A Flag Shaped Aurora over Sweden

It appeared, momentarily, like a 50-km tall banded flag. In mid-March, an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection directed toward a clear magnetic channel to Earth led to one of the more intense geomagnetic storms of recent years. A visual result was wide spread auroras being seen over many countries near Earth's magnetic poles. Captured over Kiruna, Sweden, the image features an unusually straight auroral curtain with the green color emitted low in the Earth's atmosphere, and red many kilometers higher up. It is unclear where the rare purple aurora originates, but it might involve an unusual blue aurora at an even lower altitude than the green, seen superposed with a much higher red. As the Sun continues near its top level of surface activity, colorful nights of auroras over Earth are likely to continue. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Db5Svb


Hubble Views a Galaxy on Edge

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows an edge-on view of the spiral galaxy NGC 5023. Due to its orientation we cannot appreciate its spiral arms, but we can admire the elegant profile of its disk. The galaxy lies over 30 million light-years away from us. NGC 5023 is part of the M51 group of galaxies. The brightest galaxy in this group is Messier 51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, which has been captured by Hubble many times. NGC 5023 is less fond of the limelight and seems rather unsociable in comparison — it is relatively isolated from the other galaxies in the group. Astronomers are particularly interested in the vertical structure of disks like these. By analyzing the structure above and below the central plane of the galaxy they can make progress in understanding galaxy evolution. Astronomers are able to analyze the distribution of different types of stars within the galaxy and their properties, in particular how well evolved they are on the Hertzsprung–Russell Diagram — a scatter graph of stars that shows their evolution. NGC 5023 is one of six edge-on spiral galaxies observed as part of a study using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. They study this vertical distribution and find a trend which suggests that heating of the disc plays an important role in producing the stars seen away from the plane of the galaxy. In fact, NGC 5023 is pretty popular when it comes to astronomers, despite its unsociable behavior. The galaxy is also one of 14 disk galaxies that are part of the GHOSTS survey — a survey which uses Hubble data to study galaxy halos, outer disks and star clusters. It is the largest study to date of star populations in the outskirts of disk galaxies. The incredible sharp sight of Hubble has allowed scientist to count more than 30,000 individual bright stars in this image. This is only a small fraction of the several billion stars that this galaxy contains, but the others are too faint to detect individually even with Hubble. European Space Agency Credit: ESA/NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1aaWXyO

Shadow of a Martian Robot

What if you saw your shadow on Mars and it wasn't human? Then you might be the Opportunity rover currently exploring Mars. Opportunity has been exploring the red planet since early 2004, finding evidence of ancient water, and sending breathtaking images across the inner Solar System. Pictured above in 2004, Opportunity looks opposite the Sun into Endurance Crater and sees its own shadow. Two wheels are visible on the lower left and right, while the floor and walls of the unusual crater are visible in the background. Opportunity is continuing on its long trek exploring unusual terrain in Meridiani Planum which continues to yield clues to the ancient history of Mars, our Solar System, and even humanity. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Mi7EAh


Diamond Rings and Baily s Beads

Near the March 20 equinox the cold clear sky over Longyearbyen, Norway, planet Earth held an engaging sight, a total eclipse of the Sun. The New Moon's silhouette at stages just before and after the three minute long total phase seems to sprout glistening diamonds and bright beads in this time lapse composite of the geocentric celestial event. The last and first glimpses of the solar disk with the lunar limb surrounded by the glow of the Sun's inner corona give the impression of a diamond ring in the sky. At the boundaries of totality, sunlight streaming through valleys in the irregular terrain along the Moon's edge, produces an effect known as Baily's Beads, named after English astronomer Francis Baily who championed an explanation for the phenomenon in 1836. This sharp composition also shows off the array of pinkish solar prominences lofted above the edge of the eclipsed Sun. via NASA http://ift.tt/1CWwX5e


NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis

Magnificent island universe NGC 2403 stands within the boundaries of the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis. Some 10 million light-years distant and about 50,000 light-years across, the spiral galaxy also seems to have more than its fair share of giant star forming HII regions, marked by the telltale reddish glow of atomic hydrogen gas. The giant HII regions are energized by clusters of hot, massive stars that explode as bright supernovae at the end of their short and furious lives. A member of the M81 group of galaxies, NGC 2403 closely resembles another galaxy with an abundance of star forming regions that lies within our own local galaxy group, M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. Spiky in appearance, bright stars in this colorful galaxy portrait of NGC 2403 lie in the foreground, within our own Milky Way. via NASA http://ift.tt/1xjt5KD


