AIR SPACE

SpaceShots: The Best New Photos of Our Universe

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

Kepler Planets

May 2011: This artist's conception depicts the Kepler-10 star system, located about 560 light-years away near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. Kepler has discovered two planets around this star. Kepler-10b is, to date, the smallest known rocky exoplanet, or planet outside our solar system (dark spot against yellow sun). This planet, which has a radius of 1.4 times that of Earth's, whips around its star every .8 days. Its discovery was announced in Jan. 2011.

Now, in May 2011, the Kepler team is announcing another member of the Kepler-10 family, called Kepler-10c (larger foreground object). It's bigger than Kepler-10b with a radius of 2.2 times that of Earth's, and it orbits the star every 45 days. Both planets would be blistering hot worlds.

NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Great Nebula in Carina

May 24, 2011: Eta Carinae is one of the most massive and brightest stars in the Milky Way. Compared to our own Sun, it is about 100 times as massive and a million times as bright. This famed variable hypergiant star (upper center) is surrounded by the Carina Nebula. In this composite image spanning the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum, areas that appear blue are not obscured by dust, while areas that appear red are hidden behind dark clouds of dust in visible light. A study combining X-ray and Infrared observations has revealed a new population of massive stars lurking in regions of the nebula that are highly obscured by dust. Adding these new massive stars to the known massive stars suggests that the Carina Nebula will produce twice as many supernova explosions as previously supposed.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Povich (Penn State Univ.)

Spirit, Spirit, Shining Bright

May 25, 2011: This observation catches the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Spirit gleaming in the sun beside Home Plate inside Gusev Crater. It also catches a dust devil in action.

Scientists have been coming to realize that dust devils on Mars are far more common that had been thought. Dust devils look like mini tornadoes and are made up of swirling vortices of air that pick up very fine pieces of dust (the smallest particles of soil, much finer than a grain of sand). They are also an important part of the Martian climate and geology.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Orion's Sword

May 26, 2011: This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows what lies near the sword of the constellation Orion -- an active stellar nursery containing thousands of young stars and developing protostars. Many will turn out like our sun. Some are even more massive. These massive stars light up the Orion nebula, which is seen here as the bright region near the center of the image.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Megeath (University of Toledo, Ohio)

Space Shuttle Rising

May 25, 2011: What's that rising from the clouds? The space shuttle. If you looked out the window of an airplane at just the right place and time last week, you could have seen something very unusual -- the space shuttle Endeavour launching to orbit. Images of the rising shuttle and its plume became widely circulated over the web shortly after Endeavour's final launch. The above image was taken from a shuttle training aircraft and is not copyrighted. Taken well above the clouds, the image can be matched with similar images of the same shuttle plume taken below the clouds. Hot glowing gasses expelled by the engines are visible near the rising shuttle, as well as a long smoke plume. A shadow of the plume appears on the cloud deck, indicating the direction of the Sun. The shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the International Space Station and is currently scheduled to return to Earth next week

NASA

Jupiter Plume

May 22, 2011: What's happening on Jupiter's moon Io? Two sulfurous eruptions are visible on Jupiter's volcanic moon Io in this color composite image from the robotic Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. At the image top, over Io's limb, a bluish plume rises about 140 kilometers above the surface of a volcanic caldera known as Pillan Patera. In the image middle, near the night/day shadow line, the ring shaped Prometheus plume is seen rising about 75 kilometers above Io while casting a shadow below the volcanic vent.

Named for the Greek god who gave mortals fire, the Prometheus plume is visible in every image ever made of the region dating back to the Voyager flybys of 1979 - presenting the possibility that this plume has been continuously active for at least 18 years. The above digitally sharpened image of Io was originally recorded in 1997 from a distance of about 600,000 kilometers. Recent analyses of Galileo data has uncovered evidence of a magma ocean beneath Io's surface.

Galileo Project/JPL/NASA

Horsehead Nebula

A reproduction of a composite colour image of the Horsehead Nebula and its immediate surroundings. It is based on three exposures in the visual part of the spectrum with the FORS2 multi-mode instrument at the 8.2-m KUEYEN telescope at Paranal. It was produced from three images, obtained on February 1, 2000, with the FORS2 multi-mode instrument at the 8.2-m KUEYEN Unit Telescope and extracted from the VLT Science Archive Facility

ESO

Helix Nebula

This colour-composite image of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) was created from images obtained using the the Wide Field Imager (WFI), an astronomical camera attached to the 2.2-metre Max-Planck Society/ESO telescope at the La Silla observatory in Chile. The blue-green glow in the centre of the Helix comes from oxygen atoms shining under effects of the intense ultraviolet radiation of the 120 000 degree Celsius central star and the hot gas. Further out from the star and beyond the ring of knots, the red colour from hydrogen and nitrogen is more prominent. A careful look at the central part of this object reveals not only the knots, but also many remote galaxies seen right through the thinly spread glowing gas.

