Month in space: Dec. 2015

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Month in Space: Dec. 2015
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Month in space: Dec. 2015

December 17, 2015

This celestial lightsaber does not lie in a galaxy far, far away, but rather inside our home galaxy, the Milky Way. It's inside a turbulent birthing ground for new stars known as the Orion B molecular cloud complex, located 1,350 light-years away.

(Photo via NASA/ESA)

December 23, 2015

Pluto gets into the holiday spirit, decked out in red and green. This image was produced by the New Horizons composition team, using a pair of Ralph/LEISA instrument scans obtained at approximately 9:40 AM on July 14, from a mean range of 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers). The resolution is about 7 kilometers per LEISA pixel. Three infrared wavelength ranges (2.28-2.23, 1.25-1.30 and 1.64-1.73 microns) were placed into the three color channels (red, green and blue, respectively) to create this false color Christmas portrait.

(Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

December 3, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 251. Greetings to my friends in #Macedonia. #GoodNight from @space_station! @kevinbleyer"

December 22, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#GoodMorning #Africa! Your brilliant colors are a great way to start the day. #YearInSpace"

December 9, 2015

This representation of Ceres' Occator Crater in false colors shows differences in the surface composition. Red corresponds to a wavelength range around 0.97 micrometers (near infrared), green to a wavelength range around 0.75 micrometers (red, visible light) and blue to a wavelength range of around 0.44 micrometers (blue, visible light). Occator measures about 60 miles (90 kilometers) wide.

Scientists use false color to examine differences in surface materials. The color blue on Ceres is generally associated with bright material, found in more than 130 locations, and seems to be consistent with salts, such as sulfates. It is likely that silicate materials are also present.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

December 21, 2015

An extraordinary ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy like a tail has been discovered using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas. With a length of at least 250,000 light years, it is likely the largest such tail ever detected.  In this new composite image, X-rays from Chandra (blue) have been combined with data in visible light from the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (yellow) in the Canary Islands, Spain.

The tail is located in the galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338, which is almost 700 million light years from Earth. The length of the tail is more than twice the diameter of the entire Milky Way galaxy. The tail contains gas at temperatures of about ten million degrees, about twenty million degrees cooler than the intergalactic gas, but still hot enough to glow brightly in X-rays that Chandra can detect.

(Photo via X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Bonn/G. Schellenberger et al; Optical: INT)

December 8, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 256. #MilkyWay births 7 new stars a year, so 2 star births to go. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 10, 2015

This enhanced color mosaic combines some of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its July 14 flyby. The pictures are part of a sequence taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with resolutions of about 250-280 feet (77-85 meters) per pixel – revealing features smaller than half a city block on Pluto’s surface. Lower resolution color data (at about 2,066 feet, or 630 meters, per pixel) were added to create this new image.

The images form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide, trending (top to bottom) from the edge of “badlands” northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, onto the shoreline of Pluto’s “heart” feature, and just into its icy plains. They combine pictures from the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) taken approximately 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with  – from a range of only 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) – with color data (in near-infrared, red and blue) gathered by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) 25 minutes before the LORRI pictures.

The wide variety of cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains seen here gives scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high-resolution color window into Pluto’s geology. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

December 9, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#Cygnus, AKA #SSDekeSlayton has arrived just in time for #Christmas! #YearInSpace"

December 2, 2015

Four galaxy clusters embedded in the cosmic web, the wispy network of both dark and baryonic matter that is believed to pervade the Universe. This image was extracted from a numerical simulation of the formation and evolution of cosmic structure.

Four very massive galaxy clusters are visible where the concentration of galaxies (shown in white and purple) is higher. Two of the clusters, in the lower left corner of the image, are in the early phases of a merging process; the other two clusters can be seen in the central part of the image, just above the centre. The filamentary structure formed by the four clusters extends toward the right side of the image, where several less massive systems can be seen.

