Monday, Dec. 2, 2013: This image of Martian terrain shows the intersection of several fractures on the floor of Echus Chasma. One "sector" shows evidence…Read More »
of filling by a more recent viscous lava flow. Researchers consider Echus Chasma as the water source region that formed Kasei Valles, a large valley that extends thousands of kilometers to the north. The HiRISE spacecraft, which obtained the image, may assist in determining the relative roles of lava and water in the region.
Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013: Sh2-64 is an emission nebula in the constellation of Serpens. The nebula represents the 64th item in the catalog of 312 objects…Read More »
compiled by U.S. astronomer Stewart Sharpless in 1959 (2nd edition). Emission nebulas consist of clouds of interstellar gas excited by a nearby energy source, such as a star, causing the gas to glow with light, as the name suggests.
Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013: A peculiar galaxy known as NGC 660 lies around 45 million light-years away from us. Researchers classify it as a "polar ring galaxy,"…Read More »
as it possesses a belt of gas and stars around its center ripped from a near neighbor about one billion years ago. A cosmic rarity, only about a dozen more of these galaxies have been discovered since 1978. NGC 660’s polar ring does not appear in this image, but it contains other features that make it interesting to astronomers. Its central bulge lies strangely off-kilter and, even more intriguingly, researchers believe it may harbor exceptionally large amounts of dark matter. In late 2012, astronomers observed a massive outburst emanating from NGC 660 around ten times as bright as a supernova explosion, possibly caused by a jet shooting out of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013: Astrophotographer Michael Ciuraru sent in a photo of the Milky Way rising in Acadia National Park, Maine. He indicates that he…Read More »
took the shot at the top of the steps that lead to Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse, and the red light comes from the lighthouse. He titled the image: "Stairway to Eden." [See more sky images from readers.] Image submitted Nov. 26, 2013.
Friday, Dec. 6, 2013: The Milky Way rises (left of center) above the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal Observatory…Read More »
in Chile. At right, a band of roughly triangular diffuse light lies along the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun in the sky as seen from the Earth. This light comes from the scattering of sunlight by dust floating between the planets which travel in the plane of the solar system. The dust is called cosmic dust or interplanetary dust. This area in the sky is also known as the zodiac, which contains the traditional zodiacal constellations, so the glow is known as zodiacal light.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Monday, Dec. 9, 2013: MESSENGER spacecraft obtained this image of Mercury’s surface showing a high-reflectance area seemingly confined to a region of lower…Read More »
elevation bounded by linear scarp (cliff) segments. Such diffuse bright areas sometimes relate to the deposition of small secondary craters and ray segments by a relatively recent impact crater. However, regional images show no rayed craters in the immediate vicinity (except Han Kan). So a compositional difference might account for the difference in the albedo (brightness) of the material in the low-lying area. Are the scarps the result of vertical movement along faults, or were they formed by secondary crater chains? Researchers also have yet to explain the hollows on the central peak of the crater at upper left, and the smooth impact melt on the floor of the terrace-walled crater just below center.
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013: This image depicts galaxies in the constellation of Eridanus (The River). NGC 1190, at the right, belongs to Hickson Compact Group…Read More »
22 (HCG 22). The four other members of this group lie out of frame: NGC 1189, NGC 1191, NGC 1192, and NGC 1199. This photo includes 2MASS J03032308-1539079 (center), and dCAZ94 HCG 22-21 (left), neither a part of HCG 22. Astronomer Paul Hickson observed only 100 of these groups of galaxies. A Hickson Compact Group must contain at least four members, each one fairly bright and compact. Researchers believe these short-lived groups end their lives as giant elliptical galaxies.
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013: The Project Morpheus prototype lander’s engine blasts and smoke pours out during a tether test on Dec. 6, 2013, at NASA’s Kennedy…Read More »
Space Center in Florida. During the test, a crane lifted the lander 20 feet, then it ascended another 10 feet. The lander was scheduled to have maneuvered backwards 10 feet, and then flown forward and descended to its original position, landing at the end of the tether onto a transportable launch platform. Morpheus utilizes an autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technology, or ALHAT, payload permitting it to obtain clear landing sites on its own, for future exploration beyond earth orbit.
Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013: Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft caught a close view of tight packs of coils around one active region on the sun, Nov.…Read More »
18-19, 2013. The bundles of coils consist of charged particles swirling along magnetic field lines. Other field lines heading off to the left appear more elongated and tapered. SDO took the image in extreme ultraviolet light.
Did a Vehicle Come From Somewhere Out There Just to Land in the Andes?
Credit: Koichi Wakata (via Twitter as @Astro_Wakata)
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013: On Dec. 5, 2013, Dr. Koichi Wakata tweeted this image of South America taken aboard the ISS. He wrote: "Flying over the beautiful…Read More »
Andes. pic.twitter.com/pBC3dw4M7w." Wakata represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as a Flight Engineer on International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 38 and the Commander of Expedition 39. [See our gallery of Expedition 37/38 images.]
