Amazing New Views of Betelgeuse Courtesy of ALMA

This orange blob is the nearby star Betelgeuse, as imaged recently by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA/ESO/NRAO

Just. Wow.

An angry monster lurks in the shoulder of the Hunter. We’re talking about the red giant star Betelgeuse, also known as Alpha Orionis in the constellation Orion. Recently, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) gave us an amazing view of Betelgeuse, one of the very few stars that is large enough to be resolved as anything more than a point of light.

Located 650 light years distant, Betelgeuse is destined to live fast, and die young. The star is only eight million years old – young as stars go. Consider, for instance, our own Sun, which has been shining as a Main Sequence star for more than 500 times longer at 4.6 billion years – and already, the star is destined to go supernova at anytime in the next few thousand years or so, again, in a cosmic blink of an eye.

Still lumpy… Betelgeuse imaged by Hubble in 1996. Hubble/ESA/STScI

An estimated 12 times as massive as Sol, Betelgeuse is perhaps a staggering 6 AU or half a billion miles in diameter; plop it down in the center of our solar system, and the star might extend out past the orbit of Jupiter.

As with many astronomical images, the wow factor comes from knowing just what you’re seeing. The orange blob in the image is the hot roiling chromosphere of Betelgeuse, as viewed via ALMA at sub-millimeter wavelengths. Though massive, the star only appears 50 milliarcseconds across as seen from the Earth. To give you some idea just how small a milliarcsecond is, there’s a thousand of them in an arc second, and 60 arc seconds in an arc minute. The average Full Moon is 30 arc minutes across, or 1.8 million milliarcseconds in apparent diameter. Betelgeuse has one of the largest apparent diameters of any star in our night sky, exceeded only by R Doradus at 57 milliarcseconds.

The apparent diameter of Betelgeuse was first measured by Albert Michelson using the Mount Wilson 100-inch in 1920, who obtained an initial value of 240 million miles in diameter, about half the present accepted value, not a bad first attempt.

You can see hints of an asymmetrical bubble roiling across the surface of Betelgeuse in the ALMA image. Betelgeuse rotates once every 8.4 years. What’s going on under that uneasy surface? Infrared surveys show that the star is enveloped in an enormous bow-shock, a powder-keg of a star that will one day provide the Earth with an amazing light show.

The bowshock created by Betelgeuse as it plows through the local interstellar medium. JAXA/Akari

Thankfully, Betelgeuse is well out of the supernova “kill zone” of 25 to 100 light years (depending on the study). Along with Spica at 250 light years distant in the constellation Virgo, both are prime nearby supernovae candidates that will on day give astronomers a chance to study the anatomy of a supernova explosion up close. Riding high to the south in the northern hemisphere nighttime sky in the wintertime, +0.5 magnitude Betelgeuse would most likely flare up to negative magnitudes and would easily be visible in the daytime if it popped off in the Spring or Fall. This time of year in June would be the worst, as Alpha Orionis only lies 15 degrees from the Sun!

An early springtime supernova in the future? Stellarium

Of course, this cosmic spectacle could kick off tomorrow… or thousands of years from now. Maybe, the light of Betelgeuse gone supernova is already on its way now, traversing the 650 light years of open space. Ironically, the last naked eye supernova in our galaxy – Kepler’s Star in the constellation Ophiuchus in 1604 – kicked off just before Galileo first turned his crude telescope towards the heavens in 1610.

You could say we’re due.

Amazing Video: Watch SpaceX’s Dragon in Flight, as Seen From the Ground

Always on the lookout for interesting events in the skies, astrophotographer Thierry Legault has captured an incredible video of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule traveling through space just 20 minutes after it launched from Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017.

“You can see the Dragon, the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, and solar panel covers,” Legault told Universe Today via email, “plus a nice surprise I discovered during processing: several fast ejections of material, certainly thrusters firing!”

Legault captured at least 6 ejections of material during the passage over his location in Tours, France. The three brightest are highlighted at the end of this video. He used a Sony Alpha 7S with a 200mm lens.

So, what you’re seeing is the Dragon traveling through the background of stars. Legault hand-tracked the Dragon, so even though it appears as stationary (with a few bumps here and there) and objects are zooming past, the capsule is in fact moving at close to 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h). This was taken a just few minutes after the capsule separated from the Falcon nine upper stage and jettisoned the covers on the solar panels, so all the individual bright ‘dots’ seen here were still near each other, moving together in Earth orbit.

