What lies beneath the layered south pole of Mars? A recent measurement with ground-penetrating radar from ESA’s Mars Express satellite has detected a bright reflection layer consistent with an underground lake of salty water.
The reflection comes from about 1.5-km down but covers an area 200-km across. Liquid water evaporates quickly from the surface of Mars, but a briny confined lake, such as implied by the radar reflection, could last much longer and be a candidate to host life such as microbes.
Pictured, an infrared, green, and blue image of the south pole of Mars taken by Mars Express in 2012 shows a complex mixture of layers of dirt, frozen carbon dioxide, and frozen water.
Image Credit & License: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin; Bill Dunford
The striking blue color of the Iris Nebula is created by light from the bright star SAO 19158 reflecting off of a dense patch of normally dark dust. Not only is the star itself mostly blue, but blue light from the star is preferentially reflected by the dust — the same effect that makes Earth’s sky blue.
The brown tint of the pervasive dust comes partly from photoluminescence — dust converting ultraviolet radiation to red light. Cataloged as NGC 7023, the Iris Nebula is studied frequently because of the unusual prevalence there of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), complex molecules that are also released on Earth during the incomplete combustion of wood fires.
The bright blue portion of the Iris Nebula spans about six light years. The Iris Nebula, pictured here, lies about 1300 light years distant and can be found with a small telescope toward the constellation of Cepheus.
Image Credit & Copyright: Franco Sgueglia & Francesco Sferlazza
The total phase of the July 27 lunar eclipse lasted for an impressive 103 minutes. That makes it the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The Moon passed through the center of Earth’s shadow while the Moon was near apogee, the most distant point in its elliptical orbit.
From start to finish, the entire duration of totality is covered in this composite view. A dreamlike scene, it includes a sequence of digital camera exposures made every three minutes. The exposures track the totally eclipsed lunar disk, accompanied on that night by bright planet Mars, as it climbs above the seaside village of Tellaro, Italy.
In the foreground lies the calm Mediterranean Gulf of La Spezia, known to some as the Gulf of Poets. In the 3rd century BCE, heliocentric astronomer Aristarchus also tracked the duration of lunar eclipses, though without the benefit of digital clocks and cameras. Using geometry he devised a way to calculate the Moon’s distance from the eclipse duration, in terms of the radius of planet Earth.