SpaceShots: The 100 best photos of our universe

The best images of our solar system, the galaxy and everything out there, putting you in touch with the most distant parts of the heavens.


June 27, 2012: This true color image captured by NASA'S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn's moon Titan shows a south polar vortex, or a swirling mass of gas around the pole in the atmosphere of the moon.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


June 13, 2012: he formation of small worlds like Earth previously was thought to occur mostly around stars rich in heavy elements such as iron and silicon. However, new ground-based observations, combined with data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, show small planets form around stars with a wide range of heavy element content and suggest they may be widespread in our galaxy.
University of Copenhagen/Lars Buchhave


July 5, 2012: From fresh rover tracks to an impact crater blasted billions of years ago, a newly completed view from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the ruddy terrain around the outcrop where the long-lived explorer spent its most recent Martian winter.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.


June 26, 2012: Seeing is believing, except when you don't believe what you see. Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found a puzzling arc of light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away. The galactic grouping, discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, was observed as it existed when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age of 13.7 billion years.
NASA/ESA/University of Florida, Gainsville/University of Missouri-Kansas City/UC Davis


July 2, 2012: Camelopardalis, or U Cam for short, is a star nearing the end of its life. As it begins to run low on fuel, it is becoming unstable. Every few thousand years, it coughs out a nearly spherical shell of gas as a layer of helium around its core begins to fuse. The gas ejected in the stars latest eruption is clearly visible in this picture as a faint bubble of gas surrounding the star.


July 2, 2012: A new image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows the candle-like Flame nebula lighting up a cavern of dust. The Flame nebula is part of the Orion complex, a turbulent star-forming area located near the constellation's star-studded belt.


June 21, 2012: Astronomers have discovered a pair of neighboring planets with dissimilar densities orbiting very close to each other. The planets are too close to their star to be in the so-called "habitable zone," the region in a star system where liquid water might exist on the surface, but they have the closest orbits between two planets ever confirmed. The findings appear today in the journal Science.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics


June 13, 2012: NASA's Cassini spacecraft has spied long-standing methane lakes, or puddles, in the "tropics" of Saturn's moon Titan. One of the tropical lakes appears to be about half the size of Utah's Great Salt Lake, with a depth of at least 3 feet (1 meter).
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


June 14, 2012: An advanced telescope imaging system that started taking data in June 2012 is the first of its kind capable of spotting planets orbiting suns outside of our solar system. The collaborative set of high-tech instrumentation and software, called Project 1640, is now operating on the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, after more than six years of development.
Project 1640


June 18, 2012: Earth's magnetic field connects the North Pole (orange lines) with the South Pole (blue lines) in this NASA-created image, a still capture from a 4-minute excerpt of "Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine," a fulldome, high-resolution movie playing at planetariums around the world.


June 15, 2012: A coronal mass ejection (CME) reaches Earth as solar particles are deflected away by the planet's magnetic field in this NASA-created image, a still capture from a 4-minute excerpt of "Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine," a fulldome, high-resolution movie playing at planetariums around the world.


June 19, 2012: A coronal mass ejection approaches Venus in this NASA-created image, a still capture from a 4-minute excerpt of "Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine," a fulldome, high-resolution movie playing at planetariums around the world.


June 15, 2012: Led by Earth's endless quest to equalize the dispersion of heat, winds whip around the world in this NASA-created image, a still capture from a 4-minute excerpt of "Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth's Climate Engine," a fulldome, high-resolution movie playing at planetariums around the world.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center


June 22, 2012: Like many of the most famous objects in the sky, globular cluster Messier 10 was of little interest to its discoverer. Charles Messier, the 18th century French astronomer, cataloged over 100 galaxies and clusters, but was primarily interested in comets. Through the telescopes available at the time, comets, nebulae, globular clusters and galaxies appeared just as faint, diffuse blobs and could easily be confused for one another.
ESA/Hubble & NASA


July 11, 2012: A team of astronomers using NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.


