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the Big Picture

Category: astronomy

October 9, 2014 Permalink

We've moved!

Six years and 966 entries after this blog launched, it's time for some updates. We've got a new design. The pictures are bigger and you can enjoy them on your phones and tablets.

Check us out at our new home on But, don't worry! All our old entries will remain archived here on If you have any feedback on the changes, please let us know.

— The Big Picture team:

Bill Greene, Director of Photography
Thea Breite, Senior Multimedia Editor
Leanne Burden Seidel, Picture Editor
Lloyd Young, Photo Editor
Joel Abrams, Product Manager

September 19, 2014 Permalink

Images from NASA

A collection of images released by NASA gives us a look from above and beyond earth. Amazing technology allows us to view our world in ways we could never imagine. --Leanne Burden Seidel (10 photos total)

An active region just about squarely facing Earth erupted with an X 1.6 flare (largest class) as well as a coronal mass ejection on Sept. 10. The flare lasted longer than usual and sent out a burst of radiation into space. A darker wave of material was propelled across part of the Sun's surface. Images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light. (NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory)
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August 11, 2014 Permalink

Supermoon photographs from around the world

There’s something about moons and photographers. So when supermoons appear, it tends to bring out the best of them from all over the world, scoping out the best location to make a dramatic photograph. A supermoon occurs when the moon, which orbits Earth in a slightly elliptical trajectory, is at the absolute closest it can get while also being full. Yesterday’s supermoon did not disappoint. --Thea Breite (15 photos total)

Penha Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)
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June 24, 2013 Permalink

Supermoon 2013

Photographers around the world looked up to the sky this past weekend to capture the "supermoon." This is the phenomenon when the moon makes its closest approach to Earth, appearing 30 percent brighter and about 14 percent larger than a typical full moon. It occurs about once every 14 months and is technically called a perigee full moon. At 221,823 miles from Earth, the supermoon was a feast for the eyes.-Leanne Burden Seidel (24 photos total)

A cotton candy vendor walks in from of the moon during the Los Angeles Angels' baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, June 22 in Anaheim, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
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June 6, 2012 Permalink

Transit of Venus

For all, it was surely a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the planet Venus as it made its transit past the sun these past two days within view of millions of people on Earth. The last Venus transit was in 2004, and the next pair of events will not happen again until the years 2117 and 2125. Lloyd Young (23 photos total)

In this composite image provided by NASA, the SDO satellite captures the path sequence of the transit of Venus across the face of the sun at on June 5-6 as seen from space. The last transit was in 2004 and the next pair of events will not happen again until the year 2117 and 2125. (NASA via Getty Images)
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May 21, 2012 Permalink

Ring of Fire Eclipse: 2012

A rare annular eclipse - a ring of sunlight as the new moon, passing between Earth and sun, blocks most, but not all, of the sun's disc. It is striking to see. Differing from a total solar eclipse, the moon in an annular eclipse appears too small to cover the sun completely, leaving a ring of fire effect around the moon. The eclipse cast its shallow path crossing the West from west Texas to Oregon then arcing across the northern Pacific Ocean to Tokyo, Japan. (Thanks to all Big Picture viewers for sending us your images of the eclipse.) -- Paula Nelson (49 photos total)

A partial solar eclipse as seen during sunrise in the coastal town of Gumaca, Quezon province, southeast of Manila, May 21, 2012. Thousands turned their eyes to the sky on both sides of the Pacific to gaze excitedly as an eclipse occluded the sun at dawn in Asia and at dusk in the western United States. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, but is too far from the Earth to block it out completely, leaving a "ring of fire" visible. (Ted Aljibeted Aljibe/AFP/GettyImages)
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May 7, 2012 Permalink

Supermoon: the perigee moon of 2012

The night sky on May 5 was animated by the once-a-year cosmic event of the perigee moon. Popularly known as the "Supermoon", the moon appears much larger above us when the elliptical orbit brings it within 221,802 miles to Earth, the closest point. The effect is magnified during a full moon, when we see our nearest celestial neighbor appear roughly 20 percent brighter and 15 percent larger. Collected here are images taken just before, during, and just after the perigee moon of 2012. -- Lane Turner (27 photos total)

The May's full moon rises beside San Francisco's Coit Tower on May 5, 2012. (Frederic Larson/San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press)
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March 5, 2012 Permalink

Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest: 50 Finalists

The Smithsonian magazine's 9th annual photo contest finalists have been chosen. The contest attracted over 14 thousand photographers from all 50 states and over 100 countries. Fifty finalists from 67,059 images were selected by Smithsonian editors. Those editors will also choose the Grand Prize Winner and the winners in each of the five categories which include The Natural World, Americana, People, Travel and Altered Images. Photos were selected based on technical quality, clarity and composition, a flair for the unexpected and the ability to capture a picture-perfect moment. (Smithsonian invites everyone to select an additional "Readers' Choice" winner by voting through March for their favorite image on line.) -- Paula Nelson (25 photos total)

BEHIND THE BLUE Lilongwe, Malawi, May 2011 (Paolo Patruno/Bologna, Italy)
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December 12, 2011 Permalink

Lunar eclipse of December 10, 2011

The longest lunar eclipse in over ten years animated the night sky on December 10. The red hue resulted from the sun's light passing through the earth's atmosphere. Viewers in Asia had the best view of the total eclipse, while those watching in Europe saw part of it at moonrise, and North Americans caught part of it as the moon set. It was not visible in South America or Antarctica. The next total eclipse will occur in 2014. -- Lane Turner (27 photos total)

The moon casts a reddish hue over Lake Pend Oreille during a lunar eclipse as it begins to set behind the Selkirk Mountain Range near Sandpoint, Idaho on December 10, 2011. (Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters)
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January 28, 2011 Permalink

Challenger disaster: remembered

On January 28, 1986, at 11:38 a.m., EST, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The entire crew of seven was lost in the explosion 73 seconds into the launch. Today, on the 25th anniversary of this national tragedy, we honor in memory the brave crew who gave their lives for the exploration of space. Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire social studies teacher, was NASA's choice for the first teacher in space. Because McAuliffe was our local astronaut, she is featured heavily in this post, but we honor all seven on the anniversary of a nation's great loss. -- Paula Nelson (34 photos total)

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger. From left: Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnik. (NASA/1986)
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January 5, 2011 Permalink

The first solar eclipse of 2011

Yesterday a partial solar eclipse took place, observable through most of Europe and northwestern Asia. Over parts of Europe, as much as two-thirds of the sun slipped from view behind the moon. The region that saw the greatest eclipse was in northern Sweden. This was the first of four partial solar eclipses which will occur in 2011, the others taking place on June 1st, July 1st and November 25th. Collected here are photographs of yesterday's celestial event and observers here on Earth as they tried to catch a glimpse. (25 photos total)

A seagull is silhouetted against the sun at dawn during a partial solar eclipse on Guadalmar beach in Malaga, Spain on January 4, 2011. The partial eclipse was visible near sunrise over most of Europe and northeastern Asia. (REUTERS/Jon Nazca)
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December 1, 2010 Permalink

2010 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

As we find ourselves in December once more, I'd like to present the third annual Hubble Space Telescope imagery Advent Calendar for 2010. Keep checking this page - every day, for the next 25 days, a new photo will be revealed here from the Hubble Space Telescope, some old and some new. This year there is also a temporary RSS feed for the calendar. I continue to feel very fortunate to have been able to share photographs and stories with you all this year, and I wish for a Happy Holiday season to all those who will celebrate, and for Peace on Earth to everyone. - Alan (25 photos total - eventually) [previously: 2008, 2009]

This remarkable picture from the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows one of the most perfect geometrical forms created in space. It captures the formation of an unusual pre-planetary nebula, known as IRAS 23166+1655, around the star LL Pegasi in the constellation of Pegasus. The image shows what appears to be a thin spiral pattern of astonishingly regularity winding around the star, which is itself hidden behind thick dust. The spiral pattern suggests a regular periodic origin for the nebula's shape. The material forming the spiral is moving outwards a speed of about 50 000 km/hour and, by combining this speed with the distance between layers, astronomers calculate that the shells are each separated by about 800 years. The spiral is thought to arise because LL Pegasi is a binary system, with the star that is losing material and a companion star orbiting each other. (ESA/NASA & R. Sahai) More
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September 15, 2010 Permalink

Around the Solar System

With dozens of spacecraft currently orbiting, roving or otherwise and traveling through our solar system, I thought it would be interesting to get a general snapshot in time, using images from NASA and ESA spacecraft near Mercury, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Saturn and a few in-transit to further destinations. Collected here are recent images gathered from around our solar system, at scales ranging from mere centimeters to millions of kilometers. (32 photos total)

