Astronaut Salutes Nimoy From Orbit

International Space Station astronaut Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) tweeted this image of a Vulcan hand salute from orbit as a tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Nimoy played science officer Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series that served as an inspiration to generations of scientists, engineers and sci-fi fans around the world. Cape Cod and Boston, Massachusetts, Nimoy's home town, are visible through the station window. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Anq0nv

Long Lovejoy and Little Dumbbell

Buffeted by the solar wind, Comet Lovejoy's crooked ion tail stretches over 3 degrees across this telescopic field of view, recorded on February 20. The starry background includes awesome bluish star Phi Persei below, and pretty planetary nebula M76 just above Lovejoy's long tail. Also known as the Little Dumbbell Nebula, after its brighter cousin M27 the Dumbbell Nebula, M76 is only a Full Moon's width away from the comet's greenish coma. Still shining in northern hemisphere skies, this Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is outbound from the inner solar system some 10 light-minutes or 190 million kilometers from Earth. But the Little Dumbbell actually lies over 3 thousand light-years away. Now sweeping steadily north toward the constellation Cassiopeia Comet Lovejoy is fading more slowly than predicted and is still a good target for small telescopes. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wtBkn2


Love and War by Moonlight

Venus, named for the Roman goddess of love, and Mars, the war god's namesake, came together by moonlight in this lovely skyview, recorded on February 20 from Charleston, South Carolina, USA, planet Earth. Made in twilight with a digital camera, the three second time exposure also records earthshine illuminating the otherwise dark surface of the young crescent Moon. Of course, the Moon has moved on from this much anticipated triple conjunction. Venus still shines in the west though as the evening star, third brightest object in Earth's sky, after the Sun and the Moon itself. Seen here within almost a Moon's width of Venus, much fainter Mars approached even closer on the following evening. But Mars has since been moving slowly away from brilliant Venus, though Mars is still visible too in the western twilight. via NASA http://ift.tt/1MTykFj


Feb. 26, 1966 Launch of Apollo-Saturn 201

Apollo-Saturn 201 (AS-201), the first Saturn IB launch vehicle developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:12 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1966. The AS-201 mission was an unmanned suborbital flight to test the Saturn 1B launch vehicle and the Apollo Command and Service Modules. This was the first flight of the S-IB and S-IVB stages, including the first flight test of the liquid-hydrogen/liquid oxygen-propelled J-2 engine in the S-IVB stage. During the thirty-seven minute flight, the vehicle reached an altitude of 303 miles and traveled 5,264 miles downrange. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1LMExl9

The Rosette Nebula in Hydrogen and Oxygen

The Rosette Nebula is not the only cosmic cloud of gas and dust to evoke the imagery of flowers -- but it is the most famous. At the edge of a large molecular cloud in Monoceros, some 5,000 light years away, the petals of this rose are actually a stellar nursery whose lovely, symmetric shape is sculpted by the winds and radiation from its central cluster of hot young stars. The stars in the energetic cluster, cataloged as NGC 2244, are only a few million years old, while the central cavity in the Rosette Nebula, cataloged as NGC 2237, is about 50 light-years in diameter. The nebula can be seen firsthand with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). via NASA http://ift.tt/1Bq8g1Q


Chicago in Winter

From the International Space Station (ISS), European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took this photograph of Chicago and posted it to social media on Feb. 19, 2015. She wrote, "How do you like #Chicago dressed for winter?" Crewmembers on the space station photograph the Earth from their unique point of view located 200 miles above the surface as part of the Crew Earth Observations program. Photographs record how the planet is changing over time, from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. Astronauts have used hand-held cameras to photograph the Earth for more than 40 years, beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s. The ISS maintains an altitude between 220 - 286 miles (354 - 460 km) above the Earth, and an orbital inclination of 51.6˚, providing an excellent stage for observing most populated areas of the world. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti via NASA http://ift.tt/1wdNNpq

