years ago, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) shone in the sky in July. Anyone who wanted to see it would have to get out of bed very early in the morning, as the comet was visible only before sunrise. This video, created with photos taken by a photographer on the 8th of July, shows that it was worth setting the alarm clock to check out the visit of the C/2020 F3.

The sequence was created from more than 200 photos captured during a 30-minute interval. In the video, we see the comet shining over Italy’s Adriatic Sea as it travels across the sky alongside noctilucent clouds and stars. Gradually, the comet got brighter and brighter and provided this spectacle for those who were able to see it.

At the time, there was great expectation to observe the comet with the naked eye in the Brazilian skies — the chances of seeing it were good, but it was necessary to be cautious due to the risk of the comet ending up in pieces during the passage around the Earth’s surroundings. In the end, everything went well, and he was photographed by several astronomy enthusiasts in Brazil.

Wednesday (27) — Twilight Rays

Twilight rays shining in Denmark (Image: Reproduction/Ruslan Merzlyakov/astrorms))

The Moon was born in style this late afternoon in Denmark. Normally, our natural satellite appears in the sky discreetly, taking a few minutes to completely ascend to the horizon. But in Limfjord, this process was different: the Moon appeared in the sky while scattered clouds were close to the horizon, which helped to create this breathtaking scene.

Despite looking like a sunset, what the photographer recorded was actually sunlight reflected by the Moon. This light passed through the clouds and created the so-called “twilight rays”, which usually appear when the Sun is below the horizon and become visible thanks to the presence of dust, water droplets and, of course, the air in the atmosphere. They are most noticeable when the contrast between light and dark is most evident.

In addition to the Moon, the photo also shows the stars of the Milky Way and even the Andromeda galaxy. Cataloged as “M31”, Andromeda is the Milky Way’s largest galactic neighbor and is more than two billion light-years from us; therefore, it is considered the most distant object observable to the naked eye. Andromeda appears in the upper left corner of the photo, with a very weak glow.

Thursday (28) — The North Celestial Pole

Star trails photographed in the Yiwu Desert, China (Image: Reproduction/Jeff Dai/TWAN)

By joining consecutive exposures to a composition using the timelapse technique, the astrophotographer responsible for this photo arrived at this incredible record, made in the Yiwu desert, China. The whitish arcs come from the star trails (or “star trails”, in English), which reflect the movement of the Earth on its own axis. Now, let’s do an exercise: imagine that you have stretched this axis and marked two points, one on each side.

These points are called “celestial poles”. North coincides with the star Polaris, in the constellation Ursa Major — it’s also known as the “North Star” and appears here, so aligned with the tree that it’s almost as if the branch is pointing at the star. Due to its position, the star is an old friend of Northern Hemisphere astrophotographers and navigators.

In the southern hemisphere, the star that marks the south celestial pole is Sigma, in the constellation of the Octant. However, it has a very weak glow and cannot be observed without the help of instruments. So, another option to find the pole is to use the Southern Cross constellation, which can help with orientation: its largest arm (considering the direction from the top, going down to the bottom) indicates the south celestial pole.

Friday (29) — The colors of the aurora australis

Lights of an aurora australis recorded in southern New Zealand (Image: Reproduction/Ian Griffin/Otago Museum)

In July, astronomer Ian Griffin used the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) observatory for a science mission. SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, which carries a large reflecting telescope inside. The aircraft can fly up to 13 km in the stratosphere, which takes it above 99% of the Earth’s atmospheric layer that blocks infrared light.

The advantage of this is that astronomers are able to study the Solar System and other objects in ways that would not be possible with ground-based observatories. In addition, the observatory may end up capturing interesting phenomena, as happened in this case: Griffin photographed a beautiful aurora australis shining over southern New Zealand. The star that stands out on the left side of the photo is Canopus, the second brightest in the night sky.

NASA reported that, unfortunately, SOFIA was exposed to severe weather conditions on July 18, and ended up with a damaged structure after a great month of science flights in New Zealand. Observatory staff estimates that at least three weeks of maintenance will be required.

Source: APOD

About Raju Singh

Raju has an exquisite taste. For him, video games are more than entertainment and he likes to discuss forms and art.

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