On Sept. 8, 2010, a C3-class solar flare erupts from the Sun. Just as a sunspot was turning away from Earth on Sept. 8, the active region erupted, producing a solar flare and a fantastic prominence. The eruption also hurled a bright coronal mass ejection into space. (NASA/SDO)
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May 21, 2010 Permalink

Checking in on Saturn

While we humans carry on with our daily lives down here on Earth, perhaps stuck in traffic or reading blogs, or just enjoying a Springtime stroll, a school-bus-sized spacecraft called Cassini continues to gather data and images for us - 1.4 billion kilometers (870 million miles) away. Over the past months, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made several close flybys of Saturn's moons, caught the Sun's reflection glinting off a lake on Titan, and has brought us even more tantalizing images of ongoing cryovolcanism on Enceladus. Collected here are a handful of recent images from the Saturnian system. (30 photos total)

In orbit around Saturn, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this image of Saturn's moon Tethys with its prominent Odysseus Crater slipping behind Saturn's largest moon Titan. Tethys (1,062 km, or 660 mi across) is more than twice as far from Cassini than Titan (5,150 km, or 3,200 mi across). Tethys is 2.2 million km (1.4 million mi) from Cassini, where Titan is only about 1 million km (621,000 mi) away. This image was obtained with the a narrow-angle camera on November 26, 2009. Image scale is 6 km (4 mi) per pixel on Titan and 13 km (8 mi) per pixel on Tethys. (NASA/JPL/SSI)
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May 14, 2010 Permalink

First of the last Space Shuttle launches

First launched twenty-five years ago in October of 1985, NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for its 32nd and final launch this afternoon (at 2:20pm ET). This launch - one of only three remaining missions left in NASA's Shuttle program - will deliver an Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian-built Mini Research Module to the International Space Station. Collected here are a series of photographs of Atlantis' recent activity, as it descended from orbit last November, landed, and was processed and prepped for today's final launch. (42 photos total)

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Atlantis is outlined by spotlights at the Vehicle Assembly Building as it rolls along the crawlerway to Launch Pad 39A. Atlantis' first motion on its 3.4-mile trip was at 11:31 p.m. EDT April 21. The shuttle was secured on the pad at 6:03 a.m. April 22. (NASA/Amanda Diller)
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April 14, 2010 Permalink

Journeys to the International Space Station

April 12th marked the 49th anniversary of human spaceflight, when Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth in 1961. At this moment, 13 humans are currently in low-Earth orbit, aboard the International Space Station. Several were already aboard the ISS when a Soyuz TMA-18 brought a fresh crew up from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 2nd - they were later joined by the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the 131st shuttle mission to date (only three remaining launches scheduled). NASA recently signed a new deal with Russia for six more round-trips to the ISS, at a cost of $55.8 million per seat. Collected here are recent photos of the Space Station, its current crew, their launch vehicles, and the views from above. (38 photos total)

The Space Shuttle Discovery hurtles toward space after liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:21 a.m. on April 5th, 2010. The seven-member is delivering the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, filled with supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the International Space Station's laboratories. The crew also will switch out a gyroscope on the station's truss, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station's exterior. (NASA/Tony Gray and Tom Farrar)
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January 8, 2010 Permalink

Images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was launched in June, 2009, and is currently orbiting the Moon around its poles at a low altitude of just 50 kilometers (31 miles). The primary objective of the LRO is to prepare for future lunar exploration, scouting for safe and compelling landing sites, potential resources (like water ice) and more. The high-quality imagery used in the mapping of the lunar surface is unprecedented, and a few early images have included detailed overviews of the landing sites of several Apollo missions, some 40 years after they took place. LRO is now on a one year mission, with possible extensions up to five years. Collected here are several recent LRO images, and a few then-and-now comparisons of Apollo landing sites. (18 photos total)

Near the lunar north pole, many craters on the floor of Peary crater experience permanent shadow inside, and some have permanent illumination on the higher crater rims. Peary is a key exploration site for future astronauts due its proximity to potential resources. Image height is 9 km (5.5 mi). Image acquired July 11th, 2009. More (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)
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December 1, 2009 Permalink

Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2009

Once more, we enter the month of December and the traditional western Holiday Season, and once again, I'd like to present a Hubble Space Telescope imagery Advent Calendar for 2009. Keep checking this page, because every day, for the next 25 days, a new photo will be revealed here from the Hubble Space Telescope, some old and some new. I have felt extremely fortunate to have been able to share photographs and stories with you all this year, and I wish for a Happy Holiday to all those who will celebrate, and for Peace on Earth to everyone. - Alan (25 photos total - eventually) [previously: the 2008 calendar]

