Tuesday, 1 January 2013


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10 of the most memorable space photos
Mother Nature Network, 28 December 2012.

Scientists, photographers, authors and space leaders pick their 10 favourite space photos.

Look up in the sky!

The wonder of the cosmos. The beauty of the heavens. Such phrases come easily to mind when contemplating space, which is such a photogenic place. Looking up at the night sky has inspired humanity for eons, and the first photographs taken of space changed our relationship with the sky forever. Then, the first photos taken from space, both of distant galaxies and of our own planet, revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

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Here are 10 of some of the best space photos selected by a variety of space experts. (Text:

1. Earthrise

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The most-nominated photo was without a doubt "Earthrise," the first picture taken of planet Earth by people orbiting the moon. This shot was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968, as his spacecraft became the first to fly around the moon.

"It was iconic for the environmental movement," said astronomer Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California. "It allowed us to see ourselves as Earthlings living on a single, fragile, beautiful planet. This perspective is even more important today."

2. Here comes the sun

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Solar scientist Phillip Chamberlin's pick can be appreciated by anyone for its pure beauty, but this photo of the sun has special meaning to the researcher, who is deputy project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"When we first started getting data, after years of work on building the SDO instruments and spacecraft, launching SDO, and early ops, we took our first images and this is what we saw with AIA [SDO's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument]," Chamberlin said. "Absolutely amazing."

3. Moon dust

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In some cases, the meaning behind a photo eclipses its aesthetic qualities. That may be the case for a photo of helmets and spacesuits covered in lunar dust after the last manned moonwalk, from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. "It symbolizes NASA at its best, and our exploration aspirations for the future," said Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Alan Stern, who chose the photo.

4. It's full of stars

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Senior project scientist for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and writer Dava Sobel selected the Hubble Space Telescope's famous "Hubble Deep Field" photo, which offered the deepest view yet of the universe when it was taken in 1995, by combining light gathered over many hours to reveal thousands of distant galaxies. "Both [photos] set the mind ajar, spring surprises on the senses," Sobel said.

5. Neptune's double crescent

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Astronomer Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz nominated an image of the crescent planet Neptune and its crescent moon Triton taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. "There's no false colour, no artifice, no agenda," Laughlin said."This photograph is calming, mysterious and aesthetically perfect."

6. Geysers of Enceladus

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Geoff Marcy chose this photo of water geysers spouting from Saturn's moon Enceladus, taken by Cassini in October 2007. "This is the best destination to search for life," Marcy wrote. Astronomers think the geysers could indicate Enceladus harbours an ocean of water buried underneath its surface, which might support microbial life.

7. Going supernova

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Australian National University astrophysicist and Nobel Physics prize winner Brian Schmidt chose this Hubble photo of Supernova SN 1994D as his favourite space image, which he called "the poster child of a type Ia supernovae." The supernova is the bright spot on the lower left, shown near the galaxy galaxy NGC 4526.

8. Earth from Mars

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This photo is called "Earth From Mars," which was taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004 and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek of MIT selected this "far from beautiful" picture because it was the first image of Earth seen from the surface of a planet beyond the moon.

9. Nebula of stellar evolution

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Adam Block, astrophotographer and astronomy educator with the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, selected his own image of nebula SH2-239 as his favourite. He writes: "[I] suspect you will not find...a higher resolution (full) colour image of this particular nebula. The important idea to consider is that this object is certainly not unknown. This field represents the earliest stages of stellar evolution - the birth place of stars, and it is studied intensively by astronomers."

10. The glowing rings of Saturn

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Astrophotographer Jerry Lodriguss selected this photo of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006 as his favourite space photo.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited.]

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