May 27, 2012: With rays of sunshine and the thin blue atmosphere of Earth serving as a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is berthed to the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station's Harmony node. Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers grappled Dragon at 9:56 a.m. (EDT) with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and used it to berth Dragon to the at 12:02 p.m. May 25, 2012. Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the station to join Russian, European and Japanese resupply craft that service the complex while restoring a U.S. capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory.



May 25, 2012: This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA's space-based telescopes.



May 23, 2012: This still SDO image was created by applying additional processing to enhance the structures visible. While there is no scientific value to this processing, it does result in a beautiful, new way of looking at the sun. The original frames are in the 171 Angstrom wavelength of extreme ultraviolet. This wavelength shows plasma in the solar atmosphere, called the corona, that is around 600,000 Kelvin. The loops represent plasma held in place by magnetic fields. They are concentrated in "active regions" where the magnetic fields are the strongest. These active regions usually appear in visible light as sunspots.



June 5, 2012: Hinode captured this stunning view of the transit of Venus -- the last instance of this rare phenomenon until 2117.



May 4, 2012: NASA's Aqua satellite celebrates its 10th anniversary. Aqua is a major international Earth Science satellite mission centered at NASA. Launched on May 4, 2002, the satellite has six different Earth-observing instruments on board and is named for the large amount of information being obtained about water in the Earth system from its stream of approximately 89 Gigabytes of data a day.



June 6, 2012: The SDO collected ultra-high definition images of one of the rarest predictable solar events: the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.



May 30, 2012: The hemispheric view of Venus, as revealed by more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission, is centered at 270 degrees east longitude. The composite image was processed to improve contrast and to emphasize small features, and was color-coded to represent elevation.



May 2, 2012: This computer-simulated image shows gas from a tidally shredded star falling into a black hole. Some of the gas also is being ejected at high speeds into space. Astronomers observed a flare in ultraviolet and optical light from the gas falling into the black hole and glowing helium from the stars's helium-rich gas expelled from the system.

NASA; S. Gezari, The Johns Hopkins University; and J. Guillochon, University of California, Santa Cruz


May 31, 2012: This illustration shows a stage in the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as it will unfold over the next several billion years. In this image, representing Earth's night sky in 3.75 billion years, Andromeda (left) fills the field of view and begins to distort the Milky Way with tidal pull.

NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. Mellinger


May 17, 2012: A coronal mass ejection (CME) that was associated with an M-class flare burst from the sun at 9:48 PM EDT, traveling at over 930 miles per second.



April 11, 2012: This image shows the infrared emission from the young star Fomalhaut and the dust disc surrounding it, as recorded with ESA's Herschel Space Observatory. Astronomers believe a steady production of dust particles from thousands of tiny comet collisions explain the emissions from Fomalhaut.

ESA/Herschel/PACS/Bram Acke, KU Leuven, Belgium

Ring around Fomalhaut.jpg

April 12, 2012: A different picture of the dust ring around the bright star Fomalhaut. The new image has given astronomers a major breakthrough in understanding the nearby planetary system and provided valuable clues about how such systems form and evolve. 

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Moscow at Night.jpg

March 28, 2012: Moscow appears at the center of this nighttime image photographed by the Expedition 30 crew aboard the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of approximately 240 miles. A solar array panel for the space station is on the left side of the image.


last shot from Envisat.jpg

April 8, 2012: After 10 years of service, the European Space Agency's workhorse Envisat satellite has stopped sending data to Earth. It captured this, its final image, at 13:05 CEST, showing Portugal and Spain.

amazing solar flare.jpg

April 16, 2012: A beautiful solar prominence erupts off the east limb (left side) of the sun. This view of the flare was recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

infrared galaxy.jpg

March 27, 2012: For the first time, the general public will be able to browse detailed infrared images of more than 200 galaxies such as this one, of M61 is one of the larger spiral galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. The pictures, originating from data from the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, have just been released to the general public.
Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

dark matter around milky way.jpg

April 18, 2012: The most accurate study so far of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume around the Sun. The blue halo of material surrounding the Milky Way in this artist's impression indicates the previously expected distribution of the mysterious dark matter.
ESO/L. Calçada

tarantula nebula.jpg

April 17, 2012: This photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the heart of the Tarantula nebula, a region teeming with star formation. The image is a giant mosaic view to mark Hubble's 22nd anniversary in space.

