Will it be Westminster Abbey for William and Kate?

Royal wedding plans stepped up with visit to ...

Chart showing the line to the British throne. The wedding between Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton will happen a year before the queen celebrates her diamond jubilee marking 60 years on the throne — and London hosts the Olympics.

Will it be Westminster Abbey for William and Kate?

Prince William, Kate Middleton

LONDON – Westminster Abbey looks like the most likely venue for Britain’s royal wedding, after Kate Middleton was photographed emerging from the central London landmark.

The Daily Mail newspaper ran a front-page photo Thursday of Middleton leaving the abbey after an evening visit with courtiers. Kate and PrinceWilliam have met royal staff to begin planning their wedding, which will take place in London next spring or summer.

Some have speculated the couple may choose St. Paul’s Cathedral, where William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, married in 1981.

William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, married in 1,000-year-Westminster Abbey in 1947, and Diana’s funeral was held there in 1997.

Prince William, Kate Middleton

Britain’s Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton arrive for a media photocall, media at St. James’s Palace in London, Tuesday Nov. 16, 2010, after they announced their engagement. The couple are to wed in 2011.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Britains Prince William and his fiancee ...

Souvenir mugs and plates, made to mark the engagement ...

Souvenir mugs and plates, made to mark the engagement between Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, are displayed at Aynsley China in Stoke-on-Trent, central England November 17, 2010. The company has produced mugs and plates as part of a pre-production run prior to full production. The marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton next year could give a 620 million pound ($985 million) boost to the British economy, retail reseachers Verdict said on Wednesday.


Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate ...

Britains Prince William and his fiancee ...

Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate ...

Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate ...

Kate Middleton wears the engagement ring of Diana, ...

Kate Middleton wears the engagement ring of Diana, Princess of Wales, as she poses for the media with Britain’s Prince William following the announcementof their engagement, at St. James’s Palace in London, Tuesday Nov. 16, 2010. The couple are to wed in 2011.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton wears her engagement ring which once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales, on the day her engagement to Prince William was announced in London Tuesday Nov.16, 2010. Prince William revealed that he proposed using the engagement ring of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, to make sure Diana ‘didn’t miss out on the excitement’. William and his long-term girlfriend got engaged on holiday in Kenya last month and will marry next year.

(AP Photo/Arthur Edwards, pool)

Prince William, Kate Middleton

Prince William and Kate Middleton to marry next ...

Prince William, Kate Middleton

Britains Prince William and his fiancee ...

In this picture taken with a fisheye lens people ...

In this picture taken with a fisheye lens people walk past Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010. Westminster Abbey is the leading contenderfor the wedding venue of Prince William and Kate Middleton, after the bride-to-be was photographed leaving the central London landmark on Wednesday evening.(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Foreign visitors stand outside Westminster Abbey ...

Foreign visitors stand outside Westminster Abbey in London, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010. Westminster Abbey is the leading contender for the wedding venue ofPrince William and Kate Middleton, after the bride-to-be was photographed leaving the central London landmark on Wednesday evening.(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Westminster Abbey is seen in central London

People walk past Westminster Abbey in London, ...

Royal Starlings William and Kate sit ...

Royal Starlings William and Kate (R) sit on a branch in their enclosure at Chester zoo, northern England November 18, 2010. The young birds, hand reared at the zoo, have been named after the royal couple by keepers to mark their recent engagement as their natural habitat is in east Africa near to where Prince William proposed in Kenya.


Prince William and Kate wedding to fit austere ...

Michael and Carole Middleton, the parents of Kate, Prince William’s fiancee, pose for a photograph at their home in Berkshire, southern England.

(AFP/POOL/Stefan Rousseau)



Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2010 November 18

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Sisters of the Dusty Sky
Credit & Copyright: John Davis

Explanation: Hurtling through a cosmic dust cloud some 400 light-years away, the lovely Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster is well-known for its striking blue reflection nebulae. In the dusty sky toward the constellation Taurus and the Orion Arm of our Milky Way Galaxy, this remarkable image shows the famous star cluster at the upper left. But lesser known dusty nebulae lie along the region’s fertile molecular cloud, within the 10 degree wide field, including the bird-like visage of LBN 777 near center. Small bluish reflection nebula VdB 27 at the lower right is associated with the young, variable star RY Tau. At the distance of the Pleiades, the 5 panel mosaic spans nearly 70 light-years.(November 15, 2010)

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Frosted Leaf Orion
Credit & Copyright: Masahiro Miyasaka

Explanation: Sometimes, you can put some night sky in your art. Captured above Japan earlier this month, a picturesque night sky was photographed behind a picturesque frosted leaf. The reflecting ice crystals on the leaf coolly mimic the shining stars far in the background. The particular background sky on this 48-second wide angle exposure, however, might appear quite interesting and familiar. On the far left, although hard to find, appears a streaking meteor. Below and to the right of the meteor appears a longer and brighter streak of an airplane. The bright star on the left is the dog-star Sirius, the brightest star on the night sky. To Sirius’ right appears the constellation of Orion, including the three linear belt stars below the red giant Betelgeuse. The bright patch of light further to the right is the Pleiades open star cluster. Similar views including the constellation Orion can be seen above much of the northern hemisphere for the next several months, although you might have to provide your own leaf. (November 14, 2010)

