Sunday, 15 April 2012


Space Pictures This Week: Aurora Embrace, Shuttle Carrier
National Geographic, 12 April 2012.

1. Canadian Eye Candy

Aurora picture: people looking at the northern lights from a snowy hillPhotograph by Dave Brosha, My Shot.

Campers gaze in awe as an aurora seems to embrace a snow-covered hill in Canada's Northwest Territories, seen in a picture recently submitted to National Geographic's My Shot.

"I should have been sleeping, but I was like a kid in a candy store with excitement," photographer Dave Brosha wrote with his submission. "Bloody hell, the north is a beautiful place."

2. Martian Layers

Mars picture: layered sediments inside a craterImage courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Layers of sediment deposits lie exposed in Mars's Danielson crater in a recently released, false-colour picture from the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The nearly matching thicknesses of the layers suggest the terrain might have been formed by a periodic process, such as natural climate variation linked to the red planet's orbital pattern, according to NASA.

3. Shuttle Service

Space shuttle picture: a NASA plane arrives in Florida to carry the shuttle to D.C.Photograph courtesy Kim Shiflett/NASA

A Shuttle Carrier Aircraft - a modified Boeing 747 - arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to pick up the space shuttle Discovery in a picture taken April 10.

The shuttles were designed as gliders and have no engines of their own, so NASA recruited two of the jumbo jets to ferry the shuttles around the country.

Discovery will make its final such "piggyback ride" on April 17, when the retired spaceship is delivered to its new home at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

4. "Dark" Dwarf Galaxy

Galaxy picture: a dwarf spheroidal galaxy in the constellation FornaxImage courtesy ESO/Digital Sky Survey 2

This dwarf spheroidal galaxy in the constellation Fornax was one of ten tiny galaxies included in a recent study, which analyzed particle candidates for the elusive substance known as dark matter. (Related: "Dark-Matter Galaxy Detected: Hidden Dwarf Lurks Nearby?")

The motions of the galaxies' stars indicate that they are all embedded in massive halos of dark matter. A leading dark-matter candidate is a group known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPS. Scientists think WIMPS mutually annihilate when pairs of them interact, producing gamma rays.

Using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, astronomers collected data on the dwarf galaxies and looked for gamma rays in a particular energy range associated with WIMPS. The results show for the first time that certain WIMP candidates are definitely out of the running - which helps astronomers narrow down the suspect pool.

5. North Korean Launch

North Korea rocket picture: journalists in the launch command centerPhotograph by Ng Han Guan, AP.

Paek Chang Ho (center), head of North Korea's General Launch Command Center, briefs journalists April 11 on the upcoming launch of an Unha-3 rocket, which will carry the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit.

A live feed of the launch pad, on the country's west coast, is seen in the background.

The announcement of the planned rocket launch has generated international concern about the rocket's potential to carry another payload: nuclear weapons.

6. Monster Dust Devil

Mars picture: a towering dust devil seen from aboveImage courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A month after snapping a shot of a serpentine dust devil on Mars, a NASA orbiter has captured an even bigger twister raging on the red planet's surface.

As seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the newest plume reached 12 miles (20 kilometres) high and was 230 feet (70 meters) wide.

Because Mars's atmospheric density is so low, anyone theoretically caught in such a dust devil wouldn't get blown over, according to NASA - but they would get badly scratched by sand and dust swirling in the Martian monster.

7. Volcanic Pit Chains

Mars picture: topographic map of a volcanic regionImage courtesy ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Rainbow colours reveal the topographic features of Tractus Catena, a region on the southeastern flank of the huge Martian volcano Alba Mons, in a new image from the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter.

The deep purple areas are so-called pit chains, collapsed caverns that could have been formed by underground flows of lava or even groundwater.

According to ESA, such pits are tempting targets in the search for life on Mars, because they could shield microorganisms from the planet's harsh surface environment.

8. Burn Scar

Colorado picture: satellite view of a burned region near Denver
Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

A dark blemish scars the land near Denver, Colorado, following the Lower North Fork Fire, as seen in an April 6 picture from NASA's EO-1 satellite.

The blaze spread rapidly after fire-fighters lost control of a planned burn in Foxton, Colorado, according to NASA.

By the time the flames had been contained on April 2, the fire had consumed 4,140 square acres (1,675 hectares) and damaged 25 homes. Three people died and thousands more had to evacuate.

[Source: National Geographic. Edited. Top image added.]

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