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See the moon shine near Mercury before dawn on Monday as it concludes its planet tour – Space.com

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Look to the east-northeastern horizon before dawn on Monday (June 27) to see the moon wrap up its monthly tour of the morning plants with Mercury. 

“The silver sliver of the old moon‘s crescent will shine several finger widths to the upper left (or 3.5 degrees to the celestial north) of the bright dot of Mercury,” writes Chris Vaughan, amateur astronomer with SkySafari Software who oversees Space.com’s Night Sky calendar.

The pair will be close enough to share the view of a pair of binoculars (represented by the green circle in the image). But Vaughan warns observers to turn optics away from the eastern horizon before the sun rises. 

Related: The brightest planets in June’s night sky: How to see them (and when)

The moon may be rather tricky to spot at first glance as it will be a very thin crescent, only 3% illuminated, according to Space.com’s skywatching columnist Joe Rao

If you’re after an extra skywatching challenge, look out for Aldebaran. The orange first-magnitude star will be shining about 7 degrees to the left of Mercury according to Rao. 

Monday morning is also your last good chance to catch a glimpse of the moon joining in with the rare planetary alignment that has been present this month. Throughout June left to right Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have lined up in their orbital order from left to right in the southeastern sky. 

Hoping to capture a good photo of the moon and mercury? Our guide on how to photograph the moon has some helpful tips. If you’re looking for a camera, here’s our overview of the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography. As always, our guides for the best telescopes and best binoculars can help you prepare for the next great skywatching event.

Editor’s note: If you take a photograph of the moon near Mercury, let us know! You can send images and comments in to spacephotos@space.com.

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Hubble Space Telescope captures a dazzling star cluster – Space.com

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Sure, the Webb telescope is getting most of the attention these days — and it should. It’s a monumental achievement!

But the James Webb Space Telescope‘s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, is showing us why it shouldn’t be forgotten. 

NASA and ESA, who co-manage Hubble, have just released (opens in new tab) a new spectacular image of globular cluster NGC 6638, a star cluster in the constellation Sagittarius. The image was created from observations by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Related: Hubble Space Telescope: Pictures, facts & history

Prior to Hubble, it was nearly impossible to discern the individual stars in a globular cluster, which is a dense collection of ancient stars numbering in the tens of thousands to millions. Because ground-based telescopes have to peer through the Earth’s atmosphere in order to see the stars, their view can sometimes become distorted. 

That’s less of an issue for Hubble, which orbits Earth at 340 miles (547 kilometers) above the surface. By comparison, Webb is about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, far beyond though it primarily operates in the infrared spectrum, while Hubble operates in the visible-light spectrum.)

That means Hubble is technically located within the atmosphere, which extends out 6,200 miles (10,00 kilometers). In fact, it’s even close enough that astronauts can visit to perform repairs. (Or at least they could when the space shuttle flew.) But Hubble is located at a point in which the atmosphere is so thin that it doesn’t obscure the observatory’s view of the stars.

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As such, Hubble has been instrumental in globular cluster research, and it continues to make new discoveries regularly. 

While Hubble is already more than 30 years old, the telescope still has quite a bit of life left in it, and scientists will continue to use it in conjunction with the James Webb telescope to answer the biggest questions about the cosmos.

The new image was released on Aug. 1.

Follow Stefanie Waldek on Twitter @StefanieWaldek (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab). 

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Nunavut's ancient Qikiqtania fish fossil helps shed new light on evolution – CBC.ca

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Nunavut’s rich fossil record has a new star, the roughly 365-million-year-old Qikiqtania Wakei.

It was named after the Qikiqtani region of Nunavut, where it was found, and the late David Wake, an acclaimed evolutionary biologist.

“Some of the fossils that are coming out of Ellesmere Island and northern Canada are so important for how we as scientists and people in general understand this period of life on earth,” said Tom Stewart, an assistant professor at Penn State, who recently reported about Qikiqtania in the journal Nature.

Millions of years back, it was a different world: When Qikiqtania lived in the polar region, the now-treeless land would have resembled today’s Amazon River delta.

Tom Stewart, assistant professor at Penn State, looks at the fossils of Qikiqtania. (Stephanie Sang)

In its waters were fish, some of which had started to move on to the land.