The spectacular structure of Planetary nebula NGC 2818 contains the outer layers of a star that were expelled into interstellar space. The glowing gaseous shrouds in the nebula were shed by the central star after it ran out of fuel to sustain the nuclear reactions in its core. This Hubble image was taken in November 2008 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The colors in the image represent a range of emissions coming from the clouds of the nebula: red represents nitrogen, green represents hydrogen, and blue represents oxygen. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA) More (see this on Google Sky)
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November 6, 2009 Permalink

Martian landscapes

Since 2006, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been orbiting Mars, currently circling approximately 300 km (187 mi) above the Martian surface. On board the MRO is HiRISE, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, which has been photographing the planet for several years now at resolutions as fine as mere inches per pixel. Collected here is a group of images from HiRISE over the past few years, in either false color or grayscale, showing intricate details of landscapes both familiar and alien, from the surface of our neighboring planet, Mars. I invite you to take your time looking through these, imagining the settings - very cold, dry and distant, yet real. (35 photos total)

Intersecting swirling trails left by the earlier passage of dust devils across sand dunes, as they lifted lighter reddish-pink dust and exposed the darker material below. Also visible are darker slope streaks along dune edges, formed by a process which is still under investigation. More, or see location on Google Mars. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
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October 30, 2009 Permalink

Launch of the Ares I-X

On Wednesday, October 28th, NASA launched its Ares I-X prototype vehicle, the first launch from Kennedy's pads of a vehicle other than the space shuttle since the Apollo Program's Saturn rockets were retired. NASA's Constellation Program's 327-foot-tall rocket produced 2.96 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and reached a speed of 100 mph in eight seconds. The two-minute sub-orbital test flight encountered a few problems along the way, as the launch pad was slightly damaged, a planned stage separation did not go quite according to plan, and a possible parachute failure led to a hard splashdown for its first stage. The Constellation program is under pressure as a recent committee report depicted it as overly expensive. The Obama administration is set to make a decision in the next several months about the near-term direction of U.S. Space Policy. (28 photos total)

Smoke engulfs Launch Pad 39B as the Ares I-X test rocket takes off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:30 a.m. EDT Oct. 28. (NASA/ Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell)
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October 19, 2009 Permalink

Saturn at equinox

Checking in with NASA's Cassini spacecraft, our current emissary to Saturn, some 1.5 billion kilometers (932 million miles) distant from Earth, we find it recently gathering images of the Saturnian system at equinox. During the equinox, the sunlight casts long shadows across Saturn's rings, highlighting previously known phenomena and revealing a few never-before seen images. Cassini continues to orbit Saturn, part of its extended Equinox Mission, funded through through September 2010. A proposal for a further extension is under consideration, one that would keep Cassini in orbit until 2017, ending with a spectacular series of orbits inside the rings followed by a suicide plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017. (previously: 1, 2, 3). (23 photos total)

From 20 degrees above the ring plane, Cassini's wide angle camera shot 75 exposures in succession for this mosaic showing Saturn, its rings, and a few of its moons a day and a half after exact Saturn equinox, when the sun's disk was exactly overhead at the planet's equator. The images were taken on Aug. 12, 2009, at a distance of approximately 847,000 km (526,000 mi) from Saturn. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
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July 22, 2009 Permalink

The longest solar eclipse of the century

Earlier today, the moon passed directly in front of the sun, causing a total solar eclipse that crossed nearly half the Earth - through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. Today's was the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, lasting as much as 6 minutes and 39 seconds in a few areas. Despite cloudy skies in many of the populated areas in the path, millions of people gathered outside to gaze up and view this rare event. Collected here are a few images of the eclipse, and those people who came out to watch. (33 photos total)

People watch the solar eclipse on the peak of Malu Mountain in Liuzhou, China on July 22, 2009. A total solar eclipse covered a narrow path across Asia, where it darkened skies for millions of people for more than six minutes in some places. (REUTERS/China Daily)
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July 15, 2009 Permalink