Galaxy clusters form in the densest knots of the cosmic web, where filaments intersect. The density of gas in the filaments that link the clusters is represented with different colours, with dark brown indicating less dense regions and brighter colours (from orange to yellow and green) indicating increasingly denser regions.

The image shows a portion of the cosmic web that spans about 260 million light-years across. (Photo via K. Dolag, Universitäts-Sternwarte München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany)

December 2, 2015

Components of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also known as the Pandora Cluster: galaxies (white), hot gas (red) and dark matter (blue).

Galaxy clusters are the most massive cosmic structures held together by gravity, consisting of galaxies, hot gas and dark matter. They sit in the densest hubs of the filamentary ‘cosmic web’ that pervades the Universe.

Using ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, astronomers have detected three massive filaments flowing towards the core of Abell 2744 and connecting it with the cosmic web. The filaments also consist of galaxies, hot gas and dark matter. One of them can be seen as the elongated structure on the left side of the image, another one is visible towards the upper right, and the third one below the cluster, slightly towards the right.

The image measures about half a degree across. The image is sprinkled with foreground stars belonging to our Galaxy, the Milky Way, which are visible as the roundish objects with diffraction spikes.

(Photo via  ESA/XMM-Newton (X-rays); ESO/WFI (optical); NASA/ESA & CFHT (dark matter))

December 22, 2015

Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Kopra on a Dec. 21, 2015 spacewalk, in which Kopra and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly successfully moved the International Space Station's mobile transporter rail car ahead of Wednesday's docking of a Russian cargo supply spacecraft. After quickly completing their primary objective for the spacewalk, Kelly and Kopra tackled several additional "get-ahead" tasks. Kelly routed a second pair of cables in preparation for International Docking Adapter installment work to support U.S. commercial crew vehicles. Kopra routed an Ethernet cable that ultimately will connect to a Russian laboratory module. They also retrieved tools that had been in a toolbox on the outside of the station, so they can be used for future work.

The three-hour and 16-minute spacewalk was the second for Kopra, who arrived to the station on Dec. 15, and the third for Kelly, who is nine months into a yearlong mission.

(Photo via NASA)

December 17, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "No lines for #StarWars but we do have to wait for it to get to @Space_Station Soon. Patience we must have, padawans!"

December 16, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#EarthArt Get over your mountains with rock and grit. #YearInSpace"

December 11, 2015

Kjell Lindgren (‏@astro_kjell): "All loaded up! Farewell to our Exp 45 crewmates and the magnificent International @Space_Station! Hello Earth!!"

December 4, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#Barcelona #GoodEvening and #GoodNight from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace"

December 17, 2015

Galaxy 1068 is shown in visible light and X-rays in this composite image. High-energy X-rays (magenta) captured by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, are overlaid on visible-light images from both NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The X-ray light is coming from an active supermassive black hole, also known as a quasar, in the center of the galaxy. This supermassive black hole has been extensively studied due to its relatively close proximity to our galaxy. NGC 1068 is about 47 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus. 

The supermassive black hole is also one of the most obscured known, blanketed by thick clouds of gas and dust. NuSTAR's high-energy X-ray view is the first to penetrate the walls of this black hole's hidden lair.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Roma Tre Univ.)

December 29, 2015

NASA's Earth Observatory has tracked down images resembling all 26 letters of the English alphabet using only NASA satellite imagery and astronaut photography. In this image, the letter 'Y' is for yardangs, elongated landforms sculpted by erosion and similar to sand dunes, but instead comprised of sandstone or siltstone. On December 25, 2000, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this false-color image of the Ugab River running through what appears to be a field of yardangs in northern Namibia.

(Photo via NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team, Caption via Adam Voiland)

December 14, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#EarthArt Colors in a desert. #YearInSpace"

December 18, 2015

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently captured a unique view of Earth from the spacecraft's vantage point in orbit around the moon.

"The image is simply stunning," said Noah Petro, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The image of the Earth evokes the famous 'Blue Marble' image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture."

