NASA Latest Images

Gravity's Grin
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical - NASA/STScI
Explanation: Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, published 100 years ago this month, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that's what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group's two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass dominated by dark matter. In fact the two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.

Planets of the Morning
Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN)
Explanation: Planet Earth's horizon stretches across this recent Solar System group portrait, seen from the southern hemisphere's Las Campanas Observatory. Taken before dawn it traces the ecliptic with a line-up familiar to November's early morning risers. Toward the east are bright planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter as well as Regulus, alpha star of the constellation Leo. Of course the planets are immersed in the faint glow of zodiacal light, visible from the dark site rising at an angle from the horizon. Sometimes known as the false dawn, it's no accident the zodiacal light and planets both lie along the ecliptic. Formed in the flattened protoplanetary disk, the Solar System's planet's all orbit near the ecliptic plane, while dust near the plane scatters sunlight, the source of the faint zodiacal glow.

Unusual Pits Discovered on Pluto
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins U. APL, SwRI
Explanation: Why are there unusual pits on Pluto? The indentations were discovered during the New Horizons spacecraft's flyby of the dwarf planet in July. The largest pits span a kilometer across and dip tens of meters into a lake of frozen nitrogen, a lake that sprawls across Sputnik Planum, part of the famous light-colored heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Regio. Although most pits in the Solar System are created by impact craters, these depressions look different -- many are similarly sized, densely packed, and aligned. Rather, it is thought that something has caused these specific areas of ice to sublimate and evaporate away. In fact, the lack of overlying impact craters indicates these pits formed relatively recently. Even though the robotic New Horizons is now off to a new destination, it continues to beam back to Earth new images and data from its dramatic encounter with Pluto.

A 212-Hour Exposure of Orion
Image Credit & Copyright: Stanislav Volskiy, Rollover Annotation: Judy Schmidt
Explanation: The constellation of Orion is much more than three stars in a row. It is a direction in space that is rich with impressive nebulas. To better appreciate this well-known swath of sky, an extremely long exposure was taken over many clear nights in 2013 and 2014. After 212 hours of camera time and an additional year of processing, the featured 1400-exposure collage spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon emerged. Of the many interesting details that have become visible, one that particularly draws the eye is Barnard's Loop, the bright red circular filament arcing down from the middle. The Rosette Nebula is not the giant red nebula near the top of the image -- that is a larger but lesser known nebula known as Lambda Orionis. The Rosette Nebula is visible, though: it is the red and white nebula on the upper left. The bright orange star just above the frame center is Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star on the lower right is Rigel. Other famous nebulas visible include the Witch Head Nebula, the Flame Nebula, the Fox Fur Nebula, and, if you know just where to look, the comparatively small Horsehead Nebula. About those famous three stars that cross the belt of Orion the Hunter -- in this busy frame they can be hard to locate, but a discerning eye will find them just below and to the right of the image center.

Phobos: Doomed Moon of Mars
Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA
Explanation: This moon is doomed. Mars, the red planet named for the Roman god of war, has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose names are derived from the Greek for Fear and Panic. These martian moons may well be captured asteroids originating in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or perhaps from even more distant reaches of the Solar System. The larger moon, Phobos, is indeed seen to be a cratered, asteroid-like object in this stunning color image from the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, recorded at a resolution of about seven meters per pixel. But Phobos orbits so close to Mars - about 5,800 kilometers above the surface compared to 400,000 kilometers for our Moon - that gravitational tidal forces are dragging it down. A recent analysis of the long grooves indicates that they may result from global stretching caused by tides -- the differing force of Mars' gravity on different sides of Phobos. These grooves may then be an early phase in the disintegration of Phobos into a ring of debris around Mars.

Centaurus A
Processing & Copyright: Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari
Image Data: Hubble Space Telescope, European Southern Observatory
Explanation: What's the closest active galaxy to planet Earth? That would be Centaurus A, only 11 million light-years distant. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy is also known as NGC 5128. Forged in a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies, Centaurus A's fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, pinkish star forming regions, and imposing dark dust lanes are seen here in remarkable detail. The colorful galaxy portrait is a composite of image data from space- and ground-based telescopes large and small. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

The Pelican Nebula in Gas, Dust, and Stars
Image Credit & Copyright: Roberto Colombari
Explanation: The Pelican Nebula is slowly being transformed. IC 5070, the official designation, is divided from the larger North America Nebula by a molecular cloud filled with dark dust. The Pelican, however, receives much study because it is a particularly active mix of star formation and evolving gas clouds. The featured picture was produced in three specific colors -- light emitted by sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen -- that can help us to better understand these interactions. The light from young energetic stars is slowly transforming the cold gas to hot gas, with the advancing boundary between the two, known as an ionization front, visible in bright orange on the right. Particularly dense tentacles of cold gas remain. Millions of years from now this nebula might no longer be known as the Pelican, as the balance and placement of stars and gas will surely leave something that appears completely different.