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Atoms-for-Peace Galaxy Collision
Credit: ESO

Explanation: Is this what will become of our Milky Way Galaxy? Perhaps if we collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years, it might. Pictured above is NGC 7252, a jumble of stars created by a huge collision between two large galaxies. The collision will take hundreds of millions of years and so is effectively caught frozen in time in the above image. The resulting pandemonium has been dubbed the Atoms-for-Peace galaxy because of its similarity to acartoon of a large atom. The above image was taken recently by the MPG/ESO 2.2 meter telescope in Chile. NGC 7252 spans about 600,000 light years and lies about 220 million light years away toward the constellation of the Water Bearer (Aquarius). Since the sideways velocity of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is presently unknown, no one really knows for sure if the Milky Way will ever collide with M31. (November 13, 2010)

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Multiverses: Do Other Universes Exist?
Illustration Credit & Copyright: Clifford Pickover

Explanation: Do nearly exact copies of you exist in other universes? If one or more of the multiverse hypotheses is correct, then quite possibly they do. In theabove computer-enhanced illustration, independent universes are shown as independent circles or spheres. Spheres may be causally disconnected from all other spheres, meaning no communications can pass between them. Some spheres may contain different realizations of our universe, while others may have differentphysical laws. An entire set of parallel universes is called a multiverse. The human eye might represent the possibility that realizations of some multiverse hypotheses might only exist in the human mind. One criticism of multiverse hypotheses is that they are frequently difficult to test. Some multiverse hypothesesmay therefore be great fun to think about but not practically falsifiable and therefore have no predictive scientific value. (November 12, 2010)

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Spiral Galaxy M66
Credit & Copyright: Russell Croman

Explanation: Big beautiful spiral galaxy M66 lies a mere 35 million light-years away. About 100 thousand light-years across, the gorgeous island universe is well known to astronomers as a member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies. In M66, pronounced dust lanes and young, blue star clusters sweep along spiral armsdotted with the tell-tale glow of pink star forming regions. This colorful and deep view also reveals faint extensions beyond the brighter galactic disk. Of course, the bright, spiky stars lie in the foreground, within our own Milky Way Galaxy, but many, small, distant background galaxies can be seen in the cosmic snapshot.Gravitational interactions with its neighboring galaxies have likely influenced the shape of spiral galaxy M66. (November 11, 2010)

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NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula
Credit & Copyright: Daniel LópezIAC

Explanation: Like delicate cosmic petals, these clouds of interstellar dust and gas have blossomed 1,300 light-years away in the fertile star fields of theconstellation Cepheus. Sometimes called the Iris Nebula and dutifully cataloged as NGC 7023, this is not the only nebula in the sky to evoke the imagery of flowers. Still, this beautiful digital image shows off the Iris Nebula’s range of colors and symmetries in impressive detail. Within the Iris, dusty nebular material surrounds a hot, young star. The dominant color of the brighter reflection nebula is blue, characteristic of dust grains reflecting starlight. Central filaments of the dusty clouds glow with a faint reddish photoluminesence as some dust grains effectively convert the star’s invisible ultraviolet radiation to visible red light. Infraredobservations indicate that this nebula may contain complex carbon molecules known as PAHs. As shown here, the bright blue portion of the Iris Nebula is about six light-years across. (November 10, 2010)

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Two Views, Two Crescents
Credit & Copyright: Left – Stefano De RosaRight – Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)

Explanation: Venus rose in a glowing dawn sky on November 5th, just before the Sun. For early morning risers, its brilliant crescent phase was best appreciated with binoculars or a small telescope. On that day the crescent Venus also appeared in close conjunction with another lovely crescent that hugs the eastern horizon in planet Earth’s morning skies, the waning crescent Moon. The celestial photo-op is captured here from two locations. Left, separated by less than a degree, the two crescents hover above a sea of clouds. The picture was recorded from an Alpine mountain pass not far from Turin, Italy. On the right is a sharp telephoto view taken before an earlier sunrise, farther east in the Alborz Mountains of Iran. In steady skies the slender Moon is still sliding toward Venus, the bright planet’s compact crescent just clearing the mountainous horizon. For now, the crescent phase of Venus remains easy to enjoy with binoculars in November’s dawn skies. The first observations of the phases of Venus, made by Galileo with his telescope in 1610, agreed with the predictions of the heliocentric Copernican model of the Solar System. (November 9, 2010)

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Huge Gamma Ray Bubbles Found Around Milky Way
Credit: NASADOEFermi Gamma-Ray Space TelescopeLAT detectorD. Finkbeiner et al.

