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Best Space Photos of the Week - Jan. 1, 2012

Moons, Venus, Comets & More

Scott Tully

The last week of 2011 held some celestial treasures for skywatchers and astronomers alike. From Earth's moon to the satellites of Saturn to a Christmas comet, the cosmos served up one last sky show for the year.

Check out the most stunning space photos of the week here.

Sunset Double Green Flash

G. Lombardi/ESO

At sunset, the sky is often painted with an array of oranges, reds and yellows, and even some shades of pink. But there are occasions when a green flash appears above the solar disc for a second or so.

One such occurrence was captured beautifully in this picture taken from Cerro Paranal, a 2600-metre-high mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, by ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi on March 28 and released recently. Cerro Paranal is home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope. This image was posted on Monday, Dec. 26. [See more daily space photos]

NEXT: Spectacular Christmas Comet

Spectacular Christmas Comet

G. Blanchard(eso.org/~gblancha)/ESO

The comet Lovejoy may not be the famed Star of Bethlehem, but it still provided a jaw-dropping sight for astronomer Gabriel Brammer, photographed the comet rising ahead of the sun on Dec. 22 at Paranal Observatory in Chile's high Atacama Desert.

Brammer is a support astronomer for the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which runs the Paranal facility. His time-lapse photos of comet Lovejoy show it rising ahead of the sun as the Paranal astronomers fire a laser beam, which serves as a guide star, into the sky. Our Milky Way galaxy and the moon are also visible in the images. [Full Story]

NEXT: Full Moon Silhouette

Full Moon Silhouette

Tamas Ladanyi / astrophoto.hu / twanight.org

An airplane appears unusually large against the smallest full moon of the year. Hungarian skywatcher Tamas Ladanyi of The World At Night (TWAN) managed to capture this spectacular image Oct. 11, 2011. The image was posted on Dec. 26.

"The October full moon's beautiful celestial spectacle served despite the fact that the planet was at the furthest," the astrophotographer wrote on his website. [Full Story]

NEXT: Largest Telescope on Earth

Largest Telescope on Earth

ESO

This image shows an artist's depiction of what will be the world's largest telescope once construction is complete. Construction on the 42-meter European Extremely Large Telescope will begin in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2012. [Full Story]

NEXT: Tycho Supernova in Gamma Rays

Tycho Supernova in Gamma Rays

Gamma ray, NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration; X-ray, NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared, NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical, MPIA, Calar Alto, O. Krause et al. and DSS

This image shows a well-known exploded star pumping out powerful gamma rays in what may be the celestial smoking gun astronomers have been searching for to explain the fastest-moving particles in the universe.

NASA's Fermi space telescope has detected gamma rays — the highest-energy form of light — emanating from the shattered husk of Tycho's supernova, a star that exploded in 1572. The find could help astronomers pinpoint the origin of cosmic rays, super-speedy subatomic particles that crash constantly into Earth's atmosphere, researchers said. [Full Story]

NEXT: Rare Last Look Inside Shuttle Atlantis

Rare Last Look Inside Shuttle Atlantis

collectSPACE.com/Robert Z. Pearlman

The commander's (left) and pilot's (right) controls aboard Atlantis' flight deck are powered up like an artificial constellation of lights for the last time in late December. See more rare photos of SPACE.com partner Robert Pearlman's (collectSPACE.com)last look inside Atlantis before it was powered down for ever. [Full Story]

NEXT: Saturn's Moons Titan & Dione

Saturn's Moons Titan & Dione

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

aturn's largest moon, Titan, appears deceptively small paired here with Dione, Saturn's third-largest moon, in this shot snapped by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 6, 2011. Titan is much farther from the spacecraft than Dione is in this view. The view was captured at a distance of approximately 684,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Titan but only about 85,000 miles (136,000 km) from Dione. [Full Story]

NEXT: Christmas Eve Fireball by Rocket Debris

Christmas Eve Fireball by Rocket Debris

Roman Breisch

A dazzling fireball that lit up the night sky above Europe in a bright Christmas Eve display was no meteor or comet. A falling piece of a Russian rocket created the light show to cap the end of its successful mission, scientists say.

In Germany, photographer and skywatcher Roman Breisch and his family were on their way from their home in Erdweg (about 20 miles northwest of Munich) to his parents' home nearby for Christmas Eve when they spotted the fireball. He snapped this photo of the event just in time. [Full Story]

NEXT: Crescent Moon's Smile

Crescent Moon's Smile

Scott Tully

Skywatcher Scott Tully snapped this amazing view of the crescent moon on Dec. 26, 2011 while the moon appeared close to the planet Venus at sunset. The moon's dark section is illuminated by light reflected from Earth, called Earthshine. [Full Story]

NEXT: The Comet Survivor

The Comet Survivor

NASA

Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth's horizon in this nighttime image photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, onboard the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2011.

Burbank said it was "the most amazing thing I've ever seen in space. And that's saying an awful lot because every day is filled with amazing things." This image was posted on Thursday, Dec. 29. [More Comet Lovejoy Photos]

NEXT: Headlights on the (Celestial) Parade

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