Boarding the Soyuz Spacecraft on Launch Day

Expedition 43 Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station, Friday, March 27, 2015 in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Kelly and Kornienko will spend a year in space and return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. Most expeditions to the space station last four to six months. By doubling the length of this mission, researchers hope to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight. This knowledge is critical as NASA looks toward human journeys deeper into the solar system, including to and from Mars, which could last 500 days or longer. The Soyuz is set to lift off at 3:42 p.m. EDT, Friday, March 27 on a six-hour, four-orbit flight to the station. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1CUFllA

Orion Spring

As spring comes to planet Earth's northern hemisphere, familiar winter constellation Orion sets in early evening skies and budding trees frame the Hunter's stars. The yellowish hue of cool red supergiant Alpha Orionis, the great star Betelgeuse, mingles with the branches at the top of this colorful skyscape. Orion's alpha star is joined on the far right by Alpha Tauri. Also known as Aldebaran and also a giant star cooler than the Sun, it shines with a yellow light at the head of Taurus, the Bull. Contrasting blue supergiant Rigel, Beta Orionis, is Orion's other dominant star though, and marks the Hunter's foot below center. Of course, the sword of Orion hangs from the Hunter's three blue belt stars near picture center, but the middle star in the sword is not a star at all. A slightly fuzzy pinkish glow hints at its true nature, a nearby stellar nursery visible to the unaided eye known as the Orion Nebula. via NASA http://ift.tt/1xAz1PR


Naked Eye Nova Sagittarii 2015 No 2

It quickly went from obscurity to one of the brighter stars in Sagittarius -- but it's fading. Named Nova Sagittarii 2015 No. 2, the stellar explosion is the brightest nova visible from Earth in over a year. The featured image was captured four days ago from Ranikhet in the Indian Himalayas. Several stars in western Sagittarius make an asterism known as the Teapot, and the nova, indicated by the arrow, now appears like a new emblem on the side of the pot. As of last night, Nova Sag has faded from brighter than visual magnitude 5 to the edge of unaided visibility. Even so, the nova should still be easily findable with binoculars in dark skies before sunrise over the next week. via NASA http://ift.tt/1ER0tIx


Expedition 43 Soyuz Rolls Out for Launch

The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 28, Kazakh time (March 27 Eastern time.) As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. More information on one year crew. Image Credit NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1LXiKL2


Mars 'Marathon Valley' Overlook

This view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows part of "Marathon Valley," a destination on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, as seen from an overlook north of the valley. The scene spans from east, at left, to southeast. It combines four pointings of the rover's panoramic camera (Pancam) on March 13, 2015, during the 3,958th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's work on Mars. The rover team selected Marathon Valley as a science destination because observations of this location using the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter yielded evidence of clay minerals, a clue to ancient wet environments. By the time Opportunity explores Marathon Valley, the rover will have exceeded a total driving distance equivalent to an Olympic marathon. Opportunity has been exploring the Meridiani Planum region of Mars since January 2004. This version of the image is presented in approximate true color by combining exposures taken through three of the Pancam's color filters at each of the four camera pointings, using filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Iqoes9

Atlas V Launches MMS

Birds don't fly this high. Airplanes don't go this fast. The Statue of Liberty weighs less. No species other than human can even comprehend what is going on, nor could any human just a millennium ago. The launch of a rocket bound for space is an event that inspires awe and challenges description. Pictured above, an Atlas V rocket lifts off carrying NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission into Earth orbit 10 days ago to study the workings of the magnetosphere that surrounds and protects the Earth. From a standing start, the 300,000 kilogram rocket ship left to circle the Earth where the outside air is too thin to breathe. Rockets bound for space are now launched from somewhere on Earth about once a week. via NASA http://ift.tt/18S1QeP


