Nathan James Aanestad

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America's first next-gen aircraft carrier takes high tech to sea

The world's most-advanced aircraft carrier should be meeting a bottle of champagne today. Head on.<p>The USS Gerald R. Ford will be christened during a ceremony in Newport News, Va., an event that will usher in the next generation of aircraft carriers. The Gerald R. Ford is the first of its class -- …


APOD: The Cosmic Web of the Tarantula Nebula (2014 Feb 17) Image Credit & Copyright: Damian Peach Explanation: It is the largest and most complex star forming region in the entire galactic neighborhood. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy orbiting our Milky Way galaxy, the region's spidery appearance is responsible for its popular name, the Tarantula nebula. This tarantula, however, is about 1,000 light-years across. Were it placed at the distance of Milky Way's Orion Nebula, only 1,500 light-years distant and the nearest stellar nursery to Earth, it would appear to cover about 30 degrees (60 full moons) on the sky. Intriguing details of the nebula are visible in the above image shown in near true colors. The spindly arms of the Tarantula nebula surround NGC 2070, a star cluster that contains some of the brightest, most massive stars known, visible in blue in the image center. Since massive stars live fast and die young, it is not so surprising that the cosmic Tarantula also lies near the site of a close recent supernova. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Geminid Meteors over Teide Volcano (2013 Dec 17) Image Credit & Copyright: Juan Carlos Casado (TWAN, Earth and Stars) Explanation: On some nights it rains meteors. Peaking two nights ago, asteroid dust streaked through the dark skies of Earth, showering down during the annual Geminids meteor shower. Astrophotographer Juan Carlos Casado captured the space weather event, as pictured above, in a series of exposures spanning about 2.3 hours using a wide angle lens. The snowcapped Teide volcano of the Canary Islands of Spain towers in the foreground, while the picturesque constellation of Orion highlights the background. The star appearing just near the top of the volcano is Rigel. Although the asteroid dust particles are traveling parallel to each other, the resulting meteor streaks appear to radiate from a single point on the sky, in this case in the constellation of Gemini, off the top of the image. Like train tracks appearing to converge in the distance, the meteor radiant effect is due to perspective. The astrophotographer has estimated that there are about 50 Geminids visible in the above composite image -- how many do you see? Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD #TWAN

Variable Star RS Puppis and Surrounding Dust Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble

APOD: Light Pillars over Finland (2013 Dec 18) Image Credit & Copyright: Thomas Kast Explanation: What's happening behind those houses? Pictured above are not aurora but nearby light pillars, a local phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. While going out to buy cat food, a quick thinking photographer captured the above light pillars extending up from bright parking lot lights in Oulu, Finland. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: SDO's Multiwavelength Sun (2013 Dec 21) Image Credit: GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio, SDO, NASA Explanation: Today, the solstice is at 17:11 Universal Time, the Sun reaching the southernmost declination in its yearly journey through planet Earth's sky. The December solstice marks the astronomical beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. To celebrate, explore this creative visualization of the Sun from visible to extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, using image data from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Against a base image made at a visible wavelengths, the wedge-shaped segments show the solar disk at increasingly shorter ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. Shown in false-color and rotating in a clockwise direction, the filters decrease in wavelength from 170 nanometers (in pink) through 9.4 nanometers (green). At shorter wavelengths, the altitude and temperature of the regions revealed in the solar atmosphere tend to increase. Bright at visible wavelengths, the solar photosphere looks darker in the ultraviolet, but sunspots glow and bright plasma traces looping magnetic fields. Watch the filters sweep around the solar disk in this animation of SDO's multiwavelength view of the Sun. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Tutulemma: Solar Eclipse Analemma (2013 Dec 22) Image Credit & Copyright: Cenk E. Tezel and Tunç Tezel (TWAN) Explanation: If you went outside at exactly the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun's position change? With great planning and effort, such a series of images can be taken. The figure-8 path the Sun follows over the course of a year is called an analemma. Yesterday, the Winter Solstice day in Earth's northern hemisphere, the Sun appeared at the bottom of the analemma. Analemmas created from different latitudes would appear at least slightly different, as well as analemmas created at a different time each day. With even greater planning and effort, the series can include a total eclipse of the Sun as one of the images. Pictured is such a total solar eclipse analemma or Tutulemma - a term coined by the photographers based on the Turkish word for eclipse. The above composite image sequence was recorded from Turkey starting in 2005. The base image for the sequence is from the total phase of a solar eclipse as viewed from Side, Turkey on 2006 March 29. Venus was also visible during totality, toward the lower right. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD #TWAN