Monday, Dec. 16, 2013: Yellow-dotted tracks of asteroids appear to zip past the Helix nebula, a dying star, in this image obtained by NASA's Wide-field…Read More »
Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). However, a vast gulf separates the celestial objects, as the nebula lies far outside our solar system, while the asteroid tracks remain firmly inside our solar system. The bluish-green and red materials in the nebula consist expelled remnants of what was once a star similar to our sun. The burnt-out core of the star, called a white dwarf, heats the expelled material, causing an infrared glow. Around the edges of the Helix nebula, tracks of asteroids show up as lines of yellow dots, the individual dots recorded in separate pictures combined in this image. Infrared data can help find the smaller, darker asteroids more difficult to see with visible light. Other streaks in the picture represent Earth-orbiting satellites and cosmic rays.
Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013: Star trails shine above three of the four Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at the Paranal…Read More »
Observatory in Chile. Each bright trail marks the apparent path of a single star across the dark night sky, as the Earth rotates beneath. This photographic technique enhances the natural colors of the stars, giving an indication of their temperature, ranging from about 1000 degrees Celsius for the reddest stars to a few tens of thousands of degrees Celsius for the hottest, appearing blue. The sky in this remote and high location in Chile remains extremely clear, and no light pollution obscures the view.
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013: Crater Antonia lies in the enormous Rheasilvia basin in the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta, as seen in this…Read More »
colorized composite image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Antonia stretches 11 miles (17 kilometers) in diameter. The light blue color represents fine-grain material excavated from the lower crust. Coarser material buried the southern edge of the crater shortly after the crater formed. The dark blue of the southern crater rim occurs from shadowing of the blocky material. The composite image maximizes subtle differences in lithology (the physical characteristics of rock units, such as color, texture and composition), paying special attention to the iron-rich mineral pyroxene in the color scheme. Dawn's framing camera obtained the images from September to October 2011.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Keep Reaching for the Stars
Credit: ESA/M. Pedoussaut
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013: The Soyuz VS06 upper composite containing Gaia space observatory moved to the launch pad and was installed inside the mobile gantry…Read More »
on December 14, 2013. The Soyuz VS06 rocket lifted off successfully on December 19, 2013, from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission hopes to produce an unprecedented 3D map of our Milky Way galaxy by mapping the position and motion of a billion stars with extreme precision. The mission logo, seen here on the payload fairing, shows a young girl on Earth reaching for the stars of the Milky Way. A representation of Gaia spacecraft, in red, appears partially obscured at right.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KPNO/University of Missouri-Kansas City
Friday, Dec. 20, 2013: Galaxy cluster ISCS J1434.7+3519, the assembly of red dots near the center of this image, lies about 9 billion light-years from…Read More »
Earth. The cluster represents one of several very distant galaxy clusters discovered when ground-based optical data from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's Kitt Peak National Observatory combined with infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Stars in our galaxy appear as the large white and yellow dots in this picture, Distant galaxies make up the rest of the smaller dots. The cluster itself includes more than 100 massive galaxies, which Spitzer shows to form stars in prodigious fashion, some forming stars hundreds of times faster than our Milky Way galaxy. In this image, infrared light has been colored red; and visible light, blue and green.
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013: Astrophotographer Mia Stålnacke sent in a photo of an auroral display which features an arboreal feature she calls “the photobombing…Read More »
Christmas tree.” She took the photo next to Esrange Space Center, near Jukkasjärvi, just outside Kiruna, Sweden, on Dec. 7, 2013. She writes in an e-mail to SPACE.com: “It was around -30 C [-22 F]. The night after that temperatures reached -40 C [-40 F]. There was no aurora visible at first, but I decided to take some night sky images anyway. When I turned around, I saw the aurora flaring up behind me, and I was standing right next to this tree, so I figured, hey! Why not; it's almost Christmas. It was a beautiful night with twinkling stars and sparkling snow and the ghostly glow of the red and green aurora.”
Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013: On Dec. 14, 2013, Dr. Koichi Wakata tweeted this image of New Zealand taken aboard the ISS. He wrote: “New Zealand at a glance.…Read More »
Full of vivid green.pic.twitter.com/xJ3YZDgYw9” The North Island lies to the right in this photograph. New Zealand has famously come into the spotlight in recent years for serving as the backdrop for the movies based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” Wakata represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as a Flight Engineer on International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 38 and the Commander of Expedition 39.
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013: Astrophotographer Kurtis Markham sent in a photo of the Orion Nebula, taken on Nov. 22, 2013, in Alexandria, Virginia. The nebula…Read More »
lies in the well-known constellation of the same name, the brightest spot in Orion’s sword, below the three stars of easily spotted Orion’s Belt. A massive amount of star formation takes place in the nebula.
Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013: The Horseshoe Nebula (Messier 17) consists of a huge cloud of glowing gas heated by stars created only one million years ago, in…Read More »
the collapse of a giant molecular cloud. The newborn hot stars in its center ionize ambient hydrogen which emits red light. At the same time, the blue light of the stars reflects off dust particles. The cloud also goes by the names of NGC 6618 and the Omega Nebula. It lies in the constellation of Sagittarius. [See another photo of the Horseshoe Nebula.]