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The Hill, The Moon, and Saturn - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

The Hill, The Moon, and Saturn Last Sunday when the Moon was young its sunlit crescent hung low near the western horizon at sunset. With strong earthshine it was joined by Saturn shining in the early evening sky for a beautiful conjunction visible to skygazers around our fair planet. On that clear evening on a hill near Veszprem, Hungary mother, daughter, bright planet, and young Moon are framed in this quiet night skyscape taken with a telephoto lens. Of course the Moon ages too quickly for some, and by tonight the sunlit part has reached its first quarter phase. This weekend skygazers spending quality time under Moon and stars might expect to see the annual rain of comet dust otherwise known as the Leonid meteor shower.


Comet 46P Wirtanen - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Comet 46P Wirtanen Periodic Comet 46P/Wirtanen is now the brightest comet in the night sky, but too faint to be seen by eye. From dark sky sites it could just become naked-eye visible though, as it's 5.4 year long looping orbit takes it closest to Earth and the Sun in mid December. Fluorescing in sunlight, its spherical coma is about half the angular size of a full moon in this southern hemisphere telescopic view from November 7. Then the comet was about 2 light-minutes away or 35 million kilometers from Earth-bound telescopes, so the pretty greenish coma seen here is around 150,000 kilometers across. That makes it about the size of Jupiter. The stack of digital images also reveals a very faint tail extending toward 4 o'clock with a distant background galaxy notable at the upper left. As a regular visitor to the inner Solar System, comet 46P/Wirtanen was once the favored rendezvous target for ESA's comet exploring Rosetta mission.


The Cave Nebula in Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Sulfur - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

The Cave Nebula in Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Sulfur What's inside this cosmic cave? A stellar nursery 10 light-years deep. The featured skyscape is dominated by dusty Sh2-155, the Cave Nebula. In the telescopic image, data taken through a narrowband filters tracks the nebular glow of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, colors that together form the Hubble Palette. About 2,400 light-years away, the scene lies along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus. Astronomical explorations of the region reveal that it has formed at the boundary of the massive Cepheus B molecular cloud and the hot, young stars of the Cepheus OB 3 association. The bright rim of ionized hydrogen gas is energized by radiation from the hot stars, dominated by the bright star just to the left of the cave entrance. Radiation driven ionization fronts are likely triggering collapsing cores and new star formation within.


Rotating Asteroid Bennu from OSIRIS REx - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Rotating Asteroid Bennu from OSIRIS REx Could this close-by asteroid ever hit the Earth? Eventually yes -- but probably not for a very long time, even though the asteroid is expected to pass inside the orbit of the Moon next century. However, to better understand the nature and orbit of all near-Earth asteroids, NASA sent the robotic Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) to investigate this one: the 500-meter across asteroid 101955 Bennu. Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-REx is now approaching Bennu, and is first scheduled to map the minor planet's rough surface. The featured time-lapse video taken earlier this month compacts Bennu's 4.25-hour rotation period into about 7 seconds. Bennu's diamond-like appearance is similar to asteroid Ryugu currently being visited by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2. The exact future orbit of Bennu is a bit uncertain due to close passes near the Earth and the Yarkovsky effect: a slight force created by an object's rotationally-induced, asymmetric infrared glow. If all goes according to plan, ORISIS-Rx will actually touch the asteroid in 2020, collect soil samples, and return them to Earth in 2023 for detailed analyses.


The Lagoon Nebula is Stars, Gas, and Dust - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

The Lagoon Nebula is Stars, Gas, and Dust The majestic Lagoon Nebula is filled with hot gas and the home for many young stars. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebula is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. The featured image was taken in three colors with details are brought out by light emitted by Hydrogen Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many dark dust-laden globules that exist there.