Unusual Plumes Above Mars

What is creating unusual plumes on Mars? No one is sure. Noted and confirmed by a global contingent of amateur astronomers on photos of the red planet in March 2012, possibly similar plumes have now been found on archived images as far back as 1997. Since the plumes reach 200 kilometers up, they seem too high to be related to wind-blown surface dust. Since one plume lasted for eleven days, it seemed too long lasting to be related to aurora. Amateur astronomers will surely continue to monitor the terminator and edge regions of Mars for new high plumes, and the armada of satellites orbiting Mars may be called upon to verify and study any newly reported plume that become visible. The featured 35-minute time-lapse animation was taken on 2012 March 20 by the plume's discoverer -- an attorney from Pennsylvania, USA. via NASA http://ift.tt/1A2p3kk


The Milky Way Over the Arizona Toadstools

Which is older -- the rocks you see on the ground or the light you see from the sky? Usually it’s the rocks that are older, with their origin sediments deposited well before light left any of the stars or nebulas you see in the sky. However, if you can see, through a telescope, a distant galaxy far across the universe -- further than Andromeda or spiral galaxy NGC 7331 (inset) -- then you are seeing light even more ancient. Featured here, the central disk of our Milky Way Galaxy arches over Toadstool hoodoos rock formations in northern Arizona, USA. The unusual Toadstool rock caps are relatively hard sandstone that wind has eroded more slowly than the softer sandstone underneath. The green bands are airglow, light emitted by the stimulated air in Earth's atmosphere. On the lower right is a time-lapse camera set up to capture the sky rotating behind the picturesque foreground scene. via NASA http://ift.tt/17LEjv7


Astronaut Barry Wilmore on the First of Three Spacewalks

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore works outside the International Space Station on the first of three spacewalks preparing the station for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. Fellow spacewalker Terry Virts, seen reflected in the visor, shared this photograph on social media. The spacewalks are designed to lay cables along the forward end of the U.S. segment to bring power and communication to two International Docking Adapters slated to arrive later this year. The new docking ports will welcome U.S. commercial spacecraft launching from Florida beginning in 2017, permitting the standard station crew size to grow from six to seven and potentially double the amount of crew time devoted to research. The second and third spacewalks are planned for Wednesday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, March 1, with Wilmore and Virts participating in all three. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1Be2FLU

The Dark River to Antares

Connecting the Pipe Nebula to the colorful region near bright star Antares is a dark cloud dubbed the Dark River, flowing from the picture's left edge. Murky looking, the Dark River's appearance is caused by dust obscuring background starlight, although the dark nebula contains mostly hydrogen and molecular gas. Surrounded by dust, Antares, a red supergiant star, creates an unusual bright yellowish reflection nebula. Above it, bright blue double star Rho Ophiuchi is embedded in one of the more typical bluish reflection nebulae, while red emission nebulae are also scattered around the region. Globular star cluster M4 is just seen above and right of Antares, though it lies far behind the colorful clouds, at a distance of some 7,000 light-years. The Dark River itself is about 500 light years away. The colorful skyscape is a mosaic of telescopic images spanning nearly 10 degrees (20 Full Moons) across the sky in the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). via NASA http://ift.tt/1B3A4ZG


45 Days in the Sun

From January 11 to February 25 2013, a pinhole camera sat in a field near Budapest, Hungary, planet Earth to create this intriguing solargraph. And for 45 days, an old Antonov An-2 biplane stood still while the Sun rose and set. The camera's continuous exposure began about 20 days after the northern hemispere's winter solstice, so each day the Sun's trail arcs steadily higher through the sky. These days in the Sun were recorded on a piece of black and white photosensitive paper tucked in to the simple plastic film container. The long exposure produced a visible color image on the paper that was then digitally scanned. Of course, cloudy days left gaps in the solargraph's Sun trails. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vmNiy5


