Hubble Sees an Ancient Globular Cluster

This image captures the stunning NGC 6535, a globular cluster 22,000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent) that measures one light-year across. Globular clusters are tightly bound groups of stars which orbit galaxies. The large mass in the rich stellar centre of the globular cluster pulls the stars inward to form a ball of stars. The word globulus, from which these clusters take their name, is Latin for small sphere. Globular clusters are generally very ancient objects formed around the same time as their host galaxy. To date, no new star formation has been observed within a globular cluster, which explains the abundance of aging yellow stars in this image, most of them containing very few heavy elements. NGC 6535 was first discovered in 1852 by English astronomer John Russell Hind. The cluster would have appeared to Hind as a small, faint smudge through his telescope. Now, over 160 years later, instruments like the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the NASA/ European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope allow us to marvel at the cluster and its contents in greater detail. European Space Agency Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine via NASA http://ift.tt/1vsB3tl

Observatory, Mountains, Universe

The awesomeness in this image comes in layers. The closest layer, in the foreground, contains the Peak Terskol Observatory located in the northern Caucasus Mountains of Russia. The white dome over the 2-meter telescope is clearly visible. The observatory is located on a shoulder of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, with other peaks visible in a nearby background layer. Clouds are visible both in front of and behind the mountain peaks. The featured three-image composite panorama was taken in 2014 August. Far in the distance is the most distant layer: the stars and nebulas of the night sky, with the central band of the Milky Way rising on the image right. via NASA http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap141230.html


Space Simulation Chamber Prepared for Testing Webb Telescope

This photo was captured from outside the enormous mouth of NASA's giant thermal vacuum chamber, called Chamber A, at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Previously used for manned spaceflight missions, this historic chamber is now filled with engineers and technicians preparing a lift system that will be used to hold the James Webb Space Telescope during testing. The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. > Related: Amazing View of Engineers Preparing NASA's Gigantic Space Simulation Chamber for Massive Test Image Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn via NASA http://www.nasa.gov/content/space-simulation-chamber-prepared-for-testing-webb-telescope

The Sun in X rays from NuSTAR

Why are the regions above sunspots so hot? Sunspots themselves are a bit cooler than the surrounding solar surface because the magnetic fields that create them reduce convective heating. It is therefore unusual that regions overhead -- even much higher up in the Sun's corona -- can be hundreds of times hotter. To help find the cause, NASA directed the Earth-orbiting Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite to point its very sensitive X-ray telescope at the Sun. Featured above is the Sun in ultraviolet light, shown in a red hue as taken by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Superimposed in false-colored green and blue is emission above sunspots detected by NuSTAR in different bands of high-energy X-rays, highlighting regions of extremely high temperature. Clues about the Sun's atmospheric heating mechanisms may not only come from this initial image, but future NuSTAR images aimed at finding hypothesized nanoflares, brief bursts of energy that may drive the unusual heating. via NASA http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap141229.html


View of the Alps From Space

Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) took this photograph of the Alps from the International Space Station, and posted it to social media on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. She wrote, "I'm biased, but aren't the Alps from space spectacular? What a foggy day on the Po plane, though! #Italy" Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti via NASA http://www.nasa.gov/content/view-of-the-alps-from-space

Unusual Light Pillars over Latvia

What's happening over that town? Close inspection shows these strange columns of light occur over bright lights, and so likely are light pillars that involve falling ice crystals reflecting back these lights. The above image and several similar images were taken with a standard digital camera in Sigulda, Latvia in late 2009. The reason why these pillars fan out at the top, however, remains a topic for speculation. The air was noted to be quite cold and indeed filled with small ice crystals, just the type known to create several awe-inspiring but well known sky phenomena such as light pillars, sun pillars, sun dogs, and moon halos. The cold and snowy winter occurring this year in parts of Earth's northern hemisphere is giving sky enthusiasts new and typically unexpected opportunities to see several of these unusual optical atmospheric phenomena for themselves. via NASA http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap141228.html