In this composite image we see Earth appear to rise over the lunar horizon from the viewpoint of the spacecraft, with the center of the Earth just off the coast of Liberia (at 4.04 degrees North, 12.44 degrees West). The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara Desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. On the moon, we get a glimpse of the crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the moon, on the lunar farside.

(Photo via NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

December 5, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Just took this stunning picture of #SouthEastAsia. #YearInSpace"

December 24, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#Egypt! #YearInSpace"

December 4, 2015

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission's "T-114" flyby on Nov. 13, 2015. The spacecraft's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) instrument made these observations, in which blue represents wavelengths centered at 1.3 microns, green represents 2.0 microns, and red represents 5.0 microns. A view at visible wavelengths (centered around 0.5 microns) would show only Titan's hazy atmosphere (as in PIA14909). The near-infrared wavelengths in this image allow Cassini's vision to penetrate the haze and reveal the moon's surface.

(Photo via NASA)

December 23, 2015

The arc of hills in this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft is the rim of an old and infilled impact crater. The sediments that were deposited within the crater have since formed polygonal cracks.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

December 1, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "Day 249. #Portugal and #Spain all aglow after dark. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 16, 2015

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko manually docked the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft on Dec. 15, 2015 to the International Space Station's Rassvet module after an initial automated attempt was aborted. Malenchenko took control of the Soyuz, backed it away from the station to assess the Soyuz' systems, then re-approached the complex for the manual docking. Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) flanked Malenchenko as he brought the Soyuz to the Rassvet port for the start of a six-month mission. The solar array from the docked Orbital AT Cygnus cargo vehicle is also in view at right.

After leak checks were conducted on both sides of the docking interface, hatches were opened and Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake were greeted by Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The arrival of Kopra, Malenchenko and Peake returns the station's crew complement to six. The three join Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos. During more than five months on humanity’s only microgravity laboratory, the Expedition 46 crew members will conduct more than 250 science investigation in fields including biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. Kopra, Malenchenko and Peake will remain aboard the station until early June 2016.

(Photo via NASA)

December 6, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Caught something good on the horizon. #Cygnus at #sunset on its way to @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 14, 2015

A special patch of sky can be found close to the Big Dipper, in the northern constellation of Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear. Appearing to contain no stars and hardly any gas clouds from our Milky Way galaxy, this region is called the Lockman Hole. A unique window into the distant Universe, it was discovered in 1986 by astronomer Felix J. Lockman.

Since its discovery, astronomers have been surveying the Lockman Hole to study the evolution of galaxies throughout cosmic history. Shortly after the launch of ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, which lifted off on 10 December 1999, various teams started looking at this patch of the sky with the new telescope. By 2003, they had accumulated over 200 hours of data.

This image shows a portion of the Lockman Hole based on those observations. Hundreds of distant galaxies can be seen – their light has travelled billions of years before reaching Earth. (Photo via ESA/XMM-Newton/G. Hasinger)

December 21, 2015

Enceladus dramatically displays the contrast between its older and newer terrain.

Newer surfaces (on the left in the image) will not have had time to accumulate craters. But as material sits exposed on the surface, impact scars build up, as in the more heavily cratered area on the top and right. Scientists can use this, along with estimates of how frequently impacts happen, to determine ages of surfaces of solid planets and of moons like Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across).

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up and rotated 36 degrees to the right. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 18, 2015.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

December 3, 2015

Liftoff of Vega VV06 carrying LISA Pathfinder on 3 December 2015 from Europe's Spaceport, French Guiana.

LISA Pathfinder will test key technologies for space-based observation of gravitational waves. These ripples in the fabric of spacetime are predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity but have not yet been directly detected.

To demonstrate the fundamental approach that could be used by future missions to observe these elusive cosmic fluctuations, LISA Pathfinder will realise the best free-fall ever achieved in space. It will do so by reducing all the non-gravitational forces acting on two cubes and monitoring their motion and attitude to unprecedented accuracy.

(Photo via ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2015)

December 2, 2015

The International Space Station's robotic arm, Canadarm2, is visible over Earth in this Nov. 27, 2015 photograph taken by one of the Expedition 45 crew members aboard the station.