ESO

Tycho's Supernova Remnant

April 26, 2011: This new image of Tycho's supernova remnant, dubbed Tycho for short, contains striking new evidence for what triggered the original supernova explosion, as seen from Earth in 1572. Tycho was formed by a Type Ia supernova, a category of stellar explosion used in measuring astronomical distances because of their reliable brightness.

NASA/CXC/Chinese Academy of Sciences/F. Lu et al

Galaxy Centaurus

Astronomers have obtained an unprecedented look at the nearest example of galactic cannibalism — a massive black hole hidden at the center of a nearby giant galaxy that is feeding on a smaller galaxy in a spectacular collision. Such fireworks were common in the early universe, as galaxies formed and evolved, but are rare today.

E.J. Schreier (STScI)/NASA

New Space Scope

July 28: Recently, technicians at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., completed a series of cryogenic tests on six James Webb Space Telescope beryllium mirror segments at the center's X-ray & Cryogenic Facility.

NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given

Disc Around Baby Star

July 14: An artist's impression of a dusty disc closely encircling a massive baby star. Astronomers have been able to obtain the first image of such a disc, providing direct evidence that massive stars do form in the same way as their smaller brethren, closing an enduring debate. The flared disc extends to about 130 times the Earth–Sun distance and has a mass similar to that of the star, roughly twenty times the Sun.

ESO/L. Calcada/M. Kornmesser

Black Hole Blows Big Bubble

July 7: This composite image shows a powerful microquasar containing a black hole in the outskirts of the nearby (12.7 million light years) galaxy NGC 7793. Gas swirling toward the black hole forms a disk around it. Twisted magnetic fields in the disk generate strong electromagnetic forces that propel some of the gas away from the disk at high speeds in two jets, creating a huge bubble of hot gas about 1,000 light years across. 

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Strasbourg/M. Pakull et al; Optical: ESO/VLT/Univ of Strasbourg/M. Pakull et al; H-alpha: NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO 1.5m

Black Hole, Jerked Around

July 21: This image shows the effects of a giant black hole that has been flipped around twice, causing its spin axis to point in a different direction from before. This image shows a close-up view of a radio galaxy named 4C +00.58 in X-rays (in gold) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and radio waves (in blue) from the Very Large Array.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMD/Hodges-Kluck et al; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA/UMD/Hodges-Kluck et al

Celestial Fireworks

July 6: Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars looks like an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust -- the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603. This environment is not as peaceful as it looks. Ultraviolet radiation and violent stellar winds have blown out an enormous cavity in the gas and dust enveloping the cluster, providing an unobstructed view of the cluster.

NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Bright Lights, Green City

July 28: Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey. This fog is comprised of hydrogen and carbon compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are found right here on Earth in sooty vehicle exhaust and on charred grills. In space, PAHs form in the dark clouds that give rise to stars. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS/B. Whitney (SSI/University of Wisconsin)

Space Balls

July 22: 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.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

Saturn Light Show

In January and March 2009, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of a rare opportunity to record Saturn when its rings were edge-on, resulting in a unique movie featuring the nearly symmetrical light show at both of the giant planet's poles. It takes Saturn almost thirty years to orbit the Sun, with the opportunity to image both of its poles occurring only twice during that time.

NASA, ESA, and Jonathan Nichols (University of Leicester)

It's Cubesat

July 27: The UK Space Agency has announced it will develop and launch a miniature satellite to be used for inexpensive science missions in low-Earth orbit. Shaped like a cube and potentially smaller than a home computer, this type of satellite allows scientists to research cutting-edge space technology quickly and at relatively low cost, UK Space Agency chief executive David Williams said. 

Clyde Space

Solar Eclipse

July 11: The new moon passes directly in front of the sun, causing a total solar eclipse in the South Pacific. In this image, the solar eclipse is shown in gray and white from a photo provided by the Williams College Expedition to Easter Island -- embedded with an image of the sun’s outer corona taken by the Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) on the SOHO spacecraft.