Explanation: Did you know that our Milky Way Galaxy has huge bubbles emitting gamma rays from the direction of the galactic center? Neither did anybody. As the data from the Earth-orbiting Fermi satellite began accumulating over the past two years, however, a large and unusual feature toward our Galaxy‘s center became increasingly evident. The two bubbles are visible together as the red and white spotted oval surrounding the center of the above all sky image, released yesterday. The plane of our Galaxy runs horizontally across the image center. Assuming the bubbles emanate from our Galaxy’s center, the scale of the bubbles is huge, rivaling the entire Galaxy in size, and spanning about 50,000 light years from top to bottom. Earlier indications of the bubbles have been found on existing all sky maps in the radiomicrowave, and X-ray. The cause of the bubbles is presently unknown, but will likely be researched for years to come. (November 8, 2010)

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NGC 4452: An Extremely Thin Galaxy
Credit: ESAHubbleNASA

Explanation: Why is there a line segment on the sky? In one of the more precise alignments known in the universe, what is pictured above is actually a disk galaxy being seen almost perfectly edge on. The image from the Hubble Space Telescope is a spectacular visual reminder of just how thin disk galaxies can be. NGC 4452, a galaxy in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies, is so thin that it is actually difficult to determine what type of disk galaxy it is. Its lack of a visible dust lane indicates that it is a low-dust lenticular galaxy, although it is still possible that a view from on top would reveal spiral structure. The unusual stellar line segment spans about 35,000 light years from end to end. Near NGC 4452‘s center is a slight bulge of stars, while hundreds of background galaxies are visible far in the distance. Galaxies that appear this thin are rare mostly because our Earth must reside (nearly) in the extrapolated planes of their thin galactic disks. Galaxies that actually are this thin are relatively common — for example our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to be about this thin. (November 7, 2010)

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The Center of Centaurus A
Credit: E.J. Schreier (AUI) et al., HubbleNASAInset: NOAO

Explanation: A fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, gigantic glowing gas clouds, and imposing dark dust lanes surrounds the central region of the active galaxy Centaurus A. This mosaic of Hubble Space Telescope images taken in blue, green, and red light has been processed to present a natural color picture of this cosmic maelstrom. Infrared images from the Hubble have also shown that hidden at the center of this activity are what seem to be disks of matter spiraling into a black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun! Centaurus A itself is apparently the result of a collision of two galaxies and the left over debris is steadily being consumed by the black holeAstronomers believe that such black hole central engines generate the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A and other active galaxies. But for an active galaxy Centaurus A is close, a mere 10 million light-years away, and is a relatively convenient laboratory for exploring these powerful sources of energy. (November 6, 2010)

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The Elephant’s Trunk in IC 1396
Credit & Copyright: Rolf Geissinger

Explanation: Like an illustration in a galactic Just So Story, the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Of course, the cosmic elephant’s trunk is over 20 light-years long. This composite was recorded throughnarrow band filters that transmit the light from ionized hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen atoms in the region. The resulting image highlights the bright swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hideprotostars within the obscuring cosmic dust. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic close-up covers a 2 degree wide field, about the size of 4 Full Moons.(November 5, 2010)

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The Necklace Nebula
Credit & Copyright: Romano Corradi (IAC), et al.IPHAS

Explanation: The small constellation Sagitta sports this large piece of cosmic jewelry, dubbed the Necklace Nebula. The newly discovered example of a ring-shaped planetary nebula is about 15,000 light-years distant. Its bright ring with pearls of glowing gas is half a light-year across. Planetary nebulae are created by sun-like stars in a final phase of stellar evolution. But the Necklace Nebula’s central star, near the center of a ring strongly tilted to our line of sight, has also been shown to be binary, a close system of two stars with an orbital period of just over a day. Astronomers estimating the apparent age of the ring to be around 5,000 years, also find more distant gas clouds perpendicular to the ring plane, seen here at the upper left and lower right. Those clouds were likely ejected about 5,000 years before the clouds forming the necklace. This false color image combines emission from ionized hydrogen in blue, oxygen in green, and nitrogen in red.(November 3,2010)

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Spicules: Jets on the Sun
Credit: K. Reardon (Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, INAFIBISDSTNSO

Explanation: Imagine a pipe as wide as a state and as long as the Earth. Now imagine that this pipe is filled with hot gas moving 50,000 kilometers per hour. Further imagine that this pipe is not made of metal but a transparent magnetic field. You are envisioning just one of thousands of young spicules on the active SunPictured above is one of the highest resolution image yet of these enigmatic solar flux tubes. Spicules line the above frame of solar active region 11092 that crossed the Sun last month, but are particularly evident converging on the sunspot on the lower left. Time-sequenced images have recently shown that spiculeslast about five minutes, starting out as tall tubes of rapidly rising gas but eventually fading as the gas peaks and falls back down to the Sun. What determines the creation and dynamics of spicules remains a topic of active research. (November 2, 2010)

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The Milky Way Over the Peak of the Furnace
Credit & Copyright: Luc Perrot

Explanation: On Reunion Island, it is known simply as “The Volcano.” To others, it is known as the Piton de la Fournaise, which is French for the Peak of the Furnace. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The Volcano started a new eruption last month by spewing hot lava bombs as high as 10 meters into the air from several vents. Pictured above, the recent eruption was caught before a star filled southern sky, appearing somehow contained beneath the arching band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Also visible in the background sky is the Pleiades open star cluster, the constellation of Orion, the brightest star Sirius, and the neighboring Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies. (Can you find them?) The Piton de la Fournaise erupted for months in 2006, and for days in 2007, 2008, and in January of 2010. Nobody knows how long the current eruption will last, or when The Volcano will erupt next. (November 1, 2010)

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Halloween and the Ghost Head Nebula
Credit: Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de Paris) et al., ESANASA

