Pluto | Close-Up Views of Surface Details

New Horizons spacecraft coasted past Pluto on July 14, 2015. Twenty three minutes before closest approach, the spacecraft scanned the surface in high resolution from the northwest to the southeast limbs of Pluto. It gathered about three dozen sharp images each about 50 miles wide (80 km). Mission scientists have arranged those images into the mosaic below stretching more than 1000 miles long.

© 2016 The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


The mosaic can be easily viewed with this movie. I suggest you watch full-screen more than once. Stop anytime and when new terrain appears highlighted by text at the left. It runs a bit too fast. You can slow down the speed by clicking the gear icon in the lower right after the movie starts.


You can also view the full high-resolution jpg image mosaic in higher quality than the movie by using this link. It is several megabytes so be patient if your connection is slow. It is worth it in my opinion.

Keep in mind the highest quality Hubble images of Pluto prior to this mission did not show much. This is a great age of discovery led by teams such as New Horizons.

Baby Starlings | Feeding Frenzy | The Visitor

Our View From Iowa

For two weeks, squawking European Starlings were noisy at the back of our house. We heard them every time we sat on the deck. The Starlings were kind of annoying. There’s nothing pretty to our ears about their vocalizations. They were introduced to N. America in the 19th century by Shakespeare enthusiasts according to All About Birds.

Yesterday, I looked out our bedroom window which is near the deck and about 12 feet above the ground. I spotted the source of the Starling commotion. In a knot hole were three babies peering out patiently waiting for a parent to bring food.


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Astro-Images | Four Nebulae

I’ve created color composites from three grayscale images using the technique in this post. The colors assigned are not necessarily what the human eye would see, but are used to bring out details. Unless otherwise noted, all images used three original grayscales from the Hubble Legacy Archive. Visit the gallery of previous Astro-Images.


NGC 7009

The Saturn Nebula is in the constellation Aquarius. William Herschel found it 7 Sep 1782 using a telescope in his garden. The image he saw had a central bulge with narrow extensions on either side that made it look a bit like Saturn. Images today show more detail and make it look less like Saturn. The hot central star is emitting jets of debris to the upper left and lower right.


Saturn Nebula



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Full Moon | Joined By Mars | 21 May 2016

The full moon rose a few hours after sunset last night. Full moon was officially at 4:14 pm CDT. Dark maria and bright craters contrasted. The large bright crater, Tycho, was prominent in the lower right. Rays streamed out indicating the force of that impact long ago.


Click to embiggen


To the right of the Moon was Mars. The red planet is now at opposition. From our Earth vantage point, Mars and the Sun are seen in opposite directions in the sky. The telephoto on my camera is good. But, it is not good enough to bring out any surface details. Look for Mars low in the east at about 10 pm local time for the next week or so. It is the closest to Earth at this time and appears larger than at other times of the year.



Mercury Transit | In Case You Missed It

It was 100% cloudy and rainy all day for me. I had to watch online. Here is the complete 7 hrs condensed into about 17 sec. You might need to go full-screen to see Mercury. It is so tiny.

I am so glad to have the online resources available. Go to this SDO site for other video of the transit. Next Mercury transit is 11 Nov 2019.

Mercury | Rare Transit of the Sun

Mercury passes between the Sun and Earth during the day on 9 May 2016 allowing us to see it in silhouette for about 7 hours. It happens only 13 times per century. What is expected and how can it be viewed safely? Full details here for those knowledgeable in the technical bits. This NASA article is also very informative. For the rest who don’t feel technically savvy, follow me farther down below in this post.

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Astro-Images | Rectangle | Gem | Rings

I enjoy creating color images from three grayscale images. The post linked here will explain how to create color astronomical images. The colors assigned are not necessarily what the human eye would see, but are used to bring out details. Visit the gallery of previous Astro-Images. Unless otherwise noted, all images are made by me using three original grayscales from the Hubble Legacy Archive.


NGC 6445

Can an exploding star create debris in the shape of a rectangular box? It appears that is what happened with the Red Rectangle nebula. It is found in the constellation Monoceros which is just to the left of Orion. The nebula was discovered in 1973 when scientists were using a rocket to search for infrared sources. The two stars at the center of the nebula were discovered in 1915.



Consider this model of the Red Rectangle. To make it, I put an image of a wine glass stem-to-stem with another and placed them horizontal. Two stars are in orbit where the stems join. One of the stars is nearing the end of its life cycle and is emitting large amounts of gases in two directions (left and right) along the axis of spin. The excited gases appear red. This model is not viewed exactly 90˚ to the axis. The actual image above is actually 90˚ to the axis of spin.

In the image above, there are variations in the cones emitted to the left and right. They are disruptions to the flow of gases from the source star caused by the other star in orbit around the source.




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