NASA/ESA/Williams College Eclipse Expedition

Bulls Eye Crater

July 28: What caused the central pit within this impact crater on Mars, an unusual subsurface layering or a lucky second impact? Impacts into layers of alternately strong and weak material -- for example, ice rich versus non-ice-rich -- produce terracing such as that seen between the inner pit and the outer rim. Scientists have used terraced craters to estimate the thickness of lava flows on the Moon and elsewhere. 

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Brilliant Star, Colorful Neighborhood

July 28: A spectacular image from the Wide Field Imager at the La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the brilliant and unusual star WR 22 and its colorful surroundings. WR 22 is a very hot and bright star that is shedding its atmosphere into space at a rate many millions of times faster than the Sun. It lies in the outer part of the dramatic Carina Nebula from which it formed.

ESO

Watching a Planet Move

June 10: For the first time, astronomers have been able to directly follow the motion of an exoplanet as it moves from one side of its host star to the other. The planet has the smallest orbit so far of all directly imaged exoplanets, lying almost as close to its parent star as Saturn is to the Sun. Scientists believe that it may have formed in a similar way to the giant planets in the Solar System. 

ESO

Lightning on Venus

Was arid Venus once a waterworld? The European Space Agency's Venus Express probe has uncovered evidence that it may once have been hospitable.

J. Whatmore

Man in the Moon's Whiskers

July 01: A new analysis of a lunar sample collected by Apollo 17 using "raman spectroscopy" reveals graphite "whiskers," shown in yellow. Researchers have detected and dated carbon on the moon in the form of this graphite that survived from 3.8 billion years ago, when the moon was heavily bombarded by meteorites. Up to now, scientists thought the trace amounts of carbon previously detected on the surface of the moon came from the solar wind.

Andrew Steele, Carnegie Institution

Sun Surges in Space

June 30: Proba-2 is a small but innovative spacecraft crammed with experimental technologies. In its first eight months of life it has already returned more than 90,000 images of the sun. Less than a cubic meter in volume, Proba-2 carries a new generation of miniaturized science instruments. Here, a still from a video it captured showing flares racing away from the sun.

European Space Agency

Sand Dunes on Mars

June 30: Large sand dunes near the North Pole of Mars. The picture was taken in summertime, with only small patches of ice remaining at the surface; they show up as bright, somewhat blue, spots on slopes that provide some shading from the sun. Geologists would classify these dunes as "sand-starved" because the ground between the dunes has almost no sand. 

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Jumbo Jellyfish

June 17: Some might see a blood-red jellyfish in a forest of seaweed, while others might see a big, red eye or a pair of lips. In fact, the red-colored object in this new infrared image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a sphere of stellar innards, blown out from a humongous star.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Endeavour Crater on Mars

June 29: Mars rover team members have begun informally naming features around the rim of Endeavour Crater, as they develop plans to investigate that destination when NASA's Opportunity rover arrives there after many more months of driving. A new, super-resolution view of a portion of Endeavour's rim reveals details that were not discernible in earlier images from the rover.

NASA

Dust Storm Over Sahara

June 8: Billows of dust rise over the Sahara Desert of northeastern Africa in this image from NASA's Aqua satellite. The tan dust is thick, entirely blocking the view of the ground. The front edge of the storm blows out over the Red Sea. Faint blue and green swirls in the sea are probably phytoplankton, but may also be sediment in the water. 

MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

Superstorm on Exoplanet

June 23: Astronomers have measured a superstorm for the first time in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, the well-studied “hot Jupiter” HD209458b. The very high-precision observations of carbon monoxide gas show that it is streaming at enormous speed from the extremely hot day side to the cooler night side of the planet. The observations also allow another exciting “first” — measuring the orbital speed of the exoplanet itself, providing a direct determination of its mass.

ESO

A Cosmic Watercolor

June 30: A magnificent view of the region around the star R Coronae Australis, which lies at the heart of a nearby star-forming region and is surrounded by a delicate bluish reflection nebula embedded in a huge dust cloud. The image reveals surprising new details in this dramatic area of sky.

ESO

Sampling an Asteroid

June 7: A Japanese asteroid probe is a step closer to a planned June 13 landing --  possibly with a piece of space rock on board. The probe, called Hayabusa, launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in May 2003, is returning from the nearby asteroid 25143 Itokawa, where it landed and tried to collect samples. Mission scientists aren't even sure if Hayabusa managed to collect samples but hope the probe managed to snag at least some asteroid dust and pebbles.