Remembering Apollo 11

40 years ago, three human beings - with the help of many thousands of others - left our planet on a successful journey to our Moon, setting foot on another world for the first time. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the July 16, 1969 launch of Apollo 11, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. aboard. The entire trip lasted only 8 days, the time spent on the surface was less than one day, the entire time spent walking on the moon, a mere 2 1/2 hours - but they were surely historic hours. Scientific experiments were deployed (at least one still in use today), samples were collected, and photographs were taken to document the entire journey. Collected here are 40 images from that journey four decades ago, when, in the words of astronaut Buzz Aldrin: "In this one moment, the world came together in peace for all mankind". (40 photos total)

The view from the Apollo 11 Command and Service Module (CSM) "Columbia" shows the Earth rising above the Moon's horizon on July 20th, 1969. The lunar terrain pictured is in the area of Smyth's Sea on the nearside. (NASA)
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June 26, 2009 Permalink

Recent scenes from the ISS

Earlier this week, NASA released an amazing photograph of an eruption of Sarychev Peak Volcano, taken by astronauts aboard the orbiting International Space Station (ISS). Seeing that great photo prompted me to dig into the archives and see what other imagery I could find from recent NASA archives. Collected here are a handful of photographs of Sarychev Peak Volcano, and more, taken by astronauts aboard the ISS over the past few months. (35 photos total)

High above Russia's Kuril Islands, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) look down on erupting Sarychev Peak Volcano (plume in center, left) on Matua Island and its brownish ash mixing with cloud cover downwind on June 12, 2009. Part of the ISS, a Soyuz module, is visible in the foreground. (NASA/JSC) [Google map]
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June 8, 2009 Permalink

Mercury and MESSENGER

The planet Mercury is the smallest of the inner planets (4,880 km/3,032 mi in diameter), and the closest to the Sun (58 million km/36 million mi - or 3.2 light minutes). It was visited by the Mariner 10 spacecraft twice in the 1970s, and about 45% of the surface was mapped. On August 3rd, 2004, NASA launched a new mission to Mercury, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging probe (or MESSENGER). MESSENGER is now in the last stages of multiple gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, en route to an insertion into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. In just two flyby encounters, MESSENGER has already greatly increased our knowledge about Mercury's surface features. As you look at Mercury in the new images below, keep in mind that it has minimal atmosphere, gravity about 1/3 of Earth's, and surface temperatures ranging from -183 C (-297 F) in some polar craters to 427 C (801 F) at high noon (Mercury's solar day lasting 176 Earth days). (20 photos total)

As NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft receded from Mercury after making its closest approach on January 14, 2008, it recorded several mosaics covering part of the planet not previously seen by spacecraft. The color image shown here was generated by combining the mosaics taken through three filters (infrared, far red and violet). These three images were placed in the red, green, and blue channels, respectively, to create the visualization presented here, creating a false-color image that accentuates the subtle color differences on Mercury's surface. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
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May 18, 2009 Permalink

Hubble's final servicing mission

On Monday, May 11, after months of delays and preparation, NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the final servicing mission to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The seven crew members left Florida for low Earth orbit at 2:01 pm, for a scheduled 11-day mission, including 5 days of Extra-vehicular activity (EVAs) to work on the Hubble. So far the repairs appear to be going very well - the final EVA is scheduled for today, and the landing planned for May 22nd. I was fortunate enough to attend the launch at Banana Creek viewing area, and wish to extend my gratitude to all the people at NASA. (Only one of the photos below is mine) (31 photos total)

Space Shuttle Atlantis rolls atop the crawler transporter out to launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on March 31, 2009 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Matt Stroshane/Getty Images)
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April 20, 2009 Permalink

Cassini's continued mission

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is now a nearly a year into its extended mission, called Cassini Equinox (after its initial 4-year mission ended in June, 2008). The spacecraft continues to operate in good health, returning amazing images of Saturn, its ring system and moons, and providing new information and science on a regular basis. The mission's name, "Equinox" comes from the upcoming Saturnian equinox in August, 2009, when its equator (and rings) will point directly toward the Sun. The Equinox mission runs through September of 2010, with the possibility of further extensions beyond that. Collected here are 24 more intriguing images from our ringed neighbor. (previously: 1, 2) (24 photos total)

This natural color mosaic was acquired by the Cassini spacecraft as it soared 39 degrees above the unilluminated side of Saturn's rings. Little light makes its way through the rings to be scattered in Cassini's direction in this viewing geometry, making the rings appear somewhat dark compared to the reflective surface of Saturn (120,536 km/74,898 mi across). The view combines 45 images taken over the course of about two hours, as Cassini scanned across the entire main ring system. The images in this view were obtained on May 9, 2007 at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometers (700,000 miles) from Saturn. (NASA/JPL/SSI)
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February 16, 2009 Permalink

