Best Space Photos of the Week - Dec. 8, 2013

Bizarre Saturn Vortex Swirls in Stunning New NASA Video

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton

A NASA probe has captured an amazing video of the huge and mysterious six-sided vortex spinning around Saturn's north pole. [See the Video]

Amazing Photos: Comet Lovejoy C/2013 R1 Spotted by Stargazers

Comet Lovejoy is putting on a show for sky watchers in 2013. [See More Photos]

Launch Photos: Classified US Spy Satellite Blasts Off on Atlas 5 Rocket

U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Peterson

On Dec. 5, 2013, the U.S. Air Force launched a classified satellite into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in a clandestine mission that blasted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. See amazing photos from the secretive launch here. Above, the Atlas 5 rocket carrying the classified NROL-39 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office launches on Dec. 5, 2013. The rocket launched at 11:14:30 PST from Space Launch Complex-3 by Team Vandenberg. [See More Photos]

Images: Moon Express' Private Lunar Lander

Google Lunar X Prize

Moon Express is a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company based at the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley. The company plans to send a series of robotic spacecraft to the moon for ongoing exploration and commercial development focused on benefits to Earth and has signed a partnership agreement with NASA for the development of its lunar lander system. [See More Photos]

Cosmic Dust

ESO/Y. Beletsky

The Milky Way rises (left of center) above the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal Observatory 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. [See More Photos]

'Stairway to Eden'

Michael Ciuraru/Darkvoid Photography

Astrophotographer Michael Ciuraru sent in a photo of the Milky Way rising in Acadia National Park, Maine. He indicates that he 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 Photos]

Strange

ESA/Hubble & NASA

A peculiar galaxy known as NGC 660 lies around 45 million light-years away from us. Researchers classify it as a "polar ring galaxy," 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. [See More Photos]

Red Light Glowing

Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Sh2-64 is an emission nebula in the constellation of Serpens. The nebula represents the 64th item in the catalog of 312 objects 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. [See More Photos]

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Secretive Blue Origin Test-Fires Rocket Engine (Video)

NASA/Lauren Harnett

The secretive private spaceflight company Blue Origin has successfully test-fired a new engine for its rockets that could one day lift cargo and astronauts into orbit. [See More Photos]

Photos: Chris Hadfield, Canada's Star Astronaut, Hometown Visit

Elizabeth Howell for SPACE.com

An avatar of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield hangs out in Degroots Nurseries, a few feet from where Hadfield himself was doing a book signing on Nov, 23, 2013. [See More Photos]

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