Bright Spots on Ceres Return to View

animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

animated sequence of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres.

As NASA’s Dawn orbiter approached the Ceres in late February, it released tantalizing images of a pair of bright spots on the floor of a big crater of the dwarf planet. But after the craft began orbiting Ceres on March 6, 2015, the newsfeed went silent. Conspiracy theories started brewing, naturally, about how the government was keeping secret the discovery of (fill in the blank) on Ceres. It turns out the spacecraft was just settling in and was mostly over the dark side of the dwarf planet. Now NASA has released two new images of Ceres, including the still mysterious bright spots, taken from Dawn on April 14 and 15 from 14,000 miles above Ceres’ north pole.

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A Surprising Alignment of Quasars Across the Universe

Artist’s impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation

Artist’s conception of the alignment of quasars over the vast filaments that are home to galaxy clusters spread across billions of light years (credit: European Southern Observatory)

In a remarkable discovery, astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have discovered that quasars separated by billions of light years are aligned parallel to each other, as if they were under the influence of an unseen mechanism that gets them pointing in the same direction. This mechanism seems to be related to the largest-scale structures in the universe, the vast filaments of galaxy clusters that form around voids and bubbles were very few galaxies are found.

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Venus and the Pleiades on April 12, 2015


Venus is just over 2° from the Pleiades star cluster, while the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, which makes up much of the constellation Taurus, is to the left of Venus in this image. This image taken after sunset over the Ottawa River on a pleasant spring night on April 12, 2015.

Shining at magnitude -4.1 for most of the month, Venus is easy to find high above the western horizon as the Sun goes down. It outshines every object in the sky except for the Sun and Moon.

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A Near-Perfect Einstein Ring Imaged by ALMA

ALMA image of the gravitationally lensed galaxy SDP.81.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) is fast becoming my favorite telescope. New results and observations are coming out as the array ramps up its technical capabilities, and this week the observatory released new images including a dazzling example of a nearly perfect Einstein ring of an active star-forming galaxy from the early universe. An Einstein ring is caused when the gravity of a massive foreground galaxy bends the light of the more distant galaxy. The background and foreground galaxy must be nearly perfectly aligned to form this symmetric shape.

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