Akihiro Ikeshita/JAXA

Trappist Sees First Light

June 8: This first light image from the TRAPPIST national telescope at La Silla shows the Tarantula Nebula, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) — one of the galaxies closest to us. Also known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070, the nebula owes its name to the arrangement of bright patches that somewhat resembles the legs of a tarantula. Taking the name of one of the biggest spiders on Earth is very fitting in view of the gigantic proportions of this celestial nebula — it measures nearly 1000 light-years across!

TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO

The Trappist Telescope

June 8: The new robotic telescope saw first light at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) is devoted to the study of planetary systems through two approaches: the detection and characterization of planets located outside the Solar System (exoplanets) and the study of comets orbiting around the Sun. The 60-cm national telescope is operated from a control room in Liège, Belgium, 12,000 km away.

E. Jehin/ESO

Stellar Shrapnel

May 24: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals evidence for a bullet-shaped object being blown out of debris field left over from an exploded star. In order to detect this bullet, researchers observed N49 for more than 30 hours. Using the new Chandra data, the age of N49 -- as it appears in the image -- is thought to be about 5,000 years and the energy of the explosion is estimated to be about twice that of an average supernova. 

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State/S. Park et al. Optical: NASA/STScI/UIUC/Y.H. Chu & R. Williams et al.

Testing a Scramjet Engine

May 26: The X-51A successfully made the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight to date off the southern California coast. The air-breathing scramjet engine, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, burned for more than 200 seconds to accelerate the U.S. Air Force's X-51A vehicle to Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. In this image from 2008, the SJX61-2 successfully completed ground tests simulating Mach 5 flight conditions.

NASA

Michibiki, Japan's Urban GPS

June 9: Getting accurate GPS info is often difficult in large cities, thanks to skyscrapers in urban areas. That's why the Japanese space agency is launching the Quasi-Zenith Satellite "Michibiki," which can observe Japan from almost its zenith for a long time. Combined with the existing GPS, the QZS system can provide a high accuracy positioning service even in urban canyons or mountainous terrain. 

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Craters of Mars

June 2: Martian terrain is blocky, fractured regions of flat-topped hills, plateaus, plains, and depressions thought to have formed by the collapse of the heavily cratered uplands. Large outflow channels appear to emerge from Aureum Chaos and other chaotic terrains -- leading researchers to posit that these large collapse regions were formed by the catastrophic release of ground water. The plateau slopes are steep and consist of a series of parallel bright, more resistant cliff forming layers and darker, less resistant slope material. 

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Clear View of a Classic Spiral

May 19: The nearby galaxy Messier 83 (eso0825) is located about 15 million light-years away in the constellation of Hydra (the Sea Serpent). It spans over 40,000 light-years, only 40 percent the size of the Milky Way, but in many ways is quite similar to our home galaxy, both in its spiral shape and the presence of a bar of stars across its center. Messier 83 is famous among astronomers for its many supernovae: vast explosions that end the lives of some stars. 

ESO/M. Gieles

Ice Lurks in Asteroids

April 28: Scientists using a NASA  telescope have detected water-ice and carbon-based organic compounds on the surface of an asteroid. The cold hard facts of the discovery of the frosty mixture on one of the asteroid belt's largest occupants suggests that some asteroids, along with their celestial brethren, comets, were the water carriers for a primordial Earth.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ring of Fire

April 22: This new image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) shows in great detail a solar prominence taken from a recent eruption. The twisting motion of the material is the most noticeable feature.

NASA/SDO/AIA

Ius Chasma on Mars

April 28: Ius Chasma is one of several canyons that make up Mars's Valles Marineris -- the largest canyon system in the Solar System. The canyons likely formed by extension in association with the development of the Tharsis plateau and volcanoes to the west. Wind and possibly water have modified the canyons after they formed.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Cat's Paw Nebula

April 21: The Cat’s Paw Nebula, NGC 6334, is a huge stellar nursery, the birthplace of hundreds of massive stars. In a magnificent new ESO image taken with the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, the glowing gas and dust clouds obscuring the view are penetrated by infrared light and some of the Cat’s hidden young stars are revealed.

VISTA/ESO

Site of World's Largest Telescope

April 26: the ESO Council selected Cerro Armazones as the baseline site for the planned 42-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will be the world's largest scope. Cerro Armazones is a mountain at an altitude of 3,060 meters in the central part of Chile’s Atacama Desert.

