Image of the Day 2020 Archive

March 2020

Hubble spots a galactic "traffic jam"

(Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble/P. Erwin et al.)

Monday, March 2, 2020: A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope features the barred spiral galaxy NGC 3887, with its long, winding arms and bright galactic core. The German-English astronomer William Herschel discovered this galaxy, which is located 60 million light-years away from Earth, about 234 years ago. At the time, astronomers didn't understand how such spiral arms could even exist, because they thought a galaxy's spinning core would eventually wind them up so tightly that the spirals would disappear. It wasn't until the 1960s that astronomers came up with an explanation.

"Rather than behaving like rigid structures, spiral arms are in fact areas of greater density in a galaxy’s disc, with dynamics similar to those of a traffic jam," Hubble officials said in a statement. "The density of cars moving through a traffic jam increases at the center of the jam, where they move more slowly. Spiral arms function in a similar way; as gas and dust move through the density waves, they become compressed and linger, before moving out of them again." — Hanneke Weitering

Merging storms spotted on Jupiter

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/Tanya Oleksuik)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020: Two white, oval-shaped storms in Jupiter's atmosphere have been spotted merging into one. NASA's Juno spacecraft caught these anticyclonic storms in the act using its JunoCam imager on Dec. 26, 2019, as the spacecraft was completing its 24th perijove, or close flyby of the planet. At the time, Juno was passing about 44,900 miles (72,200 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops at a latitude of about 60 degrees south. 

NASA has been tracking the larger of the two merging storms for years, and scientists have watched it gobble up several smaller storms in the past, NASA said in a statement. It narrowly avoided a merger with this same storm just a few months before this image was captured, when the two made a close approach as they churned through the planet's turbulent atmosphere. — Hanneke Weitering

A portrait of Saturn's moon Enceladus

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020: A new global view of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus shows the tiny satellite's "tiger stripe" fissures and frosty plumes in stunning detail. This artist's illustration of Enceladus was created from a global map that scientists working on NASA's Cassini mission stitched together from images that the spacecraft collected during its first 10 years of exploring the Saturn system. — Hanneke Weitering

An astronaut's view of NYC

(Image credit: Jessica Meir/NASA/Twitter)

Thursday, March 5, 2020: A new view of New York City captured from the International Space Station show's the city's skyline in incredible detail. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir photographed the city from the orbiting laboratory, which circles the Earth at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers). "Clear views of bustling #NYC day and night lately from @Space_Station," Meir tweeted on Wednesday (March 4). "Central Park looks inviting. Midtown's skyline reminds me of a metallic pin art impression." — Hanneke Weitering

A weird crater on Mars

(Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

Friday, March 6, 2020: A new image from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter reveals an odd, misshapen impact crater on Mars known as Moreux crater. While most craters appear roughly circular in shape, the outline of Moreux crater is shaped more like a fried egg. The crater's dark walls appear ridged and rippled, while dark brown and black dunes are smeared across the crater floor. The tall peak in its center is a pile of material that was ejected from the Martian terrain when the initial impact happened a few million years ago. Moreux crater's contorted appearance  developed over a long period of time, as erosion, wind and glacial activity shaped the planet's surface. This image was created using data collected by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express, when the spacecraft flew over the area in October 2019. — Hanneke Weitering

SpaceX's Dragon arrives at the space station

(Image credit: NASA/Jessica Meir via Twitter)

Monday, March 9, 2020: This Dragon cargo ship marked the end of an era of sorts for private spaceship builder SpaceX when it arrived at the International Space Station today. The Dragon CRS-20 spacecraft seen here is the last SpaceX Dragon to be captured by a robotic arm and attached to the station. Future SpaceX Dragon resupply flights will use the company's new Dragon 2 version, which can dock itself at the station. 

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir unveiled this photo on Twitter after using the station's robotic arm to capture the Dragon capsule. She wrote: "From now on, SpaceX will automatically dock to station. This Dragon capsule has been on station 2 times prior - sustainability is paramount to future space exploration."   — Tariq Malik

"Super Worm Moon" rises over Washington

(Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020: The first supermoon of the year peers through a blanket of clouds above the U.S. Capitol in Washington in this photo captured by NASA photographer Joel Kowsky on Monday (March 9). Also known as the "Worm Moon," the full moon of March nearly coincided with the moon's perigee, or the closest point to Earth in the moon's elliptical orbit. The moon was officially full on Monday at 1:48 p.m. EDT (1748 GMT), and it reached perigee almost 13 hours later, at 2:33 a.m. EDT (0633 GMT) today. — Hanneke Weitering

