The Best Astronomy Photos Of 2016 Are Simply Stellar

The Baily’s beads effect seen from Luwuk, Indonesia, during the total solar eclipse of March 9, 2016.

A dramatic photo of the total solar eclipse on March 9, 2016, has earned top honors in the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition this year.

Scroll down to see a gallery of winning photos.

The composite image spotlights a phenomenon known as Baily’s beads, in which “beads” of sunlight peek around the dark disc of the moon during a total solar eclipse. The picture beat out submissions from thousands of amateur and professional photographers from more than 80 countries ― and earned Chinese photographer Yu Jun a 10,000-pound ($13,000) prize.

“This is such a visually striking image, with its succession of fiery arcs all perfectly balanced around the pitch black circle of totality,” Dr. Marek Kukula, the public astronomer at the Greenwich Royal Observatory in England and one of the judges of the competition, said in anews release. “It’s even more impressive when you realize what it shows: the progress of a solar eclipse, all compressed into a single frame with consummate skill and precision.”

Now in its eighth year, the photo competition is run by the observatory in association with the London-based asset management firm Insight Investment and BBC’s Sky at Night magazine.

Other top images in the contest include a colorful composite of the star Sirius and a picture of the moon that shows its rugged terrain in detail not seen in many conventional photos of our natural satellite.

The photos will be on display at the observatory’s Astronomy Centre from Sept. 17, 2016, through June 28, 2017 ― but you can just scroll down here to see some of the best.

  • A close-up view of the lunar landscape littered with craters and craterlets largely forged by the impact of meteors and asteroids. © Jordi Delpeix Borrell (Spain)
  • Star trails highlighting the movement of the Earth gently arc over the towering buildings in the bustling Quarry Bay neighborhood of Hong Kong. The light pollution in Hong Kong means that only a few stars are generally visible in the night sky, but this photo shows you can still engage in some stargazing wherever you are in the world. © Wing Ka Ho (Hong Kong)
  • A misty morning in October on the Isle of Wight resembles an eerie scene from a science fiction film. The weather accentuates the brightness of Venus and the crescent moon. © Ainsley Bennett (UK)
  • This composite image compares spectroscopy of two planetary nebulae – the Cat’s Eye Nebula above and the Ring Nebula below. Spectroscopy is used to analyze objects like stars and nebulae. It involves splitting the light from an object into individual colors, like when white light passes through a prism to form a rainbow. This image shows that different parts of the two nebulae give off different types of light. © Robert Smith (UK)
  • The Milky Way’s close neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, showcases stars of all ages within its 14,000-light-year diameter. The Large Magellanic Cloud can sometimes be seen with the naked eye from the southern hemisphere, but it looks like a faint cloud rather than a huge galaxy. © Carlos Fairbairn (Brazil)
  • This innovative image of the moon has been inverted to bring out the intricate details of the rugged lunar landscape that we often miss in more traditional shots of our natural satellite. Veins and “splash marks” from the impacts of asteroids and meteorites are easily observed around the crater Copernicus. © Brendan Devine (USA, age 15)
  • Discovered in 1781, Messier 94, or M94, is a distant spiral galaxy lying approximately 16 million light-years from Earth. It’s notable for its two-ringed structure. The shimmering pinks of the inner ring show star-forming activity. The photo also captures the often unseen galactic halo of M94, which is made up of stars, hot gases and dark matter. © Nicolas Outters (France)
  • Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system, appears with its famed rings. Storms are visible across the gas giant’s face, as is the mysterious “hexagon” at its north pole. © Damian Peach (UK)
  • The brightest star in our sky, Sirius, is often seen as a shining white star. But it can also flash with numerous colors as a result of turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere. The photographer, who had been searching for the best way to display these hues, finally hit upon the idea of videoing the star and then picking out the frames with the most striking colors. © Steve Brown (UK)
  • On the evening of the total solar eclipse of March 20, 2015, the people of Spitsbergen, Norway, were treated to a second natural light show in the form of the Aurora Borealis. At the time the photo was taken, the sun was shining 9 degrees below the horizon, meaning it was evening nautical twilight on the shore of the Greenland Sea. The Adventtoppen Mountain, standing 2,579 feet tall, towers in the background, as the Northern Lights spread across the night sky.