ESO/S. Brunier

The Birth of Stars

April 22: This new Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. Captured here are the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and the dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air.

NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Martian Dune Fields

April 28: A close-up view of the dark dune field on the floor of Proctor Crater, a 150-kilometer diameter crater in the southern highlands of Mars. These dunes are most likely composed of basaltic sand that has collected on the bottom of the crater. Superimposed on their surface are smaller secondary dunes which are commonly seen on terrestrial dunes of this size. Near the crests of the dark dunes are bright patches of frost. Dark spots within the frost patches are areas where defrosting is occurring.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Exoplanets Spin Backwards

April 13: Up to now it was expected that exoplanets would all orbit in more or less the same plane, and that they would move along their orbits in the same direction as the star’s rotation — as they do in our Solar System. However, new results unexpectedly show that many exoplanets actually orbit at a large angle to their star’s spin axis. In the case shown here (WASP 8b) the orbit is completely reversed, or retrograde.

ESO/L. Calçada

Stars Form in Orion Nebula

April 26: New images from ESA’s Planck space observatory reveal the forces driving star formation and give astronomers a way to understand the complex physics that shape the dust and gas in our Galaxy. Star formation takes place hidden behind veils of dust but that doesn’t mean we can’t see through them. Where optical telescopes see only black space, Planck’s microwave eyes reveal myriad glowing structures of dust and gas. 

ESA/LFI & HFI Consortia

CryoSat-2 Blasts Off

April 8: Europe's first mission dedicated to studying the Earth’s ice was launched on April 8. From its polar orbit, CryoSat-2 will send back data leading to new insights into how ice is responding to climate change and the role it plays in our 'Earth system.'

ESA-S.Corvaja

Triton's Summer Moon

April 7: Artist’s impression of how Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, might look from high above its surface. The distant Sun appears at the upper-left and the blue crescent of Neptune right of centre. Using the CRIRES instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, a team of astronomers has been able to see that the summer is in full swing in Triton’s southern hemisphere.

ESO/L. Calçada

Rosette Molecular Cloud

April 12: Infrared image of the Rosette molecular cloud. The Herschel telescope collects the infrared light given out by dust; this image is a three-color composite made of wavelengths at 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red). The bright smudges are dusty cocoons containing massive protostars. The small spots near the center of the image are lower mass protostars.

ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortium/HOBYS Key Programme Consortia

Massive Black Hole

March 3: A composite image of NGC 1068, one of the nearest and brightest galaxies containing a rapidly growing supermassive black hole. The X-ray images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory's Spectrometer show that a strong wind is being driven away from the center of NGC 1068 at a rate of about a million miles per hour. 

This wind is likely generated as surrounding gas is accelerated and heated as it swirls toward the black hole. A portion of the gas is pulled into the black hole, but some of it is blown away. High energy X-rays produced by the gas near the black hole heat the ouflowing gas, causing it to glow at lower X-ray energies.

X-ray (NASA/CXC/MIT/C.Canizares, D.Evans et al), Optical (NASA/STScI), Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA)

Phobos, in High Res

March 7: This image of Mars' moon Phobos was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express. The HRSC camera is operated by the German Aerospace Center and the Mars Express mission is operated by the European Space Agency. 

ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Jupiters Spot Seen Glowing

March 16: New ground-breaking thermal images obtained with powerful ground-based telescopes show swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, enabling scientists to make the first detailed interior weather map of the giant storm system linking its temperature, winds, pressure and composition with its color. 

ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher

Jupiters Spot Seen Glowing

March 16: "This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the Solar System," says Glenn Orton, who led the team of astronomers that made a groundbreaking new study of Jupiter's Red Spot. "We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated." 

The observations reveal that the reddest color of the Great Red Spot corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are descending into the deeper regions of the planet. 

ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher

New Shots from Mars Rover

March 4: New pics from NASA's Mars Rover show the first observation of a target picked autonomously by the spacecraft. During the 2,172nd Martian day, or sol, of its mission on Mars, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used newly developed and uploaded software to choose a target from a wider-angle image and point its panoramic camera (Pancam) to observe the chosen target through 13 different filters. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

The Cosmic Bat

March 3: The delicate nebula NGC 1788, located in a dark and often neglected corner of the Orion constellation, is revealed in a new and finely nuanced image from ESO. Although this ghostly cloud is rather isolated from Orion’s bright stars, the latter’s powerful winds and light have had a strong impact on the nebula, forging its shape and making it home to a multitude of infant suns.