Explanation: Halloween’s origin is ancient and astronomical. Since the fifth century BC, Halloween has been celebrated as a cross-quarter day, a day halfway between an equinox (equal day / equal night) and a solstice (minimum day / maximum night in the northern hemisphere). With a modern calendar, however, the real cross-quarter day will occur next week. Another cross-quarter day is Groundhog’s Day. Halloween’s modern celebration retains historic roots in dressing to scare away the spirits of the dead. Perhaps a fitting tribute to this ancient holiday is this view of the Ghost Head Nebula taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Similar to the icon of a fictional ghost, NGC 2080 is actually a star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way Galaxy. The Ghost Head Nebula spans about 50 light-years and is shown in representative colors. (2010, October 31)

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Ghost of the Cepheus Flare
Credit & Copyright: Stephen Leshin

Explanation: Spooky shapes seem to haunt this starry expanse, drifting through the night in the royal constellation Cepheus. Of course, the shapes are cosmic dust clouds faintly visible in dimly reflected starlight. Far from your own neighborhood on planet Earth, they lurk at the edge of the Cepheus Flare molecular cloud complex some 1,200 light-years away. Over 2 light-years across the ghostly nebula known as vdB 141 or Sh2-136 is near the center of the field. The core of the dark cloud on the right is collapsing and is likely a binary star system in the early stages of formation. (2010, October 30)

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Star Trails and the Captain’s Ghost
Credit & Copyright: Chris Kotsiopoulos (GreekSky)

Explanation: Look closely at this surreal nightscape. In the dreamlike scene, star trails arc over an old ship run aground on a beach near Gytheio, Peloponnesus in southern Greece. Could that be the captain’s ghost haunting the beach, gazing forlornly at the decaying wreck, hovering over starlight reflected in still water? Actually, the ephemeral shape is the photographer. Instead of a single long exposure to record the motion of the stars as the Earth rotates on its axis, the picture is composed of 90 consecutive images, each exposure 90 seconds long. Digitally stacking the individual exposures then reconstructs the star trails. It also creates a ghostly, semi-transparent figure of the photographer who was captured standing on the beach in only one of the exposures. (2010, October 29)

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Mirach’s Ghost
Credit & Copyright: Anthony Ayiomamitis (TWAN)

Explanation: As far as ghosts go, Mirach’s Ghost isn’t really that scary. In fact, Mirach’s Ghost is just a faint, fuzzy galaxy, well known to astronomers, that happens to be seen nearly along the line-of-sight to Mirach, a bright star. Centered in this star field, Mirach is also called Beta Andromedae. About 200 light-years distant, Mirach is a red giant star, cooler than the Sun but much larger and so intrinsically much brighter than our parent star. In most telescopic views, glare and diffraction spikes tend to hide things that lie near Mirach and make the faint, fuzzy galaxy look like a ghostly internal reflection of the almost overwhelming starlight. Still, appearing in this sharp image just above and to the right of Mirach, Mirach’s Ghost is cataloged as galaxy NGC 404 and is estimated to be some 10 million light-years away.(2010, October 28)

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Ultraviolet Andromeda
Credit: UV – NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)
Optical – Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Explanation: This stunning vista represents the highest resolution image ever made of the Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31) at ultraviolet wavelengths. Recorded by NASA’s Swift satellite, the mosaic is composed of 330 individual images covering a region 200,000 light-years wide. It shows about 20,000 sources, dominated by hot, young stars and dense star clusters that radiate strongly in energetic ultraviolet light. Of course, the Andromeda Galaxy is the closest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, at a distance of some 2.5 million light-years. Just slide your cursor over the image to compare the appearance of thisgorgeous island universe in optical light with its ultraviolet portrait.(2010, October 27)

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Water Ice Detected Beneath Moon’s Surface
Credit: I. Mitrofanov et al., LCROSSLRONASA

Explanation: Is there enough water on the moon to sustain future astronauts? The question has important implications if humanity hopes to use the Moon as a future outpost. Last year, to help find out, scientists crashed the moon-orbiting LCROSS spacecraft into a permanently shadowed crater near the Moon’s South Pole. New analyses of the resulting plume from Cabeus crater indicate more water than previously thought, possibly about six percent. Additionally, aninstrument on the separate LRO spacecraft that measures neutrons indicates that even larger lunar expanses — most not even permanently shadowed — may also contain a significant amount of buried frozen water. Pictured above from LRO, areas in false-color blue indicate the presence of soil relatively rich inhydrogen, which is thought likely bound to sub-surface water ice. Conversely, the red areas are likely dry. The location of the Moon’s South Pole is also digitally marked on the image. How deep beneath the surface the ice crystals permeate is still unknown, as well as how difficult it would be to mine the crystals and purify them into drinking water.(2010, October 25)

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A Bucket-Wheel Excavator on Earth
Credit & Copyright: ThyssenKrupp Technologies, SwapMeetDave

Explanation: Please wait while one of the largest mobile machines in the world crosses the road. The machine pictured above is a bucket-wheel excavatorused in modern surface mining. Machines like this have given humanity the ability to mine minerals and change the face of planet Earth in new and dramatic ways. Some open pit mines, for example, are visible from orbit. The largest excavators are over 200 meters long and 100 meters high, now dwarfing the huge NASA Crawler that transports space shuttles to the launch pads. Bucket-wheel excavators can dig a hole the length of a football field to over 25 meters deep in a single day. They may take a while to cross a road, though, with a top speed under one kilometer per hour.( 2010, October 24)