But, among those fish which left behind fossil traces, Qikiqtania has revealed itself to be a new creature.

“It’s exciting for a few reasons,” Stewart said.

They knew Qikiqtania was new and “also something very unusual,” he said.

“From a first impression, we could tell this was an animal that is closely related to the first animals that had fingers and toes. “

But Qikiqtania’s fins showed it was quite different from those first animals.

That’s because they didn’t see any muscles which would have needed to be move onto land.

“It was doing something very different. This fish was not [out of the water.] We think this was the evolution of a fish that used to live on the ground,” he said.

Looking at animals today, Stewart said it’s not “so crazy” to think of a fish transitioning from water to land or back and forth over time.

A portrait of a man pointing into the broad landscape around him.
Neil Shubin, professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, stands in Ellesmere Island where he discovered both the Qikiqtania and Tiktaalik fossils days apart in 2004. (Edward Daeschler)

Some frogs also live wholly in the water, while others live mainly on the land, he said.

But to see a similar dynamic taking place so long ago, through Qikiqtania, was “really exciting and unexpected for us,” Stewart said.

But the revelation wasn’t immediate.

It started on a 2004 trip to Ellesmere near the eastern arm of Bird Fiord, where Neil Shubin, now at the University of Chicago, had picked up the fossil, which was lying exposed on the ground.

Members of the team would walk on the rocks on hillsides looking for a particular colour or texture that might indicate a fossil.

In the case of Qikiqtania, the scales of the fish were white and they had bumps on them, so they knew there was a fossil.

In 2004, the fossil was bundled up and taken south, along with hundreds of others, for painstaking study.

Finally two years ago, Stewart and his team brought the fossil to Shubin’s laboratory for a CT scan.

“We could look inside the fossil and see a whole lot of preserved parts of the animal that we didn’t know existed,” said Stewart, adding it was new but “also something very unusual.”

Pieces of the fish's fossils, including its jaw and scales are laid out in a row.
This image shows the preserved jaws and scales from the Qikiqtania fossil. (Tom Stewart)

Fossils of an ancient fish species Tiktaalik roseae were also found during that 2004 trip to Ellesmere.

Tiktaalik is one of the best-known ancient transitional species between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods, or animals with two pairs of limbs.

Both Qikiqtania and Tiktalik will remain at the Nunavut fossil collection of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa until a museum facility can welcome them home.

Research on Qikiqtani took place thanks to people in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, the Iviq Hunters and Trappers of Grise Fiord, and Nunavut’s Department of Heritage and Culture.

To them— and on behalf of the entire research team, Stewart said “nakurmiik.”

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An award-winning photographer tells you how to take pictures of the night sky – CBC.ca

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Dave Brosha is a professional photographer who, over the last 15 years, has taken highly stunning pictures of the Canadian wilderness.

It was when he was living in Yellowknife — before he pursued photography full time — that he first became interested in pointing his lens toward the skies.

“Yellowknife is known as one of the best areas on the planet for displays of the aurora borealis,” he said. “I found myself outside many, many nights under the stars.”

Since then Brosha has been short-listed multiple times for the Astronomy Photography of the Year Awards, and in 2010 he was the first runner-up in the category of land and space.

Now that he’s based in P.E.I., he splits his time between doing commercial assignments and teaching photography to people across Canada and in other parts of the world. 

Every summer, he holds a workshop on the Island with his colleague, Paul Zizka, on sunset and nighttime photography that features astrophotography, the art of capturing a picture of an object in space.

“Between Worlds.” Self-portrait photographed on the edge of a glacier in Iceland. ISO 3200, f/2.5, 30-seconds. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

“There’s people that are more into deep-space photography, actually photographing the galaxies and close-ups of planets and stars and stuff like that,” Brosha said. “But to me, astrophotography is really just going out into the world once the light disappears and just exploring the beauty of that.”

Dave Brosha. (Amy Stackhouse)

Though his workshop just ended, Brosha took some time to tell CBC what beginners need to know to get into this hobby, which he says at its most barebones doesn’t require more than a fairly basic DSLR camera or a good smartphone — not even a fancy location.