A Double Eclipse of the Sun

Can the Sun be eclipsed twice at the same time? Last Friday was noteworthy because part of the Earth was treated to a rare total eclipse of the Sun. But also on Friday, from a part of the Earth that only saw part of the Sun eclipsed, a second object appeared simultaneously in front of the Sun: the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. Although space station eclipses are very quick -- in this case only 0.6 seconds, they are not so rare. Capturing this composite image took a lot of planning and a little luck, as the photographer had to dodge a series of third objects that kept, annoyingly, also lining up in front of the Sun: clouds. The above superposed time-lapse sequence was taken from Fregenal de la Sierra in southern Spain. The dark disk of the Moon dominates the lower right, while the Sun's textured surface shows several filaments and, over an edge, a prominence. via NASA http://ift.tt/1blw2k8


Northern Equinox Eclipse

Snowy and cold is weather you might expect at the start of spring for Longyearbyen on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. But that turned out to be good weather for watching the Moon's umbral shadow race across northern planet Earth. The region was plunged into darkness for 3 minutes during the March 20 total solar eclipse while insulated eclipse chasers witnessed the dark Sun in the cold clear sky. In this well-timed snapshot captured near the end of totality, the Moon's shadow sweeps away from the horizon and the solar corona fades as the lunar disk just begins to uncover the Sun. Streaming past the Moon's edge, direct rays of sunlight create the fleeting appearance of a glistening diamond ring. via NASA http://ift.tt/1LCFEHi


Sunshine, Earthshine

Today's date marks an Equinox and a New Moon. Remarkably, while the exact timing of both geocentric events occur within a span of only 13 hours, the moon also reaches its new phase only 14 hours after perigee, the closest point in its orbit. That makes the Equinox New Moon the largest New Moon of 2015, though hard to see since that lunar phase presents the Moon's dark, night side to planet Earth. Still, in this well composed image of a young lunar phase from late January you can glimpse both night and day on the lunar surface, the night side faintly illuminated by Earthshine next to the day side's brightly sunlit crescent. But some will see today's Equinox New Moon in silhouette! The Equinox Solar Eclipse will be total across stretches of the Arctic Ocean, visible in partial phases from Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. via NASA http://ift.tt/1AMvSbk


Solar Eclipse From the International Space Station

Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti took a series of photographs of the March 20, 2015 solar eclipse from the International Space Station. Cristoforetti wrote, "Orbital sunrise and the #SolarEclipse... could it go any better?" A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, casting a shadow over Earth. The moon’s shadow masks the solar surface and blocks sunlight from reaching Earth directly – but the amount of sunlight blocked depends on location. Image Credit: ESA/NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1GyZE74

Aurora in the Backyard

On the night of March 17/18 this umbrella of northern lights unfolded over backyards in Vallentuna, Sweden about 30 kilometers north of Stockholm. A result of the strongest geomagnetic storm of this solar cycle, auroral displays were captured on that night from back and front yards at even lower latitudes, including sightings in the midwestern United States. A boon for aurora hunting skywatchers, the space storm began building when a coronal mass ejection, launched by solar activity some two days earlier, struck planet Earth's magnetosphere. So what's the name of the backyard observatory on the right of the wide field view? That's Carpe Noctem Observatory, of course. via NASA http://ift.tt/1x2KfMg


Earth During a Total Eclipse of the Sun

What does the Earth look like during a total solar eclipse? It appears dark in the region where people see the eclipse, because that's where the shadow of the Moon falls. The shadow spot actually shoots across the Earth at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour, darkening locations in its path for only a few minutes before moving on. The featured image shows the Earth during the total solar eclipse of 2006 March, as seen from the International Space Station. On Friday the Moon will move in front of the Sun once again, casting another distorted circular shadow that, this time, will zip over part of the north Atlantic Ocean. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Ls9Bty


The Big Dipper Enhanced

Do you see it? This common question frequently precedes the rediscovery of one of the most commonly recognized configurations of stars on the northern sky: the Big Dipper. This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every human generation. In this featured image, however, the stars of the Big Dipper have been digitally enhanced -- they do not really appear this much brighter than nearby stars. The image was taken earlier this month from France. The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies. Five of the Big Dipper stars are actually near each other in space and were likely formed at nearly the same time. Relative stellar motions will cause the Big Dipper to slowly change its apparent configuration over the next 100,000 years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Cob4LJ