The Winter Shower

Known in the north as a winter meteor shower, the 2014 Geminids rain down on this rugged, frozen landscape. The scene was recorded from the summit of Mt. Changbai along China's northeastern border with North Korea as a composite of digital frames capturing bright meteors near the shower's peak. Orion is near picture center above the volcanic cater lake. The shower's radiant in the constellation Gemini is to the upper left, at the apparent orgin of all the meteor streaks. Paying the price for such a dreamlike view of the celestial spectacle, photographer Jia Hao reports severe wind gusts and wintery minus 34 degree C temperatures near the summit. via NASA http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap141227.html


Cetus Duo M77 and NGC 1055

At the top right, large spiral galaxy NGC 1055 joins spiral Messier 77 in this sharp cosmic view toward the aquatic constellation Cetus. The narrowed, dusty appearance of edge-on spiral NGC 1055 contrasts nicely with the face-on view of M77's bright nucleus and spiral arms. Both over 100,000 light-years across, the pair are dominant members of a small galaxy group about 60 million light-years away. At that estimated distance, M77 is one of the most remote objects in Charles Messier's catalog and is separated from fellow island universe NGC 1055 by at least 500,000 light-years. The field of view is about the size of the full Moon on the sky and includes colorful foreground Milky Way stars (with diffraction spikes) along with more distant background galaxies. via NASA http://ift.tt/13IqD2v


This Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is framed like a cosmic Christmas tree with starry decorations in this colorful telescopic portrait, snapped on December 16th. Its lovely coma is tinted green by diatomic C2 gas fluorescing in sunlight. Discovered in August of this year, this Comet Lovejoy is currently sweeping north through the constellation Columba, heading for Lepus south of Orion and bright enough to offer good binocular views. Not its first time through the inner Solar System, this Comet Lovejoy will pass closest to planet Earth on January 7, while its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) will be on January 30. Of course, planet Earth's own 2015 perihelion passage is scheduled for January 4. A long period comet, this Comet Lovejoy should return again ... in about 8,000 years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1B4nWDf


IC 1795: The Fishhead Nebula

To some, this nebula looks like the head of a fish. However, this colorful cosmic portrait really features glowing gas and obscuring dust clouds in IC 1795, a star forming region in the northern constellation Cassiopeia. The nebula's colors were created by adopting the Hubble false-color palette for mapping narrow emission from oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur atoms to blue, green and red colors, and further blending the data with images of the region recorded through broadband filters. Not far on the sky from the famous Double Star Cluster in Perseus, IC 1795 is itself located next to IC 1805, the Heart Nebula, as part of a complex of star forming regions that lie at the edge of a large molecular cloud. Located just over 6,000 light-years away, the larger star forming complex sprawls along the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. At that distance, this picture would span about 70 light-years across IC 1795. via NASA http://ift.tt/13DcvY9


The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov Gerasimenko

These high cliffs occur on the surface of a comet. They were discovered to be part of the dark nucleus of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko (CG) by Rosetta, a robotic spacecraft launched by ESA which began orbiting the comet in early August. The ragged cliffs, as featured here, were imaged by Rosetta about two weeks ago. Although towering about one kilometer high, the low surface gravity of Comet CG would likely make a jump from the cliffs, by a human, survivable. At the foot of the cliffs is relatively smooth terrain dotted with boulders as large as 20 meters across. Data from Rosetta indicates that the ice in Comet CG has a significantly different deuterium fraction -- and hence likely a different origin -- than the water in Earth's oceans. The Rosetta spacecraft is scheduled to continue to accompany the comet as it makes its closest approach to the Sun in 2015 August. via NASA http://ift.tt/13sGGB1


Frosty Slopes on Mars

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater. At this time of year, only south-facing slopes retain the frost, while the north-facing slopes have melted. Gullies are not the only active geologic process going on here. A small crater is visible at the bottom of the slope. The image was acquired on Nov. 30, 2014, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, one of six instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. > More information and image products Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona Caption: Livio Tornabene, Ryan Hopkins, Kayle Hansen and Eric Pilles via NASA http://ift.tt/1zfflLr

