Category Archives: AstroPicture

AstroPictures of the Day: Pictures from the moon, by the Chinese Rover Chang’e

Chang’e are a series of Chinese lunar-orbiting spacecrafts and rovers, part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Here are just a few of the pictures taken during the mission.

The Chang’e 1 mission had four major goals:

  1. to obtain a 3D image of landforms and geological structures of the lunar surface, so as to provide a reference for planned future soft landings
  2. to analyze the distribution of chemical elements on the lunar surface
  3. to estimate the thickness of the lunar soil and estimate its Helium-3 content, for potential economic purposes
  4. to study the impact the solar wind has on the Earth and the Moon

NASA’s Sun Watching Observatory Captures Picture of a Solar Flare

A solar flare is a sudden flash of brightness observed over the Sun’s surface or the solar limb, which is interpreted as a large energy release. The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:50 p.m. EST on Dec. 16, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Image credits: NASA.

Flares occur when accelerated charged particles, mainly electrons, interact with the plasma medium. For more questions about solar flares and their observations check out the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page from NASA.

Fantastic pictures of the Helix Nebula

The Helix Nebula in infrared. Image credits: NASA/Spitzer.

The Helix Nebula used to be a star much like our Sun, but it is now in a different stage – ejecting most of its material. It’s estimated that our Sun will also become a nebula in about 5 billion years. It lies 650 light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius. Also known by the catalog number NGC 7293, it is a typical example of a class of objects called planetary nebulae, and it’s one of the closes nebulas to Earth.

Image credits: NASA.

When the hydrogen fuel for the fusion reaction runs out, the star turns to helium for a fuel source, burning it into an even heavier mix of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Eventually, the helium will also be exhausted and then you’re left with a small, yet still hot and very dense core called a white dwarf. White dwarfs are about as big as the Earth, but they still have most of their original mass. The mass is so dense that about 1/10th of a tea spoon weighs more than you.

NGC 7293 in infrared by Hubble.

But why are all these pictures of the nebula different? Well, this glow ranges across a very broad part of the spectrum, from ultraviolet to infrared. So depending on what wavelengths you observe it in, you get a different image. In recent years, Hubble Space Telescope images have revealed many planetary nebulae to have extremely complex and varied morphologies.

Closer view of knots in Helix. Image via Wiki Commons.

Nebulae are sometimes also called “galactic recyclers” – the early universe consisted almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, but stars create heavier elements via nuclear fusion. The gases of planetary nebulae thus contain a large proportion of elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, and they eject these elements into the cosmic space, enriching it and basically “planting the seeds” for new stars. Subsequent stars will have a higher ratio of heavier elements; this is actually how astronomers figure out how old a star is. The earliest stars have very few heavier elements, while newer ones have them in a great proportion.



Astropicture of the Day: Orion goes for a swim

NASA’s Orion spacecraft awaits the U.S. Navy’s USS Anchorage for a ride home. Orion launched into space on a two-orbit, 4.5-test flight at 7:05 am EST on Dec. 5, and safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where a combined team from NASA, the Navy and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin retrieved it for return to shore on board the Anchorage. It is expected to be off loaded at Naval Base San Diego on Monday. Photo credit: U.S. Navy.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is a spacecraft intended to carry a crew of up to four astronauts to destinations beyond-low Earth orbit (LEO); in the future, Orion will hopefully facilitate human exploration to asteroids, the Moon and even Mars. The first Orion test was successful on Friday, after a one day delay. In the meantime, the shuttle was enjoying a swim while awaiting pick-up.


AstroPicture of the day: How the surface of a comet looks like

Rosetta is a robotic space probe built and launched by the European Space Agency to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko – and here is how the surface of the comet actually looks like. The camera the shuttle used is greyscale, and researchers then used color filters to capture different spectrums of the light.


All image credits: ESA/Rosetta project


AstroPicture of the Day: Stunning view of Milky Way from Maine

The Milky Way is breathtaking no matter how you look at it, but in this picture, it looks absolutely stunning.

Astrophotographer Adam Woodworth took this image from the Raven’s Nest cliffs in Acadia National Park. Woodworth said the shot was a bit of a challenge.

“The night started out with some clouds, then it was pretty clear, but by the time I was setup and it was dark enough for seeing the Milky Way clearly some clouds were moving through again,” Woodworth wrote in an email to “I was lucky enough to get about 5 minutes of no clouds covering the Milky Way.”

Adam Woodworth is a landscape photographer, fine art printer, award winning filmmaker, and software engineer. He often strives to produce images that capture the beauty of nature, but he also uses special techniques to create images that often times look otherworldly. Check out more information about him and more outworldly photos on his website


AstroPicture of the day: When bioluminescence meets the cosmos

It doesn’t get much better than this: photographer Fefo Bouvier captured this incredible night time image of bioluminescent plankton illuminating the water as the Milky Way Galaxy shines above. NASA thought it was pretty awesome too, as they nominated it as they highlighted it as their Earth Picture of the Day.

‘The photo above shows a stunning contrast of Noctiluca bioluminescence in the Atlantic Ocean at Barra de Valizas, Uruguay, and overhead, the glow of the Milky Way in one of the darkest skies in the world. Bioluminescent dinoflagellates are responsible for the electric blue light. Marine organisms may exhibit bioluminescence (cold light) to either attract prey or to discourage predators. This phenomenon occurs occasionally along the Uruguayan coast, but it’s rarely captured with such brilliance as is displayed here.’, NASA writes.

The photo was taken this year in June, and it was made with an exposure of 15 seconds. If you really like it, Bouvier also sells prints on his website, so be sure to check that out too.

AstroPicture of the Day: The First Space Selfie, 1966

In a tweet last month, astronaut Buzz Aldrin informed us that he was the first to ever take a selfie – in outer space. The mission took place from November 11 and lasted 3 days, 22 hours and 34 minutes. The two-man crew included Aldrin and James Lovell Jr. That was Aldrin’s first space flight. Years after, both he and Lovell would be part of the first mission to the Moon, alongside Neil Armstrong, on 21 July 1969.

So remember kids, selfies are really cool in outer space; on Earth… that’s a different story.


AstroPicture of the Week: Magnificent picture puts Antarctica into perspective

Since Antarctica is so far away and inaccessible, most people have many misconceptions about how big and significant it really is. Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. There are no permanent residents on it, but anywhere from 1.000 to 5.000 may temporarily reside, scattered across the continent.

Seen above is a view of the Earth on September 21, 2005 – this is a composite image; due to the position of Antarctica in relation to our Sun it would not look like this to the naked eye – this is how it would look like if it were fully illuminated.

Here are other, similar images, for comparison and perspective.

AstroPicture of the week: the first untethered space flight

We’ve received amazing feedback on our feature, GeoPicture of the week, and some of you have also asked us why we don’t publish our favorite astronomy pictures. Of course, when it comes to space pictures, APOD is the absolute best you can get, but we’ll try to provide a worthy addition to what is published there. As always, please tell us your opinion on this so we know if you like it or not and how we can make it better (or stop it altogether!). So here’s the first picture, via NASA:


Whenever I see it, it just gives me goose bumps. That’s a man, in outer space, flying around a space shuttle, with no cables to hold him from going loose. Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, was able to do this in 1984, February 12, thanks to the Manned Maneuvering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet propelled backpack.

He flew to a distance of 320 feet (97.5 m) away from the Orbiter. This stunning orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space. Simply stunning.