Here’s an amazing photograph of the Milky Way by astrophotographer Matt Dieterich. He took the image a step further, however, and identified all the constellations you can see close to the Milky Way.
You’ll want to click this image and see a bigger version.
Right down near the horizon is Sagittarius – it looks like a teapot, with the Milky Way rising like steam from its spout. Many of the brightest, most spectacular nebulae in the night sky are located around this constellation: the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, and the Omega Nebula. The 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way is located in this region too.
Further up the Milky Way you can see the three constellations that form the Summer Triangle: Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila.
And right on the left side of the photograph is Cassiopeia, with its familiar “W” shape.
In the lower-right of the image are a few constellations from the zodiac: Scorpio, Libra and Virgo. And if you look closely you can see Saturn making its way across the sky, in the plane of the ecliptic.
If you’re interested in learning about the night sky, I highly recommend you take your time and learn your constellations. These are your wayposts, navigational aides that help you find your way across the Universe, to the wonders right there in the sky above you.
Matt used a Nikon D750 camera with a 24mm f/1.4 lens. The whole image is made up of 20 separate exposures of 15 seconds each, stitched together to make this amazing mosaic. He captured this image from Glacier National Park in Northern Montana.
Here’s the original version, without the highlighted constellations. Once again, you’ll want to click to see the full resolution goodness.
A big thanks to Matt for contributing this picture to the Universe Today Flickr pool. If you’re an astrophotographer, you’ll be in good company, with thousands of other photographers who share their pictures. We’ve got more than 33,000 pictures there now.
This road near Phoenix, Arizona leads to the heart of the Milky Way. Well, that’s assuming your car will handle the 26,000 light-year drive, and can fly through, uh, space. And you can endure the cold, radiation and space madness. Anyway, you get the metaphor.
Tyler Sichelski took this photo of the galactic core, the central bulge of the Milky Way. It’s a region of incredible density and activity, and at the very heart, hidden from our view is the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, with 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Within a parsec’s distance of this black hole, there are thousands of old, main-sequence stars as well as some of the hottest, brightest stars around.
Unfortunately, we can’t actually see the center of the galaxy because of the gas and dust that obscures our view. And in this photograph, you can actually see the dark dust lanes and regions. Many of the nebulae you’re familiar with are in this picture, like the Lagoon Nebula, the Omega Nebula and the Trifid Nebula. In fact, it’s hard to know where one nebula ends, and the next one starts.
Tyler used a Canon 6D camera with a 16-28mm f/2.8 lens. He took 10 separate exposures of the sky and then stacked them up in Photoshop.
Of course, you should check out more of Tyler’s photographs at the Universe Today Flickr photo pool (nearly 2,000 members and 33,000 photographs now). This is a place where astrophotographers share their photos of the night sky, and then we reshare them on our website and across our social media.
If you took a picture of the Sun every day, always at the same hour and from the same location, would the Sun appear in the same spot in the sky? A very fine image, compiled by astrophotographer Giuseppe Petricca from Italy, proves the answer is no.
“A combination of the Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt and its slightly elliptical orbit combine to generate this figure “8” pattern of where the Sun would appear at the same time throughout the year,” said Petricca.
This pattern is called an analemma, the full version shown below:
If seeing the Northern or Southern Lights hasn’t been crossed off your bucket list yet, this video is the next best thing to seeing the aurora live. Astrophotographer extraordinaire Thierry Legault has captured spectacular views of the Aurora Borealis from Norway, filmed in real time.
“I was in Norway in early November,” Thierry told Universe Today, “this was my 5th stay and really the best one, with incredible auroras. At moments they were so large and fast that we didn’t know where to look.” He added they were “totally hypnotic.”
The 16-minute video includes 6 of the best sequences Legault captured. “I included the start and finish of the sequences to show their behavior to people who have never witnessed them,” he said. “The auroras seem to be alive, sometimes like snakes or rivers.”
Legault used a Sony Alpha 7s, which he says is the only camera able to record video like this in such lighting. The video is recorded at 25 frames a second.
For the best view of the video, switch to full HD mode (1080p) and full screen.
This 150+ page book contains photos of most of the major objects in the Solar System as well as deep sky objects, like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. van der Hoeven provides many of the pictures in the book, and then fills out the rest with the highest quality photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer, Subaru and many of the top observatories around the world. There are also great photos from rovers and spacecraft sent to distant worlds (including the latest pictures of Pluto from New Horizons). If you want a coffee table book with great images of space, it’s a great choice.
The book is currently being run as a Kickstarter, but unlike most campaigns, this book is complete and ready to go to the printers, so you’re really just deciding if you want a copy or not – a printed, signed copy or an electronic PDF.
At the time I’m writing this, there are just 5 days left in the Kickstarter, which is already fully funded. This project is already happening, but you can help André reach the stretch goal of 25,000 Euros.