We are Not Unique: New Revelation on Earth’s Origin Shatter Previous Scientific Beliefs

A new study suggests that the Earth and other planetary objects formed in the early years of the solar system have the same chemical origins.

The Earth and other extraterrestrial objects that formed during the early years of the solar system share the same chemical origins, according to a new study.

Audrey Bouvier, a cosmochemist at the Western University in Ontario, Canada, discovered that the Earth shares the same chemical origin with other primitive materials in the solar system–a finding that shatters previous scientific beliefs about the Earth’s origins.

“How the Earth was formed and what type of planetary materials were part of that formation are issues that have puzzled generations of scientists,” Bouvier, who is also curator of the Western Meteorite Collection and principal investigator at Western University’s Center for Planetary Science and Exploration, said in a news release.

“And these new isotopic measurements of meteorites provide exciting answers to these questions about our origins and what made the Earth so special.”

Neodymium-142 (142Nd) is one of the seven isotopes found in the chemical element neodymium, which is widely distributed in the Earth’s crust. The element is commonly used for magnets in commercial products such as microphones and in-ear headphones.

Through thermal ionization mass spectrometry, Bouvier and her colleague Maud Boyet found that the Earth and other planetary objects share the same initial levels of 142Nd.

In 2005, a small variation 142Nd was detected in chondrites–the stony meteorites that are considered essential building blocks of the Earth and terrestrial rocks. The findings were initially interpreted as an early differentiation of the chondrites and the interior of the Earth, which includes the crust and the mantle, within the first 30 million years of its history.

The results of the study, which was published in the journal Nature, showed that theses differences in 142Nd had already been present during the growth of Earth, and were not introduced later as what previous scientists believe.

Using improved measuring techniques, the researchers deduced that the different meteorological objects in the solar system incorporated the elements neodymium (Nd) and samarium (Sm) but with different isotopic compositions. These isotopic variations also demonstrate that the solar system had not been “uniform” during its earliest years and that materials formed from the oldest stars were incorporated in different proportions into the planetary building blocks.

2016 ties with 2007 for second lowest Arctic sea ice minimum

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for 2016 on September 10. A relatively rapid loss of sea ice in the first ten days of September has pushed the ice extent to a statistical tie with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record. September’s low extent followed a summer characterized by conditions generally unfavorable for sea ice loss.

Please note that this is a preliminary announcement. Changing winds or late-season melt could still reduce the Arctic ice extent, as happened in 2005 and 2010. NSIDC scientists will release a full analysis of the Arctic melt season, and discuss the Antarctic winter sea ice growth, in early October.

Overview of conditions


On September 10, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year and is tied with 2007 as the second lowest extent on record. This year’s minimum extent is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in 2012 and is well below the two standard deviation range for the 37-year satellite record. Satellite data show extensive areas of open water in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in the Laptev and East Siberian seas.

During the first ten days of September, the Arctic lost ice at a faster than average rate. Ice extent lost 34,100 square kilometers (13,200 square miles) per day compared to the 1981 to 2010 long-term average of 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) per day. The early September rate of decline also greatly exceeded the rate observed for the same period in 2012 (19,000 square kilometers, or 7,340 square miles, per day). Recent ice loss has been most pronounced in the Chukchi Sea. This may relate to the impact of two strong cyclones that passed through the region during August.

Satellite passive microwave data and images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) suggest that the southern Northwest Passage routes are still open. While the passive microwave data show that the Northern Sea route is open, MODIS data reveal a narrow band of scattered sea ice blocking the passage near the Taymyr Peninsula.