Wright Mons on Pluto
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ./APL, Southwest Research Institute
Explanation: Long shadows are cast by a low Sun across this rugged looking terrain. Captured by New Horizons, the scene is found just south of the southern tip Sputnik Planum, the informally named smooth, bright heart region of Pluto. Centered is a feature provisionally known as Wright Mons, a broad, tall mountain, about 150 kilometers across and 4 kilometers high, with a 56 kilometer wide, deep summit depression. Of course, broad mountains with central craters are found elsewhere in the Solar System, like Mauna Loa on planet Earth and Olympus Mons on Mars. In fact, New Horizons scientists announced the striking similarity of Pluto's Wright Mons, and nearby Piccard Mons, to large shield volcanoes strongly suggests the two could be giant cryovolcanoes that once erupted molten ice from the interior of the cold, distant world.

The Tadpoles of IC 410
Image Credit & Copyright: Steven Coates
Explanation: This telescopic close-up shows off the otherwise faint emission nebula IC 410. It also features two remarkable inhabitants of the cosmic pond of gas and dust below and right of center, the tadpoles of IC 410. Partly obscured by foreground dust, the nebula itself surrounds NGC 1893, a young galactic cluster of stars. Formed in the interstellar cloud a mere 4 million years ago, the intensely hot, bright cluster stars energize the glowing gas. Composed of denser cooler gas and dust, the tadpoles are around 10 light-years long and are likely sites of ongoing star formation. Sculpted by winds and radiation from the cluster stars, their heads are outlined by bright ridges of ionized gas while their tails trail away from the cluster's central region. IC 410 lies some 10,000 light-years away, toward the nebula-rich constellation Auriga.

AE Aurigae and the Flaming Star Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Jesús Vargas (Sky-Astrophotography) & Maritxu Poyal (Maritxu)
Explanation: Is star AE Aurigae on fire? No. Even though AE Aurigae is named the flaming star, the surrounding nebula IC 405 is named the Flaming Star Nebula, and the region appears to have the color of fire, there is no fire. Fire, typically defined as the rapid molecular acquisition of oxygen, happens only when sufficient oxygen is present and is not important in such high-energy, low-oxygen environments such as stars. The material that appears as smoke is mostly interstellar hydrogen, but does contain smoke-like dark filaments of carbon-rich dust grains. The bright star AE Aurigae, visible toward the right near the nebula's center, is so hot it is blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from surrounding gas. When a proton recaptures an electron, light is emitted, as seen in the surrounding emission nebula. Pictured above, the Flaming Star nebula lies about 1,500 light years distant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga)

Assembly of The International Space Station
Animation Credit: NASA's Johnson Space Center
Explanation: It is the largest and most sophisticated object ever built off the Earth. It has taken numerous spaceflights and over a decade to construct. The International Space Station (ISS) is currently the premiere habitat for humans in Earth orbit, and an amalgamation of sophisticated orbiting laboratories that have examined everything from the formation of new materials and medicines created in microgravity -- to the limitations of the human body -- to the composition of the universe. This month, the ISS is celebrating 15 years of continuous human habitation. The ISS has been visited by astronauts from 15 countries, so far, and has international partners led by NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), CSA (Canada), JAXA (Japan), and ESA (Europe). The featured animation shows the piece-by-piece construction of the ISS from 1998 to 2011. Spanning the length of a football field, the ISS can be seen as an unusually bright spot drifting slowly overhead by anyone who knows when and where to look.

Earth and Milky Way from Space
Image Credit: NASA, Scott Kelly
Explanation: Since November 2000, people have been living continuously on the International Space Station. To celebrate humanity's 15th anniversary off planet Earth, consider this snapshot from space of our galaxy and our home world posing together beyond the orbital outpost. The Milky Way stretches below the curve of Earth's limb in the scene that also records a faint red, extended airglow. The galaxy's central bulge appears with starfields cut by dark rifts of obscuring interstellar dust. The picture was taken by Astronaut Scott Kelly on August 9, 2015, the 135th day of his one-year mission in space.

