WASHINGTON/CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) -- Scientists said on Thursday they have for the first time detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesized by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery that opens a new window for studying the cosmos.
The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes - extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein - that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together. They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes 30 times as massive as the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.
The scientific milestone, announced at a news conference in Washington, was achieved using a pair of giant laser detectors in the United States, located in Louisiana and Washington state, capping a long quest to confirm the existence of these waves.
The announcement was made in Washington by scientists from the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
Like light, gravity travels in waves, but instead of radiation, it is space itself that is rippling. Detecting the gravitational waves required measuring 2.5-mile (4 km) laser beams to a precision 10,000 times smaller than a proton.
"We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy said in an interview ... we have turned on a new sense."
MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala
The two laser instruments, which work in unison, are known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). They are able to detect remarkably small vibrations from passing gravitational waves. After detecting the gravitational wave signal, the scientists said they converted it into audio waves and were able to listen to the sounds of the two black holes merging.
"We're actually hearing them go thump in the night," MIT physicist Matthew Evans said. "We're getting a signal which arrives at Earth, and we can put it on a speaker, and we can hear these black holes go, 'Whoop.' There's a very visceral connection to this observation."
The scientists said they first detected the gravitational waves last Sept. 14.
"We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy," MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview. "We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well."
The LIGO work is funded by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government.
Einstein in 1916 proposed the existence of gravitational waves as an outgrowth of his ground-breaking general theory of relativity, which depicted gravity as a distortion of space and time triggered by the presence of matter. But until now scientists had found only indirect evidence of their existence.
Artists' depictions of black holes:
Black holes found in space
Einstein's gravitational waves detected in scientific milestone
A black hole, similar to V404 Cyg, devouring material from an orbiting star. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
A computer simulation shows the collision of two black holes, a tremendously powerful event detected for the first time ever by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. LIGO detected gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time generated as the black holes spiraled in toward each other, collided, and merged. This simulation shows how the merger would appear to our eyes if we could somehow travel in a spaceship for a closer look. It was created by solving equations from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity using the LIGO data.
This simulation was created by the multi-university SXS (Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes) project. For more information, visit www.black-holes.org.
(Photo via SXS)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a pair of ground-based observatories in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana.
Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity a century ago, and scientists have been attempting to detect them for 50 years. Einstein pictured these waves as ripples in the fabric of space-time produced by massive, accelerating bodies, such as black holes orbiting each other. Scientists are interested in observing and characterizing these waves to learn more about the sources producing them and about gravity itself.
This is an artist's impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars.
(Photo via R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL)
This artist's concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Supermassive black holes are enormously dense objects buried at the hearts of galaxies. (Smaller black holes also exist throughout galaxies.) In this illustration, the supermassive black hole at the center is surrounded by matter flowing onto the black hole in what is termed an accretion disk. This disk forms as the dust and gas in the galaxy falls onto the hole, attracted by its gravity.
Also shown is an outflowing jet of energetic particles, believed to be powered by the black hole's spin. The regions near black holes contain compact sources of high energy X-ray radiation thought, in some scenarios, to originate from the base of these jets. This high energy X-radiation lights up the disk, which reflects it, making the disk a source of X-rays. The reflected light enables astronomers to see how fast matter is swirling in the inner region of the disk, and ultimately to measure the black hole's spin rate.
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This diagram shows how a shifting feature, called a corona, can create a flare of X-rays around a black hole. The corona (feature represented in purplish colors) gathers inward (left), becoming brighter, before shooting away from the black hole (middle and right). Astronomers don't know why the coronas shift, but they have learned that this process leads to a brightening of X-ray light that can be observed by telescopes.
Normally, before a black hole's corona shifts, there is already an effect at work called relativistic boosting. As X-ray light from the corona reflects off the black hole's surrounding disk of material -- which is traveling near half the speed of light -- the X-ray light becomes brightened, as seen on the left side of the illustration. This boosting occurs on the side of the disk where the material is traveling toward us. The opposite effect, a dimming of the X-ray light, occurs on the other side of the disk moving away from us.
Another form of relativistic boosting happens when the corona shoots away from the black hole, and later collapses. Its X-ray light is also brightened, as the corona travels toward us leading to X-ray flares.
In 2014, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and Swift space telescopes witnessed an X-flare from the supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy called Markarian 335. The observations allowed astronomers to link a shifting corona to an X-ray flare for the first time.
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)
In this artist's illustration, turbulent winds of gas swirl around a black hole. Some of the gas is spiraling inward toward the black hole, but another part is blown away.
A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying.
Because no light can get out, people can't see black holes. They are invisible. Space telescopes with special tools can help find black holes. The special tools can see how stars that are very close to black holes act differently than other stars.