ESO

Springtime on Mars

March 23: Spring has sprung on Mars, bringing with it the disappearance of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) that covers the north polar sand dunes. In spring, the sublimation of the ice (going directly from ice to gas) causes a host of uniquely Martian phenomena. In this image streaks of dark basaltic sand have been carried from below the ice layer to form fan-shaped deposits on top of the seasonal ice. The similarity in the directions of the fans suggests that they formed at the same time, when the wind direction and speed was the same. They often form along the boundary between the dune and the surface below.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Soyuz Spaceship Landing

March 18: The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft lands with Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev near the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan. NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev are returning from six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 21 and 22 crews.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Close-Up of Distant Star Factory

March 21: For the first time, astronomers have made direct measurements of the size and brightness of regions of star-birth in a very distant galaxy, thanks to a chance discovery with the APEX telescope. The galaxy is so distant, and its light has taken so long to reach us, that we see it as it was 10 billion years ago. 

ESO

Counting Stars

March 10: Astronomers have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope rather like a doctor's stethoscope to listen in on the "heartbeat" of star formation in our galaxy, a finding that will help trace the "life" of the Milky Way and other galaxies. To take the Milky Way's star formation vital sign, Robitaille first counted up thousands of the young stars spotted by Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera for a survey called the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE). 

Spitzer/NASA

Solar Observatory Launches

Feb. 11: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, SDO, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex-41 in Florida. SDO is the first satellite of NASA's Living with a Star (LWS) program. From its geosynchronous orbit, SDO will point its instruments at the sun, conducting groundbreaking research that is expected to reveal the sun's inner workings by constantly taking high resolution images, collecting readings from inside the sun and measuring its magnetic field activity. 

Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance

The Orion Nebula

Feb. 10: The Orion Nebula reveals many of its hidden secrets in a dramatic image taken by the European Southern Observatory's new VISTA survey telescope. The telescope's huge field of view can show the full splendor of the whole nebula and VISTA's infrared vision also allows it to peer deeply into dusty regions that are normally hidden and expose the curious behavior of the very active young stars buried there. 

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Endeavour Hovers Over Earth

Feb. 9: This view of space shuttle Endeavour's crew cabin and forward payload bay was taken by an Expedition 22 crew member during a survey of the approaching shuttle before it docked with the International Space Station. As part of the survey during each mission's activities, Endeavour performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver. 

NASA

Little Galaxy With a Tail

Feb. 4: This infrared portrait of the Small Magellanic Cloud, taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, reveals stars and dust in this galaxy as never seen before. The image shows the main body of the Small Magellanic Cloud, which is comprised of the "bar" and "wing" on the left and the "tail" extending to the right. 

The bar contains both old stars (in blue) and young stars lighting up their natal dust (green/red). The wing mainly contains young stars. The tail contains only gas, dust and newly formed stars. Spitzer data has confirmed that the tail region was recently torn off the main body of the galaxy. Two of the tail clusters, which are still embedded in their birth clouds, can be seen as red dots.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

Shuttle Approaches ISS

Feb. 10: This view of space shuttle Endeavour's aft section includes the three main engines and was taken by the Expedition 22 crew during the shuttle's approach vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station. As part of the survey and part of every mission's activities, Endeavour performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM). 

NASA

Stellar Nursery

Feb. 3: A magnificent image of the giant stellar nursery surrounding NGC 3603, in which stars are continuously being born. Embedded in this scenic nebula is one of the most luminous and most compact clusters of young, massive stars in our Milky Way, which therefore serves as an excellent "local" analogue of very active star-forming regions in other galaxies. The cluster also hosts the most massive star to be "weighed" so far. 

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Martian Impact Crater

Feb. 10: A stack of layers on the floor of an impact crater roughly 30 kilometers across on Mars. Many of the layers appear to be extremely thin, and barely resolved. In broad view, it is clear that the deposit is eroding into a series of ridges, likely due to the wind. Below the ridges, additional dark-toned layered deposits crop out. These exhibit a variety of textures, some of which may be due to transport of material.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Infrared View of the Orion Nebula

Feb. 10: The Orion Nebula reveals many of its hidden secrets in a dramatic image taken by ESO's new VISTA survey telescope. The telescope's huge field of view can show the full splendor of the whole nebula and VISTA's infrared vision also allows it to peer deeply into dusty regions that are normally hidden and expose the curious behavior of the very active young stars buried there. 

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

SpaceShots: The Best New Photos of Our Universe

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

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