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Image of the Day: September 2013

Image of the Day Archives

A stunning image captures the Milky Way in the night sky above the National Park of American Samoa.

(Image credit: National Pakr Service.)

For older Image of the Day pictures, please visit the Image of the Day archives.

Above: The southern night sky above Ofu Island in American Samoa is a sight to behold.

Folks in the Southern Hemisphere get a brighter, richer view of the Milky Way due to their location on the globe. If you want to see such a sight from American soil, head to the National Park of American Samoa, where Ofu Island is located. This park is the only U.S. national park found in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system. The name "milky" comes from its appearance as a dim but glowing band across the night sky. Individual stars make up the band, but they are indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Ofu is one of three islands of American territory in American Samoa. Ofu and its twin Olosega are parts of a volcanic doublet of the Samoan Islands formed from shield volcanoes. The two islands have a combined length of 3.7 miles (6 kilometers).

There are other reasons to look up when visiting Ofu Island. The forests here are home to a unique species of megabat — yes, a megabat — known as the Samoa Flying-fox. It looks just like it sounds.

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How green was my valley

Agriculture in Eastern Kazakhstan

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

This lush photo is an appropriate way to mark a week that began with the autumn equinox on Sept. 22, signaling the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere. The Landsat 8 satellite captured this image of fields in eastern Kazakhstan on Sept. 9, where the fall harvest begins early because of the region's harsh climate.

Several fields appear to be already harvested and bare, while others are visibly darker green, which suggests crops and grasses are still ripening. Along the mountain valleys, the fields are long and narrow, but elsewhere, the tracts of land sprawl across the plains.

Agriculture in Kazakhstan thrives on rainfall, and farmers in this region have designed their fields to take advantage of rain flowing down the hills, which creates natural channels that feed water to the crops. This creates the interesting green and tan mosaic visible in the photo. [Related: 5 Odd Facts About Fall]

Leapfrogging lemurs

Ring-tailed lemurs

(Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS)

A pair of acrobatic ring-tailed lemurs plays around in their forested home in this cute photo. Ring-tailed lemurs are commonly found in Madagascar, typically inhabiting forests in the southern regions of the island.

Ring-tailed lemurs are classified as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which publishes comprehensive reports on the conservation status of species. [Related: Images of Duke University's Lemur Center]

Sea creatures

Medusa Jellyfish

(Image credit: Bob Cowen / University of Miami & Oregon State University)

This pretty photo of medusa jellyfish was collected as part of a new online citizen science project, called "Plankton Portal." The endeavor is being led by researchers at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation, and the developers of Zooniverse.org.

Plankton Portal invites volunteers to classify millions of underwater images to study the diversity, distribution and behavior of plankton, which are an important source of food for larger marine animals, including whales and fish. [Related image gallery: Jellyfish Rule!]

Stormy sunset

Lightning at Sunset

(Image credit: Mike Kvackay)

This spectacular image of a lightning strike at sunset was submitted by LiveScience reader Mike Kvackay. The photo was taken in Bozeman, Montana, while Kvackay was shooting a series of time-lapse images on a small pond.

"I heard some thunder in the distance and was about to stop shooting when I saw that lightning bolt," Kvackay told LiveScience. "I didn't think much of it, but wanted to get my slider and two tripods back in my car before it started to storm. I checked my camera in the car and found that I caught that shot."

Kvackay caught a lucky break, he said, as he had stopped the time-lapse only a few seconds after the lightning bolt struck.

Kvackay used a Canon 7D to capture the phenomenal shot, with a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens with a 2-second shutter speed, and a slide-tracked 6-foot motorized dolly. [Related: Electric Earth – Stunning Images of Lightning]

Bering Land Bridge Blooms With Color

In Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, this remote tundra is alive with signs of fall.

(Image credit: US Department of the Interior)

The transition from summer to fall has barely begun across most of the United States, but in Alaska fall has arrived with a colorful flourish.

In Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, gone are the shockingly bright pinks, yellows and purples of summer. They've been replaced by deeper and darker reds, yellows, greens and the beginnings of brown. The days are a crisp 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). With daylight slowly diminishing, visitors to this Alaskan wilderness must enjoy the color while they can, because soon a blanket of white will fall upon the landscape.

The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is one of the most remote U.S. national parks. It is a wilderness dotted with hot springs, ancient lava flows and the largest maar lakes (caused by a kind of volcanic eruption) in the world.