Conditions in context

Weather in early September was warm along the Siberian coast (up to 9 degrees Celsius or 16 degrees Fahrenheit above average), with high pressure over the same region and strong winds across the central Arctic. However, as discussed in previous posts, weather over the Arctic Ocean this past summer has been generally stormy, cool, and cloudy—conditions that previous studies have shown to generally limit the rate of summer ice loss. That September ice extent nevertheless fell to second lowest in the satellite record is hence surprising. Averaged for July through August, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) were 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (1 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average over much of the central Arctic Ocean, and near average to slightly higher than average near the North American and easternmost Siberian coasts. Reflecting the stormy conditions, sea level pressures were much lower than average in the central Arctic during these months.

Why did extent fall to a tie for second lowest with 2007? The 2016 Arctic melt season started with arecord low maximum extent in March, and sea ice was measured at record low monthly extents well into June. Computer models of ice thickness, and maps of sea ice age both indicated a much thinner ice pack at the end of winter. Statistically, there is little relationship between May and September sea ice extents after removing the long-term trend, indicating the strong role of summer weather patterns in controlling sea ice loss. However, the initial ice thickness may play a significant role. As noted in our mid-August post, the upper ocean was quite warm this summer and ocean-driven melting is important during late summer. The science community will be examining these issues in more detail in coming months.


Figure 2a. The graph shows Arctic sea ice extent as of September 12, 2016, along with daily ice extent data for four other record low years. 2016 is shown in blue, 2015 in green, 2012 in orange, 2011 in brown, and 2007 in purple. The 1981 to 2010 average is in dark gray. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image


Figure 2b. This plot shows Arctic air temperature anomalies at the 925 hPa level in degrees Celsius and sea level pressure anomalies for two periods: July 1 to August 31, and September 1 through September 11. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures and pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures and pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Ice loss primarily in the northern Chukchi Sea

The late season ice loss appears to have been greatest in an extended area of patchy ice reaching from the eastern Beaufort Sea to the northern Chukchi Sea. This is in the area influenced by the two strong cyclones discussed in our August posts—the strong winds appear to have compacted the ice cover and may have led to an upward mixing of warmocean water



Second opinion

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F-17 satellite, which NSIDC ceased to use in May as its primary source for sea ice extent due to erratic data, has since re-stabilized and is providing more consistent day-to-day readings. While NSIDC will continue to use the DMSP F-18 satellite for data processing, it is instructive to examine the F-17 record. Early September extent from the F-17 record is slightly higher than from F-18. Both sensors indicate that the minimum extent for 2016 is slightly lower than the 2007 minimum, which was 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles) and reached on September 18. However, the measurement accuracy is about ±25,000 square kilometers (±9,600 square miles) for a five-day trailing average daily extent measurement. This means that at the present levels, 2016 is a statistical tie for second lowest sea ice extent.



Previous minimum Arctic sea ice extents

Table 1.   Previous minimum Arctic sea ice extents
2007 4.15 1.60 Sept. 18
2008 4.59 1.77 Sept. 20
2009 5.12 1.98 Sept. 13
2010 4.62 1.78 Sept. 21
2011 4.34 1.67 Sept. 11
2012 3.39 1.31 Sept. 17
2013 5.06 1.95 Sept. 13
2014 5.03 1.94 Sept. 17
2015 4.43 1.71 Sept. 9
2016 4.14 1.60 Sept. 10
1979 to 2000 average 6.70 2.59 Sept. 13
1981 to 2010 average 6.22 2.40 Sept. 15

Ten lowest minimum Arctic sea ice extents (1981 to 2010 average)

