Image of the Day: May 2011

Now, Voyager


Monday, May 2, 2011: Only a computer artist could present NASA's Voyager spacecraft the way it appears here, in eerie perfection. The boom to the right holds the Cosmic Ray Science instrument, Low Energy Charged Particle detector, the Infrared Spectrometer and Radiometer, Ultraviolet Spectrometer, Photopolarimeter and Wide and Narrow Angle Cameras. The bright gray square below provides an optical calibration plate for the instruments. The Golden Record, containing images and sounds from Earth, appears as the yellow circle on the main spacecraft body. The dish serves as the spacecraft's high-gain antenna for communications with Earth. The magnetometer boom stretches out to the upper left. The radio isotope thermoelectric generators, Voyager's power source, hang on the lower left. The two Voyager spacecraft are identical. Voyager 2 launched on Aug. 20, 1977. Voyager 1 launched on Sept. 5, 1977. Both have approached the edge of the solar system around April 2011, and continue into interstellar space.

—Tom Chao

When You're Smiling

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Tuesday, May 3, 2011: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama share a laugh with STS-134 space shuttle Endeavor commander Mark Kelly (with back to camera), right, and shuttle astronauts, from left, Andrew Feustel, European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori, Michael Fincke, Gregory H. Johnson, and Greg Chamitoff, after their launch was scrubbed, Friday, April 29, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

—Tom Chao

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Simulated Martian Terrain

ESA/ÖWF/P. Santek

Wednesday, May 4, 2011: European researchers tested an ESA rover, a spacesuit mockup and a medical monitoring system April 18-22, at Rio Tinto in Andalucia, southern Spain. The "astronaut" sits at the controls of the Eurobot Ground Prototype, simultaneously testing the Aouda.X spacesuit mockup along with the Long Term Medical Survey System (LTMS). The Spanish weather supplied quite a bit more rain than one would expect on Mars, however.

—Tom Chao

The First American in Space

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Collection

Thursday, May 5, 2011: Fifty years ago today, on May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space. The Freedom 7 spacecraft carried Shepard on a suborbital flight that lasted 15 minutes. He underwent a physical examination prior to the first marned suborbital flight, shown here.

—Tom Chao

So Many Stars

ESA, Hubble, NASA

Friday, May 6, 2011: This Hubble Space Telescope image of the M15 Globular Cluster spans about 120 light years. Over 100,000 stars make up this relic from the early years of our galaxy, and the ball of stars continues to orbit the Milky Way's center. M15 lies about 35,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Winged Horse (Pegasus).

—Tom Chao

Conjunction Junction

G. Hüdepohl (

Monday, May 9, 2011: On the morning of May 1, 2011, four planets and the moon could be seen in the sky over the Paranal observing site of the European Southern Observatory, in the Chilean desert of Atacama. From top to bottom between the left and center telescopes in the photo are Venus (large and bright), Mercury (beneath Venus to the right), Jupiter and Mars (both closer to the horizon). The moon shines at the left. For those keeping score, the photo shows a fifth planet: the Earth.

—Tom Chao



Tuesday, May 10, 2011: This ultraviolet image of the sun shows large sunspot group AR 9169 as the bright area near the horizon. The relatively cool dark regions have temperatures of thousands of degrees Celsius, in contrast to the bright glowing gas flowing around the sunspots, which have a temperature of over one million degrees Celsius. Large sunspot group AR 9169 moved across the sun during September 2000.

—Tom Chao

Rockin' Graben

ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011: Nili Fossae on Mars is a graben system, a graben being a depressed area of land bounded by faults on at least two sides. Mars Express spacecraft took this image on February 8, 2008, using the High-Resolution Stereo Camera.

—Tom Chao

Keep Your Distance

NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Thursday, May 12, 2011: The three nebulae in this image may appear close together, but in actuality they reside at different distances from the Earth. Nebula NGC 1491 glows on the right side of the image, SH 2-209 sits on the left side and BFS 34 lies in between. NGC 1491 and BFS 34 are part of the same cloud complex at distance of about 10,700 light-years away in the Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. SH 2-209 lives farther away at about 16,000 light-years distance, located in the outer arm of the Milky Way.

—Tom Chao


NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, Robert Simmon

Friday, May 13, 2011: A landscape that looks eerie and remote is really Russia's Bezymianny volcano rendered in a false-color image. The volcano erupted on April 14, 2011. In this infrared photo, lava appears red on the summit and to the south-east. Bare rock and ash are gray, and snow and ice appear cyan. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite acquired this image on April 22, 2011.

—Tom Chao

Blue Skies


Monday, May 16, 2011: Under a blue sky, space shuttle Endeavour awaited liftoff on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16, 2011. Mission STS-134 is the final spaceflight for Endeavour.

—Tom Chao

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