pit chains on Mars.jpg

April 5, 2012: The latest images released from ESA’s Mars Express -- including this one of The Tractus Catena formation -- reveal a series of ‘pit-chains’ on the flanks of one of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System. Depending on their origin, they might be tempting targets in the search for microbial life on the Red Planet.
ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Space Shuttle last flight.jpg

April 17, 2012: The Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flying over Washington skyline, including the Washington Monument, as seen from a NASA T-38 aircraft. Discovery, the longest-serving orbiter will be placed to its new home, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
AP Photo/NASA, Robert Markowitz

sunset on super earth Gliese 667.jpg


Feb. 8, 2012: Looking like a hoard of gems fit for an emperor's collection, this deep sky object called NGC 6752 is in fact far more worthy of admiration. It is a globular cluster, and at over 10 billion years old is one the most ancient collections of stars known. It has been blazing for well over twice as long as our solar system has existed.

ESA/Hubble & NASA


Jan. 8, 2012: A stunning image of the moon and the earth as seen from the ISS.



Jan. 17, 2012: Cascading loops spiral above the sun following a solar flare eruption.



Feb. 2, 2012: The eastern hemisphere of our beautiful earth.



Jan. 10, 2012: This billowy bit of space dust is actually the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy



Jan. 25, 2012: An aurora borealis over the midwestern U.S.



Jan. 29, 2012: Southeastern USA as seen from the ISS.



Jan. 2, 2012: The Sun erupted with a good-sized solar flare and a coronal mass ejection that lasted about three hours early last month.


Jan. 11, 2012: Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have solved a longstanding mystery on the type of star, or so-called progenitor, that caused a supernova in a nearby galaxy.

NASA, ESA, CXC, SAO, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and J. Hughes (Rutgers University)


Jan. 27, 2012: A large X-class flare erupts on the sun.


Storm Tail in False Color

Nov. 17, 2011: This false-color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the tail of Saturn's huge northern storm.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Closer to Finding an Earth

Dec. 5, 2011: This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star -- the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist. Read more


Jabbah and Associates

Nov. 25, 2011: No, it's not a gang of intergalactic mobsters from the famous Star Wars movies. Jabbah is the name of the bright star right of center, surrounded by a red colored dust cloud. The Arabic name means "the forehead of the scorpion." This view from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, takes in an area of the sky in the constellation of Scorpius surrounding Jabbah, which is larger than a grid of eight by eight full moons.


NASA Spacecraft Shows Continued Flooding Woes in Thailand

Nov. 18, 2011: The flooding from the Chao Phraya River, Thailand, was draining slowly when this image was acquired on Nov. 17, 2011, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. The muddy water that had overflowed the banks of the river, flooding agricultural fields and villages, is depicted in dark blue and blue-gray.


MAVEN at Mars, Artist's Concept

Nov. 18, 2011: This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft near Mars. MAVEN is in development for launch in 2013 and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The mission's principal investigator is Bruce Jakosky from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.


Titan's Kraken Mare

Nov. 28, 2011: The Cassini spacecraft looks toward Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and spies the huge Kraken Mare in the moon's north. Kraken Mare, a large sea of liquid hydrocarbons, is visible as a dark area near the top of the image.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Changes in Tilt of Mars' Axis

Nov. 21, 2011: Modern-day Mars experiences cyclical changes in climate and, consequently, ice distribution. Unlike Earth, the obliquity (or tilt) of Mars changes substantially on timescales of hundreds of thousands to millions of years. At present day obliquity of about 25-degree tilt on Mars' rotational axis, ice is present in relatively modest quantities at the north and south poles (top left). This schematic shows that ice builds up near the equator at high obliquities (top right) and the poles grow larger at very low obliquities (bottom)