APOD: Geminid Meteors over Chile (2013 Dec 23) Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution) Explanation: From a radiant point in the constellation of the Twins, the annual Geminid meteor shower rained down on planet Earth over the past few weeks. Recorded near the shower's peak over the night of December 13 and 14, the above skyscape captures Gemini's shooting stars in a four-hour composite from the dark skies of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. In the foreground the 2.5-meter du Pont Telescope is visible as well as the 1-meter SWOPE telescope. The skies beyond the meteors are highlighted by Jupiter, seen as the bright spot near the image center, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy, seen vertically on the image left, and the pinkish Orion Nebula on the far left. Dust swept up from the orbit of active asteroid 3200 Phaethon, Gemini's meteors enter the atmosphere traveling at about 22 kilometers per second. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Sharpless 308: Star Bubble (2013 Dec 24) Image Credit & Copyright: Jeff Husted Explanation: Blown by fast winds from a hot, massive star, this cosmic bubble is huge. Cataloged as Sharpless 2-308 it lies some 5,200 light-years away toward the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major) and covers slightly more of the sky than a Full Moon. That corresponds to a diameter of 60 light-years at its estimated distance. The massive star that created the bubble, a Wolf-Rayet star, is the bright one near the center of the nebula. Wolf-Rayet stars have over 20 times the mass of the Sun and are thought to be in a brief, pre-supernova phase of massive star evolution. Fast winds from this Wolf-Rayet star create the bubble-shaped nebula as they sweep up slower moving material from an earlier phase of evolution. The windblown nebula has an age of about 70,000 years. Relatively faint emission captured in the expansive image is dominated by the glow of ionized oxygen atoms mapped to violet hues. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: The Hydrogen Clouds of M33 (2013 Dec 26) Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy M33 seems to have more than its fair share of glowing hydrogen gas. A prominent member of the local group of galaxies, M33 is also known as the Triangulum Galaxy and lies about 3 million light-years distant. Its inner 30,000 light-years are shown in this telescopic galaxy portrait that enhances the reddish ionized hydrogen clouds or HII regions. Sprawling along loose spiral arms that wind toward the core, M33's giant HII regions are some of the largest known stellar nurseries, sites of the formation of short-lived but very massive stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the luminous, massive stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas and ultimately produces the characteristic red glow. To enhance this image, broadband data was used to produce a color view of the galaxy and combined with narrowband data recorded through a hydrogen-alpha filter, transmitting the light of the strongest hydrogen emission line. To see the monochromatic narrowband data alone, move your cursor over the image, or take this video tour of the hydrogen clouds of M33. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Melotte 15 in the Heart (2013 Dec 27) Image Credit & Copyright: Jimmy Walker Explanation: Cosmic clouds seem to form fantastic shapes in the central regions of emission nebula IC 1805. Of course, the clouds are sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from massive hot stars in the nebula's newborn star cluster, Melotte 15. About 1.5 million years young, the cluster stars are near the center of this colorful skyscape, along with dark dust clouds in silhouette. Dominated by emission from atomic hydrogen, the telescopic view spans about 30 light-years. But wider field images reveal that IC 1805's simpler, overall outline suggests its popular name - The Heart Nebula. IC 1805 is located along the northern Milky Way, about 7,500 light years distant toward the constellation Cassiopeia. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Alaska Aurora Sequence (2013 Dec 28) Image Credit & Copyright: LeRoy Zimmerman (TWAN) Explanation: A remarkably intense auroral band flooded the northern night with shimmering colors on December 7. The stunning sequence captured here was made with a camera fixed to a tripod under cold, clear skies near Ester, just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Left to right, spanning a period of about 30 minutes, the panels follow changes in the dancing curtains of northern lights extending to altitudes of over 100 kilometers in a band arcing directly overhead. The panels span 150 degrees vertically, covering about 500 kilometers of aurora laying across the sky from edge to edge. The auroral activity was triggered by a moderate level geomagnetic storm, as a high speed solar wind stream buffeted planet Earth's magnetosphere. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Time-Lapse Auroras Over Norway (2013 Dec 29) Credit & Copyright: Terje Sørgjerd; Music: Gladiator Soundtrack: Now we are Free Explanation: Sometimes, after your eyes adapt to the dark, a spectacular sky appears. Such was the case in 2011 March when one of the largest auroral displays in recent years appeared over northern locations like the border between Norway and Russia. Pictured in the above time-lapse movie, auroras flow over snow covered landscapes, trees, clouds, mountains and lakes found near Kirkenes, Norway. Many times the auroras are green, as high energy particles strike the Earth's atmosphere, causing the air to glow as electrons resettle into their oxygen hosts. Other colors are occasionally noticeable as atmospheric nitrogen also becomes affected. In later sequences the Moon and rising stars are also visible. With the Sun currently hovering near its time of maximum activity, there may be many opportunities to see similarly spectacular auroras personally, even from areas much closer to the equator. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: The Horsehead Nebula (2013 Dec 31) Image Credit & Copyright: John Chumack Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula in the center of the above photograph. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible at the bottom left of the picture is a greenish reflection nebulae that preferentially reflects the blue light from nearby stars. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Lovejoy in the New Year (2014 Jan 03) Image Credit & Copyright: Damian Peach Explanation: A rival to vanquished Comet ISON in 2013, Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) still sweeps through early morning skies, captured in this starry scene on New Year's day. The frame stretches some 3.5 degrees across a background of faint stars in the constellation Hercules. Only just visible to the naked eye from dark sites before dawn, Lovejoy remains a good target for the northern hemisphere's binocular equipped skygazers. But this deep exposure shows off Lovejoy's beautiful tails and tantalizing greenish coma better than binocular views. Not a sungrazer, this Comet Lovejoy made its closest approach to the Sun around December 22, looping high above the ecliptic plane. Now headed for the outer Solar System, Lovejoy began the new year about 6.7 light-minutes from planet Earth. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Galaxy NGC 474: Shells and Star Streams (2014 Jan 05) Image Credit & Copyright: P.-A. Duc (CEA, CFHT), Atlas 3D Collaboration Explanation: What's happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple though the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the above image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with -- and accretions of -- smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces). Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: M7: Open Star Cluster in Scorpius (2014 Jan 07) Image Credit & Copyright: Lorand Fenyes Explanation: M7 is one of the most prominent open clusters of stars on the sky. The cluster, dominated by bright blue stars, can be seen with the naked eye in a dark sky in the tail of the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). M7 contains about 100 stars in total, is about 200 million years old, spans 25 light-years across, and lies about 1000 light-years away. The above deep image, taken last June from Hungary through a small telescope, combines over 60 two-minute exposures. The M7 star cluster has been known since ancient times, being noted by Ptolemy in the year 130 AD. Also visible are a dark dust cloud and literally millions of unrelated stars towards the Galactic center. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: The Tadpoles of IC 410 (2013 Jan 09) Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh Explanation: This telescopic close-up shows off the otherwise faint emission nebula IC 410 in striking false-colors. It also features two remarkable inhabitants of the cosmic pond of gas and dust below and right of center, the tadpoles of IC 410. The picture is a composite of images taken through narrow band filters. The narrow band image data traces atoms in the nebula, with emission from sulfur atoms in red, hydrogen atoms in green, and oxygen in blue. Partly obscured by foreground dust, the nebula itself surrounds NGC 1893, a young galactic cluster of stars that energizes the glowing gas. Composed of denser cooler gas and dust the tadpoles are around 10 light-years long, potentially sites of ongoing star formation. Sculpted by wind and radiation from the cluster stars, their tails trail away from the cluster's central region. IC 410 lies some 12,000 light-years away, toward the constellation Auriga. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula (2014 Jan 10) Image Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman Explanation: A mere seven hundred light years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius, a sun-like star is dying. Its last few thousand years have produced the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a well studied and nearby example of a Planetary Nebula, typical of this final phase of stellar evolution. A total of 28.5 hours of exposure time have gone in to creating this deep view of the nebula. Combining narrow band image data from emission lines of hydrogen atoms in red and oxygen atoms in blue-green hues, it shows remarkable details of the Helix's brighter inner region, about 3 light-years across, but also follows fainter outer halo features that give the nebula a span of well over six light-years. The white dot at the Helix's center is this Planetary Nebula's hot, central star. A simple looking nebula at first glance, the Helix is now understood to have a surprisingly complex geometry. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: The Seagull Nebula (2014 Jan 11) Image Credit & Copyright: Michael Miller Explanation: A broad expanse of glowing gas and dust presents a bird-like visage to astronomers from planet Earth, suggesting its popular moniker - The Seagull Nebula. This portrait of the cosmic bird covers a 1.6 degree wide swath across the plane of the Milky Way, near the direction of Sirius, alpha star of the constellation Canis Major. Of course, the region includes objects with other catalog designations: notably NGC 2327, a compact, dusty emission region with an embedded massive star that forms the bird's head (aka the Parrot Nebula, above center). Dominated by the reddish glow of atomic hydrogen, the complex of gas and dust clouds with bright young stars spans over 100 light-years at an estimated 3,800 light-year distance. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