On Dec. 6, Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren will operate the Canadarm2 from inside the station's cupola, using it for the rendezvous and grapple of Orbital ATK's Cygnus commercial cargo craft when it arrives at the station. Cygnus will be berthed to the Unity module. The cargo includes numerous experiments across an array of specialties along with some student-devised projects, as well as crew supplies including food, water and clothing.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo mission is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 5:55 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

(Photo via NASA)

December 1, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#EarthArt Where does this area of #Australia take your imagination? #YearInSpace"

December 18, 2015

This image, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the globular cluster Terzan 1. Lying around 20,000 light-years from us in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), it is one of about 150 globular clusters belonging to our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Typical globular clusters are collections of around a hundred thousand stars, held together by their mutual gravitational attraction in a spherical shape a few hundred light-years across. It is thought that every galaxy has a population of globular clusters. Some, like the Milky Way, have a few hundred, while giant elliptical galaxies can have several thousand.

They contain some of the oldest stars in a galaxy, hence the reddish colors of the stars in this image — the bright blue ones are foreground stars, not part of the cluster. The ages of the stars in the globular cluster tell us that they were formed during the early stages of galaxy formation! Studying them can also help us to understand how galaxies formed.

Terzan 1, like many globular clusters, is a source of X-rays. It is likely that these X-rays come from binary star systems that contain a dense neutron star and a normal star. The neutron star drags material from the companion star, causing a burst of X-ray emission. The system then enters a quiescent phase in which the neutron star cools, giving off X-ray emission with different characteristics, before enough material from the companion builds up to trigger another outburst.

(Photo via NASA & ESA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, caption via European Space Agency)

December 15, 2015

In this handout image supplied by NASA, Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, center, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), bottom, wave farewell prior to boarding the Soyuz TMA-19M rocket for launch on December 15, 2015 in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Soyuz TMA-19M is scheduled to launch on December 15 carrying crew members Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) to the International Space Station for a six-month mission, as part of Expedition 46. (Photo by NASA/ Joel Kowsky via Getty Images)

December 15, 2015

The Soyuz TMA-19M rocket is launched with Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake will spend the next six months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Photo via NASA/Joel Kowsky)

December 15, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#Soyuz blasts through the atmosphere on its way to @Space_Station! #SoyuzTMA19M #soyuzlaunch #YearInSpace"

December 3, 2015

This is a Hubble Space Telescope view of a very massive cluster of galaxies, MACS J0416.1-2403, located roughly 4 billion light-years away and weighing as much as a million billion suns. The cluster's immense gravitational field magnifies the image of galaxies far behind it, in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

(Photo via NASA/ESA/Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

December 25, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 273 Rare sunrise glow over #NewZealand on my 3rd #Christmas in space #GoodNight frm @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 13, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#EarthArt, the beautiful desert of the #MiddleEast. #YearInSpace"

December 10, 2015

This illustration shows a cool star, called W1906+40, marked by a raging storm near one of its poles. The storm is thought to be similar to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Scientists discovered it using NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes.

The location of the storm is estimated to be near the north pole of the star based on computer models of the data. The telescopes cannot see the storm itself, but learned of its presence after observing how the star's light changes over time. The storm travels around with the star, making a full lap about every 9 hours. When it passes into a telescope's field of view, it causes light of particular infrared and visible wavelengths to dip in brightness.

The storm has persisted for at least two years. Astronomers aren't sure why it has lasted so long.

While planets are known to have cloudy storms, this is the best evidence yet for a star with the same type of storm. The star, W1906+40, belongs to a thermally cool class of objects called L-dwarfs. Some L-dwarfs are considered stars because they fuse atoms and generate light, as our sun does, while others, called brown dwarfs, are known as "failed stars" for their lack of atomic fusion.

The L-dwarf W1906+40 is thought to be a star based on estimates of its age (the older the L-dwarf, the more likely it is a star). Its temperature is about 2,200 Kelvin (3,500 degrees Fahrenheit). That may sound scorching hot, but as far as stars go, it is relatively cool. Cool enough, in fact, for clouds to form in its atmosphere.