Astronaut Exploring: An Apollo 15 Panorama - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Astronaut Exploring: An Apollo 15 Panorama What would it be like to explore the Moon? NASA's Apollo missions gave humans just this chance in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the Apollo 15 mission was dedicated to better understanding the surface of the Moon by exploring mountains, valleys, maria, and highlands. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin spent nearly three days on the Moon while Alfred Worden orbited above in the Command Module. The mission, which blasted off from Earth on 1971 July 26, was the first to deploy a Lunar Roving Vehicle. Pictured in this digitally stitched mosaic panorama, David Scott, exploring his surroundings, examines a boulder in front of the summit of Mt. Hadley Delta. The shadow of James Irwin is visible to the right, while scrolling to the right will reveal a well-lit and diverse lunar terrain. The Apollo 15 mission returned about 76 kilograms of moon rocks for detailed study. In the future, NASA and other space agencies plan to continue to lead humanity's exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.


The Old Moon in the Young Moon s Arms - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

The Old Moon in the Young Moon s Arms Tonight the Moon is young again, but this stunning image of a young Moon near the western horizon was taken just after sunset on October 10. On the lunar disk Earthshine, earthlight reflected from the Moon's night side, is embraced by the slim, sunlit crescent just over 2 days old. Along the horizon fading colors of twilight silhouette the radio telescope dish antennas of the Very Large Array, New Mexico, planet Earth. The view from the Moon would be stunning, too. When the Moon appears in Earth's sky as a slender crescent, a dazzlingly bright, nearly full Earth would be seen from the lunar surface. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans in turn illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci.


Little Planet Lookout - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Little Planet Lookout Don't panic. This little planet projection looks confusing, but it's actually just a digitally warped and stitched, nadir centered mosaic of images that covers nearly 360x180 degrees. The images were taken on the night of October 31 from a 30 meter tall hill-top lookout tower near Tatabanya, Hungary, planet Earth. The laticed lookout tower construction was converted from a local mine elevator. Since planet Earth is rotating, the 126 frames of 75 second long exposures also show warped, concentric star trails with the north celestial pole at the left. Of course at this location the south celestial pole is just right of center but below the the little planet's horizon.


Mars in the Loop - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Mars in the Loop This composite of images spaced some 5 to 9 days apart, from late April (bottom right) through November 5 (top left), traces the retrograde motion of ruddy-colored Mars through planet Earth's night sky. To connect the dots and dates in this 2018 Mars retrograde loop, just slide your cursor over the picture (and check out this animation). But Mars didn't actually reverse the direction of its orbit. Instead, the apparent backwards motion with respect to the background stars is a reflection of the motion of the Earth itself. Retrograde motion can be seen each time Earth overtakes and laps planets orbiting farther from the Sun, the Earth moving more rapidly through its own relatively close-in orbit. On July 27, Mars was near its favorable 2018 parihelic opposition, when Mars was closest to the Sun in its orbit while also opposite the Sun in Earth's sky. For that date, the frame used in this composite was taken during the total lunar eclipse.


NGC 6188: The Dragons of Ara - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

NGC 6188: The Dragons of Ara Dark shapes with bright edges winging their way through dusty NGC 6188 are tens of light-years long. The emission nebula is found near the edge of an otherwise dark large molecular cloud in the southern constellation Ara, about 4,000 light-years away. Born in that region only a few million years ago, the massive young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association sculpt the fantastic shapes and power the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. With image data from the Chilescope Observatory, a false-color Hubble palette was used to create this gorgeous wide-field image and shows emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in red, green, and blue hues. The field of view spans about four full Moons, corresponding to about 150 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188.


NGC 1499: The California Nebula - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

NGC 1499: The California Nebula There's even a California in space. Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades.


IC 4592: The Blue Horsehead Reflection Nebula - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

IC 4592: The Blue Horsehead Reflection Nebula Do you see the horse's head? What you are seeing is not the famous Horsehead nebula toward Orion but rather a fainter nebula that only takes on a familiar form with deeper imaging. The main part of the here imaged molecular cloud complex is a reflection nebula cataloged as IC 4592. Reflection nebulas are actually made up of very fine dust that normally appears dark but can look quite blue when reflecting the light of energetic nearby stars. In this case, the source of much of the reflected light is a star at the eye of the horse. That star is part of Nu Scorpii, one of the brighter star systems toward the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). A second reflection nebula dubbed IC 4601 is visible surrounding two stars to the right of the image center.