This Dragon is now docked at the International Space Station, as the launch was the CRS-11 (11 of 12 planned Commercial Resupply Services for SpaceX.) This was the first time that a Dragon spacecraft was reused, and it brought supplies and science experiments to the ISS. As SpaceX has now done several times, the first stage booster landed back at KSC. This was also the 100th launch from historic pad 39A. Read more about the launch and mission here.

This isn’t the first time Legault has captured the Dragon in flight; he also shot footage of Dragon on its way to the ISS in April of 2014. Recently, he also was able to take multiple images of the ISS passing in front of the Moon:

Lunar transit of the ISS
Expedition 50 with French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on February 4, 2017. Filmed with Celestron C14 EdgeHD and Sony Alpha 7S from Rouen, France (Pesquet’s birth city). Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Thanks to Thierry for sharing his footage and images with Universe Today. Keep track of his amazing work at his website.

Explody Eta Aquarid Meteor Caught in the Act

An Eta Aquarid meteor captured on video by astrophotographer Justin Ng shows an amazing explodingred meteor and what is known as a persistent train — what remains of a meteor fireball in the upper atmosphere as winds twist and swirl the expanding debris.

The meteor pierced through the clouds and the vaporized “remains” of the fireball persisted for over 10 minutes, Justin said. It lasts just a few seconds in the time-lapse.

Here’s the video:

Justin took this footage during an astrophotography tour to Mount Bromo in Indonesia, where he saw several Eta Aquarid meteors. The red, explody meteor occurred at around 4:16 am,local time. The Small Magellanic Cloud is also visible just above the horizon on the left.

Persistent trains occur when a meteoroid blasts through the air, ionizes gases in our atmosphere. Until recently, these have been difficult to study because they are rather elusive. But lately, with the widespread availability of ultra-fast lenses and highly sensitive cameras, capturing these trains is becoming more common, much to the delight of astrophotography fans!

Mount Bromo, 2,329 meters (7600 ft.) high is an active volcano in East Java, Indonesia.

Check out more of Justin’s work at his website, on Twitter, Facebook or G+.

6 May 2017 – Eta Aquarid Captured at Mount Bromo (4K Timelapse) from Justin Ng Photo on Vimeo.

Get Away From It All with these Amazing DTM Views of Mars

By day, Kevin Gill is a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But on nights and weekends he takes data from spacecraft and turns them into scenes that can transport you directly to the surface of Mars.

Gill is one of many so-called “amateur” image editing enthusiasts that take real, high-resolution data from spacecraft and create views that can make you feel like you are standing on the surface of Mars, or out flying around the Solar System.

Gasa Crater on Mars. Rendered using Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop. HiRISE data processed using HiView and gdal. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS/image editing by Kevin Gill.

Some of the best data around for these purposes come from the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Data known as Digital Terrain Model (DTM) files, the HiRISE DTMs are made from two or more images of the same area of a region on Mars, taken from different angles. This data isn’t just for making stunning images or amazing movies. For scientists, DTMs are very powerful research tools, used to take measurements such a elevation information and model geological processes.

So, just how do you go from this DTM image from HiRISE:

DTM image of the Central Peak of Elorza Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS

To this amazing image?

Martian sunrise over the Central Peak of Elorza Crater. Rendered using Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop. HiRISE data processed using HiView and gdal. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS/image editing by Kevin Gill

I’m going to let Kevin explain it:

To prep the data, I use Photoshop (to convert the JP2 file to a TIFF), and then standard GIS tools like gdal (Geospatial Data Abstraction Library) to create textures for 3D modeling. Using Autodesk Maya, I input those into a material as a color texture (orthoimagery) or displacement map (the DTM data).

I connect that material to a NURBS plane (sort of like a polygon mesh) that is scaled similarly to the physical properties of the data. I set up a camera at a nice angle (it takes a number of low-resolution test renders to get an angle I like) and let it render.

Then I just pull that render into Photoshop where I have a series of monochromatic color tints which gives the image it’s Martian feel. For the sky, I use either a sky from a MSL MastCam image or one that I took outside with my cell phone. If I’m using a sky I took with my cell phone, I’ll adjust the colors to make it look more like it would on Mars. If the colors in the image are still boring at this point, I may run a HDR adjustment on it in Photoshop.