How Big Are Black Holes?
Black holes can be big or small. Scientists think the smallest black holes are as small as just one atom. These black holes are very tiny but have the mass of a large mountain. Mass is the amount of matter, or "stuff," in an object.
(Artwork via NASA, and M. Weiss (Chandra X -ray Center))
Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward, as illustrated in this artist's conception. New data from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's (ESA's) XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, which contain gases of highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion, emanating in every direction, as shown in the artwork. The findings rule out the possibility that the winds blow in narrow beams.
With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers were able to determine the winds' strength. The high-speed winds are powerful enough to shut down star formation throughout a galaxy.
The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)
A supermassive black hole is depicted in this artist's concept, surrounded by a swirling disk of material falling onto it.
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)
In July 2015, researchers announced the discovery of a black hole, shown in the above illustration, that grew much more quickly than its host galaxy. The discovery calls into question previous assumptions on the development of galaxies. The black hole was originally discovered using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and was then detected in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and by ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Benny Trakhtenbrot, from ETH Zurich's Institute for Astronomy, and an international team of astrophysicists, performed a follow-up observation of this black hole using the 10 meter Keck telescope in Hawaii and were surprised by the results. The data, collected with a new instrument, revealed a giant black hole in an otherwise normal, distant galaxy, called CID-947.
(Illustration via M. Helfenbein, Yale University / OPAC)
Two black holes are entwined in a gravitational tango in this artist's conception. Supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies are thought to form through the merging of smaller, yet still massive black holes, such as the ones depicted here.
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, helped lead astronomers to what appears to be a new example of a dancing black hole duo. Called WISE J233237.05-505643.5, the suspected black hole merger is located about 3.8 billion light-years from Earth, much farther than other black hole binary candidates of a similar nature.
(Photo via NASA)
An extraordinary outburst produced by a black hole in a nearby galaxy has provided direct evidence for a population of old, volatile stellar black holes. The discovery, made by astronomers using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, provides new insight into the nature of a mysterious class of black holes that can produce as much energy in X-rays as a million suns radiate at all wavelengths.
Researchers used Chandra to discover a new ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX. These objects give off more X-rays than most binary systems, in which a companion star orbits the remains of a collapsed star. These collapsed stars form either a dense core called a neutron star or a black hole. The extra X-ray emission suggests ULXs contain black holes that might be much more massive than the ones found elsewhere in our galaxy.
(Photo via X-ray: NASA/CXC/Curtin University/R. Soria et al., Optical: NASA/STScI/ Middlebury College/F. Winkler et al.)
Did you know that a black hole could hurtle like a cannonball? Well, the Hubble Space Telescope found such an object – making this phenomena the image of the year in 2002. Astronomers were able to track the hole because it had a companion star – a black hole cannot be seen on its own because it swallows light. The theory is, which furthered by this image, that claims that black holes are created when a star dies in a violent supernova. (Photo via NASA)
The center of the Milky Way galaxy, with the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), located in the middle, is revealed in these images. As described in our press release, astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to take a major step in understanding why material around Sgr A* is extraordinarily faint in X-rays.
The large image contains X-rays from Chandra in blue and infrared emission from the Hubble Space Telescope in red and yellow. The inset shows a close-up view of Sgr A* in X-rays only, covering a region half a light year wide. The diffuse X-ray emission is from hot gas captured by the black hole and being pulled inwards. This hot gas originates from winds produced by a disk-shaped distribution of young massive stars observed in infrared observations.
These new findings are the result of one of the biggest observing campaigns ever performed by Chandra. During 2012, Chandra collected about five weeks worth of observations to capture unprecedented X-ray images and energy signatures of multi-million degree gas swirling around Sgr A*, a black hole with about 4 million times the mass of the Sun. At just 26,000 light years from Earth, Sgr A* is one of very few black holes in the universe where we can actually witness the flow of matter nearby.
(Photo via X-ray: NASA/UMass/D . Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI)
This image, taken with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, shows the central region of galaxy NGC1313. This galaxy is home to the ultraluminous X-ray source NCG1313X-1, which astronomers have now determined to be an intermediate-mass black hole candidate. NGC1313 is 50,000 light-years across and lies about 14 million light-years from the Milky Way in the southern constellation Reticulum. (Photo via ESO)
Top: An illustration of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, in orbit. The unique school bus-long mast allows NuSTAR to focus high energy X-rays.
Lower-left: A color image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of one of the nine galaxies targeted by NuSTAR in search of hidden black holes.