Milky Way sparkles over Yellowstone

(Image credit: Chirag Upreti)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020: The Milky Way shimmers over Yellowstone National Park in this starry night-sky photo by Chirag Upreti. This panorama combines 10 frames captured from the "Mound and Jupiter Terrace" at Mammoth Hot Springs, and it features an excellent view of the planet Jupiter, shining brightly to the right of the Milky Way while reflecting off the surface of the water below. Saturn is also visible in the photo, shining to the left of the Milky Way, directly above the asterism known as the Teapot

"The Dark Horse Nebula can be seen apparently jumping over the mound and to the right of Jupiter," Upreti told "It was an amazing experience to witness the stars and the Milky Way, knowing you are standing over terrain dictated by the raw power of a supervolcano, an incredible place to feel the bond between Earth and the night sky." — Hanneke Weitering

China's city lights seen from space

(Image credit: NASA)

Thursday, March 12, 2020: City lights illuminate southeast China by night in this photo taken by an astronaut at the International Space Station. The large, bright cluster of lights near the center of this image represent the city of Shanghai, the most highly populated city in the country, located on the coast of the East China Sea. The small, dense cluster just to the left of Shanghai is the city of Hefei, the capital of  Anhui and the largest city in that province of China. In the bottom left corner of the image is Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and "ground zero" of the novel coronavirus outbreak. This photo was taken on March 5, as the International Space Station passed over the Asian continent at an altitude of about 259 miles (417 kilometers). — Hanneke Weitering

Related: Dramatic effect of coronavirus lockdowns seen from space

A galaxy with "hunger pangs"

(Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble)

Friday, March 13, 2020: A new Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 1589 reveals the galaxy's bright central bulge, where a supermassive black hole is lurking in a group of tightly packed stars. The galaxy "was once the scene of a violent bout of cosmic hunger pangs," Hubble astronomers said in a statement

Located 168 million light-years from Earth in the Taurus constellation, NGC 1589 was discovered by William Herschel in 1783. "As astronomers looked on, a poor, hapless star was seemingly torn apart and devoured by the ravenous supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy," the Hubble team said. Now astronomers are using Hubble to look for any evidence of stellar debris that was ejected when the star ripped apart. — Hanneke Weitering

U.S. Eastern Seaboard seen from space

(Image credit: Andrew Morgan/NASA/Twitter)

Monday, March 16, 2020: A new view of Earth from the International Space Station features much of the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., stretching from New York City to South Carolina. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan shared the photo on Twitter last Thursday (March 12). In the foreground on the left side of the frame is Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-13 cargo resupply spacecraft, which arrived at the space station Feb. 18. On the right is a portion of the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm. — Hanneke Weitering

Happy St. Patrick's Day from space!

(Image credit: Andrew Morgan/NASA/Twitter)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: To honor St. Patrick's day at the International Space Station today, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan tweeted this photo of an Irish flag floating in one of the windows of the Cupola observatory in the orbiting lab. One of the space station's solar arrays is visible through the window, while Earth provides a cloudy backdrop. Along with this photo of the flag, Morgan tweeted a photo of Ireland, also known as the Emerald Isle, that he captured from the space station. — Hanneke Weitering

A stellar nursery in the Tarantula Nebula

(Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble/I. Stephens)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: A new Hubble Space Telescope image features a stellar nursery on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula. Known as LHA 120-N 150, this bright pink space cloud is located more than 160,000 light-years away from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. This colorful nebula is rich with new star formation, and it has an "exceptionally high concentration of massive stars, Hubble scientists said in a statement. By studying LHA 120-N 150, astronomers hope to learn more about the kind of environment in which massive stars form. — Hanneke Weitering

Milky Way over ELT

(Image credit: Petr Horálek/ESO)

Thursday, March 19, 2020: In this stunning night sky photo, the full arc of the Milky Way galaxy glitters over a photographer's shadow at the construction site for the European Southern Observatory's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), on the Chilean mountain Cerro Armazones. Scheduled to open in 2025, ELT will be "the world’s biggest eye on the sky," with a 39-meter (128-foot) primary mirror. ELT will scan the skies in optical and near-infrared wavelengths of light to search for worlds beyond our solar system, particularly for potentially Earth-like exoplanets. It will also help astronomers study how planets, stars, galaxies and black holes formed in the early universe. — Hanneke Weitering

Auroras and airglow over Earth

(Image credit: NASA)