Chemical Alteration by Water, Mawrth Vallis

Nov. 21, 2011: Thick stacks of clay minerals indicate chemical alteration of thick stacks of rock by interaction with liquid water on ancient Mars. Aluminum clays overlying iron/magnesium clays here in the ancient terrains of Mawrth Vallis indicate a change in environmental conditions. Aluminum clays may form by near-surface leaching while iron/magnesium clays may form in the subsurface. The image is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

30 Doradus: The Growing Tarantula Within

Nov. 16, 2011: The star-forming region, 30 Doradus, is one of the largest located close to the Milky Way and is found in the neighboring galaxy Large Magellanic Cloud. About 2,400 massive stars in the center of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, are producing intense radiation and powerful winds as they blow off material.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L. Townsley et al.

Dusty Reflections in the Scorpion's Claws

Nov. 8, 2011: Between the claws of the dreaded scorpion imagined by the ancient Greeks lies this giant dust cloud, imaged by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The constellation of Scorpius is prominent in the summer night sky in North America. In visible light, this cloud, or nebula, appears dark with a ghostly blue shine about it. These types of nebulae are called "reflection," because they are reflecting the light of nearby stars. The dust within the cloud reflects mostly blue light.


08 raining comets

Oct. 19, 2011: This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Evidence for this barrage comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, whose infrared detectors picked up indications that one or more comets was recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body.

In this artist's conception, one such giant comet is shown smashing into a rocky planet, flinging ice- and carbon-rich dust into space, while also smashing water and organics into the surface of the planet. A glowing red flash captures the moment of impact on the planet. Yellow-white Eta Corvi is shown to the left, with still more comets streaming toward it.


02 thai floods

Nov. 02, 2011: The flooding from the Chao Phraya River, Thailand, had begun to ebb when this image was acquired by the Advanced Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft on Nov. 1, 2011. The muddy water that had overflowed the banks of the river, flooding agricultural fields and villages, is depicted in blue-gray west of the river.

Vegetation and agricultural fields are bright red, except where they are inundated by flood waters and appear black. At the bottom of the image, Don Muang, Bangkok's domestic airport, is closed as the runways are under water. The ASTER image covers an area of 21.1 by 22.9 miles (35.6 by 36.9 kilometers), and is located near 14.1 degrees north latitude, 100.5 degrees east longitude.


01 Galaxy Collision Rate

Oct. 27, 2011: A new analysis of Hubble surveys, including the All-Wavelength Extended Groth Strip International Survey (AEGIS), the Cosmological Evolution Survey (COSMOS), and the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS), combined with simulations of galaxy interactions, reveals that the merger rate of galaxies over the last 8 billion to 9 billion years falls between previous estimates.

NASA, ESA, J. Lotz (STScI), M. Davis (University of California, Berkeley), and A. Koekemoer (STScI)

09 sea serpent

Oct. 20, 2011: This artist's concept illustrates an icy planet-forming disk around a young star called TW Hydrae, located about 175 light-years away in the Hydra, or Sea Serpent, constellation.

Astronomers using the Herschel Space Observatory detected copious amounts of cool water vapor, illustrated in blue, emanating from the star's planet-forming disk of dust and gas. The water vapor, which probably comes from icy grains in the disk, is located in the frigid outer regions of the star system, where comets will take shape.

ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Leiden Observatory

07 exploded star

Oct. 24, 2011: Infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are combined in this image of RCW 86, the dusty remains of the oldest documented example of an exploding star, or supernova.

It shows light from both the remnant itself and unrelated background light from our Milky Way galaxy. The colors in the image allow astronomers to distinguish between the remnant and galactic background, and determine exactly which structures belong to the remnant.


06 supernova

Oct. 24, 2011: This image combines data from four different space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of the oldest documented example of a supernova, called RCW 86. The Chinese witnessed the event in 185 A.D., documenting a mysterious "guest star" that remained in the sky for eight months.