Vanguard Satellite, 1958

One of the Vanguard satellites is checked out at Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1958. Vanguard 1, the world’s first solar-powered satellite, launched on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) 1958. It was designed to test the launch capabilities of a three-stage launch vehicle and the effects of the environment on a satellite and its systems in Earth orbit. Vanguard 1 was the second U.S. satellite in orbit, following Explorer 1, and remains the oldest artificial object orbiting Earth to this day. Vanguard began as a program at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and transferred over to NASA (along with many of its personnel) after the agency was founded by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1GjmbEQ

The Clouds of Orion the Hunter

Cradled in cosmic dust and glowing hydrogen, stellar nurseries in Orion the Hunter lie at the edge of giant molecular clouds some 1,500 light-years away. Spanning about 30 degrees, this breath-taking vista stretches across the well-known constellation from head to toe (left to right) and beyond. At 1,500 light years away, the Great Orion Nebula is the closest large star forming region, here visible just right and below center. To its left are the Horsehead Nebula, M78, and Orion's belt stars. Sliding your cursor over the picture will also find red giant Betelgeuse at the hunter's shoulder, bright blue Rigel at his foot, the Witch Head Nebula above -- and illuminated by -- Rigel, and the glowing Lambda Orionis (Meissa) nebula on the left, near Orion's head. Of course, the Orion Nebula and bright stars are easy to see with the unaided eye, but dust clouds and emission from the extensive interstellar gas in this nebula-rich complex, are too faint and much harder to record. In this mosaic of broadband telescopic images, additional image data acquired with a narrow hydrogen alpha filter was used to bring out the pervasive tendrils of energized atomic hydrogen gas like in the arc of the giant Barnard's Loop. via NASA http://ift.tt/19q5Eoz


A Total Eclipse at the End of the World

Would you go to the end of the world to see a total eclipse of the Sun? If you did, would you be surprised to find someone else there already? In 2003, the Sun, the Moon, Antarctica, and two photographers all lined up in Antarctica during an unusual total solar eclipse. Even given the extreme location, a group of enthusiastic eclipse chasers ventured near the bottom of the world to experience the surreal momentary disappearance of the Sun behind the Moon. One of the treasures collected was the above picture -- a composite of four separate images digitally combined to realistically simulate how the adaptive human eye saw the eclipse. As the image was taken, both the Moon and the Sun peeked together over an Antarctic ridge. In the sudden darkness, the magnificent corona of the Sun became visible around the Moon. Quite by accident, another photographer was caught in one of the images checking his video camera. Visible to his left are an equipment bag and a collapsible chair. A total solar eclipse will occur on Friday and be visible from the north Atlantic Ocean. via NASA http://ift.tt/1FikkS4


Return at Sunrise

Thursday, shortly after local sunrise over central Asia, this Soyuz spacecraft floated over a sea of golden clouds during its descent by parachute through planet Earth's dense atmosphere. On board were Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Touch down was at approximately 10:07 p.m. EDT (8:07 a.m. March 12, Kazakh time) southeast of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The three were returning from low Earth orbit, after almost six months on the International Space Station as members of the Expedition 41 and Expedition 42 crews. via NASA http://ift.tt/1G1fabG


The Great Wall by Moonlight

Last Friday, an almost Full Moon rose as the Sun set, over this mountainous landscape north of Beijing, China. Also near apogee, the farthest point in its elliptical orbit around planet Earth, it was this year's smallest and faintest Full Moon. The Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China meanders through the scene, the ancient Great Wall itself the subject of an older-than-the-space-age myth that it would be visible to the eye when standing on the lunar surface. But even from low Earth orbit, the large scale artifact of human civilization is very difficult to identify. At its farthest from our fair planet, the Moon shines brightly in the twilight sky though, posing in the faint, pinkish band known as the antitwilight arch or the belt of Venus. via NASA http://ift.tt/1HPtCok


Launch of Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft Aboard Atlas V Rocket

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida. NASA’s MMS mission studies 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. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani via NASA http://ift.tt/1BdPCU5

Along the Cygnus Wall

The W-shaped ridge of emission featured in this vivid skyscape is known as the Cygnus Wall. Part of a larger emission nebula with a distinctive outline popularly called The North America Nebula, the cosmic ridge spans about 20 light-years. Constructed using narrowband data to highlight the telltale reddish glow from ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with electrons, the two frame mosaic image follows an ionization front with fine details of dark, dusty forms in silhouette. Sculpted by energetic radiation from the region's young, hot, massive stars, the dark shapes inhabiting the view are clouds of cool gas and dust with stars likely forming within. The North America Nebula itself, NGC 7000, is about 1,500 light-years away. via NASA http://ift.tt/1EBwCGD