An Evening Sky Conjunction

Eight years ago, an evening sky held this lovely pairing of a young crescent Moon and brilliant Venus. Seen near the western horizon, the close conjunction and its wintry reflection were captured from Bolu, Turkey, planet Earth on February 19, 2007. In the 8 Earth years since this photograph was taken Venus has orbited the Sun almost exactly 13 times, so the Sun and Venus have now returned to the same the configuration in Earth's sky. And since every 8 years the Moon also nearly repeats its phases for a given time of year, a very similar crescent Moon-Venus conjunction will again appear in planet Earth's evening skies tonight. But the February 20, 2015 version of the conjunction will also include planet Mars. Much fainter Mars will wander even closer to Venus by the evening of February 21. via NASA http://ift.tt/17yarSS


John Glenn During the Mercury-Atlas 6 Spaceflight

On Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., became the first American to orbit Earth. Launched from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 14, Glenn's Mercury-Atlas 6 "Friendship 7" spacecraft completed a successful three-orbit mission, reaching a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The flight lasted a total of 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds before the spacecraft splashed down in the ocean. This photograph of John Glenn during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight was taken by a camera onboard the spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1CSKR3Z

Palomar 12

Palomar 12 was not born here. The stars of the globular cluster, first identified in the Palomar Sky Survey, are younger than those in other globular star clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy. Palomar 12's position in our galaxy and measured motion suggest its home was once the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, a small satellite of the Milky Way. Disrupted by gravitational tides during close encounters the satellite galaxy has lost its stars to the larger Milky Way. Now part of the Milky Way's halo, the tidal capture of Palomar 12 likely took place some 1.7 billion years ago. Seen behind spiky foreground stars in the sharp Hubble image, Palomar 12 spans nearly 60 light-years. Still much closer than the faint, fuzzy, background galaxies scattered throughout the field of view, it lies about 60,000 light-years away, toward the constellation Capricornus. via NASA http://ift.tt/1AIGbm6


Magnetospheric Multiscale Observatories Processed for Launch

NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are processed for launch in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. MMS is an unprecedented NASA mission to study the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy via a process known as magnetic reconnection. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that work together to provide the first three-dimensional view of this fundamental process, which occurs throughout the universe. The mission observes reconnection directly in Earth's protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere. By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, MMS helps us understand reconnection elsewhere as well, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system's heliosphere and interstellar space. MMS is a NASA mission led by the Goddard Space Flight Center. The instrument payload science team consists of researchers from a number of institutions and is led by the Southwest Research Institute. Launch of the four identical observatories aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is managed by Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Services Program. Liftoff is currently targeted for 10:44 p.m. EDT on March 12. Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky via NASA http://ift.tt/17hsNrB

Dark Craters and Bright Spots Revealed on Asteroid Ceres

What are those bright spots on asteroid Ceres? As the robotic spacecraft Dawn approaches the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, the puzzle only deepens. Sharper new images taken last week and released yesterday indicate, as expected, that most of the surface of dwarf planet Ceres is dark and heavily cratered like our Moon and the planet Mercury. The new images do not clearly indicate, however, the nature of comparatively bright spots -- although more of them are seen to exist. The enigmatic spots were first noticed on Texas-sized Ceres a few weeks ago during Dawn's approach. The intriguing mystery might well be solved quickly as Dawn continues to advance toward Ceres, being on schedule to enter orbit on March 6. via NASA http://ift.tt/19v3l3c


Fibrils Flower on the Sun

When does the Sun look like a flower? In a specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen, as featured here, some regions of the solar chromosphere may resemble a rose. The color-inverted image was taken in 2014 October and shows active solar region 2177. The petals dominating the frame are actually magnetically confined tubes of hot plasma called fibrils, some of which extend longer the diameter of the Earth. In the central region many of these fibrils are seen end-on, while the surrounding regions are typically populated with curved fibrils. When seen over the Sun's edge, these huge plasma tubes are called spicules, and when they occur in passive regions they are termed mottles. Sunspot region 2177 survived for several more days before the complex and tumultuous magnetic field poking through the Sun's surface evolved yet again. via NASA http://ift.tt/1FlCbJj


