Trifecta at Twilight

On February 18, as civil twilight began in northern New Mexico skies, the International Space Station, a waning crescent Moon, and planet Mars for a moment shared this well-planned single field of view. From the photographer's location the sky had just begun to grow light, but the space station orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth was already bathed in the morning sunlight. At 6:25am local time it took less than a second to cross in front of the lunar disk moving right to left in the composited successive frames. At the time, Mars itself had already emerged from behind the Moon following its much anticipated lunar occultation. The yellowish glow of the Red Planet is still in the frame at the upper right, beyond the Moon's dark edge. via NASA

Jupiter's Equator

Thick white clouds are present in this JunoCam image of Jupiter's equatorial zone. via NASA

UGC 12591: The Fastest Rotating Galaxy Known

Why does this galaxy spin so fast? To start, even identifying which type of galaxy UGC 12591 is difficult -- featured on the lower left, it has dark dust lanes like a spiral galaxy but a large diffuse bulge of stars like a lenticular. Surprisingly observations show that UGC 12591 spins at about 480 km/sec, almost twice as fast as our Milky Way, and the fastest rotation rate yet measured. The mass needed to hold together a galaxy spinning this fast is several times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. Progenitor scenarios for UGC 12591 include slow growth by accreting ambient matter, or rapid growth through a recent galaxy collision or collisions -- future observations may tell. The light we see today from UGC 12591 left about 400 million years ago, when trees were first developing on Earth. via NASA

Orion over the Central Bohemian Highlands

Do you recognize this constellation? Setting past the Central Bohemian Highlands in the Czech Republic is Orion, one of the most identifiable star groupings on the sky and an icon familiar to humanity for over 30,000 years. Orion has looked pretty much the same during this time and should continue to look the same for many thousands of years into the future. Prominent Orion is high in the sky at sunset this time of year, a recurring sign of (modern) winter in Earth's northern hemisphere and summer in the south. The featured picture is a composite of over thirty images taken from the same location and during the same night last month. Below and slightly to the left of Orion's three-star belt is the Orion Nebula, while four of the bright stars surrounding the belt are, clockwise, Sirius (far left, blue), Betelgeuse (top, orange, unusually faint), Aldebaran (far right), and Rigel (below). As future weeks progress, Orion will set increasingly earlier. via NASA