NASA's MMS Spacecraft Launches on an Atlas V Rocket

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida. NASA’s MMS mission studies 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. Image Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani via NASA http://ift.tt/1Bz1uVA


Expedition 42 Soyuz Landing

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 (Thursday, March 12, Kazakh time). NASA astronaut Wilmore, Russian cosmonauts Samokutyaev and Serova returned to Earth after almost six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 41 and 42 crews. The spacecraft touched down safely at approximately 10:07 p.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1C8KTbW

Volcano of Fire Erupts Under the Stars

First, there was an unusual smell. Then there was a loud bang. But what appeared to the eye was the most amazing of all. While waiting near midnight to see a possible eruption of Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) in Guatemala last month, a ready camera captured this extraordinary image. Lava is seen running down the side of the volcano, while ash rises up, and glowing magma bubbles explode out of the caldera. Lights near the town of Escuintla can be seen in the background, one of several nearby towns that have witnessed several spectacular eruptions previously. High above, seemingly tranquil by comparison, are familiar stars from the night sky. Although the Volcán de Fuego usually undergoes low-level activity, when the next spectacular eruption will occur is unknown. via NASA http://ift.tt/1C3FDGm

Expedition 42 Returns to Earth

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with International Space Station Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The landing took place on the evening of Wednesday, March 11 in the U.S, and early in the morning on Thursday, March 12, in Kazakhstan. The three crew members returned to Earth after a 167-day mission on the orbital outpost that included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks to prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1GH5vuc


Test Firing of Booster for NASA's New Rocket

The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars. The booster fired for two minutes, the same amount of time it will fire when it lifts the SLS off the launch pad, and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The test was conducted at the Promontory, Utah test facility of commercial partner Orbital ATK, and is one of two tests planned to qualify the booster for flight. Once qualified, the flight booster hardware will be ready for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first SLS flight. More information. Image Credit: Orbital ATK via NASA http://ift.tt/1Ec3WBe

Aurora over Icelandic Glacier

Several key conditions came together to create this award-winning shot. These included a dark night, few clouds, an epic auroral display, and a body of water that was both calm enough and unfrozen enough to show reflected stars. The featured skyscape of activity and serenity appeared over Iceland's Vatnajökull Glacier a year ago January, with the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon captured in the foreground. Aurora filled skies continue to be common near Earth's poles as our Sun, near Solar Maximum, continues to expel energetic clouds of plasma into the Solar System. via NASA http://ift.tt/1NCSx2B


Preparing to Test the Booster for NASA's New Rocket

Engineers at Orbital ATK prepare to test the largest, most powerful booster ever built for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will fire up for a ground test at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 11, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems’ test facilities in Promontory, Utah. The two-minute static test is a significant milestone for the SLS as part of NASA’s journey to Mars, and follows years of development. It is one of two ground tests to qualify the booster for flight. A second test is planned for early 2016. Once qualification is complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, on its first flight test. When completed, two five-segment, solid-rocket boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS as it begins its deep space missions. The boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight, providing more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS is updated, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system. Live coverage of the test on NASA TV begins on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. EDT. Image Credit: Orbital ATK via NASA http://ift.tt/1FFwByi

Galaxy and Cluster Create Four Images of Distant Supernova

What are the unusual spots surrounding that galaxy? They are all images of the same supernova. For the first time, a single supernova explosion has been seen split into multiple images by the gravitational lens deflections of intervening masses. In this case the masses are a large galaxy and its home galaxy cluster. The featured image was captured last November by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The yellow-hued quadruply-imaged Supernova Refsdal occurred in the early universe far behind the cluster. Measuring the locations and time-delays between the supernova images should allow astrophysicists to recover the amount of dark matter in the galaxy and cluster. With patience and luck, a fifth image of the supernova will also be recovered nearby in the next few years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1A6YPNN


