Space Pictures This Week
By National Geographic Daily News, 17 February 2012.
|1. Cosmic Curiosity|
A collection of nebulae — interstellar clouds of dust and gas — create a question mark in the sky in a new picture taken from a small private observatory in Finland and submitted to National Geographic's Your Shot.
At top sits the emission nebula known as Cederblad 214, which is part of a larger star-forming complex called NGC 7822. The dot at bottom is a smaller nebula called Sharpless 170. The entire piece of punctuation spans about 40 light-years in the constellation Cepheus.
Photograph by J.P. Metsavainio, Your Shot .
|2. Solar Dance|
Dark, relatively cool ribbons of plasma — superheated, charged gas — gyrate over the surface of the sun in a picture from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The high-resolution shot was released on February 11 to mark the second anniversary of the spacecraft's launch.
The dark particles are being pulled around by competing magnetic forces as they move along the strands of the sun's magnetic field.
Image courtesy SDO/NASA .
|3. Lightweight Debut|
Europe's newest lightweight rocket, dubbed Vega, lifts off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana in a picture taken Monday.
For its maiden flight, the rocket carried nine satellites into orbit, including an Italian probe that will test Einstein's theory of general relativity with unprecedented accuracy.
Photograph courtesy Stephane Corvaja, ESA.
|4. Kuiper Crater|
Like the inverse of a fried egg, yellow material splays out from a bright white centre in a new colour-enhanced view of Mercury's Kuiper crater. The close-up was recently snapped by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft.
The yellow rays are material that was ejected during the impact that formed the relatively young crater. The range of colours is likely due to differences in chemical composition.
Image courtesy CIW/JHUAPL/NASA.
|5. Crescent Moons|
A new picture from NASA's Cassini orbiter seems to feature a snowman with a pockmarked face, thanks to the seemingly stacked orbs of the Saturn moons Titan (bottom) and Rhea.
Titan, the largest moon in the Saturnian system, sports a dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere, which obscures a surface scientists now know to be dotted with lakes of liquid methane. By contrast, Rhea — Saturn's second largest moon — has a tenuous atmosphere of oxygen and carbon dioxide and an icy surface visibly scarred by multiple impact craters.
Image courtesy SSI/Caltech/NASA.
|6. Fairbanks Light Show|
Green auroras sweep across the night skies in a recently released picture taken from Fairbanks, Alaska. A bright streak — possibly a meteor — was also captured in the frame. (See more aurora pictures.)
|7. Fiery Ribbon|
In visible light, the long ribbon of cold dust known as the Taurus Molecular Cloud, about 450 light-years away, appears as a dark scar across the universe. But by looking at light with wavelengths of a millimeter or less — invisible to the human eye — astronomers can see the faint glow from the dust, as well as stars forming inside the cloud.
This new picture combines the so-called submillimeter light coming from the cloud — as seen by the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment, or APEX, telescope in Chile — with a visible-light background of stars.
Image courtesy A. Hacar et al, ESO/APEX.
|8. Cracked Up|
Three large cracks converge on the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica, as seen in a recently released picture from NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite. As the continent's East Antarctic Ice Sheet inches toward the ocean, icebergs slowly break off the Amery shelf in a natural process called calving.
The rifts seen above lie along the western edge of a feature scientists have nicknamed Amery's "loose tooth" — because the hunk of ice has been calving from the ice shelf for more than a decade.
Image courtesy Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, EO-1/NASA.
[Source: National Geographic Daily News. Edited. Top image added.]