Flying Saucer Crash Lands in Utah Desert - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Flying Saucer Crash Lands in Utah Desert A flying saucer from outer space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being tracked by radar and chased by helicopters. The year was 2004, and no space aliens were involved. The saucer, pictured here, was the Genesis sample return capsule, part of a human-made robot Genesis spaceship launched in 2001 by NASA itself to study the Sun. The unexpectedly hard landing at over 300 kilometers per hour occurred because the parachutes did not open as planned. The Genesis mission had been orbiting the Sun collecting solar wind particles that are usually deflected away by Earth's magnetic field. Despite the crash landing, many return samples remained in good enough condition to analyze. So far, Genesis-related discoveries include new details about the composition of the Sun and how the abundance of some types of elements differ across the Solar System. These results have provided intriguing clues into details of how the Sun and planets formed billions of years ago.


Lunar LOVE - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Lunar LOVE A more creative search by a group of amateur astronomers in the Ehime Prefecture of Shikoku Island, Japan has found lunar L-O-V-E. Their secret was an examination of this sharp image of the First Quarter Moon. To discover it for yourself you'll need to look closely at details of the shadow and light along the terminator, the line between lunar night and day Created by the contrast of shadowed crater floors with sunlit walls and ridges, the letter V is not too hard to find near the center of the image. Letters L and E are a bit more challenging though, but can be teased out of shadow and light along the terminator at the bottom. Of course, on the cratered surface of the Moon the O is easy ... . Moonwatchers on planet Earth should understand that like the famous lunar X, also seen here, these lunar letters are transient and only appear along the terminator in the hours around the Moon's first quarter phase. So your next chance for lunar L-O-V-E is the first quarter Moon on November 15.


Cygnus Shell Supernova Remnant W63 - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Cygnus Shell Supernova Remnant W63 The ghost of a long-dead star, the W63 supernova remnant shines like a faint cosmic smoke-ring along the plane of the Milky Way galaxy toward the northern constellation Cygnus the swan. Its wraithlike appearance is traced against the region's rich complex of interstellar clouds and dust by an eerie blue glow. Spanning over four full moons on the sky, the beautiful image is a telescopic mosaic in twelve panels that combines 100 hours of exposure time using narrow band filters. It shows characteristic light from ionized atoms of sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen in red, green, and blue hues. Likely over 5,000 light-years away, the visible part of the still expanding shell supernova remnant is around 150 light-years in diameter. So far no source has been identified as with the remains of W63's original star. Light from the star's supernova explosion would have reached Earth over 15,000 years ago.


Hayabusa2 Ascends from Asteroid Ryugu - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Hayabusa2 Ascends from Asteroid Ryugu Will spacecraft Hayabusa2 be able to land safely on asteroid Ryugu? Since arriving in June, pictures show that the surface of kilometer-sized Ryugu is covered with boulders, so that finding a flat enough area for the bus-sized spacecraft to touch down is proving a challenge. In the featured video, the shadow of Japan's robotic Hayabusa2 can be seen on the rugged face of Ryugu while ascending last week from a touchdown rehearsal only 20 meters over the surface. Previously, small frisbee-sized landers detached from Hayabusa2, made contact with the diamond-shaped asteroid's surface, and started hopping around. Studying Ryugu could tell humanity not only about the minor planet's surface and interior, but about what materials were available in the early Solar System for the development of life. The touchdown of the Hayabusa2 mother ship is slated for early next year, hopefully followed by a soil sample collection for return to Earth.