Table 2.  Ten lowest minimum Arctic sea ice extents (1981 to 2010 average)
1 2012 3.39 1.31 Sept. 17
2 20162007 4.144.15 1.601.60 Sept. 10Sept. 18
3 2011 4.34 1.67 Sept. 11
4 2015 4.43 1.71 Sept. 9
5 2008 4.59 1.77 Sept. 20
6 2010 4.62 1.78 Sept. 21
7 2014 5.03 1.94 Sept. 17
8 2013 5.06 1.95 Sept. 13
9 2009 5.12 1.98 Sept. 13
10 2005 5.32 2.05 Sept. 22

Note that the dates and extents of the minima have been re-calculated from what we posted in previous years. In June 2016, NSIDC transitioned to using data from the DMSP F-18 satellite, due to issues with the F-17 satellite. Data beginning April 1, 2016 are from F-18. In July 2016, Sea Ice Index data were updated to Version 2. These changes do not significantly affect sea ice trends and year-to-year comparisons, but in some instances users may notice small changes in values from the previous version of the data. Details on the changes are discussed in the Sea Ice Index documentation.


Arctic sea ice annual minimum ties second lowest on record

This animation shows the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover from its wintertime maximum extent, which was reached on Mar. 24, 2016, and was the lowest on record for the second year in a row, to its apparent yearly minimum, which occurred on Sept. 10, 2016, and is the second lowest in the satellite era. Credit: NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr. This video is public domain and can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio.

Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its annual lowest extent on Sept. 10, NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder reported today.

An analysis of satellite data showed that at 1.60 million square miles (4.14 million square kilometers), the 2016 Arctic sea ice minimum extent is effectively tied with 2007 for the second lowest yearly minimum in the satellite record. Since satellites began monitoring sea ice in 1978, researchers have observed a steep decline in the average extent of Arctic sea ice for every month of the year.

Three figures that show sea-ice-extent rankings by year for each month, from January­ through December, over the period spanning from 1979 to 2015, for the Arctic (top), Antarctic (middle) and globally (bottom).
These three figures show sea-ice-extent rankings by year for each month, from January­ through December, over the period spanning from 1979 to 2015, for the Arctic (top), Antarctic (middle) and globally (bottom). In total, 444 months of average sea ice extent are represented in each graph. The darkest blue-colored squares represent a month where sea ice hit a record low extent compared to the previous months on record, while the lighest-colored squares stand for a month where sea ice extent hit a record high. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens.

The sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas helps regulate the planet’s temperature, influences the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, and impacts Arctic communities and ecosystems. Arctic sea ice shrinks every year during the spring and summer until it reaches its minimum yearly extent. Sea ice regrows during the frigid fall and winter months, when the sun is below the horizon in the Arctic.

This summer, the melt of Arctic sea ice surprised scientists by changing pace several times. The melt season began with a record low yearly maximum extent in March and a rapid ice loss through May. But in June and July, low atmospheric pressures and cloudy skies slowed down the melt. Then, after two large storms went across the Arctic basin in August, sea ice melt picked up speed through early September.

“It’s pretty remarkable that this year’s sea ice minimum extent ended up the second lowest, after how the melt progressed in June and July,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “June and July are usually key months for melt because that’s when you have 24 hours a day of sunlight – and this year we lost melt momentum during those two months.”

But in August, two very strong cyclones crossed the Arctic Ocean along the Siberian coast. These storms didn’t have as much of an immediate impact on the sea ice as the great cyclone of 2012, but in late August and early September there was “a pretty fast ice loss in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas that might be a delayed effect from the storms,” Meier said.

Meier also said that decades ago, the melt season would slow down by the middle of August, when the sun starts setting in the Arctic.

“In the past, we had this remaining sea ice pack that was mostly thick, old ice. But now everything is more jumbled up, which makes it less resistant to melt, so even late in the season you can get weather conditions that give it a final kick,” Meier said.

Arctic sea ice cover has not fared well during other months of the year either. A recently published study that ranked 37 years of monthly sea ice extents in the Arctic and Antarctic found that there has not been a record high in Arctic sea ice extents in any month since 1986. During that same time period, there have been 75 new record lows.