Amateur astronomer Chris Schur of Arizona had only five minutes to observe and photograph Comet Catalina this morning before twilight got the better of the night. In that brief time, he secured two beautiful images and made a quick observation through his 80mm refractor. He writes:
“Very difficult observation on this one. (I observed) it visually with the 35mm Panoptic ocular. It was a round, slightly condensed object with no sign of the twin tails that show up in the images. After five minutes, we lost it visually as it was 2° degrees up in bright twilight. Images show it for a longer time and a beautiful emerald green head with two tails forming a Y shaped fan.”
Schur estimated the comet’s brightness at around magnitude +6. What appears to be the dust tail extends to the lower right (southeast) with a narrower ion tail pointing north. With its twin tails, I’m reminded of a soaring eagle or perhaps a turkey vulture rocking back and forth on its wings. While they scavenge for food, Catalina soaks up sunlight.
I also headed out before dawn for a look. After a failed attempt to spot the new visitor on Saturday, I headed down to the Lake Superior shoreline at 5:30 a.m. today and waited until the comet rose above the murk. Using 7×50 binoculars in a similar narrow observing window, I could barely detect it as a small, fuzzy spot 2.5° south of 4th magnitude Lambda Virginis at 5:50 a.m. 10 minutes after the start of astronomical twilight. The camera did better!
With the comet climbing about 1° per day, seeing conditions and viewing time will continue to improve. The key to seeing it is finding a location with an unobstructed view to the southeast — that’s why I chose the lake — and getting out while it’s still dark to allow time to identify the star field and be ready when the comet rises to greet your gaze.
Alan Hale, discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp,also tracked down Catalina this morning with an 8-inch (20-cm) reflector at 47x. He reported its magnitude at ~+6.1 with a 2-arc-minute, well-condensed coma and a faint wisp of tail to the southeast. In an e-mail this morning, Hale commented on the apparent odd angle of the dust tail:
“Since the comet is on the far side of the sun as seen from Earth, with the typical dust tail lagging behind, that would seem to create the somewhat strange direction. It (the tail) almost seems to be directed toward the Sun, but it’s a perspective effect.”
There were side benefits to getting up early today. Three bright planets lit up Leo’s tail and Virgo’s “Cup” and a magnificent display of zodiacal light rose from the lake to encompass not only the comet but all the planets as well.
“The landscape was just at the verge of trying to silently explode with vibrant colors of red, gold and oranges,” said photographer Brad Goldpaint as he described the autumn view during his hike to Deadfall Basin in California to set up his cameras to try and capture a few Taurid meteors.
But the landscape wasn’t the only thing about to explode.
Later that night Brad captured a few “exploding” meteors that produced what are called persistent trains: what remains of a meteor fireball in the upper atmosphere as winds twist and swirl the expanding debris.
Brad created a time-lapse video from the event and slowed down the footage to highlight the trains.
Persistent trains 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.
Phil Plait still has the best description out there of what happens when persistent trains are produced:
As a meteoroid (the actual solid chunk of material) blasts through the air, it ionizes the gases, stripping electrons from their parent atoms. As the electrons slowly recombine with the atoms, they emit light — this is how neon signs glow, as well as giant star-forming nebulae in space. The upper-level winds blowing that high (upwards of 100 km/60 miles) create the twisting, fantastic shapes in the train.
The consensus among our Universe Today Flickr pool photographers who posted images of the Taurids this year is that the 2015 Taurids weren’t entirely remarkable. Most astrophotgraphers reported they saw one or two per hour. Here are a few more Taurid meteor shower images from our photographer friends:
Have you seen the views in the morning skies this week, with three planets huddling together at dawn? Just one degree separated planets Jupiter and Venus, with Mars sneaking in nearby. Astrophotographers were out in full force to capture the scene!
Above, the very talented photographer Alan Dyer from Canada captured a stunning image of the planetary trio over Lake Annette, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. He took several gorgeous shots, and so we’ve added one more of his below, plus dozens of other wonderful shots from our astrophotographer friends around the world. Each of these images are from Universe Today’s Flickr pool, so you can click on each picture to get a larger view on Flickr.
Enjoy these great views, as there won’t be a more compact arrangement of three planets again until January 10, 2021.
Here’s a timelapse from Damien Weatherley of his planet imaging session from the morning of October 25, 2015:
And here’s just a reminder that this planetary conjunction has been setting up for a while. Here’s a shot from October 10 of the planets as they started moving closer together:
On October 8th, the waning crescent Moon occulted (passed in front of) the bright planet Venus for observers in the southern hemisphere. And while such occurrences aren’t at all rare—the Moon occults Venus 3 times in 2015, and 25 times in this decade alone worldwide—the particulars were exceptional for observers in Australia, with a -4.5 magnitude, 40% illuminated Venus 30” in size emerging under dark skies 45 degrees west of the Sun from behind the dark limb of the Moon.