X-ray images from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton Observatory and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are combined to form the blue and green colors in the image. The X-rays show the interstellar gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the passage of the shock wave from the supernova.


05 rings

Oct. 24, 2011: A quartet of Saturn's moons, from tiny to huge, surround and are embedded within the planet's rings in this Cassini composition.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is in the background of the image, and the moon's north polar hood is clearly visible. See PIA08137 to learn more about that feature on Titan (3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers across). Next, the wispy terrain on the trailing hemisphere of Dione (698 miles, or 1,123 kilometers across) can be seen on that moon which appears just above the rings at the center of the image. See PIA10560 and PIA06163 to learn more about Dione's wisps. Saturn's small moon Pandora (50 miles, or 81 kilometers across) orbits beyond the rings on the right of the image. Finally, Pan (17 miles, or 28 kilometers across) can be seen in the Encke Gap of the A ring on the left of the image.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

04 craters

Oct. 29, 2011: Above are three different composite images of the same region of Vesta's surface. These images were produced by combining images obtained by the Visible and Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VIR) instrument aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The VIR instrument can image Vesta in many different wavelength regions, called bands, in the near ultraviolet, visible and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, which corresponds to a wavelength range of 300nm to 5000nm.


03 pacman

Oct. 26, 2011: In visible light, the star-forming cloud catalogued as NGC 281 in the constellation of Cassiopeia appears to be chomping through the cosmos, earning it the nickname the "Pacman" nebula after the famous Pac-Man video game of the 1980s. However, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, observed the nebula in infrared light, revealing a different view.


moonsets from ISS

Oct. 11, 2011: The moon sinks into the airy sea of Earth's atmosphere in this beautiful photo by astronaut Ron Garan, taken from the International Space Station (ISS) on July 31. Traveling at 17,500 mph around the Earth, astronauts see the moon and sun rise and set sixteen times a day.


Frosty Dunes on Mars

Oct. 5, 2011: Richardson Crater is well-known among Mars scientists for its spectacular dunes. Because of their extreme southern positioning, they endure dramatic temperature changes over the course of the Martian year. Here wide, dark streaks are visible extending from the crests of the dunes, likely due to movement of material as the dunes defrosted or to wind transportation of surface particles.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Hubble scope spies new planets

Oct. 6, 2011: In a painstaking reanalysis of images taken in 1998 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found visual evidence for two exoplanets -- planets that orbit stars beyond our sun -- that went undetected when the images were first taken. 


Crater on Mars

Oct. 4, 2011: A crater within the Northern Sinus Meridiani, a region of ridged terrains and extensive layering on Mars. This 10 kilometer (approximately 6 miles) diameter crater is surrounded by a prominent bench, formed because these layered surface units are eroding at a faster rate than the more resistant underlying materials that comprise the rest of the crater.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Spitzer living the high life

Sept. 28, 2011: The high-mass stars in the nebula known as NGC 281 drive many aspects of their galactic environment through powerful winds flowing from their surfaces and intense radiation that heats surrounding gas, "boiling it away" into interstellar space. This process results in the formation of large columns of gas and dust, as seen on the left. These structures likely contain newly forming stars.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk; IR: NASA/JPL/CfA/S.Wolk

00 Sun Sets Twice

Sept. 15, 2011 -- NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist's concept with its two stars.

Tatooine is the name of Luke Skywalker's home world in the science fiction movie Star Wars. In this case, the planet is not thought to be habitable. It is a cold world, with a gaseous surface, but like Tatooine, it circles two stars. The largest of the two stars, a K dwarf, is about 69 percent the mass of our sun, and the smallest, a red dwarf, is about 20 percent the sun's mass.


First image from Alma telescope

After years of planning, construction and assembly, a gigantic observatory billed as the world's most complex array of ground-based telescopes has opened its eyes in South America and captured its first image. It shows the Antennae Galaxies (also known as NGC 4038 and 4039), a pair of colliding spiral galaxies found about 70 million light-years away in the constellation Corvus (The Crow). Read more


01 Shadow of Saturn

Sept. 4, 2011 -- In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn drifted in giant planet's shadow for about 12 hours in 2006 and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other.