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<b>Today's APOD may not have been posted yet.</b> Sometimes the page admins have other things going on that prevents us from being at our computers at …

APOD: The Gegenschein Over Chile (2013 Jan 14) Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Las Campanas Observatory, Carnegie Institution) Explanation: Is the night sky darkest in the direction opposite the Sun? No. In fact, a rarely discernable faint glow known as the gegenschein (German for "counter glow") can be seen 180 degrees around from the Sun in an extremely dark sky. The gegenschein is sunlight back-scattered off small interplanetary dust particles. These dust particles are millimeter sized splinters from asteroids and orbit in the ecliptic plane of the planets. Pictured above from last year is one of the more spectacular pictures of the gegenschein yet taken. Here a deep exposure of an extremely dark sky over Las Campanas Observatory in Chile shows the gegenschein so clearly that even a surrounding glow is visible. Notable background objects include the Andromeda galaxy, the Pleiades star cluster, the California Nebula, the belt of Orion just below the Orion Nebula and inside Barnard's Loop, and bright stars Rigel and Betelgeuse. The gegenschein is distinguished from zodiacal light near the Sun by the high angle of reflection. During the day, a phenomenon similar to the gegenschein called the glory can be seen in reflecting air or clouds opposite the Sun from an airplane. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

APOD: Spitzer's Orion (2014 Jan 15) Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Megeath (Univ. Toledo, Ohio) Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula's many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

Astronomers Find Bizarre 'Lawn Sprinkler' Asteroid

Astronomers using both ground- and space-based telescopes have discovered a new kind of asteroid that sports not one, but six comet-like tails, and has been described as looking something like a rotating lawn sprinkler.<p>P/2013 P5 was first spotted with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope at the top of …

Two Young Explorers Create First Map of the Future Patagonia National Park

Changing Planet<p><i>Marty Schnure and Ross Donihue are National Geographic Young Explorers recently back from the field. They’re currently producing maps of the future Patagonia National Park from their office in San Francisco. To learn more about their project, visit Maps for Good.</i><p>——-<p>The past nine …

Typhoon Haiyan in Pictures

APOD: Solar Eclipse from Uganda (2013 Nov 08) Image Credit & Copyright: Jaime Vilinga - collaboration / Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris Explanation: The Sun's disk was totally eclipsed for a brief 20 seconds as the Moon's dark umbral shadow raced across Pokwero in northwestern Uganda on November 3rd. So this sharp telescopic view of totality in clear skies from the central African locale was much sought after by eclipse watchers. In the inspiring celestial scene the Moon just covers the overwhelmingly bright photosphere, the lower, normally visible layer of the Sun's atmosphere. Extending beyond the photosphere, the reddish hydrogen alpha glow of the solar chromosphere outlines the lunar silhouette, fading into the Sun's tenuous, hot, outer atmosphere or corona. Planet-sized prominences reaching beyond the limb of the active Sun adorn the edges of the silhouette, including a cloud of glowing plasma separated from the chromosphere near the 1 o'clock position. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page #APOD

It's time to listen to the voices in your head

Hearing voices in your head when there's no one around … that's a sign of madness, right?<p>In the popular imagination voice-hearing is often viewed with fear and suspicion, frequently reified as a chaotic, corrupted symptom of illness. But that is changing, with a growing acceptance of voice-hearing …