Dawn Approaches: Two Faces of Ceres

These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images have been magnified from their original size. The Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015. Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, built by Selex ES, and is managed and operated by the Italian Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA via NASA http://ift.tt/17e9246

M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Center

What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106's appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and red dust lanes near the nucleus, as shown in the featured image. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 23.5 million light years away, spans 60 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). via NASA http://ift.tt/17fSLLF


Two Hours Before Neptune

Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the cloud tops of Uranus and Neptune. Twenty-six years later, NASA's New Horizons is poised to be the first spacecraft to zoom past Pluto this July. via NASA http://ift.tt/1A9qmkJ


Solar System Portrait

On another Valentine's Day 25 years ago, cruising four billion miles from the Sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back one last time to make this first ever Solar System family portrait. The complete portrait is a 60 frame mosaic made from a vantage point 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In it, Voyager's wide angle camera frames sweep through the inner Solar System at the left, linking up with gas giant Neptune, the Solar System's outermost planet, at the far right. Positions for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are indicated by letters, while the Sun is the bright spot near the center of the circle of frames. The inset frames for each of the planets are from Voyager's narrow field camera. Unseen in the portrait are Mercury, too close to the Sun to be detected, and Mars, unfortunately hidden by sunlight scattered in the camera's optical system. Closer to the Sun than Neptune at the time, small, faint Pluto's position was not covered. via NASA http://ift.tt/1DQ6S7v


Aurora on Ice

Not from a snowglobe, this expansive fisheye view of ice and sky was captured on February 1, from Jökulsárlón Beach, southeast Iceland, planet Earth. Chunks of glacial ice on the black sand beach glisten in the light of a nearly full moon surrounded by a shining halo. The 22 degree lunar halo itself is created by ice crystals in high, thin clouds refracting the moonlight. Despite the bright moonlight, curtains of aurora still dance through the surreal scene. In early February, their activity was triggered by Earth's restless magnetosphere and the energetic wind from a coronal hole near the Sun's south pole. Bright Jupiter, also near opposition, is visible at the left, beyond the icy lunar halo. via NASA http://ift.tt/1B4UFfv


Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay

The delta plain of the Mississippi River is disappearing. The lobe-shaped arc of coastal land from the Chandeleur Islands in eastern Louisiana to the Sabine River loses a football field’s worth of land every hour. Put another way, the delta has shrunk by nearly 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) over the past 80 years. That’s as if most of Delaware had sunk into the sea. Though land losses are widely distributed across the 300 kilometer (200 mile) wide coastal plain of Louisiana, Atchafalaya Bay stands as a notable exception. In a swampy area south of Morgan City, new land is forming at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. Wax Lake Outlet is an artificial channel that diverts some of the river’s flow into the bay about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of where the main river empties. Both deltas are being built by sediment carried by the Atchafalaya River. The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi River, connecting to the “Big Muddy” in south central Louisiana near Simmesport. Studies of the geologic history of the meandering Mississippi have shown that—if left to nature—most of the river’s water would eventually flow down the Atchafalaya. But the Old River Control Structure, built in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ensures that only 30 percent of the Mississippi flows into the Atchafalaya River, while the rest of the keeps moving toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans. More information. Image Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory via NASA http://ift.tt/1D4iXai

Exploring the Antennae

Some 60 million light-years away in the southerly constellation Corvus, two large galaxies are colliding. The stars in the two galaxies, cataloged as NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, very rarely collide in the course of the ponderous cataclysm, lasting hundreds of millions of years. But their large clouds of molecular gas and dust often do, triggering furious episodes of star formation near the center of the cosmic wreckage. Spanning about 500 thousand light-years, this stunning composited view also reveals new star clusters and matter flung far from the scene of the accident by gravitational tidal forces. The remarkable collaborative image is a mosaic constructed using data from small and large ground-based telescopes to bring out large-scale and faint tidal streams, composited with the bright cores imaged in extreme detail by the Hubble Space Telescope. Of course, the suggestive visual appearance of the extended arcing structures gives the galaxy pair its popular name - The Antennae. via NASA http://ift.tt/1F0oGhN


NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) enters the Lufthansa Technik hangar in Hamburg, Germany for its decadal inspection. Flight, aircraft maintenance, and science personnel from the Armstrong Flight Research Center worked alongside Lufthansa's 747 specialists to perform a wide range of inspections and maintenance. Image Credit: NASA/ Jeff Doughty via NASA http://ift.tt/1Mg5TkH

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was made in 2009 and reveals bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe. If you know exactly where to look, you can find a small spot that is a light echo from a bright supernova that was recorded a few years before the image was taken. via NASA http://ift.tt/1vixXcG


Giant Filament Seen on the Sun

A dark, snaking line across the lower half of the sun in this Feb. 10, 2015 image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows a filament of solar material hovering above the sun's surface. SDO shows colder material as dark and hotter material as light, so the line is, in fact, an enormous swatch of colder material hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona. Stretched out, that line – or solar filament as scientists call it – would be more than 533,000 miles long. That is longer than 67 Earths lined up in a row. Filaments can float sedately for days before disappearing. Sometimes they also erupt out into space, releasing solar material in a shower that either rains back down or escapes out into space, becoming a moving cloud known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME. SDO captured images of the filament in numerous wavelengths, each of which helps highlight material of different temperatures on the sun. By looking at such features in different wavelengths and temperatures, scientists learn more about what causes these structures, as well as what catalyzes their occasional eruptions. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is designed to study the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. The spacecraft's long-term measurements give solar scientists in-depth information to help characterize the interior of the sun, the sun's magnetic field, the hot plasma of the solar corona, and the density of radiation that creates the ionosphere of the planets. The information is used to create better forecasts of space weather needed to protect aircraft, satellites and astronauts living and working in space. Image Credit: NASA/SDO via NASA http://ift.tt/1EYkgIf

An Extremely Long Filament on the Sun

Yesterday, the Sun exhibited one of the longest filaments ever recorded. It may still be there today. Visible as the dark streak just below the center in the featured image, the enormous filament extended across the face of the Sun a distance even longer than the Sun's radius -- over 700,000 kilometers. A filament is actually hot gas held aloft by the Sun's magnetic field, so that viewed from the side it would appear as a raised prominence. The featured image shows the filament in light emitted by hydrogen and therefore highlights the Sun's chromosphere. Sun-following telescopes including NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) are tracking this unusual feature, with SDO yesterday recording a spiraling magnetic field engulfing it. Since filaments typically last only from hours to days, parts of this one may collapse or erupt at any time, either returning hot plasma back to the Sun or expelling it into the Solar System. Is the filament still there? You can check by clicking on SDO's current solar image. via NASA http://ift.tt/1E0Wes9


Hubble Sees A Smiling Lens

In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it seems to be smiling. You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this “happy face”, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing. Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubble’s discoveries, can be explained by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring — known as an Einstein Ring — is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here. Hubble has provided astronomers with the tools to probe these massive galaxies and model their lensing effects, allowing us to peer further into the early Universe than ever before. This object was studied by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of a survey of strong lenses. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt. Image Credit: NASA/ESA Caption: ESA > More information and image products via NASA http://ift.tt/1FudF5Q

Layered Rocks near Mount Sharp on Mars

What caused these Martian rocks to be layered? The leading hypothesis is an ancient Martian lake that kept evaporating and refilling over 10 million years -- but has now remained dry and empty of water for billions of years. The featured image, taken last November by the robotic Curiosity rover, shows one-meter wide Whale Rock which is part of the Pahrump Hills outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp. Also evident in the image is cross-bedding -- rock with angled layers -- which were likely facilitated by waves of sand. Curiosity continues to find many layered rocks like this as it continues to roll around and up 5.5-km high Mount Sharp. via NASA http://ift.tt/1C9JGz1