Bottom-right: An artist's illustration of a supermassive black hole, actively feasting on its surroundings. The central black hole is hidden from direct view by a thick layer of encircling gas and dust.
Scientists said gravitational waves open a door for a new way to observe the universe and gain knowledge about enigmatic objects like black holes and neutron stars. By studying gravitational waves they also hope to gain insight into the nature of the very early universe, which has remained mysterious.
Everything we know about the cosmos stems from electromagnetic waves such as radio waves, visible light, infrared light, X-rays and gamma rays. But because such waves encounter interference as they travel across the universe, they can tell only part of the story.
Gravitational waves experience no such barriers, meaning they can offer a wealth of additional information. Black holes, for example, do not emit light, radio waves and the like, but can be studied via gravitational waves.
Scientists sounded positively giddy over the discovery.
"It is really a truly, truly exciting event," said Abhay Ashtekar, director of Penn State University's Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. "It opens a brand new window on the universe."
"The LIGO announcement describes one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the past 50 years," Cornell University physicist Saul Teukolsky added.
Ashtekar said heavy celestial objects bend space and time but because of the relative weakness of the gravitational force the effect is miniscule except from massive and dense bodies like black holes and neutron stars. He said that when these objects collide, they send out ripples in the curvature of space and time that propagate as gravitational waves.
The detection of gravitational waves already has provided unique insight into black holes, with the scientists saying it has demonstrated that there are plenty of black holes in the range of tens of solar masses, resolving the long debated issue of the existence of black holes of that size.
A black hole, a region of space so packed with matter that not even photons of light can escape the force of gravity, was detected for the first time in 1971. Scientists have known the existence of small black holes and so-called supermassive black holes are millions or billions of times as massive as the sun, but had debated the existence of black holes of intermediate size.
Neutron stars are small, about the size of a city, but are extremely heavy, the compact remains of a larger star that died in a supernova explosion.
RELATED: See the most impressive space photos of 2015
Best space photos of 2015, Year in Space
Einstein's gravitational waves detected in scientific milestone
This image shows the pillars as seen in infrared light, allowing it to pierce through obscuring dust and gas and unveil a more unfamiliar – but just as amazing – view of the pillars.
In this ethereal view the entire frame is peppered with bright stars and baby stars are revealed being formed within the pillars themselves. The ghostly outlines of the pillars seem much more delicate, and are silhouetted against an eerie blue haze.
(Photo via NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team)
September 24, 2015
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled in stunning detail a small section of the Veil Nebula - expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago.
Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures. The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.
This view is a mosaic of six Hubble pictures of a small area roughly two light-years across, covering only a tiny fraction of the nebula’s vast structure. (Photo via NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team)
November 12, 2015
New Horizons scientists made this false color image of Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto's distinct regions. The image data were collected by the spacecraft’s Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14 at 11:11 AM UTC, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers). This image was presented by Will Grundy of the New Horizons’ surface composition team on Nov. 9 at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
April 27, 2015
The Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) instrument aboard NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft was designed to study both the exosphere and surface of the planet Mercury. To learn more about the minerals and surface processes on Mercury, the Visual and Infrared Spectrometer (VIRS) portion of MASCS has been diligently collecting single tracks of spectral surface measurements since MESSENGER entered Mercury orbit on March 17, 2011. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
August 9, 2015
Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly): "Day 135. #MilkyWay. You're old, dusty, gassy and warped. But beautiful. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace"
August 6, 2015
Some of the most breathtaking views in the Universe are created by nebulae — hot, glowing clouds of gas. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the center of the Lagoon Nebula, an object with a deceptively tranquil name, in the constellation of Sagittarius. The region is filled with intense winds from hot stars, churning funnels of gas, and energetic star formation, all embedded within an intricate haze of gas and pitch-dark dust.
(Photo via NASA, ESA, J. Trauger (Jet Propulson Laboratory))
September 11, 2015
The arrangement of the spiral arms in the galaxy Messier 63, seen here in an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, recall the pattern at the center of a sunflower. So the nickname for this cosmic object — the Sunflower Galaxy — is no coincidence.
Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779, the galaxy later made it as the 63rd entry into fellow French astronomer Charles Messier’s famous catalogue, published in 1781. The two astronomers spotted the Sunflower Galaxy’s glow in the small, northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). We now know this galaxy is about 27 million light-years away and belongs to the M51 Group — a group of galaxies, named after its brightest member, Messier 51, another spiral-shaped galaxy dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.
Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. For galaxies like Messier 63 the winding arms shine bright because of the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars and clusters, readily seen in this Hubble image. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Caption via European Space Agency)
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.
NGC 4639 is a beautiful example of a type of galaxy known as a barred spiral. It lies over 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo and is one of about 1500 galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster.
