Man on Mars
After driving a short distance from their landing site, two explorers stop to inspect a robotic lander and its small rover in this artist's concept of a future Mars mission. This stop also allows the crew to check out the life support systems of their rover and space suits within walking distance of the base.
This artist's concept shows a celestial body about the size of our moon slamming at great speed into a planet the size of Mercury.
Backward Black Hole
Depicted here is a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core. The black hole is shooting out jets of radio waves.
An artist's rendering of the Swift spacecraft with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background.
Laser Power Stations
Laser power stations, perhaps drawing energy from the local environment, might one day propel spacecraft throughout the solar system, as seen in the futuristic artist's concept above. NASA has developed artwork like this over the years to help visualize various exploration concepts, from small robotic probes to multiple-spacecraft human exploration missions.
While searching the skies for black holes using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers discovered a giant supernova that was smothered in its own dust. In this artist's rendering, an outer shell of gas and dust -- which erupted from the star hundreds of years ago -- obscures the supernova within. This event in a distant galaxy hints at one possible future for the brightest star system in our own Milky Way.
Big Babies in Rosetta Nebula
This image from the Herschel Space Observatory shows most the cloud associated with the Rosette nebula, a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Monoceros, or Unicorn, constellation. Herschel collects the infrared light given out by dust. The bright smudges are dusty cocoons containing massive embryonic stars, which will grow up to 10 times the mass of our sun. The small spots near the center of the image are lower mass stellar embryos. The Rosette nebula itself, and its massive cluster of stars, is located to the right of the picture.
Pipsqueak Star's Monster Flare
For many years scientists have known that our sun gives off powerful explosions, known as flares, that contain millions of times more energy than atomic bombs.
But when astronomers compare flares from the sun to flares on other stars, the sun's flares lose. On April 25, 2008, NASA's Swift satellite picked up a record-setting flare from a star known as EV Lacertae. This flare was thousands of times more powerful than the greatest observed solar flare. But because EV Lacertae is much farther from Earth than the sun, the flare did not appear as bright as a solar flare. Still, it was the brightest flare ever seen from a star other than the sun.
What makes the flare particularly interesting is the star. EV Lacertae is much smaller and dimmer than our sun. In other words, a tiny, wimpy star is capable of packing a very powerful punch.
Package From Mars
A crucial step in the Mars Sample Return mission would be to launch the collected sample away from the surface of Mars.
Comet 'Bites the Dust'
This artist's concept illustrates a comet being torn to shreds around G29-3, a so-called dead star, or white dwarf. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope observed a cloud of dust around this white dwarf that may have been generated from this type of comet disruption. The findings suggest that a host of other comet survivors may still orbit in this long-dead solar system.
Massive Baby Star
Astronomers have obtained the first clear look at a dusty disk closely encircling a massive baby star, providing direct evidence that massive stars do form in the same way as their smaller brethren -- and closing an enduring debate. This artist's concept shows what such a massive disk might look like.
A Fledgling Solar System
ASA's Spitzer Space Telescope observed a fledgling solar system like the one depicted in this artist's concept, and discovered deep within it enough water vapor to fill the oceans on Earth five times.
Galactic Hearts of Glass
This artist's concept shows delicate greenish crystals sprinkled throughout the violent core of a pair of colliding galaxies. The white spots represent a thriving population of stars of all sizes and ages. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope detected more than 20 bright and dusty galactic mergers like the one depicted here, all teeming with the tiny gem-like crystals.
Ashes to Ashes
What did the first quasars look like? The nearest quasars are now known to be supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. Gas and dust that falls toward a quasar glows brightly, sometimes outglowing the entire home galaxy. The quasars that formed in the first billion years of the universe are more mysterious, though, with even the nature of the surrounding gas still unknown. Above, an artist's impression shows a primordial quasar as it might have been, surrounded by sheets of gas, dust, stars and early star clusters.
An unusual, methane-free world is partially eclipsed by its star in this artist's concept. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found evidence that a hot, Neptune-sized planet orbiting a star beyond our sun lacks methane -- an ingredient common to many planets in our own solar system.
An Unwelcome Place
This artist's concept depicts a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer found evidence that black holes -- once they grow to a critical size -- stifle the formation of new stars in elliptical galaxies. Black holes are thought to do this by heating up and blasting away the gas that fuels star formation.
This artist's conception shows a lump of material in a swirling, planet-forming disk. Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence that a companion to a star -- either another star or a planet -- could be pushing planetary material together, as illustrated here. Planets are born out of spinning disks of gas and dust. They can carve out lanes or gaps in the disks as they grow bigger and bigger. Scientists used Spitzer's infrared vision to study the disk around a star called LRLL 31, located about 1,000 light-years away in the IC 348 region of the constellation Perseus. Spitzer's new infrared observations reveal that the disk has both an inner and outer gap. [Here] the size of the lump and the planet have been exaggerated to better illustrate the dynamics of the system.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has at last found buckyballs in space, as illustrated by this artist's conception showing the carbon balls coming out from the type of object where they were discovered -- a dying star and the material it sheds, known as a planetary nebula.
Buckyballs are made up of 60 carbon atoms organized into spherical structures that resemble soccer balls. They also look like Buckminister Fuller's architectural domes, hence their official name of buckministerfullerenes. The molecules were first concocted in a lab nearly 25 years ago, and were theorized at that time to be floating around carbon-rich stars in space. But it wasn't until now that Spitzer, using its sensitive infrared vision, was able to find convincing signs of buckyballs.
A New World
This artist's conception shows a hypothetical young planet around a cool star. A soupy mix of potentially life-forming chemicals can be seen pooling around the base of the jagged rocks. Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope hint that planets around cool stars -- the so-called M-dwarfs and brown dwarfs that are widespread throughout our galaxy -- might possess a different mix of life-forming, or prebiotic, chemicals than our young Earth.
Neutron Star Explosion
Pressure and heat in the gas on the surface of this neutron star becomes so high that the gas detonates in a tremendous nuclear fusion explosion. The explosion distorts and illuminates the gas disk
For years, NASA has illustrated the wonders of space with stunning and imaginative artist -- here's our favorite 20.