Photographers around the world looked up to the sky this past weekend to capture the "supermoon." This is the phenomenon when the moon makes its closest approach to Earth, appearing 30 percent brighter and about 14 percent larger than a typical full moon. It occurs about once every 14 months and is technically called a perigee full moon. At 221,823 miles from Earth, the supermoon was a feast for the eyes.-Leanne Burden Seidel (24 photos total)
A cotton candy vendor walks in from of the moon during the Los Angeles Angels' baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, June 22 in Anaheim, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
This was a weekend of the Sun and Moon -- a coincidence of the summer solstice and the "Supermoon". Friday was the summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere), welcomed by humans for thousands of years as the longest day of the year. In ancient times, people celebrated this day as the center point of summer. Some still observe the solstice with ceremonies and prayers, gathering on mountaintops or at spiritual landmarks. Over the weekend, skywatchers around the world were also treated to views of the so-called Supermoon, the largest full moon of the year. On Sunday, the moon approached within 357,000 km (222,000 mi) of Earth, in what is called a perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system (perigee: closest point of an elliptical orbit; syzygy: straight line made of three bodies in a gravitational system). Photographers across the globe set out to capture both events, and collected here are 24 images of our two most-visible celestial neighbors. [24 photos]
The largest full moon of 2013, a "supermoon" scientifically known as a "perigee moon", rises over the Tien Shan mountains and the monument to 18th century military commander Nauryzbai Batyr near the town of Kaskelen, some 23 km (14 mi) west of Almaty, Kazakhstan, on June 23, 2013. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov)
Amateur astronomers call it the Penguin, and no wonder. Even through a good-size backyard telescope, that’s exactly what seems to be out there, hanging in distant space 326 million light years from Earth. With the clear-eyed vision of the Hubble Space Telescope, the resemblance is even more striking: it’s as though some cosmic artist has captured a bright-eyed, sharp-beaked bird leaning protectively over a reddish egg, with two stars — one shooting — in the skies above.
Both bird and egg are fully certified galaxies, though, lying in the constellation Hydra. The bird is a spiral galaxy, officially known as NGC 2936, and it would normally look like the Milky Way — a great, majestically spinning pinwheel made up of hundreds of billions of stars.
But the egg has changed all that. It’s a blob-shaped elliptical galaxy, NGC 2937, and its gravity has pulled and elongated the spiral, stretching one side into a sharp, beak-shaped projection and smearing the other side into the penguin’s body. (The reddish streaks are clouds of interstellar dust that formerly permeated the galaxy’s spiral arms). The two bright spots hovering above the penguin’s head are plain old stars within the Milky Way that just happen to lie in the same direction as the two galaxies — and the streak that seems to be flying away from the right-hand star is yet another galaxy, far in the background.
Back in the 1960s, astronomer Halton Arp included this weird configuration in his Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, but as telescopes have gotten more powerful, scientists now know that such distorted shapes are usually caused when two or more galaxies venture too close to each other, “exchanging matter and causing havoc” as a press release puts it.
The explanation is prosaic, but the image, taken recently in both infrared and visible light by the Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 3, is anything but. It’s just one more in a long list of space objects that look at least passingly biological — the Horsehead Nebula, the Crab Nebula, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, Jupiter’s moon Europa (which looks something like a bloodshot eyeball), and the infamous Face on Mars are just a few examples. Even the structure of the universe itself resembles the structure of the human brain, according to some scientists.
It’s no surprise, though: humans are hard-wired to see patterns in nature. That’s why we see all manner of creatures, not just in the heavens, but also in clouds. It’s a consequence of evolution — but it also transforms the world around us into a sort of living poetry.
Michael D. Lemonick is a regular contributor to TIME, writing on science, space and technology.
NASA released a false-color image of one of the first close-up views of a massive hurricane churning above Saturn's north pole today.
The truly massive clouds of gas and dust that we call Nebulae are often the subjects of some spectacular photography, but these pictures leave the task of visualizing the 3D-space a nebula takes up to our imagination. That challenge inspired Finnish astrophotographer J-P Mestävainio to create artistically-interpreted 3D animations of nebula he's photographed. His method involves adding interpretations and educated guesses based on the formation of the nebula and a rule-of-thumb that brighter stars are closer than darker ones to known data about the nebula, like distance and the location of certain stars around it to create a 3D model of the nebula. It may not have much scientific merit, but it's a fantastic way to see these structures...
SternisheFan writes "The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain and other complex networks, such as the Internet or a social network of trust relationships between people, according to a new study. 'By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,' said Dmitri Krioukov, co-author of the paper, published by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), based at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego.'But the discovered equivalence between the growth of the universe and complex networks strongly suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of these very different complex systems,' Krioukov noted."