In this image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, one can clearly see the bar running through the bright, round core of the galaxy. Bars are found in around two thirds of spiral galaxies, and are thought to be a natural phase in their evolution.
The galaxy’s spiral arms are sprinkled with bright regions of active star formation. Each of these tiny jewels is actually several hundred light-years across and contains hundreds or thousands of newly formed stars. But NGC 4639 also conceals a dark secret in its core — a massive black hole that is consuming the surrounding gas.
This is known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and is revealed by characteristic features in the spectrum of light from the galaxy and by X-rays produced close to the black hole as the hot gas plunges towards it.
(Photo via ESA)
September 28, 2015
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
October 19, 2015
On Oct. 12-13, 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly shared a series of seventeen photographs taken from the International Space Station during a flyover of Australia. This first photo of the series was shared on Twitter with the caption, "#EarthArt in one pass over the #Australian continent. Picture 1 of 17. #YearInSpace". (Photo via NASA)
October 30, 2015
Two stars shine through the center of a ring of cascading dust in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The star system is named DI Cha, and while only two stars are apparent, it is actually a quadruple system containing two sets of binary stars.
As this is a relatively young star system it is surrounded by dust. The young stars are molding the dust into a wispy wrap.
The host of this alluring interaction between dust and star is the Chamaeleon I dark cloud — one of three such clouds that comprise a large star-forming region known as the Chamaeleon Complex. DI Cha's juvenility is not remarkable within this region. In fact, the entire system is among not only the youngest but also the closest collections of newly formed stars to be found and so provides an ideal target for studies of star formation. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)
November 16, 2015
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren took this photograph on Nov. 11, 2015 from the International Space Station, and shared it with his followers on social media. Lindgren wrote, "The delicate fingerprints of water imprinted on the sand. The #StoryOfWater." The area photographed is located in Oman, approximately 20 km to the west-northwest of Hamra Al Drooa.
One of the ways research on the space station benefits life on Earth is by supporting water purification efforts worldwide. Drinkable water is vital for human survival. Unfortunately, many people around the world lack access to clean water. Using technology developed for the space station, at-risk areas can gain access to advanced water filtration and purification systems, making a life-saving difference in these communities. Joint collaborations between aid organizations and NASA technology show just how effectively space research can adapt to contribute answers to global problems. The commercialization of this station-related technology has provided aid and disaster relief for communities worldwide. (Photo via NASA)
January 31, 2015
A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory onboard is seen in this long exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 2, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. SMAP is NASA’s first Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. SMAP will provide high resolution global measurements of soil moisture from space. The data will be used to enhance scientists' understanding of the processes that link Earth's water, energy, and carbon cycles. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
September 10, 2015
This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers). (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
April 23, 2015
The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.
To capture this image, Hubble’s near-infrared Wide Field Camera 3 pierced through the dusty veil shrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the nebula and the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The cluster measures between 6 and 13 light-years across.
The giant star cluster is about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy’s hottest, brightest and most massive stars. Some of its heftiest stars unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds of charged particles etching into the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. (Photo via NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team)
October 28, 2015
Though dawn creeps over the horizon of the Chilean Atacama Desert, the Milky Way can be seen arching above the four 8-metre Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory. (Photo via A. Russell/ESO)
October 7, 2015
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) captured this photograph of the green lights of the aurora from the International Space Station on Oct. 7, 2015. Sharing with his social media followers, Kelly wrote, "The daily morning dose of #aurora to help wake you up. #GoodMorning from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace"
November 19, 2015
Artist's illustration of planets forming in a circumstellar disk like the one surrounding the star LkCa 15. The planets within the disk's gap sweep up material that would have otherwise fallen onto the star. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech)
September 24, 2015
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode. The image resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). The viewer is encouraged to zoom in on the full resolution image on a larger screen to fully appreciate the complexity of Pluto’s surface features. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
In July 2015, researchers announced the discovery of a black hole, shown in the above illustration, that grew much more quickly than its host galaxy. The discovery calls into question previous assumptions on the development of galaxies. The black hole was originally discovered using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and was then detected in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and by ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. (Illustration via M. Helfenbein, Yale University/OPAC)
October 7, 2015
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter often takes images of Martian sand dunes to study the mobile soils. These images provide information about erosion and movement of surface material, about wind and weather patterns, even about the soil grains and grain sizes. However, looking past the dunes, these images also reveal the nature of the substrate beneath. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
June 24, 2015
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly captured this photo of an aurora from the International Space Station on June 23, 2015.
