STARS, SUPERMOONS & A SWAN IN THE SKY

The "most superest" of moons in more than a half century looms over a Soyuz rocket, a bird floats amongst the cosmic seas of glowing gas and stars, and a galaxy that’s missing its arms are among this week’s favorite NASA images.

apod.nasa.gov

IC 5070: A Dusty Pelican in the Swan


The recognizable profile of the Pelican Nebula soars nearly 2,000 light-years away in the high flying constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Also known as IC 5070, this interstellar cloud of gas and dust is appropriately found just off the "east coast" of the North America Nebula (NGC 7000), another surprisingly familiar looking emission nebula in Cygnus. Both Pelican and North America nebulae are part of the same large and complex star forming region, almost as nearby as the better-known Orion Nebula. From our vantage point, dark dust clouds (upper left) help define the Pelican's eye and long bill, while a bright front of ionized gas suggests the curved shape of the head and neck. This striking synthesized color view utilizes narrowband image data recording the emission of hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the cosmic cloud. The scene spans some 30 light-years at the estimated distance of the Pelican Nebula.

Photography: Steve Richards (Chanctonbury Observatory)

NGC 7635: Bubble in a Cosmic Sea


Do you see the bubble in the center? Seemingly adrift in a cosmic sea of stars and glowing gas, the delicate, floating apparition in this widefield view is cataloged as NGC 7635 - The Bubble Nebula. A mere 10 light-years wide, the tiny Bubble Nebula and the larger complex of interstellar gas and dust clouds are found about 11,000 light-years distant, straddling the boundary between the parental constellations Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Also included in the breathtaking vista is open star cluster M52 (upper left), some 5,000 light-years away. The featured image spans about two degrees on the sky corresponding to a width of about 375 light-years at the estimated distance of the Bubble Nebula.

Photography: Sébastien Gozé

Soyuz vs Supermoon


Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, this Soyuz rocket stands on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14. Beyond it rises a supermoon, but fame for exceptional feats of speed, strength, and agility is not the reason November's Full Moon was given this popular name. Instead, whenever a Full Moon shines near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around Earth, it appears larger and brighter than other more distant Full Moons, and so a supermoon is born. In fact, November's supermoon was the second of three consecutive supermoons in 2016. It was also the closest and most superest Full Moon since 1948. Meanwhile, the mild mannered Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch its Expedition 50/51 crew to the International Space Station today, November 17.

Photography: NASA, Bill Ingalls

NGC 4414: A Flocculent Spiral Galaxy


How much mass do flocculent spirals hide? The featured true color image of flocculent spiral galaxy NGC 4414 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help answer this question. The featured image was augmented with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Flocculent spirals -- galaxies without well-defined spiral arms -- are a quite common form of galaxy, and NGC 4414 is one of the closest. Stars and gas near the visible edge of spiral galaxies orbit the center so fast that the gravity from a large amount of unseen dark matter must be present to hold them together. Understanding the matter and dark matter distribution of NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the rest of the galaxy and, by deduction, flocculent spirals in general. Further, calibrating the distance to NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the cosmological distance scale of the entire visible universe.

Photography: NASA, ESA, W. Freedman (U. Chicago) et al., & the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI), SDSS; Processing: Judy Schmidt

Pluto's Sputnik Planum


Is there an ocean below Sputnik Planum on Pluto? The unusually smooth 1000-km wide golden expanse, visible in the featured image from New Horizons, appears segmented into convection cells. But how was this region created? One hypothesis now holds the answer to be a great impact that stirred up an underground ocean of salt water roughly 100-kilometers thick. The featured image of Sputnik Planum, part of the larger heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio, was taken last July and shows true details in exaggerated colors. Although the robotic New Horizons spacecraft is off on a new adventure, continued computer-modeling of this surprising surface feature on Pluto is likely to lead to more refined speculations about what lies beneath.

Photography: NASA, Johns Hopkins U./APL, Southwest Research Inst.