Space Station Flyover of Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took this photograph from the International Space Station and posted it to social media on Jan. 30, 2015. Cristoforetti wrote, "A spectacular flyover of the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. #HelloEarth" Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti via NASA http://ift.tt/1CLJOYl

Carina Nebula Dust Pillar

This cosmic pillar of gas and dust is nearly two light-years wide. The structure lies within one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions, the Carina Nebula, shining in southern skies at a distance of about 7,500 light-years. The pillar's convoluted outlines are shaped by the winds and radiation of Carina's young, hot, massive stars. But the interior of the cosmic pillar itself is home to stars in the process of formation. In fact, a penetrating infrared view shows the pillar is dominated by two, narrow, energetic jets blasting outward from a still hidden infant star. The above featured visible light image was made in 2009 using the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. via NASA http://ift.tt/1D9Mb5O


Jupiter Triple-Moon Conjunction

Our solar system's ruling giant planet Jupiter and 3 of its 4 large Galilean moons are captured in this single Hubble snapshot from January 24. Crossing in front of Jupiter's banded cloud tops Europa, Callisto, and Io are framed from lower left to upper right in a rare triple-moon conjunction. Distinguishable by colors alone icy Europa is almost white, Callisto's ancient cratered surface looks dark brown, and volcanic Io appears yellowish. The transiting moons and moon shadows can be identified by sliding your cursor over the image, or following this link. Remarkably, two small, inner Jovian moons, Amalthea and Thebe, along with their shadows, can also be found in the sharp Hubble view. The Galilean moons have diameters of 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers or so, comparable in size to Earth's moon. But odd-shaped Amalthea and Thebe are only about 260 and 100 kilometers across respectively. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Dl6RIJ


Hubble's Little Sombrero

Galaxies can take many shapes and be oriented any way relative to us in the sky. This can make it hard to figure out their actual morphology, as a galaxy can look very different from different viewpoints. A special case is when we are lucky enough to observe a spiral galaxy directly from its edge, providing us with a spectacular view like the one seen in this picture of the week. This is NGC 7814, also known as the “Little Sombrero.” Its larger namesake, the Sombrero Galaxy, is another stunning example of an edge-on galaxy — in fact, the “Little Sombrero” is about the same size as its bright namesake at about 60,000 light-years across, but as it lies farther away, and so appears smaller in the sky. NGC 7814 has a bright central bulge and a bright halo of glowing gas extending outwards into space. The dusty spiral arms appear as dark streaks. They consist of dusty material that absorbs and blocks light from the galactic center behind it. The field of view of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image would be very impressive even without NGC 7814 in front; nearly all the objects seen in this image are galaxies as well. European Space Agency Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington via NASA http://ift.tt/16prBlg

M104: The Sombrero Galaxy

The striking spiral galaxy M104 is famous for its nearly edge-on profile featuring a broad ring of obscuring dust lanes. Seen in silhouette against an extensive bulge of stars, the swath of cosmic dust lends a broad brimmed hat-like appearance to the galaxy suggesting the more popular moniker, The Sombrero Galaxy. Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based Subaru data have been reprocessed with amateur color image data to create this sharp view of the well-known galaxy. The processing results in a natural color appearance and preserves details often lost in overwhelming glare of M104's bright central bulge when viewed with smaller ground-based instruments. Also known as NGC 4594, the Sombrero galaxy can be seen across the spectrum and is thought to host a central supermassive black hole. About 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light-years away, M104 is one of the largest galaxies at the southern edge of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. via NASA http://ift.tt/1I5U29m