Taking a Closer Look at Orion After Successful Flight Test

Engineers across the country have been busy taking a closer look at NASA's Orion spacecraft and the data it produced during its successful flight test in December 2014. Inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Orion was lifted using a special crane for removal of its heat shield on Feb. 13, 2015. In the background, technicians move the heat shield on a work stand. The spacecraft’s heat shield protected Orion as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere at searing temperatures. Removing the back shell allows the team to get a closer look at Orion’s systems to see how they fared during the trip to space. The heat shield was removed in preparation for shipment to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where special equipment will be used to remove its ablative material. From there, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be outfitted on a test article for water impact testing. Meanwhile, NASA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, continue to take a look at the data the flight test produced to validate pre-flight models and improve the spacecraft’s design. Analysis of data obtained during its two-orbit, four-and-a-half hour mission Dec. 5 will provide engineers detailed information on how the spacecraft fared. Photo Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann via NASA http://ift.tt/1GjNJtF

Stars at the Galactic Center

The center of our Milky Way Galaxy is hidden from the prying eyes of optical telescopes by clouds of obscuring dust and gas. But in this stunning vista, the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared cameras, penetrate much of the dust revealing the stars of the crowded galactic center region. A mosaic of many smaller snapshots, the detailed, false-color image shows older, cool stars in bluish hues. Reddish glowing dust clouds are associated with young, hot stars in stellar nurseries. The very center of the Milky Way was only recently found capable of forming newborn stars. The galactic center lies some 26,000 light-years away, toward the constellation Sagittarius. At that distance, this picture spans about 900 light-years. via NASA http://ift.tt/1E3jfMD


NGC 602 in the Flying Lizard Nebula

Near the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy some 200 thousand light-years distant, lies 5 million year young star cluster NGC 602. Surrounded by natal gas and dust, NGC 602 is just below center in this telescopic field of view with the angular size of the Full Moon on the sky. The cluster itself is about 200 light-years in diameter. Glowing interior ridges and swept back shapes strongly suggest that energetic radiation and shock waves from NGC 602's massive young stars have eroded the dusty material and triggered a progression of star formation moving away from the cluster's center. Of course, the more extended wings of emission in the region suggest a popular name for the complex cosmic environment, The Flying Lizard Nebula. via NASA http://ift.tt/1G9Ajjz


Cometary Globule CG4

The faint and somehow menacing cometary globule CG4 reaches through the center of this deep southern skyscape. About 1,300 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Puppis, its head is about 1.5 light-years in diameter and its tail about 8 light-years long. That's far larger than the Solar System's comets that it seems to resemble. In fact, the dusty cloud contains enough material to form several Sun-like stars and likely has ongoing star formation within. How its distinctive form came about is still debated, but its long tail trails away from the Vela Supernova remnant near the center of the Gum Nebula, while its head could represent the rupture of an originally more spherical cloud. Still, the edge-on spiral galaxy also near picture center is not actually being threatened by CG4. The galaxy lies in the distant background more than 100 million light-years away. via NASA http://ift.tt/1EsLiWP


Enhanced Color Caloris

The sprawling Caloris basin on Mercury is one of the solar system's largest impact basins, created during the early history of the solar system by the impact of a large asteroid-sized body. The multi-featured, fractured basin spans about 1,500 kilometers in this enhanced color mosaic based on image data from the Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft. Mercury's youngest large impact basin, Caloris was subsequently filled in by lavas that appear orange in the mosaic. Craters made after the flooding have excavated material from beneath the surface lavas. Seen as contrasting blue hues, they likely offer a glimpse of the original basin floor material. Analysis of these craters suggests the thickness of the covering volcanic lava to be 2.5-3.5 kilometers. Orange splotches around the basin's perimeter are thought to be volcanic vents. via NASA http://ift.tt/1wX3Vfm


Astronaut Scott Kelly Preparing for Launch on One-Year Mission

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, March 4, 2015 in Star City, Russia. Kelly, along with Expedition 43 Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos were at GCTC for the second day of qualification exams in preparation for their launch to the International Space Station onboard a Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EST, March 27 (March 28, Kazakh time). As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016.Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls via NASA http://ift.tt/1DPUyk4