“My favourite nighttime photographs have always just kind of come in my own backyard. I don’t have to drive anywhere, and it’s right there,” he said. 

“Whether exploring star trails or aurora borealis or Milky Way photographs, or just being able to go outside in your own backyard, it’s [all] pretty wonderful. 

“It helps to live in the countryside.”

Switching to manual

All good nighttime photographers — and all good photographers in general — must have a firm grasp on the concept of exposure. That’s the amount of light that’s allowed to reach the camera sensor. A picture that’s underexposed is one that looks too dark.

“Apparitions.” Photographed on a still night at low tide at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

“You have to understand the principles of capturing very small amounts of light over a longer time. So you have to know how to be able to operate your camera to capture those miniscule bits of light,” Brosha said. “It really forces you to slow down and think.”

For starters, that means ditching your camera’s auto settings. 

“You can’t really shoot night photography effectively in just auto mode. You have to learn the exposure triangle,” he said. “It takes a little bit of work, for sure. But the rewards are tremendous.”

Keep it steady

“World Goes Round”. The Old Man of Storr in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ISO 4000, f/2.8, timelapse stitch of 45 30-second images. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

The longer the camera’s shutter remains open, the larger the amount of light the camera takes in. As such, in a night photography environment, it’s common to see shutter speeds of over 20 to 30 seconds. 

But a slow shutter speed means the camera is very sensitive to any motion.

That’s great if you’re trying to capture the movement of celestial bodies such as when taking a “star trail” photograph, but even a slight movement could lead to blurry images.

Brosha said that for long exposures, it’s important to keep your camera steady. That means a good tripod is almost a must.

“If all else fails, I’ve improvised by propping my camera up on a solid surface,” Brosha said. “Using a timer on your camera rather than pressing your shutter also helps reduce camera shake.”

Check your ISO

Cranking up the ISO allows for more light to get in the camera at the expense of quality.

That could compensate for a faster shutter speed when capturing a moving object, such as when trying to capture the outlines of bright northern lights.

And having both a slow shutter speed and a high ISO could lead to highly detailed images of the night sky, such as this self-portrait with the Milky Way as a backdrop. It was taken with a 3200-ISO, and a 30-second shutter speed.

“Shine Your Light.” Self-portrait taken in The Pinnacles in Western Australia. ISO 3200, f/2.8, 30 seconds. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

“When you go out there, and you even just let your eyes adjust for the dark, and you’re out there an hour, it’s remarkable how much more you see. The camera can take that even further,” Brosha said. “[It] picks up so much more.”

Perfect conditions

Brosha said that other than avoiding pouring rain, there are no real “ideal” conditions as to when to venture out, and that all types of weather can lead to interesting pictures.

“Cloudy? Reflected light pollution can actually look interesting in a long exposure. Full moon? Not the best conditions for shooting the Milky Way, but great conditions for being able to see your foregrounds,” he said.

“Where The Wild Winds Blow.” Portrait of Maggie Hood, Iceland. ISO 3200, f/2.2, 2.5-seconds. The subject was lit by an off-camera strobe. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

A pitch-black night is a prime setting for taking pictures of stars. And if you’re looking to take a picture of the northern lights, you better look, well, north.

“It’s generally easier to photograph on the North Shore, when the aurora borealis is predicted. So that’s what I would probably recommend to people,” Brosha said.

Go out there and shoot

“Night Falls.” Alexandra Falls in the Northwest Territories. ISO 1600, f/7.1, 25-second exposure. (Dave Brosha/Dave Brosha Photography)

Brosha said that astrophotography may look intimidating on the surface, but that it’s not as complicated as most people might think. 

“All you have to grasp to begin is the concept of long exposure. And that usually I find for people is something that they can get the hang of pretty quickly. It just takes a little bit of practice,” he said.

Once you got that nailed down, Brosha said you can get really creative with it. And the setting allows for that.

“Every time you turn on a light, like a flashlight, your eyes kind of lose the adjustment to the nighttime that you’ve gained,” he said. 

“So you really try to function with as little light as possible. And so everything becomes slower and more deliberate.”

Plus, Brosha said, it’s a fine excuse to go outdoors.

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