Explanation: During a total solar eclipse, the Sun’s extensive outer atmosphere, or corona, is an inspirational sight.Streamers and shimmering features that engage the eye span a brightness range of over 10,000 to 1, making them notoriously difficult to capture in a single photograph. But this composite of 29 telescopic images covers a wide range of exposure times to reveal the crown of the Sun in all its glory. The aligned and stacked digital frames were recorded in the cold, clear skies above the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway during the Sun’s total eclipse on March 20 and also show solar prominences extending just beyond the edge of the solar disk. Remarkably, even small details on the dark night side of the New Moon can be made out, illuminated by sunlight reflected from a Full Earth. Of course, fortunes will be reversed on April 4 as a Full Moon plunges into the shadow of a New Earth, during a total lunar eclipse.
Explanation:To celebrate 25 years (1990-2015) of exploring the Universe from low Earth orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope’s cameras were used to revisit its most iconic image. The result is this sharper, wider view of the region dubbed the Pillars of Creation, first imaged by Hubble in 1995. Stars are forming deep inside the towering structures. The light-years long columns of cold gas and dust are some 6,500 light-years distant in M16, the Eagle Nebula, toward the constellation Serpens. Sculpted and eroded by the energetic ultraviolet light and powerful winds from M16’s cluster of young, massive stars, the cosmic pillars themselves are destined for destruction. But the turbulent environment of star formation within M16, whose spectacular details are captured in this Hubble visible-light snapshot, is likely similar to the environment that formed our own Sun.
Explanation: Solar active region AR2192 was the largest recorded sunspot group of the last 24 years. Before rotating off the Earth-facing side of the Sun at the end of October, it produced a whopping six energetic X-class flares. Its most intense flare was captured on October 24 in this stunning view from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. The scene is a color combination of images made at three different wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light; 193 angstroms shown in blue, 171 angstroms in white, and 304 angstroms in red. The emission, from highly ionized Iron and Helium atoms, traces magnetic field lines looping through the hot plasma of the Sun’s outer chromosphere and corona. Beneath, the cooler solar photosphere appears dark at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. The exceptionally sharp composite image has been processed with a new mathematical algorithm (NAFE) that adapts to noise and brightness in extreme ultraviolet image data to reliably enhance small details.
Explanation: The central bulge of our Milky Way Galaxy rises above a sea of clouds in this ethereal scene. An echo of the Milky Way’s dark dust lanes, the volcanic peak in foreground silhouette is on France’s Réunion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.
Taken in February, the photograph was voted the winner of the 2014 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest’s Beauty of the Night Sky Category. This and other winning and noteable images from the contest were selected from over a thousand entries from 55 countries around planet Earth. Also featured in the contest compilation video (vimeo), the moving images are a testament to the importance and beauty of our world at night.
The scene looks out from a beach at Sea Isle City, New Jersey, USA, planet Earth. Of course, Earth orbits well within the solar system’s habitable zone, that Goldilocks region not too close and not too far from the Sun where surface temperatures can support liquid water.
[For a wallpaper size photo (1600 x 1067), click here.]
Similar in size to Earth, Venus lies just beyond the inner boundary of the habitable zone. The watery reflection of light from our inhospitable sister planet is seen along a calm, cold ocean and low cloud bank.
What’s happening in the sky? On this cold winter night in Iceland, quite a lot. First, in the foreground, lies the largest glacier in Iceland: Vatnajokull. On the far left, bright green auroras appear to emanate from the glacier as if it was a volcano. Aurora light is reflected by the foreground lake Jökulsárlón.