The dancing lights of the aurora provide spectacular views on the ground, but also capture the imagination of scientists who study incoming energy and particles from the sun. Aurora are one effect of such energetic particles, which can speed out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs. (Photo via NASA)
September 4, 2015
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS Team, Acknowledgement: R. Gendler)
September 17, 2015
Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
August 21, 2015
Here we see the spectacular cosmic pairing of the star Hen 2-427 — more commonly known as WR 124 — and the nebula M1-67 which surrounds it. Both objects, captured here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope are found in the constellation of Sagittarius and lie 15,000 light-years away.
The star Hen 2-427 shines brightly at the very center of this explosive image and around the hot clumps of surrounding gas that are being ejected into space at over 93,210 miles (150,000 km) per hour.
(Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)
October 10, 2015
The dark area across the top of the sun in this image is a coronal hole, a region on the sun where the magnetic field is open to interplanetary space, sending coronal material speeding out in what is called a high-speed solar wind stream. The high-speed solar wind originating from this coronal hole, imaged here on Oct. 10, 2015, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, created a geomagnetic storm near Earth that resulted in several nights of auroras. This image was taken in wavelengths of 193 Angstroms, which is invisible to our eyes and is typically colorized in bronze. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
April 1, 2015
Typhoon Maysak strengthened into a super typhoon on March 31, reaching Category 5 hurricane status on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured this image while flying over the weather system on board the International Space Station. (ESA/NASA/Samantha Cristoforetti)
September 21, 2015
An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of small island cays in the Bahamas and the prominent tidal channels cutting between them. For astronauts, this is one of the most recognizable points on the planet.
The string of cays — stretching 14.24 kilometers (8.9 miles) in this image — extends west from Great Exuma Island (just outside the image to the right). Exuma is known for being remote from the bigger islands of The Bahamas, and it is rich with privately owned cays and with real pirate history (including Captain Kidd).
(Photo via NASA, Caption via M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC)
One hundred years ago this month, Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity, one of the most important scientific achievements in the last century.
A key result of Einstein’s theory is that matter warps space-time, and thus a massive object can cause an observable bending of light from a background object. The first success of the theory was the observation, during a solar eclipse, that light from a distant background star was deflected by the predicted amount as it passed near the sun.
Astronomers have since found many examples of this phenomenon, known as “gravitational lensing.” More than just a cosmic illusion, gravitational lensing provides astronomers with a way of probing extremely distant galaxies and groups of galaxies in ways that would otherwise be impossible even with the most powerful telescopes.
The latest results from the “Cheshire Cat” group of galaxies show how manifestations of Einstein’s 100-year-old theory can lead to new discoveries today. Astronomers have given the group this name because of the smiling cat-like appearance. Some of the feline features are actually distant galaxies whose light has been stretched and bent by the large amounts of mass, most of which is in the form of dark matter detectable only through its gravitational effect, found in the system.
More specifically, the mass that distorts the faraway galactic light is found surrounding the two giant “eye” galaxies and a “nose” galaxy. The multiple arcs of the circular “face” arise from gravitational lensing of four different background galaxies well behind the “eye” galaxies. The individual galaxies of the system, as well as the gravitationally lensed arcs, are seen in optical light from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Each “eye” galaxy is the brightest member of its own group of galaxies and these two groups are racing toward one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) show hot gas that has been heated to millions of degrees, which is evidence that the galaxy groups are slamming into one another. Chandra’s X-ray data also reveal that the left “eye” of the Cheshire Cat group contains an actively feeding supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Astronomers think the Cheshire Cat group will become what is known as a fossil group, defined as a gathering of galaxies that contains one giant elliptical galaxy and other much smaller, fainter ones. Fossil groups may represent a temporary stage that nearly all galaxy groups pass through at some point in their evolution. Therefore, astronomers are eager to better understand the properties and behavior of these groups.
The Cheshire Cat represents the first opportunity for astronomers to study a fossil group progenitor. Astronomers estimate that the two “eyes” of the cat will merge in about one billion years, leaving one very large galaxy and dozens of much smaller ones in a combined group. At that point it will have become a fossil group and a more appropriate name may be the “Cyclops” group.
(Photo via X-ray: NASA/CXC/UA/J.Irwin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)
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)
February 28, 2015
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. (Photo via NASA)
November 12, 2015
Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly): "#ThrowbackThursday I admit, last week I took a #selfie at work. #YearInSpace"
June 15, 2015
To the human eye, Mercury may resemble a dull, grey orb but this enhanced-colour image from NASA’s Messengerprobe, tells a completely different story. Swathes of iridescent blue, sandy-coloured plains and delicate strands of greyish white, create an ethereal and colourful view of our Solar System’s innermost planet.
