A visualization of audio interpreted from a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope orbits our planet every 95 minutes, building up increasingly deeper views of the universe with every circuit. This image compresses eight individual frames, from a movie showing 51 months of position and exposure data by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT), into a single snapshot. The pattern reflects numerous motions of the spacecraft, including its orbit around Earth, the precession of its orbital plane, the manner in which the LAT nods north and south on alternate orbits, and more.
The LAT sweeps across the entire sky every three hours, capturing the highest-energy form of light — gamma rays — from sources across the universe. These range from supermassive black holes billions of light-years away to intriguing objects in our own galaxy, such as X-ray binaries, supernova remnants and pulsars.
Pretty, huh? That’s an aurora. But it’s not like any other aurora you’ve seen.
That one was caused by a nuclear weapon detonated in space. In 1962, the U.S. military detonated several nukes about 250 miles above the Pacific in order to, well … see what would happen. The project, called Starfish Prime (which sounds like a comic book villain), disrupted the Van Allen radiation belt that surrounds Earth and sent a wave of charged particles toward Earth.
Charged particles interacting with the atmosphere are exactly what cause auroras. Only they’re not usually visible as far south as Hawaii … unless you use a nuke to make them.
If you’d like a more peaceful look at auroras, check out this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart on YouTube: The Auroras.
The Lobster Nebula
For reasons unknown, NGC 6357 is forming some of the most massive stars ever discovered. Near the more obvious Cat’s Paw nebula, NGC 6357 houses the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to these tremendously bright and blue stars. The overall red glow near the inner star forming region results from the emission of ionized hydrogen gas. The surrounding nebula, shown above, holds a complex tapestry of gas, dark dust, stars still forming, and newly born stars. The intricate patterns are caused by complex interactions between interstellar winds, radiation pressures, magnetic fields, and gravity. NGC 6357 spans about 400 light years and lies about 8,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Scorpion.
Image credit: Warrumbungle Observatory
Earth and Moon as seen from Mars
Besides viewing Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera can also be used to view other planets. MRO took this image of the Earth and the Moon on 3 October 2007.
Image credit: NASA
Janus is spotted over Saturn’s north pole in this image while Mimas’ shadow glides across Saturn. Janus is the faint dot that appears just above Saturn’s north pole. Mimas’ shadow can be seen in the southern hemisphere of Saturn, south of the rings’ shadow.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn’s B ring is spread in all its glory in this image from Cassini. Scientists are hard at work trying to better understand the origin and nature of the various structures seen in the B ring.
Saturn’s B ring is the densest and most massive of all the rings. The C ring is also visible inside the B ring and the A ring puts on an appearance beyond the Cassini Division near the top and bottom of the image.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The Eta Carinae Nebula
A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy’s largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic portrait reveals remarkable details of the region’s glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. Wider than the Full Moon in angular size, the field of view stretches nearly 100 light-years across the nebula. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star at the left, near the dusty Keyhole Nebula. While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.
Image credit: Warrumbungle Observatory