The Mysterious Methane of Mars

What's creating methane on Mars? Recent measurements from the robotic Curiosity rover currently rolling across Mars indicate a surprising 10-fold increase in atmospheric methane between measurements only months apart. Life is a major producer of methane on Earth, and so speculation is rampant that some sort of life -- possibly microbial life -- is creating methane beneath the surface of Mars. Other possibilities do exist, though, with a leading model being the sudden release of methane produced by the mixing of specific soil chemicals with underground water. Proposed origins of Martian methane are depicted in the featured illustration. The origin of Mars' methane is a very active area of research, with missions like Curiosity and India's Mars Orbiter Mission searching for clues by measuring methane abundance changes and possible byproducts of different methane-producing processes. via NASA http://ift.tt/1GMyiLv


Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky

Today the solstice occurs at 23:03 Universal Time, the Sun reaching its southernmost declination in planet Earth's sky. Of course, the December solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. When viewed from northern latitudes, and as shown in the above horizontally compressed image, the Sun will make its lowest arc through the sky along the southern horizon. So in the north, the solstice day has the shortest length of time between sunrise and sunset and fewest hours of daylight. This striking composite image follows the Sun's path through the December solstice day of 2005 in a beautiful blue sky, looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy. The view covers about 115 degrees in 43 separate, well-planned exposures from sunrise to sunset. via NASA http://ift.tt/1CgOHZ3


Apollo 11 Landing Site Panorama

Have you seen a panorama from another world lately? Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this one sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon's Sea of Tranquility. Taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module, the frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world. Toward the south, thruster nozzles can be seen in the foreground on the left, while at the right, the shadow of the Eagle is visible toward the west. For scale, the large, shallow crater on the right has a diameter of about 12 meters. Frames taken from the Lunar Module windows about an hour and a half after landing, before walking on the lunar surface, were intended to initially document the landing site in case an early departure was necessary. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wwI01I


Reflections on the 1970s

The 1970s are sometimes ignored by astronomers, like this beautiful grouping of reflection nebulae in Orion - NGC 1977, NGC 1975, and NGC 1973 - usually overlooked in favor of the substantial glow from the nearby stellar nursery better known as the Orion Nebula. Found along Orion's sword just north of the bright Orion Nebula complex, these reflection nebulae are also associated with Orion's giant molecular cloud about 1,500 light-years away, but are dominated by the characteristic blue color of interstellar dust reflecting light from hot young stars. In this sharp color image a portion of the Orion Nebula appears along the bottom border with the cluster of reflection nebulae at picture center. NGC 1977 stretches across the field just below center, separated from NGC 1973 (above right) and NGC 1975 (above left) by dark regions laced with faint red emission from hydrogen atoms. Taken together, the dark regions suggest to many the shape of a running man. via NASA http://ift.tt/1w4DDpt


Hubble Sweeps a Messy Star Factory

This sprinkle of cosmic glitter is a blue compact dwarf galaxy known as Markarian 209. Galaxies of this type are blue-hued, compact in size, gas-rich, and low in heavy elements. They are often used by astronomers to study star formation, as their conditions are similar to those thought to exist in the early Universe. Markarian 209 in particular has been studied extensively. It is filled with diffuse gas and peppered with star-forming regions towards its core. This image captures it undergoing a particularly dramatic burst of star formation, visible as the lighter blue cloudy region towards the top right of the galaxy. This clump is filled with very young and hot newborn stars. This galaxy was initially thought to be a young galaxy undergoing its very first episode of star formation, but later research showed that Markarian 209 is actually very old, with an almost continuous history of forming new stars. It is thought to have never had a dormant period — a period during which no stars were formed — lasting longer than 100 million years. The dominant population of stars in Markarian 209 is still quite young, in stellar terms, with ages of under 3 million years. For comparison, the sun is some 4.6 billion years old, and is roughly halfway through its expected lifespan. The observations used to make this image were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, and span the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared parts of the spectrum. A scattering of other bright galaxies can be seen across the frame, including the bright golden oval that could, due to a trick of perspective, be mistaken as part of Markarian 209 but is in fact a background galaxy. European Space Agency ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Nick Rose via NASA http://ift.tt/1H01dtM