Friday, March 20, 2020: Green auroras clash with orange airglow in this stunning view of Earth from the International Space Station. An Expedition 62 crewmember captured this photo from 263 miles (423 kilometers) above the Earth as the space station passed over Kazakhstan on Tuesday (March 17). Three weeks from now, three new space station crewmembers are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan to the orbiting laboratory. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, lift off on a Soyuz rocket April 9. — Hanneke Weitering

Curiosity snaps a selfie on Mars

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Monday, March 23, 2020: NASA's Mars rover Curiosity snapped this selfie after drilling a hole at a rock feature called "Hutton" and making its way up to the Greenheugh Pediment, the rocky mound seen here behind the rover and to the left. This panorama combines 86 images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on Curiosity's robotic arm on Feb. 26, the 2,687th Martian day, or "sol," of the rover's mission on the Red Planet. You can see an annotated version of this image here. — Hanneke Weitering

Orion and the USS John P. Murtha

(Image credit: Kenny Allen/NASA)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: NASA's Orion crew capsule floats behind the USS John P. Murtha in the Pacific Ocean after the landing and recovery crews from the Exploration Ground Systems team at the agency's Kennedy Space Center performed their first full mission profile test of recovery procedures for the Artemis 1 mission, on March 13. Scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021, the Artemis 1 mission will mark the first uncrewed test flight of NASA's Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft. After landing, air bags on top of the spacecraft will ensure that the capsule floats upright. — Hanneke Weitering

VLT's Laser Guide Star

(Image credit: Petr Horálek/ESO)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) beams its laser guide star into the night sky over Chile, creating a beam of light that arcs above the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers use giant laser beams like these to help their telescopes correct for the distortion caused by turbulence in Earth's atmosphere, which can make stars appear to twinkle. For observations at the VLT, astronomers rely on the Laser Guide Star Facility at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Pictured in the foreground are four domes of the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory. — Hanneke Weitering

Atlas V rocket stands ready for launch

(Image credit: ULA)

Thursday, March 26, 2020: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket stands ready for launch on Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket is scheduled to launch the U.S. Space Force's sixth and final Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, or AEHF-6, today during a 2-hour launch window that opens at 2:57 p.m. EDT (1857 GMT). AEHF-6 will be the first national security mission for the Space Force, and this Atlas V will be the first rocket to launch bearing the Space Force's new logo. You can watch the launch live here. — Hanneke Weitering

Comet Atlas blazes through the night sky

Friday, March 27, 2020: Comet C/2019 Y4 Atlas is slowly brightening in the night sky as it gets ready to swing around the sun in a couple months. Astrophotographer Mike Cuffe captured these two images of the green comet through his backyard telescope on Monday (March 23). In the first stacked image, the comet appears a bit blurry as it moves across a fixed background of stars. For the second image, the telescope was fixed on the comet, so the background stars appear as short trails behind a sharper image of the comet. Comet C/2019 Y4 Atlas is expected to make its closest approach to Earth on May 23, about one week before it reaches perihelion, or its closest point to the sun. It will brighten dramatically during this approach, and it may become visible to the naked eye in late April or May. — Hanneke Weitering

Airglow shines over Malaysia and Indonesia

(Image credit: NASA)

Monday, March 30, 2020: City lights of Malaysia and Indonesia light up the Earth beneath a blanket of blue and orange airglow while boat lights glow in the Bay of Bengal in this nighttime view of Earth from space. An Expedition 62 astronaut captured this photo from the International Space Station on March 21, when the space station was orbiting 262 miles (422 kilometers) overhead. — Hanneke Weitering

A "fluffy" spiral galaxy

(Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble/P. Erwin et al.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020: While most spiral galaxies have clearly defined arms the twist around a galactic core, others have patchy spiral arms that are not clearly distinguishable and resemble cotton wool. Due to this wooly appearance, the galaxy NGC 4237, shown here in a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope, is classified as a "flocculent" spiral galaxy. Located 60 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Coma Berenices, or "Berenice's Hair," NGC 4237 has been a target for astronomers, not because of its fluffy appearance, but because its bright central region may bear clues about how supermassive black holes form inside galaxies. — Hanneke Weitering

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News and editorial team is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. Originally founded in 1999, is, and always has been, the passion of writers and editors who are space fans and also trained journalists. Our current news team consists of Editor-in-Chief Tariq Malik; Editor Hanneke Weitering, Senior Space Writer Mike Wall; Senior Writer Meghan Bartels; Senior Writer Chelsea Gohd, Senior Writer Tereza Pultarova and Staff Writer Alexander Cox, focusing on e-commerce. Senior Producer Steve Spaleta oversees our space videos, with Diana Whitcroft as our Social Media Editor.