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Orion: Head to Toe
Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Explanation: Cradled in cosmic dust and glowing hydrogen, stellar nurseries in Orion the Hunter lie at the edge of a giant molecular cloud some 1,500 light-years away. Spanning nearly 25 degrees, this breath-taking vista stretches across the well-known constellation from head to toe (left to right). The Great Orion Nebula, the closest large star forming region, is right of center. To its left are the Horsehead NebulaM78, and Orion’s belt stars. Sliding your cursor over the picture will also find red giant Betelgeuse at the hunter’s shoulder, bright blue Rigel at his foot, and the glowing Lambda Orionis (Meissa) nebula at the far left, near Orion’s head. Of course, the Orion Nebula and bright stars are easy to see with the unaided eye, but dust clouds and emission from the extensive interstellar gas in this nebula-rich complex, are too faint and much harder to record. In this mosaic of broadband telescopic images, additional image data acquired with a narrow hydrogen alpha filter was used to bring out the pervasive tendrils of energized atomic hydrogen gas and the arc of the giant Barnard’s Loop. (2010, October 23)

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NGC 7822 in Cepheus
Credit & Copyright: Neil Fleming

Explanation: Pillars of gas, dust, and young, hot stars seem to fill the gaping maw of NGC 7822. At the edge of a giant molecular cloud toward the northernconstellation Cepheus, the glowing star forming region lies about 3,000 light-years away. Within the nebula, bright edges and dark shapes are highlighted in thiscolorful skyscape. The image includes data from both broadband and narrowband filters, mapping emission from atomic oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur into blue, green, and red hues. The atomic emission is powered by the energetic radiation from the hot stars, whose powerful winds and radiation also sculpt and erode the denser pillar shapes. Stars could still be forming inside the pillars by gravitational collapse, but as the pillars are eroded away, any forming stars will ultimately be cutoff from their reservoir of star stuff. This field spans around 60 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 7822.(2010, October 22)

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Methuselah Nebula MWP1
Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman

Explanation: The lovely, symmetric planetary nebula cataloged as MWP1 lies some 4,500 light-years away in the northern constellation Cygnus the Swan. One of the largest planetary nebulae known, it spans about 15 light-years. Based on its expansion rate the nebula has an age of 150 thousand years, a cosmicblink of an eye in the 10 billion year life of a sun-like star. But planetary nebulae represent a very brief final phase in stellar evolution, as the nebula’s central star shrugs off its outer layers to become a hot white dwarf. In fact, planetary nebulae ordinarily only last for 10 to 20 thousand years. As a result, truly ancient MWP1 offers a beautiful challenge to astronomers studying the evolution of its central star.(2010, October 21)

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Venus Just After Sunset
Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN)

Explanation: Is that Venus or an airplane? A common ponderable for sky enthusiasts is deciding if that bright spot near the horizon is the planet Venus. Usually, an airplane will show itself by moving significantly in a few moments. Venus will set only slowly as the Earth turns. Still, the identification would be easier if Venus did not keep shifting its position each night. Pictured above, Venus was captured on 44 different nights during 2006 and 2007 over the Bolu mountains in Turkey, when Earth’s sister planet appeared exclusively in the evening sky. The average spacing of the images was about five days, while the images were always taken with the Sun about seven degrees below the horizon. That bright spot toward the west in your evening sky this month might be neither Venus nor an airplane, but Mars. (2010, October 20)

To be continued………























The View from the International Space Station

The View from the International Space Station

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks down at ...

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks down at Earth through the window of the Cupola window bay aboard International Space Station.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

This image, taken from the International Space ...

This image, taken from the Cupola window bay aboard the International Space Station, shows the lights of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, on the Mediterranean coast and the towns along the Nile River.« Read less

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

This image taken from the International Space ...

This image taken from the window of the Cupola window bay aboard the International Space Station shows the lights of Italy and the island of Sicily.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

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Night Lights
Credit: ISS Expedition 25NASA

Explanation: Constellations of lights sprawl across this night scene, but they don’t belong in the skies of planet Earth. Instead, the view looks down from theInternational Space Station as it passed over the United States along the northern Gulf Coast on October 29. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is docked in the foreground. Behind its extended solar panels, some 360 kilometers below, are the recognizable city lights of New Orleans. Looking east along the coast to the top of the frame finds Mobile, Alabama while Houston city lights stand out to the west, toward the bottom. North (left) of New Orleans, a line of lights tracing central US highway I55 connects to Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, the lights follow the population centers, but not everyone lives on planet Earth all the time these days. November 2nd markedthe first decade of continuous human presence in space on board the International Space Station.(November 4, 2010)

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. (Photo courtesy ...

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson.

(Photo courtesy of NASA

Astronauts during a space walk outside the International ...

Astronauts during a space walk outside the International Space Station.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)



Close-up view of the X-38

To the Rescue

This unique, close-up view of the X-38 under the wing of NASA’s B-52 mothership prior to launch of the lifting-body research vehicle was taken from the observation window of the B-52 bomber as it banked in flight. The X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) research project helped develop the technology for a prototype emergency crew return vehicle, or lifeboat, for the International Space Station.

Image Credit: NASA



Originally released May 30, 2007, this image is centered on a small cone on the side of one of Mars’ giant shield volcanoes. The cone shows some layers of hard rock but most of it is made of relatively soft material. This appears to be an example of a “cinder” cone composed of pieces of lava thrown into the air during a small volcanic eruption.