R Leporis: A Vampire's Star - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

R Leporis: A Vampire's Star Better known as Hind's Crimson Star, R Leporis is a rare star in planet Earth's night sky. It's also a shocking shade of red. The star's discoverer, 19th century English astronomer John Russell Hind, reported that it appeared in a telescope "... like a drop of blood on a black field." Located 1,360 light-years away in the constellation Lepus the star is a Mira-type variable, changing its brightness over a period of about 14 months. R Leporis is now recognized as a carbon star, a very cool and highly evolved red giant with an extreme abundance of carbon. Extra carbon in carbon stars is created by helium fusion near the dying stellar core and dredged up into the stars' outer layers. The dredge-up results in an overabundance of simple carbon molecules, like CO, CH, CN, and C2. While it's true that cool stars radiate most of their energy in red and infrared light, the carbon molecules strongly absorb what little blue light is left and give carbon stars an exceptionally deep red color. R Leporis is losing its carbon-rich atmosphere into the surrounding interstellar material through a strong stellar wind though, and could be near the transition to a planetary nebula. Oh, and Happy Halloween from the folks at APOD.


Orionids Meteors over Inner Mongolia - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Orionids Meteors over Inner Mongolia Meteors have been shooting out from the constellation of Orion. This was expected, as October is the time of year for the Orionids Meteor Shower. Pictured here, over two dozen meteors were caught in successively added exposures last October over Wulan Hada volcano in Inner Mongolia, China. The featured image shows multiple meteor streaks that can all be connected to a single small region on the sky called the radiant, here visible just above and to the left of the belt of Orion, The Orionids meteors started as sand sized bits expelled from Comet Halley during one of its trips to the inner Solar System. Comet Halley is actually responsible for two known meteor showers, the other known as the Eta Aquarids and visible every May. An Orionids image featured on APOD one year ago today from the same location shows the same car. Next month, the Leonids Meteor Shower from Comet Tempel-Tuttle should also result in some bright meteor streaks.


Shells of Stars in Elliptical Galaxy PGC 42871 - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Shells of Stars in Elliptical Galaxy PGC 42871 How do galaxies grow? To help find out, the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed to image the unusual elliptical galaxy PGC 42871. How this galaxy came to be surrounded by numerous shells of stars may give clues about how it evolved. Embedded in the diffuse shells are massive globular clusters of stars -- stars which analyses show were born during three different epochs. This and other data indicate that PGC 42871 has been in at least two galactic collisions, at least one of which might have been with a former spiral galaxy. The remaining spiral galaxy on the far left is at the same distance as PGC 42871 and may have been involved in some of the collisions. PGC 42871 spans about 20 thousand light years and lies about 270 million light years away toward the constellation of Centaurus.


Ultraviolet Earth from an Observatory on the Moon - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Ultraviolet Earth from an Observatory on the Moon Which planet is this? Earth. The featured false color picture shows how the Earth shines in ultraviolet (UV) light. The image is historic because it was taken from the surface of the Moon by humanity's only lunar observatory. Although very little UV light is transmitted through the Earth's atmosphere, what sunlight does make it through might cause a sunburn. The part of the Earth facing the Sun reflects much UV light, but perhaps more interesting is the side facing away from the Sun. Here bands of UV emission are the result of auroras and are caused by charged particles expelled by the Sun. Other planets showing auroras in the UV include Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus.


Airglow Borealis - 17Nov2018 11:21:09

Airglow Borealis The best known asterism in northern skies hangs over the Canadian Rockies in this mountain and night skyscape taken last week from Banff National Park. But most remarkable is the amazing greenish airglow. With airglow visible to the eye, but not in color, the scene was captured in two exposures with a single camera, one exposure made while tracking the stars and one fixed to a tripod. Airglow emission is predominately from atmospheric oxygen atoms at extremely low densities. Commonly recorded in color by sensitive digital cameras the eerie, diffuse light is seen here in waves across the northern night. Originating at an altitude similar to aurorae, the luminous airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light through chemical excitation and radiative decay. Energy for the chemical excitation is provided during daytime by the Sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation. Unlike aurorae which are limited to high latitudes, airglow can be found around the globe.


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