Kamis, 14 Juli 2011

Space Pictures This Week: Shuttle, Strange Clouds, More

Before the Fall
Backlighted by sunshine streaming over Earth's horizon, the European Space Agency's Johannes Kepler automated transfer vehicle separates from the International Space Station on June 20. Stuffed with garbage—including astronaut urine—the unmanned craft tumbled back to Earth the next day, becoming a fireball over a remote section of the Pacific Ocean.

Strange Skies
Noctilucent, or "night shining," clouds glow over Edmonton, Canada, on July 2.

The electric blue clouds are showing up at ever more southerly latitudes, and astronomers aren't sure why, according to NASA. Their beauty, however, is no mystery, and Northern Hemisphere sky-watchers are advised to scan the heavens for night-shiners between mid-May and late August, when the phenomenon is most common.

Arc of an Eclipse
In a multiple-exposure picture, the full moon emerges from near darkness as a lunar eclipse slowly ends over Seoul, South Korea, during the early morning of June 16.
Because the moon passed almost directly through the center of Earth's shadow, the event was the longest and deepest total lunar eclipse in more than a decade, according to Ben Burress, staff astronomer at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California.

Ring Around the Ringed Planet
Like a dog chasing its tail, a giant storm on Saturn encircles the ringed planet in a picture taken by NASA's Cassini orbiter on February 25 and released July 6.

Cassini detected lightning strikes emitting radio waves about 10,000 times more powerful than those from Earth lightning, according to a new study in the journal Nature—likely due in part to the fact that Saturn, for reasons unknown, saves its electrical energy for decades before releasing it in massive storms.

Both Ends Burning
A black hole two billion times as massive as the sun spits out jets of radiation in an artist's impression of ULAS J1120 0641, the most distant quasar yet discovered. The object was described in the June 30 issue of the journal Nature.
Quasars are very bright, distant galaxies that are believed to have actively feeding supermassive black holes at their hearts. Because of the time it takes light to travel over such vast reaches of space, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory calculate that they're seeing this quasar as it existed just 770 million years after the big bang, which is thought to have occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.

Sad Eyes?
As Atlantis is readied for the final NASA space shuttle launch of all time, sister ship Endeavour (cockpit pictured on June 29) is coming apart. Workers are dismantling parts of Endeavour in preparation for public display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
On its 25th & last, mission this May, Endeavour ferried a six-member crew commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly. Its payload included a U.S. $1.5-billion cosmic ray detector called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station.

Once More Into the Bleach
The Rho Ophiuchi star-formation region, about 400 light-years from Earth, beguiles with its candy colors in this false-color image, but it's the relatively dim domain circled in red that excited scientists this week. Astronomers using the APEX telescope found the first known traces of hydrogen peroxide in interstellar space here, the European Southern Observatory announced Wednesday.

In addition to bleaching hair, hydrogen peroxide can produce water when it reacts with hydrogen under certain circumstances—so the new discovery could help explain how Earth's earliest water came to be, according to CBC News.

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