Unraveling NGC 3169
Image Credit & Copyright: Warren Keller, Steve Mazlin, Jack Harvey, Steve Menaker (SSRO/ UNC/PROMPT/ CTIO)
Explanation: Spiral galaxy NGC 3169 appears to be unraveling in this cosmic scene, played out some 70 million light-years away just below bright star Regulus toward the faint constellation Sextans. Its beautiful spiral arms are distorted into sweeping tidal tails as NGC 3169 (top) and neighboring NGC 3166 interact gravitationally, a common fate even for bright galaxies in the local universe. In fact, drawn out stellar arcs and plumes, indications of gravitational interactions, seem rampant in the deep and colorful galaxy group photo. The picture spans 20 arc minutes, or about 400,000 light-years at the group's estimated distance, and includes smaller, dimmer NGC 3165 at bottom right. NGC 3169 is also known to shine across the spectrum from radio to X-rays, harboring an active galactic nucleus that is likely the site of a supermassive black hole.

NGC 1333: Stellar Nursery in Perseus
Image Credit & Copyright: Agrupació Astronòmica d'Eivissa/Ibiza (AAE), Alberto Prats Rodríguez
Explanation: NGC 1333 is seen in visible light as a reflection nebula, dominated by bluish hues characteristic of starlight reflected by interstellar dust. A mere 1,000 light-years distant toward the heroic constellation Perseus, it lies at the edge of a large, star-forming molecular cloud. This striking close-up spans about two full moons on the sky or just over 15 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 1333. It shows details of the dusty region along with hints of contrasting red emission from Herbig-Haro objects, jets and shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars. In fact, NGC 1333 contains hundreds of stars less than a million years old, most still hidden from optical telescopes by the pervasive stardust. The chaotic environment may be similar to one in which our own Sun formed over 4.5 billion years ago.

The Great Orion Nebula M42
Image Credit & Copyright: Terry Hancock (Down Under Observatory)
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulas in the sky. The star forming region's glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are on the right in this sharp and colorful image that includes the bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulas represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood's wealth of interstellar material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant planetary systems. The gorgeous skyscape spans nearly two degrees or about 45 light-years at the Orion Nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.

Comet ISON Being Destroyed by the Sun
Video Credit: NASA, ESA, SOHO
Explanation: Most comets don't survive a close encounter with the Sun. Two years ago this month, though, Comet ISON was thought by some to be big enough to withstand its perilous sungrazing dive. The featured video shows the drama as it was recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a joint mission of ESA and NASA. As many Earthlings watched in fascination, a bright area did emerge from closest approach, but it soon faded and dispersed. It is now assumed that no large fragments of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) survived. Besides the comet, the active Sun is seen to eject puffs of plasma known as coronal mass ejections. Launched in 1995, sun-orbiting SOHO has become a historic device in the discovery and tracking of comets known as sungrazers. Two months ago, a comet designated SOHO 3000 was named in honor of the record 3000th comet that was discovered on SOHO images, a total that amounts to about half of all known comets.
Source - NASA

NASA Latest Images

The Witch Head Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Jeff Signorelli
Explanation: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble .... maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. A frighteningly shaped reflection nebula, this cosmic crone is about 800 light-years away though. Its malevolent visage seems to glare toward nearby bright star Rigel in Orion, just off the right edge of this frame. More formally known as IC 2118, the interstellar cloud of dust and gas is nearly 70 light-years across, its dust grains reflecting Rigel's starlight. In this composite portrait, the nebula's color is caused not only by the star's intense bluish light but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in planet Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen.

IC 1871: Inside the Soul Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Sara Wager
Explanation: This cosmic close-up looks deep inside the Soul Nebula. The dark and brooding dust clouds outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas are cataloged as IC 1871. About 25 light-years across, the telescopic field of view spans only a small part of the much larger Heart and Soul nebulae. At an estimated distance of 6,500 light-years the star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of the Milky Way, seen in planet Earth's skies toward the constellation Cassiopeia. An example of triggered star formation, the dense star-forming clouds of IC 1871 are themselves sculpted by the intense winds and radiation of the region's massive young stars. This color image adopts a palette made popular in Hubble images of star-forming regions.