“When you think of the temperature records, it’s common to hear the statement that even when temperatures are increasing, you do expect a record cold here or there every once in a while,” said Claire Parkinson, main author of the study and a senior climate scientist at Goddard. “To think that in this record of Arctic sea ice that goes back to the late 1970s, since 1986 there hasn’t been a single record high in any month of the year, and yet, over that same period, there have been 75 record lows. It’s just an incredible contrast.”

“It is definitely not just September that’s losing sea ice. The record makes it clear that the ice is not rebounding to where it used to be, even in the midst of the winter,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson’s analysis, which spans from 1979 to 2015 found that in the Antarctic, where the trends are toward more rather than less sea ice, there have only been six record monthly record lows after 1986, and 45 record highs.

“The Antarctic numbers are pretty amazing, except when you compare them with the Arctic’s, which are much more amazing,” Parkinson said.


“Marine animals at risk of mass extinction, experts: “In danger larger species”

Human activities are causing unprecedented mass extinction of marine animals, far greater than those that occurred millions of years ago of natural causes. A complaint is an American university Stanford study, published in the journal Science. The most affected species are the large ones, such as cetaceans, which play a vital role inecosystems. Among the most damaging activities oceans stands out intensive fishing.

Scholars have examined 2,497 groups of marine vertebrates and molluscs and compared the number and quality of extinct species in this period with those disappeared in the five major mass extinctions that have marked the history of the Earth. The research team did not find a precedent in the fossil to the current trend in the disappearance of large species.

The lethal intrusion of man – The previous mass extinctions had covered all the marine animals, or you were limited to those of smaller size. “We’ve seen a lot of times – said one of the authors, Noel Heim -. Humans come into a new ecosystem and larger animals are killed first. Marine ecosystems were so far been spared, because until recently It makes humans did not have the technology to fish in the deep sea on an industrial scale “.

Damage to ecosystems of the Earth – To the researchers’ leader, Johnathan Payne, “many large species play a decisive role in the ecosystem and their extinction could lead to ecological effects that would affect the structure and functioning of ecosystems themselves in the future “.

At the risk tuna and cod – The study cites by way ‘of example the disappearance from the coral reefs of large sea snails, without which have multiplied starfish eat coral. Exemplary is also the risk of extinction of tuna and cod, because of over-fishing, which would deprive mankind of an important source of protein.


Climate: in August 2016, not so hot for the past 136 years

According to scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) NASA, August 2016 was the warmest of the last 136 years at least, that is the time when you have modern recordings of terrestrial temperatures. This brings to eleven consecutive months in which there was a record of temperatures in a sequence inaugurated in October 2015.

“The monthly rankings, ranging from a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile – explains the director of Giss, Gavin Schmidt -. The long-term trends are the most important to understand the changes taking place that are affecting the planet. ” And are the “long-term trends” those represented graphically by Munroe. The Earth is warming at a frightening pace, he never occurred at least in the last thousand years. Gavin Schmidt leader of climatologists at NASA. Keep the temperature increase within 1.5 degrees requires significant and substantial cuts in CO2 emissions or coordinated interventions of geo-engineering, “said Schmidt. “Unfortunately we are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions even to contain rising more than 2 degrees,” he added.

This year, the average global temperature has reached the peak of 1.38 degrees Celsius compared to the levels experienced in the 19 / th century and therefore already very close to the limit of 1.5 degrees (2 degrees preferred) increase compared to pre levels -Industrial indicated at Cop 21 in Paris, the limit beyond which the warming of the planet can cause devastating effects. With this increasing pace of global warming, therefore, the planet will heat up in the next one hundred years at a rate “at least” 20 times higher than the historical average, according to NASA. And it is the trend in the long run you have to worry about, noted the scientist explained that there is no interruption in this escalation concluding that “it is a chronic problem for the company for the next hundred years.”