W1906+40 is located 53 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)

December 17, 2015

This view from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an example of discoloration closely linked to fractures in the Stimson formation sandstone on lower Mount Sharp. The pattern is evident along two perpendicular fractures.

Curiosity's Navigation Camera (Navcam) acquired the component images of this mosaic on Aug. 23, 2015, during the 1.083rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The location is along the rover's path between "Marias Pass" and "Bridger Basin." In this region, the rover has found fracture zones to be associated with rock compositions enriched in silica, relative to surrounding bedrock.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)

December 17, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 265. Soon will I rest. Earned it I have. Twilight is upon me.~#Yoda #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 3, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#GoodMorning #SanAntonio! Looking good down there. #Texas #YearInSpace"

December 24, 2015

The nearly-full moon is seen among Christmas lights at a holiday display Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015, near Lenexa, Kan. When the moon turns full, at 5:11am cst., it will be the first full moon to fall on Christmas day since 1977. Named the Long Night Moon because it's the first full moon to follow the winter solstice, it's also known as the Cold Moon. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

December 24, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "#GoodMorning #Egypt! Your colors never cease to amaze! #YearInSpace"

December 23, 2015

These images of an asteroid that is at least 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) long were taken on Dec. 17, 2015, (left) and Dec. 22 (right) by scientists using NASA's 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. This asteroid, named 2003 SD2020, will safely fly past Earth on Thursday, Dec. 24, at a distance of 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers). On Dec. 17, it was about 7.3 million miles (12 million kilometers) from Earth. By Dec. 22, it was closing in on its Christmas Eve flyby distance.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

December 14, 2015

Like a cosmic bull's-eye, Enceladus and Tethys line up almost perfectly for Cassini's cameras.

Since the two moons are not only aligned, but also at relatively similar distances from Cassini, the apparent sizes in this image are a good approximation of the relative sizes of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) and Tethys (660 miles or 1,062 kilometers across).

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from 0.34 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 24, 2015.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

December 2, 2015

Kjell Lindgren (‏@astro_kjell): "Rio Cuarto crater scars the Argentinian landscape."

December 11, 2015

The spiral galaxy NGC 7252 has a superficial resemblance to an atomic nucleus surrounded by the loops of electronic orbits, and was informally dubbed the "Atoms for Peace" galaxy. These loops are well visible in a wider field of view image.

This nickname is quite ironic, as the galaxy’s past was anything but peaceful. Its peculiar appearance is the result of a collision between two galaxies that took place about a billion years ago, which ripped both galaxies apart. The loop-like outer structures, likely made up of dust and stars flung outwards by the crash, but recalling orbiting electrons in an atom, are partly responsible for the galaxy’s nickname.

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the inner parts of the galaxy, revealing a pinwheel-shaped disk that is rotating in a direction opposite to the rest of the galaxy. This disk resembles a spiral galaxy like our own galaxy, the Milky Way, but is only about 10,000 light-years across — about a tenth of the size of the Milky Way. It is believed that this whirling structure is a remnant of the galactic collision. It will most likely have vanished in a few billion years’ time, when NGC 7252 will have completed its merging process.

(Photo via NASA & ESA, Acknowledgements: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)

December 28, 2015

The striking feature in this image, acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 19, 2014, is a boulder-covered landslide along a canyon wall. Landslides occur when steep slopes fail, sending a mass of soil and rock to flow downhill, leaving behind a scarp at the top of the slope. The mass of material comes to rest when it reaches shallower slopes, forming a lobe of material that ends in a well-defined edge called a toe.

This landslide is relatively fresh, as many individual boulders still stand out above the main deposit. Additionally, while several small impact craters are visible in the landslide lobe, they are smaller in size and fewer in number than those on the surrounding valley floor. The scarp itself also looks fresh compared to the rest of the cliff: it, too, has boulders, and more varied topography than the adjacent dusty terrain.