NGC 7331 and Beyond

Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy's disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. The effect is further enhanced in this sharp image from a small telescope by galaxies that lie beyond the gorgeous island universe. The most prominent background galaxies are about one tenth the apparent size of NGC 7331 and so lie roughly ten times farther away. Their close alignment on the sky with NGC 7331 occurs just by chance. Seen through faint foreground dust clouds lingering above the plane of Milky Way, this visual grouping of galaxies is known as the Deer Lick Group. via NASA http://ift.tt/1AshhCs


75th Anniversary of NASA Ames

December 20, 2014 marks NASA Ames Research Center's 75th Anniversary. The center was established in 1939 as the second laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and was named for the chair of the NACA, Joseph S. Ames. It was located at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California, now at the heart of Silicon Valley. The Laboratory was renamed the NASA Ames Research Center with the formation of NASA in 1958. This June 2, 1943 photograph shows the construction of the Ames full-scale 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel, with a side view of the entrance cone and a blimp in the background. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1zADZKu

Geminid Fireball over Mount Balang

This was a sky to remember. While viewing the Geminids meteor shower a few days ago, a bright fireball was captured over Mt. Balang, China with particularly picturesque surroundings. In the foreground, a sea of light clouds slowly floated between dark mountain peaks. In the background, the constellation of Orion shone brightly, with the familiar three stars of Orion's belt visible near the image top right. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is visible near the image center. The bright fireball flashed for only a fraction of second on the lower right. The source of the fireball was a pebble that intersected the protective atmosphere of Earth, originally expelled by the Sun-orbiting asteroid-like object 3200 Phaethon. via NASA http://ift.tt/1zqefAD


City Lights Shine Brighter During the Holidays

City lights shine brighter during the holidays when compared with the rest of the year, as shown using a new analysis of daily data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite. Dark green pixels are areas where lights are 50 percent brighter, or more, during December. This new analysis of holiday lights uses an advanced algorithm, developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, that filters out moonlight, clouds and airborne particles in order to isolate city lights on a daily basis. The data from this algorithm provide high-quality satellite information on light output across the globe, allowing scientists to track when – and how brightly – people illuminate the night. A daily global dynamic dataset of nighttime lights is a new way for researchers to understand the broad societal forces impacting energy decisions and to look at how people use cities, from an energy perspective. > Full Story: NOAA/NASA Satellite Sees Holiday Lights Brighten Cities Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen via NASA http://ift.tt/13aSMio

W5: Pillars of Star Formation

How do stars form? Images of the star forming region W5 like those in the infrared by NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite provide clear clues with indications that massive stars near the center of empty cavities are older than stars near the edges. A likely reason for this is that the older stars in the center are actually triggering the formation of the younger edge stars. The triggered star formation occurs when hot outflowing gas compresses cooler gas into knots dense enough to gravitationally contract into stars. In the featured scientifically-colored infrared image, spectacular pillars, left slowly evaporating from the hot outflowing gas, provide further visual clues. W5 is also known as IC 1848, and together with IC 1805 form a complex region of star formation popularly dubbed the Heart and Soul Nebulas. The above image highlights a part of W5 spanning about 2,000 light years that is rich in star forming pillars. W5 lies about 6,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia. via NASA http://ift.tt/1yWVaa2


Sunset Over the Gulf of Mexico

From the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Terry W. Virts took this photograph of the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Gulf Coast at sunset and posted it to social media on Dec. 14, 2014. The space station and its crew orbit Earth from an altitude of 220 miles, traveling at a speed of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Because the station completes each trip around the globe in about 92 minutes, the crew experiences 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. Image Credit: NASA/Terry Virts via NASA http://ift.tt/1zmMJnn