These contrasting colours have been chosen to emphasise the differences in the composition of the landscape across the planet. The darker regions exhibit low-reflectance material, particularly for light at redder wavelengths. As a result, these regions take on a bluer cast.
(Photo via NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab / Carnegie Inst. Washington)
September 22, 2015
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, recently past the halfway mark of his one-year mission on the International Space Station, photographed the Nile River during a nighttime flyover. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "Day 179. The #Nile at night is a beautiful sight for these sore eyes. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace." (Photo via NASA)
November 18, 2015
Two active regions sprouted arches of bundled magnetic loops in this video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory taken on Nov. 11-12, 2015. Charged particles spin along the magnetic field, tracing out bright lines as they emit light in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. About halfway through the video, a small eruption from the active region near the center causes the coils to rise up and become brighter as the region re-organizes its magnetic field. This video was taken in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of 171 angstroms, typically invisible to our eyes but colored here in gold. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
March 13, 2015
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have studied one particular explosion that may provide clues to the dynamics of other, much larger stellar eruptions. (Photo via NASA)
This vast, desolate area in the very northern corner of the Red Sea is bordered by the Hejaz Mountains to the east. The area was once criss-crossed by ancient trade routes that played a vital role in the development of many of the region’s greatest civilisations.
Today, the Red Sea separates the coasts of Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea to the west from those of Saudi Arabia and Yemen to the east.
The lighter blue water depicted in the image means that the water is shallower than the surrounding darker blue water.
Furthermore, water clarity is exceptional in the Red Sea because of the lack of river discharge and low rainfall. Therefore, fine sediment that typically plagues other tropical oceans, particularly after large storms, does not affect the Red Sea reefs.
Also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, this image was captured by Sentinel-2A on 28 June 2015 after its instruments had been activated.
(Photo via Copernicus Sentinel data (2015)/ESA)
July 4, 2015
This new composite image combines X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (pink) with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red) as well as optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories’ Mayall 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak (red, green, blue). The Chandra data reveal 95 young stars glowing in X-ray light, 41 of which had not been identified previously using infrared observations with Spitzer because they lacked infrared emission from a surrounding disk.
(Photo via X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Wolk et al; Optical: DSS & NOAO/AURA/NSF; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
June 5, 2015
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this closeup image of a "fresh" (on a geological scale, though quite old on a human scale) impact crater in the Sirenum Fossae region of Mars on March 30, 2015.
This impact crater appears relatively recent as it has a sharp rim and well-preserved ejecta. The steep inner slopes are carved by gullies and include possible recurring slope lineae on the equator-facing slopes. Fresh craters often have steep, active slopes, so the HiRISE team is monitoring this crater for changes over time. The bedrock lithology is also diverse. The crater is a little more than 1-kilometer wide.
(Photo via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, Caption via Alfred McEwen)
November 20, 2015
On approach in July 2015, the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured Pluto rotating over the course of a full “Pluto day.” The best available images of each side of Pluto taken during approach have been combined to create this view of a full rotation. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
Amateur astronomers have nicknamed this pretty galactic pair after both of these creatures – the graceful curve of a dolphin or porpoise can be seen in the blue- and red-tinged shape towards the bottom of the frame, and when paired with the pale, glowing orb just beneath it, the duo bear a striking resemblance to a bird or penguin guarding an egg.
(Photo via NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))
December 5, 2015
Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly): "Just took this stunning picture of #SouthEastAsia. #YearInSpace"
February 24, 2015
This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Mojave" site, where its drill collected the mission's second taste of Mount Sharp.
The scene combines dozens of images taken during January 2015 by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The pale "Pahrump Hills" outcrop surrounds the rover, and the upper portion of Mount Sharp is visible on the horizon. Darker ground at upper right and lower left holds ripples of wind-blown sand and dust. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
April 17, 2015
In this Chandra image of ngc6388, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close. When a star reaches its white dwarf stage, nearly all of the material from the star is packed inside a radius one hundredth that of the original star.
The destruction of a planet may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a team of astronomers has found evidence that this may have happened in an ancient cluster of stars at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.
Using several telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star – the dense core of a star like the Sun that has run out of nuclear fuel – may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close.