Just to the north of the landslide scarp is a similarly-shaped scar on the cliffside. However, there is no landslide material on the valley floor below it. The older landslide deposit has either been removed or buried, a further indicator of the relative youth of the bouldery landslide.

(Photo via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, caption via HiRISE Targeting Specialists)

December 14, 2015

In this one minute exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky as the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015 in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz is scheduled for Dec. 15 and will send Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. (Photo via NASA/Joel Kowsky)

December 15, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "Day 263. New friends aboard - all settling into their crew quarters. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

December 4, 2015

Like a lighthouse in the fog, the luminous core of NGC 2768 slowly fades outwards to a dull white haze in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

NGC 2768 is an elliptical galaxy in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). It is a huge bundle of stars, dominated by a bright central region, where a supermassive black hole feasts on a constant stream of gas and dust being fed to it by its galactic host.

The galaxy is also marked by a prominent plume of dust reaching out from the center and lying perpendicular to the galaxy’s plane. This dust conceals a symmetrical, S-shaped pair of jets that are being produced by the supermassive black hole as it feeds.

(Photo via ESA/Hubble, NASA and S. Smartt (Queen's University Belfast) Caption via European Space Agency)

December 23, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 271. A colorful night over #Earth. #GoodNight from @space_station #YearInSpace"

December 4, 2015

This highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveals new details of Pluto’s rugged, icy cratered plains. Notice the layering in the interior walls of many craters (the large crater at upper right is a good example). Layers in geology usually mean an important change in composition or event, but at the moment New Horizons team members do not know if they are seeing local, regional or global layering. The darker crater in the lower center is apparently younger than the others, because dark material ejected from within – its “ejecta blanket” – has not been erased and can still be made out. The origin of the many dark linear features trending roughly vertically in the bottom half of the image is under debate, but may be tectonic. Most of the craters seen here lie within the 155-mile (250-kilometer)-wide Burney Basin, whose outer rim or ring forms the line of hills or low mountains at bottom. The basin is informally named after Venetia Burney, the English schoolgirl who first proposed the name “Pluto” for the newly discovered planet in 1930. The top of the image is to Pluto’s northwest.

(Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

December 21, 2015

A handout picture made available by SpaceX on 22 December 2015 shows a nine-minute exposure picture of the launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 21 December 2015. Private space flight company SpaceX successfully returned a rocket to Earth following a satellite launch on 21 December after two earlier attempts failed. (Photo by SpaceX Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

December 13, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#GoodMorning to the good people of #Jeddah! The gateway to #mecca #SaudiArabia #YearInSpace"

December 22, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, cruising in its lowest and final orbit at dwarf planet Ceres, has delivered the first images from its best-ever viewpoint. The new images showcase details of the cratered and fractured surface. 3-D versions of two of these views are also available.

Dawn took these images of the southern hemisphere of Ceres on Dec. 10, at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers), which is its lowest-ever orbital altitude. Dawn will remain at this altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward.

(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

December 10, 2015

Kjell Lindgren ‏(@astro_kjell): "A heartfelt thanks to everyone who made #Exp45 possible. Merry Christmas!"


The month of December brought many new developments in the study of space and with it even more astonishing images. The cosmic universe got into the holiday spirit as dwarf planet Pluto was decked out in red and green and a rare full moon fell on Christmas day for the first time since 1977.


Just in time for the release of the movie "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens," NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shared an image of what looks like a cosmic, double-bladed lightsaber in a galaxy not so far, far away.

A new set of astronauts headed to the International Space Station for a six-month mission, as well. Crew members Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) successfully arrived aboard the Soyuz TMA-19M as part of Expedition 46.

Also, in a dramatic spaceflight first, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket nailed a pivotal landing this month when it soared back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad.

Click through the gallery above to see the most incredible space photos from the past four weeks, and be sure to check back next month for our first 2016 selection of more stunning cosmic photography.

NASA Video Celebrates Space Station Anniversary

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