First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, the rings themselves appear dark when silhouetted against Saturn, but quite bright when viewed away from Saturn, slightly scattering sunlight, in this exaggerated color image.

Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

02 'Y Dwarf' Chillin'

Aug. 23, 2011 -- This artist's conception illustrates what a "Y dwarf" might look like. Y dwarfs are the coldest star-like bodies known, with temperatures that can be even cooler than the human body.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer uncovered these elusive objects for the first time, using its heat-sensing, infrared vision. The telescope found six Y dwarfs, ranging in atmospheric temperatures from 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) to less than about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).


03 Dark Murky Clouds

Aug. 24, 2011 -- Typically if an astronomer wants to see into or through a thick dark cloud in space, they will use an infrared-sensing telescope. However, in this infrared image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, there are some clouds that are so cool and thick that even infrared light coming from within or the background can't penetrate them.

The black areas in this image -- called infrared dark clouds -- are exceptionally cold, dense cloud cores seen in silhouette against the bright diffuse infrared glow of the plane of the Milky Way galaxy. The clouds are a great example of why it is so useful for astronomers to be able to observe in many different wavelengths of light.


04 Spitzer's Orion

Sept. 17, 2011 -- Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula's many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Megeath (Univ. Toledo, Ohio)

05 Galaxy Feeds Off Gas

Sept. 13, 2011 -- In this artist's conception, a galaxy accretes mass from rapid, narrow streams of cold gas. These filaments provide the galaxy with continuous flows of raw material to feed its star-forming at a rather leisurely pace.

The Herschel infrared space observatory has discovered that galaxies do not always need to collide with each other to drive vigorous star birth. The finding overturns a long-held assumption and paints a more stately picture of how galaxies evolve.

ESA-OES Medialab

06 Sharp View of Sun

Sept. 18, 2011 -- Here is one of the sharper views of the Sun ever taken. This stunning image shows remarkable details of a dark sunspot across the image bottom and numerous boiling granules which appear like kernels of corn across the top. Taken in 2002, the picture was made using the Swedish Solar Telescope operating on the Canary Island of La Palma.

The high resolution image was achieved using sophisticated adaptive optics, digital image stacking, and other processing techniques to counter the blurring effect of Earth's atmosphere. Currently a sunspot group is crossing the Sun that is so large it can be easily seen by the cautious observer even without magnification.

SST, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

07 South Pole of Vesta

Sept. 19, 2011 -- What created the circular structure around the south pole of asteroid Vesta? Pictured above, the bottom of the second largest object in the asteroid belt was recently imaged for the first time by the robotic Dawn satellite that arrived last month. A close inspection of the 260-meter resolution image shows not only hills and craters and cliffs and more craters, but ragged circular features that cover most of the lower right of the 500-kilometer sized object. 

Early speculation posits that the structure might have been created by a collision and coalescence with a smaller asteroid. Alternatively, the features might have originated in an internal process soon after the asteroid formed. New clues might come in the next few months as Dawn spirals down toward the rocky world and obtains images of increasingly high resolution.


08 Three Eclipsing Bodies

Sept. 15, 2011 -- This artist's movie illustrates Kepler-16b, the first directly detected circumbinary planet, which is a planet that orbits two stars.


09 On the Origin of Gold

Sept. 11, 2011 -- Where did the gold in your jewelry originate? No one is completely sure. The relative average abundance in our Solar System appears higher than can be made in the early universe, in stars, and even in typical supernova explosions. Some astronomers have recently suggested that neutron-rich heavy elements such as gold might be most easily made in rare neutron-rich explosions such as the collision of neutron stars.

Pictured above is an artist's illustration depicting two neutron stars spiraling in toward each other, just before they collide. Since neutron star collisions are also suggested as the origin of short duration gamma-ray bursts, it is possible that you already own a souvenir from one of the most powerful explosions in the universe.

