NASA Latest Images ( from 16-Jan-2015 to 5-Feb-2016 )

Dwarf Planet Ceres
Image Credit & License: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS,DLR,IDA - Composition: Justin Cowart
Explanation: Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System's main asteroid belt, with a diameter of about 950 kilometers (590 miles). Ceres is seen here in approximately true color, based on image data from the Dawn spacecraft recorded on May 4, 2015. On that date, Dawn's orbit stood 13,642 kilometers above the surface of the small world. Two of Ceres' famous mysterious bright spots at Oxo crater and Haulani crater are near center and center right of this view. Casting a telltale shadow at the bottom is Ceres' cone-shaped, lonely mountain Ahuna Mons. Presently some 385 kilometers above the Cerean surface, the ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft is now returning images from its closest mapping orbit.

Comet 67P from Spacecraft Rosetta
Image Credit & Licence: ESA, Rosetta, NAVCAM
Explanation: Spacecraft Rosetta continues to circle and map Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Crossing the inner Solar System for ten years to reach the vicinity of the comet in 2014, the robotic spacecraft continues to image the unusual double-lobed comet nucleus. The featured image, taken one year ago, shows dust and gas escaping from the comet's nucleus. Although appearing bright here, the comet's surface reflects only about four percent of impinging visible light, making it as dark as coal. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko spans about four kilometers in length and has a surface gravity so low that an astronaut could jump off of it. With Rosetta in tow, Comet 67P passed its closest to the Sun last year and is now headed back to the furthest point -- just past the orbit of Jupiter.

Elliptical M60, Spiral NGC 4647
Image Credit & Copyright: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Explanation: Giant elliptical galaxy M60 and spiral galaxy NGC 4647 do look like an odd couple in this sharp cosmic portrait from the Hubble Space Telescope. But they are found in a region of space where galaxies tend to gather, on the eastern side of the nearby Virgo Galaxy Cluster. About 54 million light-years distant, bright M60's simpler egg-like shape is created by its randomly swarming older stars, while NGC 4647's young blue stars, gas and dust are organized into winding arms rotating in a flattened disk. Spiral NGC 4647 is estimated to be more distant than M60, some 63 million light-years away. Also known as Arp 116, the pair of galaxies may be on the verge of a significant gravitational encounter, though. M60 (aka NGC 4649) is about 120,000 light-years across. The smaller NGC 4647 spans around 90,000 light-years, about the size of our own Milky Way.

Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, & F. Paresce (INAF-IASF), R. O'Connell (U. Virginia), & the HST WFC3 Science Oversight Committee
Explanation: In the center of star-forming region 30 Doradus lies a huge cluster containing some of the largest, hottest, and most massive stars known. These stars, known collectively as star cluster R136, were captured in the featured image in visible light by the Wide Field Camera 3 in 2009 peering through the Hubble Space Telescope. Gas and dust clouds in 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, have been sculpted into elongated shapes by powerful winds and ultraviolet radiation from these hot cluster stars. The 30 Doradus Nebula lies within a neighboring galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud and is located a mere 170,000 light-years away.

21st Century M101
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, JPL, Caltech STScI
Explanation: One of the last entries in Charles Messier's famous catalog, big, beautiful spiral galaxy M101 is definitely not one of the least. About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. M101 was also one of the original spiral nebulae observed with Lord Rosse's large 19th century telescope, the Leviathan of Parsontown. In contrast, this multiwavelength view of the large island universe is a composite of images recorded by space-based telescopes in the 21st century. Color coded from X-rays to infrared wavelengths (high to low energies), the image data was taken from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple), the Galaxy Evolution Explorer ( blue), Hubble Space Telescope(yellow), and the Spitzer Space Telescope(red). While the X-ray data trace the location of multimillion degree gas around M101's exploded stars and neutron star and black hole binary star systems, the lower energy data follow the stars and dust that define M101's grand spiral arms. Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major, about 25 million light-years away. (Editor's Note: Original APOD retracted on January 25.)

A Dark Sand Dune on Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Explanation: What is that dark sand dune doing on Mars? NASA's robotic rover Curiosity has been studying it to find out, making this the first-ever up-close investigation of an active sand dune on another world. Named Namib Dune, the dark sand mound stands about 4 meters tall and, along with the other Bagnold Dunes, is located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. The featured image was taken last month and horizontally compressed here for comprehensibility. Wind is causing the dune to advance about one meter a year across the light bedrock underneath, and wind-blown sand is visible on the left. Part of the Curiosity rover itself is visible on the lower right. Just in the past few days, Curiosity scooped up some of the dark sand for a detailed analysis. After further exploration of the Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity is scheduled to continue its trek up the 5-kilometer tall Mount Sharp, the central peak in the large crater where the car-sized rover landed.

Proxima Centauri: The Closest Star
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation: Does the closest star to our Sun have planets? No one is sure -- but you can now follow frequent updates of a new search that is taking place during the first few months of this year. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is the nearest member of the Alpha Centauri star system. Light takes only 4.24 years to reach us from Proxima Centauri. This small red star, captured in the center of the featured image by the Hubble Space Telescope, is so faint that it was only discovered in 1915 and is only visible through a telescope. Telescope-created X-shaped diffraction spikes surround Proxima Centauri, while several stars further out in our Milky Way Galaxy are visible in the background. The brightest star in the Alpha Centauri system is quite similar to our Sun, has been known as long as recorded history, and is the third brightest star in the night sky. The Alpha Centauri system is primarily visible from Earth's Southern Hemisphere. Starting last week, the European Southern Observatory's Pale Red Dot project began investigating slight changes in Proxima Centauri to see if they result from a planet -- possibly an Earth-sized planet. Although unlikely, were a modern civilization found living on a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, its proximity makes it a reasonable possibility that humanity could communicate with them.

The Galactic Center in Infrared
Image Credit: 2MASS Project, UMass, IPAC/Caltech, NSF, NASA
Explanation: The center of our Galaxy is a busy place. In visible light, much of the Galactic Center is obscured by opaque dust. In infrared light, however, dust glows more and obscures less, allowing nearly one million stars to be recorded in the featured photograph. The Galactic Center itself appears on the left and is located about 30,000 light years away towards the constellation of the Archer (Sagittarius). The Galactic Plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, the plane in which the Sun orbits, is identifiable by the dark diagonal dust lane. The absorbing dust grains are created in the atmospheres of cool red-giant stars and grow in molecular clouds. The region directly surrounding the Galactic Center glows brightly in radio and high-energy radiation, and is thought to house a large black hole.

The View Toward M106
Image Credit & Copyright: Fabian Neyer
Explanation: A big, bright, beautiful spiral, Messier 106 is at the center of this galaxy filled cosmic vista. The two degree wide telescopic field of view looks toward the well-trained constellation Canes Venatici, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 is about 80,000 light-years across and 23.5 million light-years away, the largest member of the Canes II galaxy group. For a far away galaxy, the distance to M106 is well-known in part because it can be directly measured by tracking this galaxy's remarkable maser, or microwave laser emission. Very rare but naturally occuring, the maser emission is produced by water molecules in molecular clouds orbiting its active galactic nucleus. Another prominent spiral galaxy on the scene, viewed nearly edge-on, is NGC 4217 below and right of M106. The distance to NGC 4217 is much less well-known, estimated to be about 60 million light-years.
Source - NASA