Tuesday, 8 January 2013


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Space Pictures This Week: Planets Suck, Fissures Fume
National Geographic News, 7 January, 2013.

Giant planets hoover gas, a volcano spews, and Dallas twinkles in the latest space pictures.

1. Desert Winds

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It's a beige holiday season for the western Sahara as hot, dry winds kick up massive dust clouds in a picture taken December 28. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spetroradiometer (MODIS), an instrument riding on NASA's Terra satellite, snapped this natural colour view as the dust moved west over the Atlantic ocean.

Although large dust storms can be considered natural hazards, they're an important source of minerals for the Amazon River Basin and have been known to trigger phytoplankton blooms in the eastern Atlantic.

2. Around the Bend

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Photograph by Babak Tafreshi, TWAN

Horseshoe Bend, in Glen Canyon along the Colorado River (map) in Arizona, shows off deep blues and purples in an image released December 28. Snapped in the early morning, the picture shows Jupiter blazing from the constellation Taurus, while a double star cluster shines on the right. (Related: "A Journey Down the Colorado River.")

3. This Planet Sucks

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This dramatic artist's conception, released January 2 by the European Southern Observatory, illustrates an early stage in the growth of a gas giant.

The image shows the star HD 142527, in the centre, surrounded by two rings of gas and debris - the inner (orange-yellow) ring and an incomplete outer ring that forms more of a horseshoe shape around the young star.

Astronomers believe that the bright streams bridging the gap between the rings are caused by a planet sucking up gas from the outer ring as the giant grows. Researchers have directly observed this process for the first time using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). (Related: "Stars Can Strip Gas Giants Naked.")

4. Where in the World?

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In a picture released December 31 by NASA's Earth Observatory, northern Dallas blazes in a collection of lights as seen from the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronauts on the ISS captured the luminous network formed by lights lining north-south and east-west streets, clusters of commercial and residential buildings, and the dark patches created by parks and airport runways. (Read an article on light pollution from National Geographic magazine.)

5. Fuming Fissures

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The Tolbachik volcano, on the Kamchatka Peninsula (map) along the Bering Sea, spews lava in this December 22 picture taken by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite. The volcano began erupting on November 27 and continued until December 30.

Grey areas (left and lower right) in this natural-colour picture indicate lava fields that have cooled enough to allow snow accumulation, while fresh lava appears black. The steaming fissures (centre) are located on Tolbachik's southern flank. (Read an article about Kamchatka salmon in National Geographic magazine.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]

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