Dana Berry, NASA

10 Lagoon Nebula

Sept. 16, 2011 -- Swirling dust clouds and bright newborn stars dominate the view in this image of the Lagoon nebula from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Also known as Messier 8 and NGC 6523, astronomers estimate it to be between 4000 and 6000 light years away, lying in the general direction of the center of our galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius.


00 The Snows of Paranal

August 11, 2011 -- Recorded last week, this dawn portrait of snowy mountain and starry sky captures a very rare scenario. The view does feature a pristine sky above the 2,600 meter high mountain Cerro Paranal, but clear skies over Paranal are not at all unusual. That's one reason the mountain is home to the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. Considering the number of satellites now in orbit, the near sunrise streak of a satellite glinting at the upper left isn't rare either.

And the long, bright trail of a meteor can often be spotted this time of year too. The one at the far right is associated with the annual Perseid meteor shower whose peak is expected tomorrow (Friday, August 12). In fact, the rarest aspect of the picture is just the snow. Cerro Paranal rises above South America's Atacama desert, known as the driest place on planet Earth.

Yuri Beletsky (ESO)

01 What Juno Will See

August 3, 2011 -- This simulated view of the south pole of Jupiter illustrates the unique perspective of NASA's Juno mission. The spacecraft's polar orbit will allow Juno's camera, called JunoCam, to image Jupiter's clouds from a vantage point never accessed by other spacecraft.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

02 Craters Before Haze

August 8, 2011 -- The Cassini spacecraft views the cratered surface of Saturn's moon Tethys in front of the hazy orb of the planet's largest moon, Titan.Tethys (1,062 kilometers, or 660 miles across) is much closer than Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across) to Cassini. This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of Titan and toward the area between the trailing hemisphere and anti-Saturn side of Tethys. Saturn is out of the frame, far to the left.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

03 Necklace Nebula

August 11, 2011 -- A giant cosmic necklace glows brightly in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image. The object, aptly named the Necklace Nebula, is a recently discovered planetary nebula, the glowing remains of an ordinary, Sun-like star. The nebula consists of a bright ring, measuring 12 trillion miles across, dotted with dense, bright knots of gas that resemble diamonds in a necklace. The knots glow brightly due to absorption of ultraviolet light from the central stars.

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

04 West Rim of Endeavour Crater

August 10, 2011 -- A portion of the west rim of Endeavour crater sweeps southward in this false color view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. This crater -- with a diameter of about 14 miles (22 kilometers) -- is more than 25 times wider than any that Opportunity has previously approached during the rover's 90 months on Mars.

The view is presented in false color to emphasize differences among materials in the rocks and the soils.


05 Dumbbell Nebula

August 10, 2011 -- The "Dumbbell nebula," also known as Messier 27, pumps out infrared light in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The nebula was named after its resemblance to a dumbbell as seen in visible light. It was discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier, who included it as the 27th member of his famous catalog of nebulous objects. Though he did not know it at the time, this was the first in a class of objects, now known as "planetary nebulae," to make it into the catalog.


06 Dramatic Helene

August 15, 2011 -- Saturn's small, irregularly shaped moon Helene is strikingly illuminated in this close view captured by Cassini during the spacecraft's, flyby. Although it is not visible at this exposure, the planet actually fills the dark background of this image of Helene.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

07 Graphene in Space

August 15, 2011 -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted the signature of flat carbon flakes, called graphene, in space. If confirmed, this would be the first-ever cosmic detection of the material -- which is arranged like chicken wire in flat sheets that are one atom thick.

Graphene was first synthesized in a lab in 2004, and subsequent research on its unique properties garnered the Nobel Prize in 2010. It's as strong as it is thin, and conducts electricity as well as copper. Some think it's the "material of the future," with applications in computers, screens on electrical devices, solar panels and more.