The Potsdam Gravity Potato

Why do some places on Earth have higher gravity than others? Sometimes the reason is unknown. To help better understand the Earth's surface, sensitive measurements by the orbiting satellites GRACE and CHAMP were used to create a map of Earth's gravitational field. Since a center for studying this data is in Potsdam, Germany, and since the result makes the Earth look somewhat like a potato, the resulting geoid has been referred to as the Potsdam Gravity Potato. High areas on this map, colored red, indicate areas where gravity is slightly stronger than usual, while in blue areas gravity is slightly weaker. Many bumps and valleys on the Potsdam Gravity Potato can be attributed to surface features, such as the North Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Himalayan Mountains, but others cannot, and so might relate to unusually high or low sub-surface densities. Maps like this also help calibrate changes in the Earth's surface including variable ocean currents and the melting of glaciers. The above map was made in 2005, but more recent and more sensitive gravity maps of Earth was produced in 2011. via NASA http://ift.tt/12RLHmB


Molecular Cloud Barnard 68

Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured above. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light. via NASA http://ift.tt/1z8HkAd


The Infrared Visible Andromeda

This remarkable synthetic color composite image was assembled from archives of visible light and infrared astronomy image data. The field of view spans the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), a massive spiral a mere 2.5 million light-years away. In fact, with over twice the diameter of our own Milky Way, Andromeda is the largest nearby galaxy. Andromeda's population of bright young blue stars lie along its sweeping spiral arms, with the telltale reddish glow of star forming regions traced in space- and ground-based visible light data. But infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, also blended directly into the detailed composite's red and green color channels, highlight the the lumpy dust lanes warmed by the young stars as they wind even closer to the galaxy's core. Otherwise invisible at optical wavelengths, the warm dust takes on orange hues. Two smaller companion galaxies, M110 (below) and M32 (above) are also included in the frame. via NASA http://ift.tt/1BFEEwd


Crystals on Mars

This extreme close-up, a mosaic from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the Curiosity rover, spans a breathtaking 5 centimeters. It captures what appear to be elongated crystal shapes formed by the precipitation of minerals dissolved in water, a likely result of the evaporation of ancient lake or river from the Martian surface. Brushed by a dust removal tool and illuminated by white LEDs, the target rock named Mojave was found on the Pink Cliffs outcrop of the Pahrump Hills at the base of Mount Sharp. The MAHLI images were acquired on Curiosity's sol 809, known on planet Earth as November 15, 2014. Of course, the inset 1909 Lincoln Cent image is provided for a comparison scale. Covered with Mars dust itself, the penny is a MAHLI calibration target attached to the rover. via NASA http://ift.tt/1zX2zU2


Super Guppy Spends a Restful Night in the NASA Langley Hangar

NASA's Super Guppy aircraft, designed to transport extremely large cargo, rests after making a special delivery to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The aircraft measures more than 48 feet to the top of its tail and has a wingspan of more than 156 feet with a 25-foot diameter cargo bay – the aircraft features a hinged nose that opens 110 degrees. A representative test article of a futuristic hybrid wing body aircraft will be unloaded from the Super Guppy on Friday, Dec. 12 at Langley Research Center. The large test article, representing the uniquely shaped fuselage cross-section, is made out of a low-weight, damage-tolerant, stitched composite structural concept called Pultruded Rod Stitched Efficient Unitized Structure, or PRSEUS. Langley's Combined Loads Test System will subject the revolutionary carbon-fiber architecture test article to conditions that simulate loads typically encountered in flight. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1zHtwN8

Moondog Night

In this night scene from the early hours of November 14, light from a last quarter Moon illuminates clouds above the mountaintop domes of Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. Bright Jupiter is just left of the overexposed lunar disk with a streak of camera lens flare immediately to the right, but that's no fireball meteor exploding near the center of the picture. Instead, from the roadside perspective a stunningly bright moondog or paraselene stands directly over Kitt Peaks's WIYN telescope. Analogous to a sundog or parhelion, a paraselene is produced by moonlight refracted through thin, hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. As determined by the crystal geometry, paraselenae (plural) are seen at an angle of 22 degrees or more from the Moon. Compared to the bright lunar disk they are more often faint and easier to spot when the Moon is low. About 10 minutes after the photograph even this bright moondog had faded from the night. via NASA http://ift.tt/1DevmJg