David and Joan Dunham rose to the challenge, and caught an amazing sequence featuring a brilliant Venus reappearing from behind the Moon as seen from the Australian Outback. When I first watched the video posted on You Tube by International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) North American coordinator Brad Timerson, I was a bit perplexed, until I realized we were actually seeing the dark nighttime side of a waning Moon, with the bright crescent just out of view. Venus fully emerges in just under a minute after first appearing, and its -4th magnitude visage shines like a spotlight when revealed in its full glory.
“Joan and I observed the reappearance of Venus from behind the dark side of the 15% sunlit waning crescent Moon, from a dark and wide parking area on the east side of the Stuart Highway that afforded a low (1-2 degree) horizon to the east,” Dunham said. “Since the past observations of ashen light were visual, I decided that it would be best to use the 25mm eyepiece with the 8-inch visually rather than just make a redundant video. Neither the real-time visual observation, nor close visual inspection of the video recording, showed any sign of the dark side of Venus.”
Reports by visual observers of ashen light on the dark limb of Venus over the centuries remain a mystery. On the crescent Moon, it’s easy to explain, as the Earth illuminates the nighttime side of our natural satellite; no such nearby illumination source exists in the case of Venus. Ashen light on Venus is either an illusion—a trick of the dazzling brilliance of a crescent Venus fooling the eye of the observer—or a real, and not as yet fully described phenomenon. Over the years, suggestions have included: lightning, airglow, volcanism, and aurora. A good prime candidate in the form of an ‘auroral nightglow” was proposed by New Mexico State University researchers in 2014. 19th century astronomers even proposed we might be seeing the lights of Venusian cities, or perhaps forest fires!
Could we ever separate the bright crescent of Venus from its nighttime side? A lunar occultation, such as the October 8th event provides just such a fleeting opportunity. Though it’s hard to discern in the video, Dunham also watched the event visually through the telescope, and noted that, in his words, “the dark side of Venus remains dark,” with no brief appearance prior to sighting the crescent shining through the lunar valleys.
A tentative light curve made by Mr. Timerson seems to support this assertion, as the appearance of Venus quickly over-saturates the view:
Of course, this is far from conclusive, but seems to support the idea that the ashen light of Venus noted by ground observers is largely an optical illusion. Not all occultations of Venus by the Moon are created equal, and the best ones to test this method occur when Venus is less than half illuminated and greater than 40 degrees from the Sun against a relatively dark sky. Compounding problems, the ‘dark’ limb of the Moon has a brightness of its own, thanks to Earthshine. Dunham notes that observers in southern Alaska may have another shot at seeing this same phenomenon on December 7th, when the 13% illuminated crescent Moon occults a -4.2 magnitude 69% illuminated Venus, 42 degrees west of the Sun… the rest of North and South America will see this occultation in the daytime, still an interesting catch.
Looking at future occultations, there’s an intriguing possibility to hunt for the ashen light on the evening of October 10th, 2029, when then Moon occults a 57% illuminated Venus against dark skies for observers along the U.S. West Coast. Incidentally, a dawn occultation provides a better circumstance than a dusk one, as Venus always reemerges from the Moon’s dark limb when it’s waning. It enters the same when waxing, perhaps allowing for observer bias.
Can’t wait for December? The Moon also occults the bright star Aldebaran on October 29th for Europe and North America on November 26th near Full phase… the good folks at the Virtual Telescope will carry the October event live.
For now, the ashen light of Venus remains an intriguing mystery. Perhaps, an airborne observation could extend the appearance of Venus during an occultation, or maybe the recently announced Discovery-class mission to Venus could observe the night side of the planet for an Earthly glow… if nothing else, it’s simply amazing to watch the two brightest objects in the nighttime sky come together.
Clouds and moonlight are usually the bane of astronomers and astrophotographers. But on a recent evening at Mount Shasta in northern California, the two combined for a stunning look at usual cloud formations called lenticular clouds.
Fortunately for us, photographer Brad Goldpaint from Goldpaint Photography was on hand to capture the event. His beautiful sunset and moonlit images show these strange UFO-reminscent clouds, and the timelapse video he created provides a great demonstration of just how they form.
See the video and more images below:
A few ingredients are needed for lenticular clouds to form: mountains, stable but moist air, and just the right temperature and dew point.
According to WeatherUnderground, these smoooth, lens-shaped clouds normally develop on the downwind side of a mountain or mountain range when the stable, moist air flows over the obstruction and a series of large oscillating waves waves may form. If the temperature at the crest of the wave drops to the dew point, moisture in the air may condense to form lens-like or lenticular clouds. Since the air is stable, the oval clouds can grow quite large appear to be hovering in one place. Hence, the UFO appearance.
In the video, even though the clouds appear to be moving fast, it is a timelapse, so it shows the cloud movement over the entire night, condensed down to 30 seconds. But the video does allow us to see the fluid dynamics or laminar flows in parallel layers that creates the lenticular clouds. Plus, the stars and moonlight add to the beauty of the scene.