This national preserve protects a remnant of the Bering Land Bridge that connected Asia with North America more than 13,000 years ago. The Bering Land Bridge was a pathway for plants, animals and people to cross from old world to new.

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A star is born?

Caterpillar in space

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and IPHAS)

This massive knot of interstellar gas and dust looks like a caterpillar slinking across the cosmos. The structure is actually a protostar in a very early stage of evolution. This "wanna-be" star, located approximately 4,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, is in the process of gathering materials from its surrounding envelope of gas, in an attempt to bulk up its mass.

But, the protostar, officially known as IRAS 20324+4057, is facing adversity in the form of harsh winds from a group of extremely bright, relatively nearby stars. These luminous stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at the protostar, sculpting the gas and dust into its long, caterpillar-like shape and eroding the very materials needed to transform IRAS 20324+4057 in to a star.

Only time will tell how IRAS 20324+4057 fares in fulfilling its stellar destiny, but if radiation from nearby bright stars destroys the envelope of gas surrounding the protostar before it finishes collecting mass, the resulting star may end up being a "lightweight." [Related: 101 Astronomy Images That Will Blow Your Mind]

Reading the clouds

Eddies and Gravity Waves Off Guadalupe Island

(Image credit: NASA)

These weird-looking cloud formations are created by a series of atmospheric vortexes, called eddies. Guadalupe Island, a volcanic island off the west coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, can be seen slightly left of the photo's center.

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this photo on an August day when the winds were blowing from the north (left) across the island, giving rise to the swirling eddies and strangely patterned clouds.

At the top right of the image, a series of parallel cloud lines is also visible. These cloud formations are known colloquially as "gravity waves." These ripples are at the boundary between atmospheric layers of slightly different density. [Related: Gallery of the Craziest Clouds]

It came from the ocean

Plankton Photo

(Image credit: Bob Cowen / University of Miami & Oregon State University)

This spindly, web-like creature is a tiny, ocean-dwelling organism. These microscopic organisms, known as plankton, are an important source of food for larger marine animals, including whales and fish.

A new online citizen science project, called "Plankton Portal," was created by researchers at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation, and the developers of Zooniverse.org.

Plankton Portal enlists volunteers to classify millions of underwater images to study plankton diversity, distribution and their behavior and survival in the open ocean. The plankton photos were taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), an underwater robot equipped with an ocean-scanning digital sensor.

"A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish, but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye," Jessica Luo, a graduate student involved with the project, said in a statement. [Related Gallery: Creatures from the Census of Marine Life]

Meet the public

Snow Leopard Cub at the Bronx Zoo

(Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

A snow leopard cub made his big debut at the Bronx Zoo in New York City last month. The precocious male cub also has a rather famous father: Leo, the orphaned snow leopard rescued in 2005 from the high mountains of northern Pakistan.

Leo arrived in New York City in 2006, after a groundbreaking agreement was brokered between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United States, according to zoo officials. Since then, Leo has been serving an important role as an ambassador for Pakistan at the Bronx Zoo.

This is Leo's first cub, and the birth was welcomed as a symbol of the positive influence wildlife and conservation can have on diplomacy between nations. Leo's cub was born on April 9, but has not yet been named. [Related: Rare Photos of Snow Leopard Babies in Dens]

Northern Lights Shine Bright over Denali

The northern lights were seen in Denali National Park this past week.

(Image credit: Daniel A. Leifheit/US Department of the Interior)

Visitors to Denali National Park saw quite the light show this week as the northern lights glowed in the night.

Also called auroras, northern lights form when charged particles flow from the sun in a kind of "solar wind" and enter Earth's magnetic field, revving up electrically charged particles trapped there.

By the second week of August, the night sky above Denali is dark enough to see the northern lights. As Denali turns farther and farther away from the sun, the amount of darkness increases each night. Denali loses daylight rapidly in late August and September, so that by late September you don't have to burn the midnight oil to enjoy the night sky.

The light show in the above photo was seen over Denali's Toklat River. Denali spans 6 million acres of land in the Alaskan wilderness. The park is home to the tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, which has a height of 20,237 feet (6,168 meters). "Denali," or "High One," was given its name by Athabascan native people. The mountain is part of the Alaskan Range, which covers some 600 miles (966 kilometers).

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