(Photo via NASA)
June 25, 2015
The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, an M7.9-class, peaking at 4:16 a.m. EDT on June 25, 2015. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. (Photo via NASA/SDO)
June 23, 2015
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) captured photographs and video of auroras from the International Space Station on June 22, 2015. Kelly wrote, "Yesterday's aurora was an impressive show from 250 miles up. Good morning from the International Space Station! #YearInSpace" (Photo via NASA)
September 8, 2015
This composite image made from five frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of nine onboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Sergey Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov. (Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls)
July 22, 2015
On July 3, 2015, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of a river of smoke passing over the Greenland Sea. The smoke most likely arose from fires in Canada and Alaska. Smoke was also reported to have cross the North Pole by July 12. (Photo via NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC)
May 6, 2015
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured these images of a significant solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the left – peaking at 6:11 p.m. EDT on May 5, 2015. Each image shows a different wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights a different temperature of material on the sun. (Photo via NASA/SDO/Wiessinger)
August 2, 2015
The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui. (Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls)
September 18, 2015
It is known today that merging galaxies play a large role in the evolution of galaxies and the formation of elliptical galaxies in particular. However there are only a few merging systems close enough to be observed in depth. The pair of interacting galaxies seen here — known as NGC 3921 — is one of these systems.
NGC 3921 — found in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear) — is an interacting pair of disk galaxies in the late stages of its merger. Observations show that both of the galaxies involved were about the same mass and collided about 700 million years ago. You can see clearly in this image the disturbed morphology, tails and loops characteristic of a post-merger. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)
November 10, 2015
On Nov. 6, 2015, NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren spent 7 hours and 48 minutes working outside the International Space Station on the 190th spacewalk in support of station assembly and maintenance. The astronauts restored the port truss (P6) ammonia cooling system to its original configuration, the main task for the spacewalk. They also returned ammonia to the desired levels in both the prime and back-up systems. The spacewalk was the second for both astronauts. Crew members have now spent a total of 1,192 hours and 4 minutes working outside the orbital laboratory.
At about an hour after the 6:22 a.m. EST start of the spacewalk, astronaut Kjell Lindgren took this photograph of Scott Kelly at work, with the station's solar arrays visible in the background. (Photo via NASA)
July 1, 2015
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this closeup image of a light-toned deposit in Aureum Chaos, a 368 kilometer (229 mile) wide area in the eastern part of Valles Marineris, on Jan. 15, 2015, at 2:51 p.m. local Mars time.
The objective of this observation is to examine a light-toned deposit in a region of what is called “chaotic terrain.” There are indications of layers in the image. Some shapes suggest erosion by a fluid moving north and south. The top of the light-toned deposit appears rough, in contrast to the smoothness of its surroundings.
(Photo via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
April 27, 2015
Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly): "Sometimes #Earth looks like another planet from @Space_Station. #YearInSpace"
August 7, 2015
This colorful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6,000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale.
When stars like the sun enter "retirement," they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. NGC 6818 shows knotty filament-like structures and distinct layers of material, with a bright and enclosed central bubble surrounded by a larger, more diffuse cloud.
Scientists believe that the stellar wind from the central star propels the outflowing material, sculpting the elongated shape of NGC 6818. As this fast wind smashes through the slower-moving cloud it creates particularly bright blowouts at the bubble’s outer layers.
(Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)
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)
May 8, 2015
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover recorded this sequence of views of the sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover's location in Gale Crater.
The four images shown in sequence here were taken over a span of 6 minutes, 51 seconds.
This was the first sunset observed in color by Curiosity. The images come from the left-eye camera of the rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam). The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Mastcam sees color very similarly to what human eyes see, although it is actually a little less sensitive to blue than people are.
Dust in the Martian atmosphere has fine particles that permit blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than longer-wavelength colors. That causes the blue colors in the mixed light coming from the sun to stay closer to sun's part of the sky, compared to the wider scattering of yellow and red colors. The effect is most pronounced near sunset, when light from the sun passes through a longer path in the atmosphere than it does at mid-day.
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.)
July 13, 2015
Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly): "#MondayMotivation #Earth today; #PlutoFlyby tomorrow! @Space_Station; @NASANewHorizons #YearInSpace"
July 30, 2015
Seasonal frost commonly forms at middle and high latitudes on Mars, much like winter snow on Earth. However, on Mars most frost is carbon dioxide (dry ice) rather than water ice. This frost appears to cause surface activity, including flows in gullies.
This image, acquired on April 11, 2015, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows frost in gully alcoves in a crater on the Northern plains. The frost highlights details of the alcoves, since it forms in different amounts depending on slopes and shadows as well as the type of material making up the ground. Rugged rock outcrops appear dark and shadowed, while frost highlights the upper alcove and the steepest route down the slope.
(Photo via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, Caption via Colin Dundas)
August 26, 2015
The Twin Jet Nebula, a planetary nebula lying some 4200 light-years away, viewed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Planetary nebulae are formed when the outer layers of an aging low-mass star are ejected and interact with the surrounding interstellar medium, leaving behind a compact white dwarf.
(Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)
March 12, 2015
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. (Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls)
March 20, 2015
As Europe enjoyed a partial solar eclipse on the morning of Friday 20 March 2015, ESA’s Sun-watching Proba-2 minisatellite had a ringside seat from orbit. Proba-2 used its SWAP imager to capture the Moon passing in front of the Sun in a near-totality. SWAP views the solar disc at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to capture the turbulent surface of the Sun and its swirling corona. (Photo via ESA/ROB)
May 22, 2015
The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) images the solar atmosphere in multiple wavelengths to link changes in the surface to interior changes. Its data includes images of the sun in 10 wavelengths every 10 seconds. When AIA images are sharpened a bit, such as this AIA 171Å channel image, the magnetic field can be readily visualized through the bright, thin strands that are called "coronal loops". Loops are shown here in a blended overlay with the magnetic field as measured with SDO's Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager underneath. Blue and yellow represent the opposite polarities of the magnetic field. The combined images were taken on Oct. 24, 2014, at 23:50:37 UT. (Photo via NASA SDO)
November 19, 2015
Single frame enhanced NAVCAM taken on 17 November 2015, when Rosetta was 141.4 km from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale is 12.1 m/pixel and the image measures 12.3 km across. (Photo via ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)
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)
August 14, 2015
Bursts of pink and red, dark lanes of mottled cosmic dust, and a bright scattering of stars — this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows part of a messy barred spiral galaxy known as NGC 428. It lies approximately 48 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster).
Although a spiral shape is still just about visible in this close-up shot, overall NGC 428’s spiral structure appears to be quite distorted and warped, thought to be a result of a collision between two galaxies. There also appears to be a substantial amount of star formation occurring within NGC 428 — another telltale sign of a merger. When galaxies collide their clouds of gas can merge, creating intense shocks and hot pockets of gas, and often triggering new waves of star formation.
(Photo via ESA/Hubble and NASA and S. Smartt (Queen's University Belfast), Acknowledgements: Nick Rose and Flickr user penninecloud, Caption via European Space Agency)
February 1, 2015
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. (Photo via NASA)
December 11, 2015
Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA captured this image from aboard the International Space Station, of the Dec. 11, 2015 undocking and departure of the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying home Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) after their 141-day mission on the orbital laboratory. They landed safely in Kazakhstan at approximately 8:12 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. Kazakhstan time).
Expedition 46 continues operating the station, with Kelly in command. Along with Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, the three-person crew will operate the station for four days until the arrival of three new crew members. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 15. (Photo via NASA)
April 3, 2015
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this image circling Earth on the International Space Station during his six-month Blue Dot mission. Alexander commented: "The eye of Super Typhoon Vongfong is 80 km across. Looks very dark in there."
(Photo via ESA/NASA)
May 26, 2015
This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter's moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo spacecraft, a past NASA mission to Jupiter and its moons which ended in 2003. NASA will announce today, Tuesday, May 26, the selection of science instruments for a mission to Europa, to investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life. The Europa mission would conduct repeated close flybys of the small moon during a three-year period. (Photo via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
June 12, 2015
The sphere of space surrounding our galaxy is known as the Local Volume, a region some 35 million light-years in diameter and home to several hundred known galaxies. The subject of this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, a beautiful dwarf irregular galaxy known as PGC 18431, is one of these galaxies.
This image shows PGC 18431 smudged across the sky, but it wasn’t imaged purely for its looks. These Hubble observations were gathered in order to probe how Local Volume galaxies cluster together and move around. Hubble’s high resolution allows astronomers to explore star populations within these moderately distant galaxies — specifically, stars known as tip of the red giant branch stars — in order to get an idea of the galaxy’s composition and, crucially, its distance from us. Knowing galactic distances enables us to accurately map a galaxy sample in three dimensions, a method key to understanding more about our cosmic neighbors, and to dismiss perspective and line-of-sight illusions.
(Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Caption via European Space Agency)
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)
August 18, 2015
It is cold, dark, dry and isolated with very little oxygen to breathe in the air, but the unique location makes Concordia station in Antarctica an attractive place for scientists to conduct research. The aurora australis that adds colour to this picture is a well-deserved bonus for the crew of 13 who are spending the winter months cut off from friends and family.
For nine months, no aircraft or land vehicles can reach the station, temperatures drop to –80°C and the Sun does not rise above the horizon for 100 days. Living and working in these conditions is similar in many respects to living on another planet and ESA sponsors a medical doctor to run research for future space missions.
The first astronauts to land on another planet might even see a similar beautiful spectacle illuminating the skies. Auroras appear when radiation from the Sun interacts with the atmosphere and almost all planets in the Solar System have auroras of some sort.