Pillars and Jets in the Pelican Nebula

What dark structures arise from the Pelican Nebula? Visible as a bird-shaped nebula toward the constellation of a bird (Cygnus, the Swan), the Pelican Nebula is a place dotted with newly formed stars but fouled with dark dust. These smoke-sized dust grains formed in the cool atmospheres of young stars and were dispersed by stellar winds and explosions. Impressive Herbig-Haro jets are seen emitted by a star on the right that is helping to destroy the light year-long dust pillar that contains it. The featured image was scientifically-colored to emphasize light emitted by small amounts of ionized nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur in the nebula made predominantly of hydrogen and helium. The Pelican Nebula (IC 5067 and IC 5070) is about 2,000 light-years away and can be found with a small telescope to the northeast of the bright star Deneb. via NASA http://ift.tt/1GipuPH


Island of Hawaii From the International Space Station

From the International Space Station, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) took this photograph of the island of Hawaii and posted it to social media on Feb. 28, 2015. Cristoforetti wrote, "And suddenly as we flew over the Pacific... the island of #Hawaii with its volcanoes! #HelloEarth" 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/1zJxMrz

A Dust Devil on Mars

It was late in the northern martian spring when the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spied this local denizen. Tracking across the flat, dust-covered Amazonis Planitia in 2012, the core of this whirling dust devil is about 140 meters in diameter. Lofting dust into the thin martian atmosphere, its plume reaches about 20 kilometers above the surface. Common to this region of Mars, dust devils occur as the surface is heated by the Sun, generating warm, rising air currents that begin to rotate. Tangential wind speeds of up to 110 kilometers per hour are reported for dust devils in other HiRISE images. via NASA http://ift.tt/1AT49Jt


Lenticular Cloud, Moon, Mars, Venus

It is not every day that such an interesting cloud photobombs your image. The original plan was to photograph a rare angular conjunction of Mars and Venus that occurred a week and a half ago, with the added bonus of a crescent Moon and the International Space Station (ISS) both passing nearby. Unfortunately, on Madeira Island, Portugal, this event was clouded out. During the next day, however, a spectacular lenticular cloud appeared before sunset, so the industrious astrophotographer quickly formulated a new plan. A close look at the resulting image reveals the Moon visible toward the left of the frame, while underneath, near the bottom, are the famous planets with Venus being the brighter. It was the unexpected lenticular cloud, though, perhaps looking like some sort of futuristic spaceship, that stole the show. The setting Sun illuminated the stationary cloud (and everything else) from the bottom, setting up an intricate pattern of shadows, layers, and brightly illuminated regions, all seen evolving in a corresponding video. Mars and Venus will next appear this close on the sky in late August, but whether any place on Earth will catch them behind such a photogenic cloud is unknown. via NASA http://ift.tt/18f5oqJ


Astronauts Complete Series of Three Spacewalks

On Sunday, March 1, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Terry Virts and Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore ventured outside the International Space Station for their third spacewalk in eight days. Virts and Wilmore completed installing 400 feet of cable and several antennas associated with the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles system known as C2V2. Boeing’s Crew Transportation System (CST)-100 and the SpaceX Crew Dragon will use the system in the coming years to rendezvous with the orbital laboratory and deliver crews to the space station. Virts (@AstroTerry) tweeted this photograph and wrote, "Out on the P3 truss. #AstroButch handing me his cable to install on the new antenna. #spacewalk" Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1APuyYt

Inside the Coma Cluster of Galaxies

Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! The above mosaic of images of a small portion of Coma was taken in unprecedented detail in 2006 by the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate how galaxies in rich clusters form and evolve. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, although some imaged here are clearly spirals. The spiral galaxy on the upper left of the above image can also be found as one of the bluer galaxies on the upper left of this wider field image. In the background thousands of unrelated galaxies are visible far across the universe. via NASA http://ift.tt/1Bs4u6m


Moon Venus Mars Skyline

Taken on February 20, five different exposures made in rapid succession were used to created this tantalizing telephoto image. In combination, they reveal a wide range of brightness visible to the eye on that frigid evening, from the urban glow of the Quebec City skyline to the triple conjunction of Moon, Venus and Mars. Shortly after sunset the young Moon shows off its bright crescent next to brilliant Venus. Fainter Mars is near the top of the frame. Though details in the Moon's sunlit crescent are washed out, features on the dark, shadowed part of the lunar disk are remarkably clear. Still lacking city lights the lunar night is illuminated solely by earthshine, light reflected from the sunlit side of planet Earth. via NASA http://ift.tt/1LU3clN