Fissure in the Cerberus region. This false color view of a volcanic fissure in the Cerberus region of Mars was created using a digital terrain model (DTM) from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The horizon was taken from Curiosity Mastcam imagery. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/ image editing by Kevin Gill.

What all this means is that you can create all these amazing view, plus incredible flyover videos, like this one Kevin put together of Endeavour Crater:

Or you can have some fun and visualize where the Curiosity rover is sitting:

Doin’ Science with Curiosity. Created using HiRIST DTM and Ortho data and NASA model of Curiosity. Rendered using Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop. Curiosity Model: Brian Kumanchik, NASA/JPL-Caltech. Image editing by Kevin Gill.

We’ve written about this type of image editing previously, with the work of the people at UnmannedSpaceflight.com and others. Of course, the image editing software keeps improving, along with all the techniques.

Kevin also wanted to point out the work of other image editing enthusiast, Sean Doran.

“Sean’s work is resulting in views similar to mine,” Kevin said via email. “I know he’s using a process very different from mine, but we are thinking along the same lines in what we want out of the end product. His are quite impressive.”

For example, here is a flyover video of the Opportunity rover sitting along the rim of Endeavour Crater:

You can see more of Sean’s work on his Flickr page

And you can see all of Kevin’s Mars DTM images at his Flick page here. Kevin also recently wrote up a great explanation of his image editing for The Planetary Society, which you can read here.

Thanks to Kevin Gill for sharing his images and expertise!

November 2016 Super Moon Images from Around the World

Now updated with more great images!

Although there’s been quite a bit of hype about the Super Moon on November 13, 2016, to many, the full Moon tonight may have appeared quite similar to other full Moon’s you’ve seen. Yes, the “super-ness” of this Moon, while noteworthy, is fairly imperceptible. While, as our own David Dickinson noted in his preview article, this full Moon is not only the closest for the year, but the nearest Full Moon for a 80 year plus span. However, the closest full moon of 2017 will be only 0.02% farther away than this one.

But any chance to get the public to look up at the night sky is a good one! And we’ll also take this opportunity to share some of the great images from around the world posted on Universe Today’s Flickr page, as well as on social media. Enjoy!

Here’s a “classic” but gorgeous look at the Moon:

The Moon just before full on November 13, 2016 imaged through cloud from London. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
The Moon just before full on November 13, 2016 imaged through cloud from London. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
Supermoon over Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Tim Graham/TJG Photography.
Supermoon over Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Tim Graham/TJG Photography.
Some astrophotographers took this opportunity to take close-ups of the Moon's surface. Pythagoras and Babbage Craters are seen here in this image from the UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright:  Alun Halsey.
Some astrophotographers took this opportunity to take close-ups of the Moon’s surface. Pythagoras and Babbage Craters are seen here in this image from the UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright:
Alun Halsey.
The 'Super Moon' over Rome on November 14, 2016. Credit and copyright: Gianluca Masi.
The ‘Super Moon’ over Rome on November 14, 2016. Credit and copyright: Gianluca Masi.
A view of the supermoon as seen from Lahore, Pakistan, with color added for contrast. Credit and copyright: Roshaan Bukhari.
A view of the supermoon as seen from Lahore, Pakistan, with color added for contrast. Credit and copyright: Roshaan Bukhari.
Moon and clouds as seen from the UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Sculptor Lil on Flickr.
Moon and clouds as seen from the UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Sculptor Lil on Flickr.

Pale Moon rising, as seen from North Bedfordshire, UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Dawn Sunrise on Flickr.
Pale Moon rising, as seen from North Bedfordshire, UK on Nov. 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Dawn Sunrise on Flickr.

Noted NASA photographer Bill Ingalls is in Russia for the next launch of astronauts to the International Space Station. He took this image from Baikonur, Kazakhstan and also provided some tips on photographing the Moon.

And former astronaut Clayton Anderson shared this images from Houson, Texas:

Moonrise near Keene, Ontario on November 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Rick Stankiewicz.
Moonrise near Keene, Ontario on November 13, 2016. Credit and copyright: Rick Stankiewicz.

A comparison of ‘super’ and ‘mini’ Moons and how they appear in the sky:

A perigee 'Supermoon' versus an apogee 'Minimoon'. Image credit and copyright: Raven Yu.
A perigee ‘Supermoon’ versus an apogee ‘Minimoon’. Image credit and copyright: Raven Yu.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their images, and be sure to check out UT’s Flickr pool for the most recent shots.