Forty-Four Years Ago Today: Apollo 14 Touches Down on the Moon

On Feb. 5. 1971, the Apollo 14 crew module landed on the moon. The crew members were Captain Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. (USN), commander; Major Stuart Allen Roosa (USAF), command module pilot; and Commander Edgar Dean Mitchell (USN), lunar module pilot. In this photo, Shepard stands by the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET). The MET was a cart for carrying around tools, cameras and sample cases on the lunar surface. Shepard can be identified by the vertical stripe on his helmet. After Apollo 13, the commander's spacesuit had red stripes on the helmet, arms, and one leg, to help identify them in photographs. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1zjYwTG

Stars, Sprites, Clouds, Auroras

What are those red streaks in the sky? While photographing unexpected auroras over a distant thunderstorm, something extraordinary happened: red sprites. This brief instance of rarely imaged high-altitude lightning flashed so bright that it was witnessed by several people independently. Pictured over Minnesota, USA in May 2013, these red sprites likely followed an extremely powerful low-altitude conventional lightning bolt. Captured in the featured frame are a house and electrical pole in the foreground, thick clouds in the lower atmosphere, a lightning storm on the horizon, distant red sprites and green aurora in the upper atmosphere, and distant stars from our local neighborhood of the Milky Way Galaxy. The spectacular image is thought to be only the second known case of sprites and auroras photographed together, and possibly the first in true color. via NASA http://ift.tt/1xcvYGt


Jets from Comet Churyumov Gerasimenko

Where do comet tails come from? Although it is common knowledge that comet tails and comas originate from comet nuclei, exactly how that happens is an active topic of research. One of the best images yet of emerging jets is shown in the featured image, taken last November by the robotic Rosetta spacecraft in orbit around the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet CG), and released last month. The overexposed picture shows plumes of gas and dust escaping numerous places from the Comet CG's nucleus as it nears the Sun and heats up. Although Comet CG is currently further out from the Sun than Mars, its orbit will take it almost as close as the Earth this coming August, at which time its jet activity is expected to increase by a factor of about 100. You've likely seen some debris from comet nuclei before but in another form -- when sand-sized bits end their journey through the Solar System by impacting the atmosphere of Earth as meteors. via NASA http://ift.tt/1yyAMYr


'State of NASA' Address at Kennedy Space Center

In the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivers a “state of the agency” address on Feb. 2, 2015 at NASA's televised fiscal year 2016 budget rollout event with Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana looking on, at right. Representatives from the Kennedy workforce, news media and social media were in attendance. NASA's Orion, SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 spacecraft, all destined to play a role in NASA’s overall exploration objectives, were on display. Photo credit: NASA/Amber Watson via NASA http://ift.tt/1zDuXgo

Titan Seas Reflect Sunlight

Why would the surface of Titan light up with a blinding flash? The reason: a sunglint from liquid seas. Saturn's moon Titan has numerous smooth lakes of methane that, when the angle is right, reflect sunlight as if they were mirrors. Pictured here in false-color, the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn imaged the cloud-covered Titan last summer in different bands of cloud-piercing infrared light. This specular reflection was so bright it saturated one of Cassini's infrared cameras. Although the sunglint was annoying -- it was also useful. The reflecting regions confirm that northern Titan houses a wide and complex array of seas with a geometry that indicates periods of significant evaporation. During its numerous passes of our Solar System's most mysterious moon, Cassini has revealed Titan to be a world with active weather -- including times when it rains a liquefied version of natural gas. via NASA http://ift.tt/1z3XsyB


