SpaceShots: The Week's Best Photos of Our Galaxy
The best space images of the week, putting you in touch with the most distant parts of the galaxy.

When Galaxies Collide

Dec. 10: This composite image from three different telescopes shows an ongoing collision between two galaxies. Astronomers think that supermassive black holes exist at the center of most galaxies. Not only do the galaxies and black holes seem to co-exist, they are apparently inextricably linked in their evolution. To better understand this symbiotic relationship, scientists have turned to rapidly growing black holes — so-called active galactic nucleus — to study how they are affected by their galactic environments.

(X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/M.Machacek; Optical: ESO/VLT; Infrared: NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Missile Launch Lights up Norway

Dec. 10: The failure of a new Russian intercontinental ballistic missile during testing was the cause of spectacular spiraling blue lights in the skies over northern Norway. Speculation of UFOs activity swirled, but military analysts said the lights were clearly the result of the Bulava missle's explosion. This kind of light show comes from a failed missile launch," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst. "Russia has run free fireworks for the Norwegians."

(Dagfinn Rapp)

Orion’s Belt and the Flame Nebula

Dec. 10: This spectacular visible light wide-field view of part of the famous belt of the great celestial hunter Orion shows the region of the sky around the Flame Nebula. The whole image is filled with glowing gas clouds illuminated by hot blue young stars. It was created from photographs in red and blue light forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The field of view is approximately three degrees.

(ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin)

Satellite Marks 10 Years in Space

Dec. 10: One of the most successful European space missions is celebrating its birthday: the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory marks 10 years mark in space. On 10 December 1999, an Ariane 5 rocket launched the 33-foot tall, 4-ton research satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA). It now ranks among the most successful space observatories.

(EADS Astrium )

Saturn's Moon in Black and White

Dec. 10: New data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn helps explain the bizarre yin-yang appearance of the ringed planet's odd moon Iapetus, where one side is dark and the other is bright. The images and heat-mapping data collected by Cassini support the leading explanation of the moon's strange appearance, which suggests that migrating ice makes half the moon reflective and bright, while the other half is dust-covered and dark.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Snow Blankets the U.S.

Dec. 9: NASA's MODIS Rapid Response satellites Terra and Aqua captured this image of snows covering the Western United States. Massive snowfalls blanketed the nation, and were blamed for at least 16 deaths.

(MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Saturn Has a Hexagon

Dec. 9: As Saturn's north pole emerged from winter darkness, Cassini captured new details of a jet stream that follows a hexagon-shaped path and has long puzzled scientists. As the planet approached its equinox (signaled the start of northern spring), the whole hexagonal shape could be mapped out in visible light for the first time. The hexagon is likely formed by the path of a jet stream flowing around the planet's north pole.

(NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Mars Orbiter Moves On

Dec. 8: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter today has been taken out of the precautionary "safe mode" it had been in since August. Taking the spacecraft out of safe mode is the latest step in a series of commands that are being sent to the orbiter this week. Engineers plan to resume science operations once they conclude a check of all the science instruments. Normal science operations may resume next week.


Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

Nov. 7: SpaceShipTwo is a carbon composite cousin in construction and design to SpaceShipOne — the privately financed, single-piloted spacecraft that bagged the $10 million Ansari X Prize purse by flying back-to-back treks to suborbital space in 2004. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic finally unveiled the new ship, which will be the keystone in his plan to corner the tourists-in-space market. 

(Virgin Galactic/Ned RocknRoll)

Transporting a Telescope

Dec. 7: European Space Organization (ESO) astronomer Yuri Beletsky captured images of the transport of one of the 6-foot telescopes that compose, together with their larger 27-foot companions, ESO’s Very Large Telescope array. The telescope was moved with the utmost care from base camp, where it had been undergoing maintenance, including the recoating of its mirrors, back to the VLT platform on top of Cerro Paranal.

(ESO/Y. Beletsky)

Subaru Finds a Planet

Dec. 3: The first observations with the world's newest planet-hunter instrument on Japan's Subaru Telescope, HiCIAO (High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru next generation Adaptive Optics), have revealed a new exo-planet: a companion to the Sun-like star GJ 758. With an estimated mass 10 to 40 times that of Jupiter, GJ 758 B is either a giant planet or a lightweight brown dwarf. Without the scope's angular differential imaging, the star's speckle halo (the burst-like feature in the center) would overwhelm the signals from the planet.

(Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ))

Star Cluster Trumper 14

Dec. 3: Trumpler 14 is not only the youngest, but also one of the most populous clusters within the nebula. Astronomers counted about 2,000 stars in the very central parts of this cluster. This image so far covers the widest area of the sky, and is based on data obtained through two different filters.


Soyuz TMA-15 Capsule

Dec. 1: Russian specialists work on the Soyuz TMA-15 capsule after landing on the steppe in northern Kazakhstan. European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk are still inside.


Soufriere Hills Volcano

November 28: Activity at Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills Volcano continues to ebb and flow. Growth of the lava dome on the volcano’s summit has led to numerous pyroclastic flows, some of which nearly reached the ocean. NASA’s Aqua satellite snapped this natural-color image at 1:40 PM local time; roughly 3 hours before, the Air Force Weather Agency reported an ash plume reaching to flight level 120. 

(Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC)

Japanese Spy Satellite

Nov. 28: An H-2A rocket carrying a spy satellite lifts off from a space center on the southern island of Tanegashima. Japan launched its fifth spy satellite  in a bid to boost its ability to gather intelligence independently, the government said.

(AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Atlantis in Space

Nov. 25: Surrounded by the blackness of space, this profile view of the space shuttle Atlantis was photographed by the Expedition 21 crew on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 3:53 a.m. CST on Nov. 25. Atlantis and the STS-129 crew landed safely at Kennedy Space Center two days later.


Gullies on Mars

Nov. 25: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera documents a variety of gullies on Mars. Some hypotheses about their formation involve the flow of liquid (water, brine or some other substance). Other postulates involve the downhill movement of dry material such as dust or sand. To further complicate things, different gullies could have formed by different methods.

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Atlas V Launch

Nov. 23: The Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Monday morning, November 23. The rocket carried an Intelsat-14 communications satellite.


Crab Nebula

Nov. 23: A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a super dense object left behind by the explosion—called a neutron star—is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. X-ray data from Chandra provide significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic "generator," which is producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns.

(X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F.Seward; Optical: NASA/ESA/ASU/J.Hester & A.Loll; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Minn./R.Gehrz)

Earth from the Space Station

Nov. 22: One of many breathtaking views from the International Space Station. The Sun, a crescent Earth, and the long arm of a solar panel were all visible outside a window when the Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the orbiting outpost last week. Reflections from the window and hexagonal lens flares from the camera are superposed. The space shuttle landed Friday after a successful 10 day mission to expand and resupply the ISS.

(STS-129 Crew, NASA)

Atlantis Spacewalk

Nov. 18: Image of the 228th spacewalk conducted by U.S. astronauts — the 134th in support of space station assembly and maintenance — shows astronauts connecting wires and cables to link up a new antenna.

WISE Maps the Sky

Nov. 17: This artist's conception shows NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mapping the whole sky in infrared. The mission will unveil hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies.


Shuttle Atlantis in Space

Nov. 17: Backdropped by a blue and white Earth, a partial view of Space Shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods and docking mechanism are featured in this image photographed by an STS-129 crew member from an aft flight deck window.


The Oldest Light in the Universe

NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite rocketed into Earth orbit on Nov. 18, 1989, and quickly revolutionized our understanding of the early cosmos. Developed and built at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., COBE precisely measured and mapped the oldest light in the universe — the cosmic microwave background.

For these results, COBE scientists John Mather, at Goddard, and George Smoot, at the University of California, Berkeley, shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics. The mission ushered cosmologists into a new era of precision measurements, paving the way for deeper exploration of the microwave background by NASA's ongoing WMAP mission and the European Space Agency's new Planck satellite.

Hosting Destruction

This artist's concept illustrates the two types of spiral galaxies that populate our universe: those with plump middles, or central bulges (upper left), and those lacking the bulge (foreground).

New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope provide strong evidence that the slender, bulgeless galaxies can, like their chubbier counterparts, harbor supermassive black holes at their cores. Previously, astronomers thought that a galaxy without a bulge could not have a supermassive black hole. In this illustration, jets shooting away from the black holes are depicted as thin streams.

The findings are reshaping theories of galaxy formation, suggesting that a galaxy's "waistline" does not determine whether it will be home to a big black hole.

The International Space Station

The current configuration of the International Space Station as of Sept. 2009 at the end of NASA's STS-128 mission to deliver supplies and new gear.


The Atlantis Shuttle Blasts Off

Nov. 16: Space shuttle Atlantis rises from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff on its STS-129 mission came at 2:28 p.m. EST. Aboard are crew members Commander Charles O. Hobaugh; Pilot Barry E. Wilmore; and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher Jr.

(NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell)

Clouds over the South Pacific

Nov. 13: The European Space Agency's Rosetta satellite turned its high-resolution cameras back on plaent Earth to capture this picture of a swirling anticyclone over the South Pacific. The satellite will then go on to study asteroid Lutetia and ultimately comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

(European Space Agency)

OSIRIS Captures Earth

The illuminated crescent of Earth showing part of South America and Antarctica. This image was acquired with OSIRIS' narrow-angle camera from a distance of 350,000 km on November 13th.

(European Space Agency / MPS for OSIRIS Team)

Rosetta Captures Earth

The European Space Agency's Rosetta satellite turned its high-resolution cameras back on planet Earth to capture this picture of our cloud covered planet from approximately 224,000 km away. The satellite will then go on to study asteroid Lutetia and ultimately comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

(European Space Agency)

Burning Lithium in a Star

Artist’s impression of a baby star still surrounded by a protoplanetary disc in which planets are forming. Using ESO’s very successful HARPS spectrograph, a team of astronomers has found that Sun-like stars which host planets have destroyed their lithium much more efficiently than planet-free stars.

(European Southern Observatory)

Galaxies Fat and Thin

This artist's concept illustrates the two types of spiral galaxies that populate our universe: those with plump middles, or central bulges (upper left), and those lacking the bulge (foreground). New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope provide strong evidence that the slender, bulgeless galaxies can, like their chubbier counterparts, harbor supermassive black holes at their cores. Previously, astronomers thought that a galaxy without a bulge could not have a supermassive black hole.


Dying Star

Probing a glowing bubble of gas and dust encircling a dying star, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals a wealth of previously unseen structures. The object, called NGC 2371, is a planetary nebula, the glowing remains of a sun-like star. The remnant star visible at the center of NGC 2371 is the super-hot core of the former red giant, now stripped of its outer layers. Its surface temperature is a scorching 240,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

(NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

Milky Way Panorama

The Milky Way arches across this 360-degree panorama of the night sky above the ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The image was made from 37 individual frames with a total exposure time of about 30 minutes, taken in the early morning hours. The Moon is just rising and the zodiacal light shines above it, while the Milky Way stretches across the sky opposite the observatory. The open telescope domes of the observatory's ground-based astronomical observatory are all visible here.

(European Southern Observatory)

Driving on Mars

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity photographs tracks it left on Mars by backing out of a wind-formed ripple, after the rover's wheels had started to dig too deeply into the dust and sand of the ripple. For scale, the distance between the parallel wheel tracks is about about 40 inches.


Central Region of the Milky Way

In this spectacular image, observations using infrared and X-ray light see through the obscuring dust and reveal the intense activity near the galactic core of the Milky Way. The image combines pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory.


Frost Caps on Mars

As on Earth, the seasonal frost caps of Mars grow and recede each year. But seasonal frost on Mars is composed of carbon dioxide ice (also known as dry ice), not water ice as on our planet.

This image shows part of the south polar residual cap, with many shallow pits dubbed "Swiss cheese" terrain. Because the sun is always low in the sky at this latitude, the steep walls of the pits receive more solar energy than the high-standing, flat areas between the pits. This causes the walls of the pits to retreat several meters per year as sunlight causes the carbon dioxide ice to evaporate directly to gas, a process called sublimation.

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona )

Sand Dunes on Mars

Colorful sand dunes on Mars, as captured by the high resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

(NASA/JPL/University of Arizona )

Martian Dust Devils

The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows twisting dark trails criss-crossing light-colored terrain on the Martian surface. Newly formed trails like these had presented researchers with a tantalizing mystery but are now known to be the work of miniature wind vortices known to occur on the red planet — in other words, Martian dust devils.


Birth of a Star

The spectacular new camera installed on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope delivered the most detailed view of star birth in the graceful, curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83. Nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, M83 is undergoing more rapid star formation than our own Milky Way galaxy, especially in its nucleus. 

Wide Field Camera 3 has captured hundreds of young star clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue supergiants and red supergiants. The image, taken in August 2009, provides a close-up view of the myriad stars near the galaxy's core, the bright whitish region at far right.


Rhea, Saturn's Second Largest Moon

Bright sunlight on Rhea shows off the cratered surface of Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea. The image was taken in visible light by the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera from approximately 1.4 million kilometers (870,000 miles) away. 


SpaceShots: The Week's Best Photos of Our Galaxy

The best space images of the week, putting you in touch with the most distant parts of the galaxy.

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