Three Tails of Comet NEOWISE

What created the unusual red tail in Comet NEOWISE? Sodium. A spectacular sight back in the summer of 2020, Comet NEOWISE, at times, displayed something more than just a surprisingly striated white dust tail and a pleasingly patchy blue ion tail. Some color sensitive images showed an unusual red tail, and analysis showed much of this third tail’s color was emitted by sodium. Gas rich in sodium atoms might have been liberated from Comet NEOWISE’s warming nucleus in early July by bright sunlight, electrically charged by ultraviolet sunlight, and then pushed out by the solar wind. The featured image was Read more »

Pillars of the Eagle Nebula in Infrared

Newborn stars are forming in the Eagle Nebula. Gravitationally contracting in pillars of dense gas and dust, the intense radiation of these newly-formed bright stars is causing surrounding material to boil away. This image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in near infrared light, allows the viewer to see through much of the thick dust that makes the pillars opaque in visible light. The giant structures are light years in length and dubbed informally the Pillars of Creation. Associated with the open star cluster M16, the Eagle Nebula lies about 6,500 light years away. The Eagle Nebula is an easy Read more »

Perseverance Takes a Spin

After arriving at Jezero Crater on Mars, Perseverance went for a spin on March 4. This sharp image from the car-sized rover’s Navcam shows tracks left by its wheels in the martian soil. In preparation for operations on the surface of the Red Planet, its first drive lasted about 33 minutes. On a short and successful test drive Perseverance moved forward 4 meters, made a 150 degree turn, backed up for 2.5 meters, and now occupies a different parking space at its newly christened Octavia E. Butler Landing location. Though the total travel distance of the rover’s first outing was Read more »

A Little Like Mars

The surface of this planet looks a little like Mars. It’s really planet Earth though. In a digitally stitched little planet projection, the 360 degree mosaic was captured near San Pedro in the Chilean Atacama desert. Telescopes in domes on the horizon are taking advantage of the region’s famously dark, clear nights. Taken in early December, a magnificent Milky Way arcs above the horizon for almost 180 degrees around the little planet with Orion prominent in the southern sky. A familiar constellation upside down for northern hemisphere skygazers, Orion shares that southern December night almost opposite the Large and Small Read more »

Mars in Taurus

You can spot Mars in the evening sky tonight. Now home to the Perseverance rover, the Red Planet is presently wandering through the constellation Taurus, close on the sky to the Seven Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. In fact this deep, widefield view of the region captures Mars near its closest conjunction to the Pleiades on March 3. Below center, Mars is the bright yellowish celestial beacon only about 3 degrees from the pretty blue star cluster. Competing with Mars in color and brightness, Aldebaran is the alpha star of Taurus. The red giant star is toward the lower left Read more »