Link to the lead image by Owen Llewellyn can be found here.

Some Of The Deepest & Sharpest Shots of The Moon from Earth

Who doesn’t love to gaze at the Moon on a clear night? But astrophotographer Thierry Legault now taken Moon-gazing to new heights. Legault traveled to the Alps in August and set up his Celestron C14 Edge HD and ZWO ASI1600MM camera. The results are absolutely stunning.

“These are the largest and sharpest quarters ever,” Legault said via email, adding that he created mosaic images of 10 fields for a definition of 150 million pixels!

Above you can see incredible detail in the 58 mile-wide (93 km) impact crater Copernicus.

Below is a lunar quarter taken on August 24, 2016:

Image of the Moon taken on August 24, 2016 from the Alps. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.
Image of the Moon taken on August 24, 2016 from the Alps. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Legault has been known to travel wherever it takes to get the best shots, for example traveling through Germany, France and Spain to capture shots of space shuttle Endeavour on its final mission, or finding the best locations for stunning and sometimes ground-breaking shots of the International Space Station crossing the Sun or Moon, or views of spy satellites in orbit.

In his book, “Astrophotography,” Legault said that for clear close-ups of the Moon, good atmospheric conditions are a must, as well as having a finely tuned or collimated telescope. Below is a close-up view of Triesnecker crater and the surrounding region near the central part of the Moon’s near side, including sharp view of the rilles.

Triesnecker crater in the central part of the Moon's near side is 26 km in diameter and 2.7 km deep. A system of rilles can also be seen. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.
Triesnecker crater in the central part of the Moon’s near side is 26 km in diameter and 2.7 km deep. A system of rilles can also be seen. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

For processing these images Legault used AutoStakkert!2 (AS!2), PTGui stitching software and Photoshop.

You can see more of these stunning shots at Legault’s website, where he says he’ll have posters of these images available soon.

Of course, you can try seeing these features on the Moon yourself. Even binoculars or a small telescope can provide wonderful views of our closest companion in space. An upcoming full Moon (Super Moon!) on November 14, 2016, will feature the closest full Moon (356,509 kilometers away) until November 25, 2034 (356,448 kilometers away.)

Our thanks to Thierry Legault for sharing these wonderful new images of the Moon!

Incredible Images of Mars from Earth

What did you do during your summer this year? Award-winning astrophotographer Damian Peach spent much of his 2016 summer capturing incredibly clear images of Mars during opposition, when the Red Planet was closest to Earth. Peach has now compiled a wonderful “rotating planet” movie of images taken between June 4th – 18th, 2016, showing amazing detail of the planet.


At its closest point this year, Mars was about 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) from Earth.

Peach’s astrophotography truly sets “a new standard” as one commenter said, and Peach just won another prize in the “Planets, Comets & Asteroids” division of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016, awarded at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England last night.

Peach has said this summer held “excellent seeing,” both from his home in the UK and from a photography trip to Barbados. He even captured a fleeting localized dust storm on Mars during mid-June over Mare Erythraeum, one of the prominent dark areas on the planet that were once thought to be seas. In the image below of the dust storm, Peach also pointed out the “linear cloud streak in the southern hemisphere – clearly those Martian flying saucer pilots have been having fun!”

Images of Mars from Earth on Jun 15, 2016. Credit and copyright: Damian Peach.
Images of Mars from Earth on Jun 15, 2016. Credit and copyright: Damian Peach.

See more of Peach’s excellent astrophotography work at his website , or on Twitter. See a larger version of the lead image here.

Mars is still visible in the night sky, but if you missed seeing this planet at its brightest in 2016, the next time Mars will be at opposition will be in 2018, with close approach on July 31, 2018.

At ISO 400,000, This 6-Minute Film Shows Why We Love the Night Sky

Obviously, you’ve seen timelapse videos of the night sky because we share them here on Universe Today all the time. But you’ve probably not seen a video like this one before. This one isn’t a timelapse, and you’ll see the night sky in all its splendor, in real time.

“I think this one may be the beginning of something damn interesting,” said filmmaker Ben Canales, who along with cohort John Waller of Uncage The Soul Productions, shot this video with new low-light technology. Using the new Canon MH20f-SH, which has the capability of shooting at 400,000 ISO, they were able to “film in the quiet moments that have been impossible to capture until now.”