Colorful and Plankton-full Patagonian Waters

Late spring and summer weather brings blooms of color to the Atlantic Ocean off of South America, at least from a satellite view. The Patagonian Shelf Break is a biologically rich patch of ocean where airborne dust from the land, iron-rich currents from the south, and upwelling currents from the depths provide a bounty of nutrients for the grass of the sea—phytoplankton. In turn, those floating sunlight harvesters become food for some of the richest fisheries in the world. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP captured this view of phytoplankton-rich waters off of Argentina on Dec. 2, 2014. Scientists in NASA’s Ocean Color Group used three wavelengths (671, 551, and 443 nanometers) of visible and near-infrared light to highlight different plankton communities in the water. Bands of color not only reveal the location of plankton, but also the dynamic eddies and currents that carry them. > More Information Image Credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Ocean Color Group, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership via NASA http://ift.tt/1slHCNZ

The Reddening of M71

Now known to be a globular star cluster at the tender age of 10 billion years, M71 is a mere 13,000 light-years away within the narrow boundaries of the faint constellation Sagitta. Close to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy in planet Earth's sky, its 10,000 or so member stars are gathered into a region about 27 light-years across near the center of this color composite view. In fact, the line-of-sight to M71 passes along the galactic plane through much intervening diffuse interstellar dust. The dust dims starlight and scatters blue light more efficiently, masking the brightness of M71's stars and shifting true star colors toward the red. How much are the star colors shifted? Slide your cursor over the image (or follow this link) to use an estimate of the dust reddening or galactic extinction to correct the star colors in M71. Corrections to the brightness and colors of M71 member stars are needed to measure the cluster's distance and age using a Color-Magnitude diagram. via NASA http://ift.tt/1IxTLtw


Great Lakes and Central U.S. Viewed From the International Space Station

From the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore took this photograph of the Great Lakes and central U.S. on Dec. 7, 2014, and posted it to social media. This week on the station, the Expedition 42 crew has been busy with medical science and spacesuit work while preparing for the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon commercial cargo craft, scheduled to launch on Dec. 16 on a two day trip to the station before it is captured by the Canadarm2 and berthed to the Harmony node. Image Credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore via NASA http://ift.tt/1yPXleh

The Flame Nebula in Visible and Infrared

What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible just to the right of the nebula, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The above false-color picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken is a composite of both visible and infrared light, the later energy band being where a young star cluster becomes visible. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula. via NASA http://ift.tt/1z1ealn


Orion Recovery

(Dec. 5, 2014) --- NASA's Orion spacecraft awaits the U.S. Navy's USS Anchorage for a ride home. Orion launched into space on a two-orbit, 4.5-test flight at 7:05 am EST on Dec. 5, and safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where a combined team from NASA, the Navy and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin retrieved it for return to shore on board the Anchorage. It is expected to be off loaded at Naval Base San Diego on Monday. Photo Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1IpB4rN

Aurora Shimmer Meteor Flash

Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on 2009 December 13. This 30 second long exposure records their shimmering glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, it also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from the excellent Geminid meteor shower in 2009 December. Streaking past familiar stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, the trail points back toward the constellation Gemini, off the top of the view. Both aurora and meteors occur in Earth's upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, but aurora caused by energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere, while meteors are trails of cosmic dust. Toward the end of this week the 2014 Geminids meteor shower will peak, although they will compete with the din of last quarter moonlight. via NASA http://ift.tt/15WpzcE