Cloud Streets in the Bering Sea

Ice, wind, cold temperatures and ocean waters combined to created dramatic cloud formations over the Bering Sea in late January, 2015. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite passed over the region and captured this true-color image on Jan. 23. The frozen tundra of Russia lies in the northwest of the image, and snow-covered Alaska lies in the northeast. Sea ice extends from the land well into the Bering Sea. Over the dark water bright white clouds line in up close, parallel rows. These formations are known as “cloud streets”. Air blowing over the cold, snowy land and then over ice becomes both cold and dry. When the air then moves over relatively warmer and much moister water and lead to the development of parallel cylinders of spinning air. On the upper edge of these cylinders of air, where the air is rising, small clouds form. Where air is descending, the skies are clear. This clear/cloudy pattern, formed in parallel rows, gives the impression of streets. The clouds begin over the sea ice, but they primarily hang over open ocean. The streets are neat and in tight rows closest to land, while further over the Bering Sea the pattern widens and begins to become more random. The rows of clouds are also not perfectly straight, but tend to curve. The strength and direction of the wind helps create these features: where the wind is strongest, nearest to shore, the clouds line up most neatly. The clouds align with the wind direction, so the direction of the streets gives strong clues to prevailing wind direction. Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC via NASA http://ift.tt/1z6p62x

NGC 4676: When Mice Collide

These two mighty galaxies are pulling each other apart. Known as the "Mice" because they have such long tails, each spiral galaxy has likely already passed through the other. The long tails are created by the relative difference between gravitational pulls on the near and far parts of each galaxy. Because the distances are so large, the cosmic interaction takes place in slow motion -- over hundreds of millions of years. NGC 4676 lies about 300 million light-years away toward the constellation of Bernice's Hair (Coma Berenices) and are likely members of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies. The above picture was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2002. These galactic mice will probably collide again and again over the next billion years until they coalesce to form a single galaxy. via NASA http://ift.tt/1AdFlgg


Super View of Glendale and Phoenix

One of the Expedition 35 crew members on the International Space Station used a still camera with a 400 millimeter lens to record this nocturnal image of the Phoenix, Arizona area on March 16, 2013. Like many large urban areas of the central and western United States, the Phoenix metropolitan area is laid out along a regular grid of city blocks and streets. While visible during the day, this grid is most evident at night, when the pattern of street lighting is clearly visible from above -- in the case of this photograph, from the low Earth orbit vantage point of the International Space Station. The urban grid form encourages growth of a city outwards along its borders, by providing optimal access to new real estate. Fueled by the adoption of widespread personal automobile use during the 20th century, the Phoenix metropolitan area today includes 25 other municipalities (many of them largely suburban and residential in character) linked by a network of surface streets and freeways. The image area includes parts of several cities in the metropolitan area including Phoenix proper (right), Glendale (center), and Peoria (left). While the major street grid is oriented north-south, the northwest-southeast oriented Grand Avenue cuts across it at image center. Grand Avenue is a major transportation corridor through the western metropolitan area; the lighting patterns of large industrial and commercial properties are visible along its length. Other brightly lit properties include large shopping centers, strip centers, and gas stations which tend to be located at the intersections of north-south and east-west trending streets. While much of the land area highlighted in this image is urbanized, there are several noticeably dark areas. The Phoenix Mountains at upper right are largely public park and recreational land. To the west (image lower left), agricultural fields provide a sharp contrast to the lit streets of neighboring residential developments. The Salt River channel appears as a dark ribbon within the urban grid at lower right. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1wSk6ZU

Yellow Balls in W33

Infrared wavelengths of 3.6, 8.0, and 24.0 microns observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope are mapped into visible colors red, green, and blue in this striking image. The cosmic cloud of gas and dust is W33, a massive starforming complex some 13,000 light-years distant, near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. So what are all those yellow balls? Citizen scientists of the web-based Milky Way Project found the features they called yellow balls as they scanned many Spitzer images and persistently asked that question of researchers. Now there is an answer. The yellow balls in Spitzer images are identified as an early stage of massive star formation. They appear yellow because they are overlapping regions of red and green, the assigned colors that correspond to dust and organic molecules known as PAHs at Spitzer wavelengths. Yellow balls represent the stage before newborn massive stars clear out cavities in their surrounding gas and dust and appear as green-rimmed bubbles with red centers in the Spitzer image. Of course, the astronomical crowdsourcing success story is only part of the Zooniverse. The Spitzer image spans 0.5 degrees or about 100 light-years at the estimated distance of W33. via NASA http://ift.tt/1LtOTXR