“Since 2013, I’ve been tinkering with all sorts of camera/lens/software combinations trying to move beyond a long exposure still to real time video of the stars,” Canales said on Facebook. “Sooner or later, we have to move beyond a frozen photo of the stars to hear, see, feel what it is really like being out there!”

In addition to showcasing this wonderful new low-light shooting, Infinity² really captures the emotional side of amateur astronomy and the beauty of being under the night sky. He took a group of high school students out to witness the Perseid Meteor Shower in Oregon, and the students got together with the Oregon Star Party. Together, they answer the simple question “What do you feel?”

As Canales says, “Something internal and personal draws us out to the night sky.”

Check out more on Uncage The Soul Productions, Canales’ astrophoto website and Facebook.

Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.
Still image from the film Infinity ². Image Courtesy Ben Canales.

Infinity ² from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

I Actually Learned to Photograph the Milky Way

Milky Way by Fraser Cain

Milky Way by Fraser Cain
Wow, my first acceptable image of the Milky Way. Credit: Me/Cory & Tanja Schmitz

I’m really fortunate to live in a region of the world with pretty dark skies. And, I’ve got pretty nice camera gear that we use to make all our YouTube videos. But for some reason, I’ve never been able to take an acceptable photo of the Milky Way, and I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going wrong. Turns out… I was going wrong everywhere; wrong exposure, aperture, ISO, JPG vs RAW.

I finally reached out to two of the best astrophotographers I know, Cory and Tanja Schmitz from PhotographingSpace.com. Both are world-class astrophotographers, with amazing shots of the Milky Way, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae and other deep space objects. And you should see their timelapses. They generously agreed to give me direct advice using the gear I have available, and then helped turn the raw photos into something usable through Photoshop (which is another area of dark wizardry).

I ended up using my Canon 5D MkII camera, which we shoot all our Guide to Space videos on. I tried taking pictures with its regular lens, and then got better results with a Rokinon 14mm lens that I actually don’t really use very often. It’s the wide angle lens we use in the car driving up to Comox Lake.

I captured the image at f/2.8, 30 second exposure, ISO 3200. Our shooting location had pretty dark skies, but it was earlier in the evening, and there was some light pollution off to the southern skies.

Here’s the final collaboration video, where Tanja and Cory give me their advice on which gear to use, how to set up and take the picture, and then how to clean it all up in Photoshop afterwards.

This is just the beginning of a whole new rabbit hole hobby for me, so hopefully you’ll see me improve over time as I learn to get more out of my gear, and find darker and darker skies.

Of course, you should check out Cory and Tanja’s PhotographingSpace.com, follow them on Instagram, and begin your own journey of learning how to shoot the night sky.

Experience the Glorious Night Sky Over Yellowstone National Park

Tomorrow, August 25, 2016, the US National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, and the NPS has been celebrating all year with their “Find Your Park” promotion. But the first national park, Yellowstone National Park, was created 144 years ago. Yellowstone is known for its dramatic canyons, lush forests, and flowing rivers, but might be most famous for its hot springs and gushing geysers.

This new timelapse offers you a chance to “find your dark skies” at Yellowstone, and features the many geysers there, showing the dramatic geothermal features under both day and night skies. But the night skies over these geyser explosions steal the show! It was filmed by Harun Mehmedinovicas part of the Skyglow Project, an ongoing crowdfunded project that explores the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible dark sky areas in North America.

SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM : HADES EXHALES from Harun Mehmedinovic on Vimeo.

The Skyglow Project works in collaboration with International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit organization fighting to educate the public about light pollution and to preserve the dark skies around the world.

Coming up this weekend, you can enjoy free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25-28, 2016. You can “find your park” and read about special events happening all around the country at FindYourPark.com

A still from the timelapse video 'Hades Exhales,'  a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park's geyser basins.  Credit: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.
A still from the timelapse video ‘Hades Exhales,’ a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park’s geyser basins. Credit: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.

Many thanks to Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of Sunchaser Pictures for continuing their great work with the Skyglow Project and for sharing their incredible videos with Universe Today. Consider supporting their work, as all donations go towards the creation of more videos and images.

A still from the video 'Hades Exhales,' a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park's geyser basins.  Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.
A still from the video ‘Hades Exhales,’ a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park’s geyser basins. Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.