Orion Launch

Headed for two orbits of planet Earth and a splashdown in the Pacific, Orion blazed into the early morning sky on Friday at 7:05am ET. The spacecraft was launched atop a United Launch Aliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its first voyage into space on an uncrewed flight test, the Orion traveled some 3,600 miles from Earth, about 15 times higher than the orbital altitude of the International Space Station. In fact, Orion traveled farther into space than any spacecraft designed for astronauts since the Apollo missions to the Moon. The Orion crew module reached speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere about 4.5 hours after launch. via NASA http://ift.tt/12L9dSM


Milky Way over Moon Valley

Our Milky Way Galaxy arcs over a desolate landscape in this fantastic panoramic night skyview. The otherworldly scene looks across the arid, eroded terrain of the Valle de la Luna in the Chilean Atacama desert. Just along the horizon are lights from San Pedro, Chile, as well as the small villages of Socaire and Toconao, and a tortuous road from the city of Calama to San Pedro. Taken on October 18th, the five panel mosaic also features the four galaxies easily visible from our fair planet's dark sky regions. At the far left, satellite galaxies known as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are framed by their terrestrial namesakes. Much fainter and at the right, beyond the Milky Way's central bulge, is the Andromeda Galaxy. The most distant in view, Andromeda lies some 2.5 million light-years away. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vSBMqV


Launch of Orion

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, with NASA’s Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 at at 7:05 a.m. EST, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Florida. The Orion spacecraft will orbit Earth twice, reaching an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth before landing in the Pacific Ocean. No one is aboard Orion for this flight test, but the spacecraft is designed to allow us to journey to destinations never before visited by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1tQC8v9

Plato and the Lunar Alps

The dark-floored, 95 kilometer wide crater Plato and sunlit peaks of the lunar Alps (Montes Alpes) are highlighted in this sharp digital snapshot of the Moon's surface. While the Alps of planet Earth were uplifted over millions of years as continental plates slowly collided, the lunar Alps were likely formed by a sudden collision that created the giant impact basin known as the Mare Imbrium or Sea of Rains. The mare's generally smooth, lava-flooded floor is seen below the boardering mountain range. The prominent straight feature cutting through the mountains is the lunar Alpine Valley (Vallis Alpes). Joining the Mare Imbrium and northern Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold) the valley extends toward the upper right, about 160 kilometers long and up to 10 kilometers wide. Of course, the large, bright alpine mountain below and right of the valley is named Mont Blanc. The tallest of the lunar Alps, it reaches over 3 kilometers above the surface. Lacking an atmosphere, not to mention snow, the lunar Alps are probably not an ideal location for a winter vacation. Still, a 150 pound skier would weigh a mere 25 pounds on the Moon. via NASA http://ift.tt/15PRs5W


Mobile Service Tower Rolled Back for Orion Flight Test

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA’s Orion spacecraft mounted atop is seen after the Mobile Service Tower was finished rolling back early on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, Florida. The next launch opportunity for the Orion flight test is 7:05 a.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 5. The spacecraft will orbit Earth twice, reaching an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth before landing in the Pacific Ocean. No one will be aboard Orion for this flight test, but the spacecraft is designed to allow us to journey to destinations never before visited by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1yjtHz6

Sharpless 249 and the Jellyfish Nebula

Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring telescopic mosaic. The scene is anchored right and left by two bright stars, Mu and Eta Geminorum, at the foot of the celestial twin while the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with dangling tentacles below and right of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the Jellyfish Nebula is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. An emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper left. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this narrowband composite image would be about 300 light-years across. via NASA http://ift.tt/1BbYPSn


NASA's Orion Spacecraft Prepared for Launch

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, is visible inside the Mobile Service Tower where the vehicle is undergoing launch preparations, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, Florida. Orion is NASA’s new spacecraft built to carry humans, designed to allow us to journey to destinations never before visited by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/12vrCmv