Massive Black Hole Shreds Passing Star
Illustration Video Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, CI Lab
Explanation: What happens when a star gets too close to a black hole? Recent observations from Earth-orbiting observatories of an event dubbed ASASSN-14li, in a distant galactic center, appears to be giving one star's harrowing story. Although angularly unresolved, variations in high energy light indicate that some of the star became shredded and reformed into a disk swirling around the dark abyss. In the hypothesized scenario envisioned, a jet formed on the spin axis of the black hole. The innermost part of the disk, colored white, glows most strongly in X-rays and may drive a periodic wind, shown in blue. Future X-ray and ultraviolet observations of stellar disruptions by black holes -- including those in the center of our own galaxy -- hold promise of telling us about the complex dynamics of some of the hottest and highest-gravity places in the universe.

right from the Heart Nebula
Image Copyright: Simon Addis
Explanation: What's that inside the Heart Nebula? First, the large emission nebula dubbed IC 1805 looks, in whole, like a human heart. The nebula glows brightly in red light emitted by its most prominent element: hydrogen. The red glow and the larger shape are all created by a small group of stars near the nebula's center. In the center of the Heart Nebula are young stars from the open star cluster Melotte 15 that are eroding away several picturesque dust pillars with their energetic light and winds. The open cluster of stars contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, many dim stars only a fraction of the mass of our Sun, and an absent microquasar that was expelled millions of years ago. The Heart Nebula is located about 7,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia. At the top right is the companion Fishhead Nebula

Explanation: Two remarkable global maps of Jupiter's banded cloud tops can be compared by just sliding your cursor over this sharp projection (or follow this link) of image data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Both captured on January 19, during back-to-back 10 hour rotations of the ruling gas giant, the all-planet projections represent the first in a series of planned annual portraits by the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program. Comparing the two highlights cloud movements and measures wind speeds in the planet's dynamic atmosphere. In fact, the Great Red Spot, the famous long-lived swirling storm boasting 300 mile per hour winds, is seen sporting a rotating, twisting filament. The images confirm that Great Red Spot is still shrinking, though still larger than planet Earth. Posing next to it (lower right) is Oval BA, also known as Red Spot Junior.

The Fractured North Pole of Saturn's Enceladus
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Explanation: The north pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus is unexpectedly fascinating and complex. Previous to the latest flyby of the robotic Cassini spacecraft, the northern region was known mostly for its unusually high abundance of craters. Last week's flyby, however, returned images of unprecedented detail, including the featured image showing the expected craters coupled with an unexpected and circuitous pattern of picturesque cracks and fractures. Broken terrain has been recorded at lower latitudes, with deep canyons dubbed Tiger Stripes near Enceladus' South Pole. The fractures may further indicate global interplay between the surface and potential seas underneath, seas that future missions might target for signs of life.

When Black Holes Collide
Video Credit & Copyright: Simulating Extreme Spacetimes Collaboration
Explanation: What happens when two black holes collide? This extreme scenario likely occurs in the centers of some merging galaxies and multiple star systems. The featured video shows a computer animation of the final stages of such a merger, while highlighting the gravitational lensing effects that would appear on a background starfield. The black regions indicate the event horizons of the dynamic duo, while a surrounding ring of shifting background stars indicates the position of their combined Einstein ring. All background stars not only have images visible outside of this Einstein ring, but also have one or more companion images visible on the inside. Eventually the two black holes coalesce. The end stages of such a merger may provide a strong and predictable blast of gravitational radiation, a much sought after form of radiation different than light that has never yet been directly observed. 

The Elephant's Trunk in IC 1396
Image Credit & Copyright: J.C. Canonne, P. Bernhard, D. Chaplain & L. Bourgon
Explanation: Like an illustration in a galactic Just So Story, the Elephant's Trunk Nebula winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Of course, the cosmic elephant's trunk is over 20 light-years long. This composite was recorded through narrow band filters that transmit the light from ionized hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen atoms in the region. The resulting image highlights the bright swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within the obscuring cosmic dust. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees.

In the Center of the Trifid Nebula
Image Credit: Subaru Telescope (NAOJ), Hubble Space Telescope, Martin Pugh; Processing: Robert Gendler
Explanation: Clouds of glowing gas mingle with dust lanes in the Trifid Nebula, a star forming region toward the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). In the center, the three prominent dust lanes that give the Trifid its name all come together. Mountains of opaque dust appear on the right, while other dark filaments of dust are visible threaded throughout the nebula. A single massive star visible near the center causes much of the Trifid's glow. The Trifid, also known as M20, is only about 300,000 years old, making it among the youngest emission nebulae known. The nebula lies about 9,000 light years away and the part pictured here spans about 10 light years. The above image is a composite with luminance taken from an image by the 8.2-m ground-based Subaru Telescope, detail provided by the 2.4-m orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, color data provided by Martin Pugh and image assembly and processing provided by Robert Gendler.

Source - NASA

NASA Mars Curiosity Images ( from Sol 1109 to Sol 1128 )