Typically, such eruptions produce fountains of molten lava. Most of the lava would have cooled in this fountain, producing a loose pile of lava rocks. However, it appears that some pulses of the eruption allowed the lava to land without cooling much. These pieces were hot enough to weld together to make the hard layers seen today. The cone is about 2,300 x 3,600 feet, or 700 x 1,100 meters, in size, similar to many cinder cones on Earth.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The DC-8 pilots on NASA's IceBridge mission point out the narrow Antarctic time zones on the navigation map.

Doing Time

The DC-8 pilots on NASA’s IceBridge mission point out the narrow Antarctic time zones on the navigation map.

IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown. It will yield a three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. These flights will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland and Antarctic ice.

Data collected during IceBridge will help scientists bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) — in orbit since 2003 — and ICESat-2, planned for late 2015. ICESat stopped collecting science data in 2009, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations.

Image Credit: NASA/Sarah DeWitt

RAIDS mounted in the open end of HREP aboard the International Space Station.

International Space Station assembly elements

Crew emblems for Expeditions 26, 27 and 28

How do you really know what time it is?

By Annalee Newitz

How do you really know what time it is?

How do you really know what time it is?Why can’t you tell when an hour has passed without looking at a watch? Why are you able to do three things at once? Does coffee make time go faster? Neuroscientsts explain how our brains tell time – or don’t.

It was a familiar feeling of surprise and dismay. Looking at the clock on my computer, I realized that the five minutes I’d spent finishing up an article had actually been 25 minutes. Now I was going to be late for my lunch meeting. As I raced down one of those insanely tall San Francisco hills to get to the restaurant, I wondered for probably the millionth time why I am always running late.

This time, I vowed, I was going to find out.

I turned to an obscure field of neuroscience for answers. The scientists who work on the problem of time in the brain sometimes refer to their area of expertise as “time perception” or “clock timing.” What they’ve discovered is that your brain is one of the least accurate time measurement devices you’ll ever use. And it’s also the most powerful.

Why your perception of time will never be exact
When you watch the seconds tick by on a digital watch, you are in the realm of objective time, where a minute-long interval is always 60 seconds. But to your brain, a minute is relative. Sometimes it takes forever for a minute to be over. That’s because you measure time with a highly subjective biological clock.

Your internal clock is just like that digital watch in some ways. It measures time in what scientists call pulses. Those pulses are accumulated, then stored in your memory as a time interval. Now, here’s where things get weird. Your biological clock can be sped up or slowed down anything from drugs to the way you pay attention. If it takes you 60 seconds to cross the street, your internal clock might register that as 50 pulses if you’re feeling sleepy. But it might last 100 pulses if you’ve just drunk an espresso. That’s because stimulants literally speed up the clock in your brain (more on that later). When your brain stores those two memories of the objective minute it took to cross the street, it winds up with memories of two different time intervals.

How do you really know what time it is?Image via Warren Meck.

And yet, we all have an intuitive sense of how long it takes to cross a street. But how do we know, if every time we do something it feels like it a slightly different amount of time? The answer, says neuroscientist Warren Meck, is “a Gaussian distribution” – in other words, the points on a bell curve. Every time you want to figure out how long something is going to take, your brain samples from those time interval memories and picks one. “You randomly sample from it,” says Meck. “So you might pull a 25 out of distribution, or a 36. You’re only accurate in the mean.”

The good news is that, on average, you will predict correctly how long it takes to cross the street. The bad news is that occasionally, you’ll pull an outlier memory from that bell curve and decide to cross the street much more slowly than you should.

Your intuitive sense of how much time something will take is taken at random from many distorted memories of objective time. Or, as Meck puts it, “You’re cursed to be walking around with a distribution of times in your head even though physically they happened on precise time.”

How do you really know what time it is?

Why you can do three things at the same time
Your internal clock may be the reason why you can multitask. Because nobody – not even the lowly rat – has just one internal clock going at the same time.

At the very least, you’ve got two internal clocks running. One is the clock that tracks your circadian rhythms, telling you when to go to sleep, wake up, and eat. This is the most fundamental and important of all your internal clocks, and scientists have found it running even in organisms like green algae. The other clock you’ve likely got running is some version of the interval time clock I talked about earlier – the one that tells you how long a particular activity is going to take.

Working with Meck, neuroscientist Catalin V. Buhusi discovered in experiments with rats is that your brain can keep multiple interval time clocks going in a pretty complicated way. He trained rats to press three levers for food at three different intervals: one at 10 seconds, one at 30, and one at 90. After a learning phase, the rats were able to simultaneously time the intervals for all three levers, pressing one every 10 seconds, one every 30 seconds, and so on. More amazingly, the rats could stop, start, and reset those clocks. If the 30 second lever stopped, they would continue right along with the 10 and 90 second ones. And when the 10 second lever stopped and then started again, the rats could recalibrate the time of each interval and start pressing that lever at the appropriate speeds again. What this demonstrated to Buhisi was that rats can run many internal clocks at once. And humans can too.

Right now, it’s likely that you are running at least three clocks: Circadian, plus a clock that’s timing how long it’s taking you to read this article, plus a clock telling you how long you have until you get home from work. And who knows what else you are keeping track of? If you’re tapping your foot and doing a task in the background, that would add two more clocks.

