When conditions are just right in the Bay of Biscay, the body of water nestled in the elbow crook between western France and northern Spain, huge blooms of phytoplankton begin to emerge. The marine microorganisms live in the bay all year, but in the spring, the combination of more sunlight, warmer waters and an influx of nutrients carried by ocean currents and freshwater rivers swollen with melted snow creates explosive blooms–those multi-colored swirls in the water.
The massive population explosion is big enough to see from space, and NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) earlier this month. The blooms usually die down by May, so this might be one of the last swirly-marine-life photos we get this year.
Sometimes, if you wait long enough for a clear and moonless night, the stars will come out with a vengeance. One such occasion occurred earlier this month at the Piton de l’Eau on Reunion Island. In the foreground, surrounded by bushes and trees, lies a water filled volcanic crater serenely reflecting starlight. A careful inspection near the image center will locate Piton des Neiges, the highest peak on the island, situated several kilometers away. In the background, high above the lake, shines the light of hundreds of stars, most of which are within 100 light years, right in our stellar neighborhood. Far is the distance, arching majestically overhead, is the central band of our home Milky Way Galaxy, shining by the light of millions of stars each located typically thousands of light years away. The astrophotographer reports waiting for nearly two years for the sky and clouds to be just right to get the above shot.
Tsuneaki Hiramatsu has taken some beautiful time-lapse photographs of lightning bugs in the wild. Lots more in the previous links.
Via Boing Boing:
[...]Wonderland, an unfinished Disneyland clone outside of Beijing. Here, a farmer tends crops in a field now encompassing the abandoned Cinderella Castle-style building that was to be a centerpiece. Construction work at the park, promoted by developers as “the largest amusement park in Asia”, stopped around 1998; disagreements over property prices with the local government and farmers are cited as factors.
My friend Lacey pointed me toward the Atlantic’s Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar, which I’m loving. Every day, Alan Taylor posts a beautiful photo taken by the Hubble space telescope. Yesterday’s image is of the Retina Nebula, a dying star.
A dying star, IC 4406, dubbed the “Retina Nebula” exhibits a high degree of symmetry; the left and right halves of the Hubble image are nearly mirror images of the other. If we could fly around IC 4406 in a starship, we would see that the gas and dust form a vast donut of material streaming outward from the dying star. From Earth, we are viewing the donut from the side. This side view allows us to see the intricate tendrils of dust that have been compared to the eye’s retina. In other planetary nebulae, like the Ring Nebula (NGC 6720), we view the donut from the top. The donut of material confines the intense radiation coming from the remnant of the dying star. Gas on the inside of the donut is ionized by light from the central star and glows. Light from oxygen atoms is rendered blue in this image; hydrogen is shown as green, and nitrogen as red. The range of color in the final image shows the differences in concentration of these three gases in the nebula. Unseen in the Hubble image is a larger zone of neutral gas that is not emitting visible light, but which can be seen by radio telescopes. One of the most interesting features of IC 4406 is the irregular lattice of dark lanes that criss-cross the center of the nebula. These lanes are about 160 astronomical units wide (1 astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and Sun). They are located right at the boundary between the hot glowing gas that produces the visual light imaged here and the neutral gas seen with radio telescopes. We see the lanes in silhouette because they have a density of dust and gas that is a thousand times higher than the rest of the nebula. The dust lanes are like a rather open mesh veil that has been wrapped around the bright donut. The fate of these dense knots of material is unknown. Will they survive the nebula’s expansion and become dark denizens of the space between the stars or simply dissipate?
More info about the nebula at HubbleSite