08 Perseid Below

August 13, 2011 -- Denizens of planet Earth watched this year's Perseid meteor shower by looking up into the moonlit night sky. But this remarkable view captured by astronaut Ron Garan looks down on a Perseid meteor. From Garan's perspective onboard the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of about 380 kilometers, the Perseid meteors streak below, swept up dust left from comet Swift-Tuttle heated to incandescence.

Ron Garan, ISS Expedition 28 Crew, NASA

09 Ring Nebula

August 16, 2011 -- What happens when a star runs out of nuclear fuel? For stars about the mass of our Sun, the center condenses into a white dwarf while the outer atmospheric layers are expelled into space and appear as a planetary nebula. This particular planetary nebula, pictured above and designated Shapley 1 after the famous astronomer Harlow Shapley, has a very apparent annular ring like structure. Although some of these nebulas appear like planets on the sky (hence their name), they actually surround stars far outside our Solar System.


01 Nebula

July 25, 2011 -- The elegant beauty of this planetary nebula was discovered by an amateur astronomer and captured by the Gemini Observatory.

Gemini Observatory/AURA

02 Pandora

June 22, 2011 -- A team of scientists studying the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora's Cluster, have pieced together the cluster's complex and violent history using telescopes in space and on the ground, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the Japanese Subaru telescope, and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

NASA, ESA, J. Merten (Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Heidelberg/Astronomical Observatory of Bologna), and D. Coe (STScI)

03 Firestorm

June 16, 2011 -- Resembling looming rain clouds on a stormy day, dark lanes of dust crisscross the giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. Hubble's panchromatic vision, stretching from ultraviolet through near-infrared wavelengths, reveals the vibrant glow of young, blue star clusters and a glimpse into regions normally obscured by the dust.

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

04 Supernova

June 9, 2011 -- Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are witnessing the unprecedented transition of a supernova to a supernova remnant, where light from an exploding star in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, reached Earth in February 1987.

Named Supernova 1987A, it was the closest supernova explosion witnessed in almost 400 years. The supernova's close proximity to Earth has allowed astronomers to study it in detail as it evolves.

NASA, ESA, and P. Challis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

05 Million

July 5, 2011 -- NASA's Hubble Space Telescope crossed another milestone in its 21-year space odyssey of exploration and discovery. On Monday, July 4, the Earth-orbiting observatory logged its one millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet's atmosphere 1,000 light-years away.

Although Hubble is best known for its stunning imagery of the cosmos, the millionth exposure is a spectroscopic measurement, where light is divided into its component colors.


06 Re-entry

August 1, 2011 -- What's that strange bright streak? It is the last image ever of a space shuttle from orbit. A week and a half ago, after decoupling from the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle Atlantis fired its rockets for the last time, lost its orbital speed, and plummeted back to Earth. Within the next hour, however, the sophisticated space machine dropped its landing gear and did what used to be unprecedented -- landed like an airplane on a runway.

ISS Expedition 28 Crew, STS-135 Mission, NASA

07 Metal Mars

July 31, 2011 -- What has the Opportunity rover found on Mars? While traversing a vast empty plain in 2005 in Meridiani Planum, one of Earth's rolling robots on Mars found a surprise when visiting the location of its own metallic heat shield discarded last year during descent. The surprise is the rock visible on the lower left, found to be made mostly of dense metals iron and nickel. The large cone-shaped object behind it -- and the flank piece on the right -- are parts of Opportunity's jettisoned heat shield.

Mars Exploration Rover Mission, JPL, NASA

08 Gale Crater

July 29, 2011 -- This sharp view from the Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter is centered on 154 kilometer (96 mile) wide Gale crater, near the martian equator. Within Gale, an impressive layered mountain rises about 5 kilometers (3 miles) above the crater floor. Layers and structures near its base are thought to have been formed in ancient times by water-carried sediments.

NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASU

SpaceShots: The 100 best photos of our universe

The best images of our solar system, the galaxy and everything out there, putting you in touch with the most distant parts of the heavens.

More From Our Sponsors