Eta Carinae and the Expanding Homunculus Nebula

How did the Eta Carinae star system create this unusual expanding nebula? No one knows for sure. About 170 years ago, the southern star system Eta Carinae (Eta Car) mysteriously became the second brightest star system in the night sky. Twenty years later, after ejecting more mass than our Sun, Eta Car unexpectedly faded. Somehow, this outburst appears to have created the Homunculus Nebula. The three-frame video features images of the nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, 2001, and 2008. The Homunculus nebula's center is lit by light from a bright central star, while the surrounding regions are expanding lobes of gas laced with filaments of dark dust. Jets bisect the lobes emanating from the central stars. Expanding debris includes streaming whiskers and bow shocks caused by collisions with previously existing material. Eta Car still undergoes unexpected outbursts, and its high mass and volatility make it a candidate to explode in a spectacular supernova sometime in the next few million years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1v9w54i


NASA's Journey to Mars

NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and robotic and human exploration as we expand our presence into the solar system. Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future. Mars had conditions suitable for life in its past. Future exploration could uncover evidence of life, answering one of the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos: Does life exist beyond Earth? While robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are helping us prove many of the technologies and communications systems needed for human missions to deep space, including Mars. The space station also advances our understanding of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health. Our next step is deep space, where NASA will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, which we’ll need to send cargo as part of human missions to Mars. Beginning in FY 2018, NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will enable these “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities. Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown. A fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers already are on and around Mars, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers. The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back radiation data from the surface. This data will help us plan how to protect the astronauts who will explore Mars. Future missions like the Mars 2020 rover, seeking signs of past life, also will demonstrate new technologies that could help astronauts survive on Mars. Engineers and scientists around the country are working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and safely return home from the next giant leap for humanity. NASA also is a leader in a Global Exploration Roadmap, working with international partners and the U.S. commercial space industry on a coordinated expansion of human presence into the solar system, with human missions to the surface of Mars as the driving goal. Follow our progress at http://ift.tt/11EgZee and www.nasa.gov/mars. > NASA's Orion Flight Test and the Journey to Mars Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1tIhSLf

Stars and Dust Pillars in NGC 7822 from WISE

Hot, young stars and cosmic pillars of gas and dust seem to crowd into NGC 7822. At the edge of a giant molecular cloud toward the northern constellation Cepheus, this glowing star forming region lies about 3,000 light-years away. Within the nebula, bright edges and complex dust sculptures dominate this detailed skyscape taken in infrared light by NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. The atomic emission by the cluster's gas is powered by energetic radiation from the hot stars, whose powerful winds and light also sculpt and erode the denser pillar shapes. Stars could still be forming inside the pillars by gravitational collapse, but as the pillars are eroded away, any forming stars will ultimately be cut off from their reservoir of star stuff. This field spans around 40 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 7822. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vG6nbo


NASA's Orion Spacecraft at the Launch Pad

With access doors at Space Launch Complex 37 opened on Nov. 24, 2014, the Orion spacecraft and Delta IV Heavy stack is visible in its entirety inside the Mobile Service Tower where the vehicle is undergoing launch preparations. Orion will make its first flight test on Dec. 4 with a morning launch atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion’s crew module is underneath the Launch Abort System and nose fairing, both of which will jettison about six minutes, 20 seconds after launch. The tower will be rolled away from the rocket and spacecraft 8 hours, 15 minutes before launch to allow the rocket to be fueled and for other launch operations to proceed. The spacecraft will orbit the Earth twice, including one loop that will reach 3,600 miles above Earth. No one will be aboard Orion for this flight test, but the spacecraft is being designed and built to carry astronauts on exploration missions into deep space. Launch is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7:05 a.m. EST, the opening of a 2 hour, 39-minute window for the day. Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett via NASA http://ift.tt/1rN4OKr

The Seahorse of the Large Magellanic Cloud

It may look like a grazing seahorse, but the dark object toward the image right is actually a pillar of smoky dust about 20 light years long. The curiously-shaped dust structure occurs in our neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud, in a star forming region very near the expansive Tarantula Nebula. The energetic nebula is creating a star cluster, NGC 2074, whose center is visible just off the top of the image in the direction of the neck of the seahorse. The representative color image was taken in 2008 by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in honor of Hubble's 100,000th trip around the Earth. As young stars in the cluster form, their light and winds will slowly erode the dust pillars away over the next million years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1w9gQi8