Your ability to do many tasks at the same time hinges on this talent for juggling multiple clocks. It should come as no surprise, then, that the neural networks in your brain that assist in time perception are the same networks that allow you to plan and coordinate your physical movements. Your sense of time and your ability to act are connected at a very deep level in your brain. Put simply, timing two things at once and doing two things at once are, from your brain’s point of view, pretty much the same thing.

Why coffee makes time go faster, and Alzheimer’s makes it slower
I already told you that I’m late all the time, so I might as well admit more of my foibles: I drink coffee and I smoke pot. Not surprisingly, given my problems with being on time, both of these drugs are known to affect the speed of internal clocks.

It turns out that changing the speed of your internal clock affects your memories, too. Let’s start with caffeine, which makes your internal clock go faster. If your brain normally stores 60 pulses for 60 seconds, your brain on caffeine stores 100 pulses. Two things happen as a result. First, when you retrieve your time memory, that minute will seem shorter than the 60 seconds it actually took. So a speedy clock means that time gets faster. Second, your memories get more granular. In one minute, you are storing 100 pulses, which add up to more data storage in your brain per second. Coffee and other stimulants make you remember more. On the flip side, an antipsychotic drug like haloperidol slows down your internal clock and makes that minute seem much longer (though far less memorable).

How do you really know what time it is?

Caffeine and haloperidol affect only clock speed, mostly by messing with the dopamine system in your brain. But you can distort time just by manipulating memory, too. The acetylcholine system in your brain regulates how time-based memories are stored. It turns out that one of the primary causes of memory loss in Alzheimer’s comes from a lack of the memory-saving enzyme acetylcholine in the brain. People with Alzheimer’s have internal clocks that are running just fine, but they are saving memories from those clocks much more slowly. That’s why people with Alzheimer’s have a hard time judging how long things will take. And why their memories are so vague.

One common treatment for Alzheimer’s memory loss is to take supplements that boost acetylcholine in the brain. These supplements can sharpen anybody’s memory without ever giving you that “speedy” effect of caffeine because they never touch the dopamine system. They send more chunks of time to memory without ever speeding up your internal clock.

The interesting thing about smoking pot is that marijuana is one of those rare drugs that seems to interact with both the dopamine and the acetylcholine system, speeding up the former and slowing down the latter. That’s why when you get stoned, your heart races but your memory sucks.

How do you really know what time it is?

Why you hear faster than you see
It’s easy to distort the way your brain perceives time, but this organ is also remarkably accurate when it comes to figuring out what’s happening to you millisecond by millisecond. Virginie van Wassenhove is a biologist who has studied how the brain figures out the order of events that happen in under a second’s time – and has discovered that what you see and hear can change the way you perceive time.

One of the weirdest aspects of time perception is that your brain sees things much more slowly than it hears them. As van Wassenhove put it, “If you present a beep and a flash to somebody, then record from their cortex, you’ll find that activity in the visual area will respond 50 milliseconds later. But the auditory cortex responds 12 milliseconds later.” So your brain processes what you see more slowly than it processes what you hear.

Nobody is sure why this is. Van Wassenhove speculates, “Maybe it’s about the difference between the speed of sound and light. The auditory system involves transduction, and doesn’t take much time. Maybe it’s about photochemistry in the eyes. There may just be differences in processing time required.”

And yet, despite this discrepancy, your brain can still perceive the order of flashes and beeps that are only 20 milliseconds apart. Despite the fact that there’s a 38 second time lag between what you hear and what you see, your brain can still figure out if a something burst into flame 25 milliseconds before there was a loud popping noise.

Remember, this is all happening in under a second. So this same brain that isn’t sure how long it takes to cross the street is able to pinpoint the order of events down to a few milliseconds.

In a series of experiments, Van Wassenhove and her colleagues found that what you see can change time perception. For example, if an object is looming in your vision and appears to be getting closer, perceptive time gets slower. The same goes for a sound that gets louder. The reason for this is simple: When you pay close attention to something, time is distorted.

It seems that paying attention to visual inputs can even distort the meaning of sounds. Say you’re looking at an enormous airplane zooming toward you. Time will dilate even if you hear a sound that suggests the object is receding, such as the engine getting fainter.

How do you really know what time it is?

Why I am often late
So let’s return to my original burning question, as I plummet down the hill to my lunch meeting. Why am I always late? One possibility is that all my coffee-drinking and pot-smoking has permanently affected my ability to figure out how long things will take. I’m speeding up my clock so often, and slowing down my memory-storing acetylcholine system so frequently, that my memories of time intervals have gone random. When I sample an interval from that Gaussian distribution, I get something truly misleading, which causes me to miscalculate how much time it will take to get to lunch.

Though this scenario would probably make “just say no to coffee” campaigners very happy, it turns out to be unlikely. In experiments with rats, Meck observed that the rodents’ brains began to compensate for time distortions caused by drugs that slowed or sped up internal clock time. Once my internal clock is used to operating at a faster speed due to caffeine or marijuana, it adjusts and provides me with a reliable average time interval for events.

In fact, it seems more likely that the culprit in my case can be explained by van Wasserhove’s experiments with attention and time distortion. Remember, the looming object that occupies your attention can cause time to slow down subjectively. Paying attention to something can make time seem to speed up, too.