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scibri writes "Photographs of Einstein's brain taken shortly after his death, but never before analysed in detail, have now revealed that it had several unusual features, providing tantalizing clues about the neural basis of his extraordinary mental abilities. The most striking observation was 'the complexity and pattern of convolutions on certain parts of Einstein's cerebral cortex,' especially in the prefrontal cortex, and also parietal lobes and visual cortex. The prefrontal cortex is important for the kind of abstract thinking that Einstein would have needed for his famous thought experiments on the nature of space and time, such as imagining riding alongside a beam of light. The unusually complex pattern of convolutions there probably gave the region a larger-than-normal surface area, which may have contributed to his remarkable abilities."
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The startling majesty – and deceptive complexity – of Michael Benson’s space art can be traced back through a process he dubs “true color.” A multimedia artist, Benson is a man utterly fascinated with outer space (he points to 2001: A Space Odyssey as an inspiration for his interstellar works — works that so impressed 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke that the sci-fi titan agreed to write the foreword to one of Benson’s books), and he has fixed his talents on creating visions that break free of the confines of Earth, enabling viewers to behold the unseen wonders of the universe.
To encounter a Benson landscape is to be in awe of not only how he sees the universe, but also the ways in which he composes the never-ending celestial ballet. From the spidery volcanic fractures that scar the surface of Venus to the time-lapse flight path of a stray asteroid, the dizzying close-ups of the swirling “red spot” of Jupiter, the x-ray-filtered view of the sun’s surface and the rippling red dunes of Mars, Benson is a visual stylist with a gift for framing and focus. Apart from cutting-edge high-definition renderings of our solar system’s most familiar objects, he also routinely converts extra-terrestrial terrain into thrilling, abstract landscapes that seem positioned somewhere between the scientific and the avant-garde.
The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions
The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions
Some of his greatest achievements skew towards the hyper realistic; I have been following Benson’s work for years and still the image I remember most is a massive, intricately-detailed view of the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons (slide 13 in the gallery above). Looming large in a print that renders the Io surface in a yellow-brownish hue, delineating the moon’s different terrains, Benson’s color scheme accentuates the dark volcanic calderas that dot the satellite’s surface. The final result is sharp, meticulous and magnificent. At first glimpse it’s a simple planetary object, but the closer your eye scans the terrain, the more you realize that Benson has somehow taken this imagery captured 400 million miles away and given us a front-row seat to consider the turbulent topography of this alien orb. Benson’s visions demand more than a single look; the longer one spends with his vast landscapes, considering the scale and scope, the more they facilitate a state of meditation.
Behind every one of these images, however, lies an intricate and involved photo editing process (watch the video of Benson’s method above). Benson typically begins each work by filtering through hundreds or thousands of raw images from space, made available to the public by NASA and the European Space Agency – photographs that have been taken by unmanned space probes flying throughout the solar system, rovers on Mars or humans aboard the International Space Station. Many of these photos come back to Earth as black and white composites, or as images created with only a few active color filters. Benson then sorts through the images in a hunt for something surprising, revealing or noteworthy. Once he’s found a subject of interest, he starts stitching together individual snapshots to create larger landscapes, and filtering these landscapes through his own color corrections to create a spectrum that approximates how these interstellar vistas would appear to the human eye.
In his latest published photo collection Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, now available from Abrams, Benson details the fine points of his processing techniques:
“The process of creating full-color images from black-and-white raw frames—and mosaic composites in which many such images are stitched together—can be quite complicated,” Benson writes. “In order for a full-color image to be created, the spacecraft needs to have taken at minimum two, but preferably three, individual photographs of a given subject, with each exposed through a different filter… ideally, those filters are red, green, and blue, in which case a composite color image can usually be created without too much trouble. But in practice, such spacecraft as the Cassini Orbiter or the Mars Exploration Rovers … have many different filters, which they use to record wavelengths of light well outside of the relatively narrow red, green and blue (RGB) zone of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.”
Benson goes on to explain that he will often start working with images that are missing an essential filter — that ultraviolet and infrared filters have been used instead of color filters, meaning the composite image is lacking necessary information.
It is here where Benson has carved out an area of expertise, filling in that missing image information to add shape, scale and color to the planetary bodies he hopes to explore. The resulting visuals, as you can see above, are pristine and powerful glimpses of the furthest reaches of our solar system (and, in some of Benson’s other works, the very edges of the universe). With the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and its subsequent photographs of what appears to be Martian riverbeds, the world was once again reminded of the power of a single image transmitted back to Earth across millions of miles of open space. It’s a dizzying thing, to behold an alien world, and scanning through the portfolio of Michael Benson — a true “space odyssey” — is to experience this rush of discovery again and again.
Michael Benson’s new book Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, is now available from Abrams. Also featured above are images from Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2008). Images from Planetfall will be on display at New York’s Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in December 2012. To see more of Benson’s work, visit his web site.
Steven James Snyder is an Assistant Managing Editor at TIME.com.
In the past, debutante balls were opportunities for introducing noble daughters to high society. Photographer Olivia Harris discovers what London’s Queen Charlotte’s Ball means to the young girls of today.