When I asked van Wasserhove to offer some ideas about why I’m always late, she said it could have to do with what I’m paying attention to. She explained:

If you go on your first romantic date, time is going to be very fast because you’re not paying attention to it. You’re having an interesting discussion or something and you don’t think about time. But at the doctor’s office you really keep track as you wait for an appointment. If you pay attention to time it slows down.

In my case, I was paying attention to writing an article, and what I thought was five minutes turned out to be 25. From the perspective of my brain, focused attention is like a drug. It sped my internal clock up, giving me a distorted sense of how many minutes had passed.

So how do I prevent myself from being late? Even though my brain is running many internal clocks, it turns out there’s a good reason why I carry an external, objective clock too. By consulting my digital watch, I correct the distortions I’m doomed to experience as a creature whose temporal sense is generated by an imprecise, biological mechanism.

Which made me realize that clocks may well be humankind’s oldest brain-enhancing technology. They allow our brains to experience something we never could without machines: Objective time.

Image by Daniel Spitzer


Updated Merapi Eruption November 17,2010

Death toll from Indonesia’s volcano climbs to 275

Mount Merapi spews volcanic material as seen ...

– Wed Nov 17, 11:01 pm ET

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia – The number of people killed by a series of eruptions at Indonesia’s most volatile volcano in recent weeks has risen to 275.

The National Disaster Management Agency said Thursday that the toll climbed after more than a dozen victims succumbed to their injuries — mostly severe burns.

Mount Merapi began unleashing torrents of hot gas, rock and other debris late last month after years of dormancy. The most significant blast came Nov. 5, the deadliest day at the mountain in decades.

The disaster agency said most of the 275 people were killed by searing gas clouds. Others died during panicked evacuations or from respiratory problems and other illnesses linked to the mountain.

Thousands of villagers returned to ash-covered homes along the slopes of Indonesia’s most volatile volcano Monday, after the government said some areas well away from the fiery crater appeared out of danger from another eruption.

Indonesians ignore volcano threat to go home

Dead cows lie are seen amid the ash and debris from the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi. Thousands of Indonesian families have returned to their village homes even as scientists warned the volcano remained a severe threat and more bodies were found buried in the ash.(AFP/File/Clara Prima)

Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as seen from Kali ...

Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as seen from Kali Tengah village in Sleman, near Yogyakarta November 15, 2010.

A soldier observes Mount Merapi from Cangkringan, ...

A soldier observes Mount Merapi from Cangkringan, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010.

Indonesians ignore volcano threat to go home

People watch as ash billows from Mount Merapi volcano on .

With their belongings piled on to motorcycles and pickup trucks, thousands of Indonesian families have returned home after fleeing the deadly volcanic eruptions.

(AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Infrared satellite image, where vegetation is ...

An image provided by Nasa on Nov. 15, 2010 is ...

An image provided by Nasa on Nov. 15, 2010 is a false-color satellite image from the ASTER instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite showing evidence of a large pyroclastic flow along the Gendol River south of Mount Merapi in Indonesia. Light gray volcanic deposits fill the course of the Gendol river south of the volcano. The dark ray area closer to the colcano is where a pyroclastic flow spread across the landscape, causing almost total devastation. Within this dark gray area, most of the trees were knocked down and the ground was coated by ash and rock.

(AP Photo/NASA)

A DigitalGlobe satellite image shows the eruption ...

A DigitalGlobe satellite image released to Reuters on November 15, 2010 shows the eruption and lava flow of Mount Merapi, Indonesia on November 12, 2010.

Satellite image shows the eruption and lava flow ...

Couple watch Mount Merapi volcano spew ash at ...

A couple watch Mount Merapi volcano spew ash at Kali Tengah village in Sleman, near Yogyakarta November 15, 2010. Mount Merapi volcano, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta city in central Java

Villagers walk on a field covered with volcanic ...

Villagers walk on a field covered with volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi in the village of Argomulya, in Sleman district in Central Java

A man walks by destroyed farm school covered ...

A man walks by destroyed farm school covered with volcanic ashes from the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia

Men run in the area covered with volcanic ashes ...

Volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi ...

Workers clear volcanic ash from the eruption ...

Workers clear volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi volcano covering the Borobudur Temple in Muntilan of Indonesia’s central Java

Indonesian workers walks near stupas of the famed ...

Indonesian workers walks near stupas of the famed Borobudur temple covered to protect them from volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi in Magelang, Indonesia

Indonesian workers cleans one of Buddha's statues ...

Indonesian workers cleans one of Buddha’s statues on the famed Borobudur temple in an effort to protect them from volcanic ash from the eruption of MountMerapi in Magelang, Indonesia,(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Indonesian workers covers one of stupas on the ...

Indonesian workers covers one of stupas on the famed Borobudur temple to protect them from volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi in Magelang, Indonesia,

Indonesian workers clear volcanic ash from the ...

Indonesia volcano death toll rises to 240

Aerial view shows Mount Merapi volcano erupting ...

Mount Merapi volcano erupts, as seen from Manisrenggo ...

Mount Merapi spews volcanic material as seen ...

Mount Merapi spews volcanic material as seen from Argomulyo, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010.

(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Mount Merapi spews volcanic material as seen ...

Eruption: Mount Merapi spews out towering clouds of gas and debris