Progress on NASA's Constellation

NASA's Constellation program, established in 2005, continues its work toward the building the future of manned space exploration in the U.S. The first test flight of the Ares I-X rocket - a functional mockup of the actual Ares I rocket, similar in shape and mass - is scheduled for July, 2009. The stimulus bill just passed by the U.S. Congress will be sending an additional $1 billion to NASA, $400 million of which is for its manned space program. Engineers are now busy refitting old facilities, running tests, building the infrastructure and working towards a planned first launch of a crew to the International Space Station in 2014. Collected here are photographs of various parts of the Constellation program coming together, including parts of the Orion crew vehicle, the Ares I and Ares V rockets, and supporting systems. (31 photos total)

This schlieren photo from October 28th, 2008 depicts a wind tunnel test demonstrating air flow over the 0.34 percent scale model of the Ares V heavy cargo launch vehicle at Mach 4.5. Schlieren imaging is a diagnostic method used to visualize air flows with varying densities, widely used in aeronautical engineering to photograph the flow of air around objects. (NASA/MSFC)
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December 22, 2008 Permalink

Round trip with Endeavour

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour recently returned to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after its successful mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle, being a reusable spacecraft, has a cycle of preparation, execution and recovery - Endeavour has been through this cycle 22 times now, since 1992. Here is a look at one full cycle for one space shuttle, starting with the landing of Endeavour from its previous mission (STS-123) on March 26th, and ending with its return to Florida 9 months (and 6.6 million miles) later, after mission STS-126. (31 photos total)

In the 16th night landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour approaches Runway 15 to end the STS-123 mission on March 26th, 2008 - a 16-day flight to the International Space Station. The mission completed nearly 6.6 million miles. The STS-123 mission had delivered the first segment of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, known as Dextre. Endeavour will soon be transported to the Orbiter Processing Facility to ready it for its next mission, STS-126. (NASA/Tom Joseph)
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December 1, 2008 Permalink

Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008

As we head into the traditional western Holiday Season, I'd like to present this Hubble Space Telescope imagery Advent Calendar. Every day, for the next 25 days, a new photo will be revealed here from the amazing Hubble Space Telescope. As I take this chance to share these images of our amazing Universe with you, I wish for a Happy Holiday to all those who will celebrate, and for Peace on Earth to everyone. - Alan (25 photos total - eventually)

In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our galaxy. The star, called V838 Monocerotis, has long since faded back to obscurity, but observations of a phenomenon called a "light echo" around the star have uncovered remarkable new features over the following years (this animation covers two years' time). The light echo is light from the earlier explosion echoing off dust surrounding the star. Light from the outburst traveled to the dust and then was reflected to Earth. Because of this indirect path, the light arrived at Earth months after light from the star that traveled directly from the star. (NASA, ESA) More (see this on Google Sky)
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October 24, 2008 Permalink

Enceladus up close

Saturn's tiny, icy moon Enceladus has recently been visited by NASA's Cassini orbiter on several very close approaches - once coming within a mere 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the surface. Scientists are learning a great deal about this curious little moon. Only about 500 kilometers wide (310 miles), it is very active, emitting internal heat, churning its surface, and - through cryovolcanism - ejecting masses of microscopic ice particles into Saturnian orbit. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for over 4 years now, and has provided some amazing views of tiny Enceladus, some collected here. Another close flyby is scheduled for Halloween, October 31st. (26 photos total)

Ring shadows line the face of distant Saturn, providing a backdrop for the brilliant, white sphere of Enceladus. This image looks toward the leading side of Enceladus. North is up. The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 28, 2007. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 291,000 kilometers (181,000 miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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October 13, 2008 Permalink

The Sun

The Sun is now in the quietest phase of its 11-year activity cycle, the solar minimum - in fact, it has been unusually quiet this year - with over 200 days so far with no observed sunspots. The solar wind has also dropped to its lowest levels in 50 years. Scientists are unsure of the significance of this unusual calm, but are continually monitoring our closest star with an array of telescopes and satellites. Seen below are some recent images of the Sun in more active times. (21 photos total)

A sweeping prominence, a huge cloud of relatively cool dense plasma is seen suspended in the Sun's hot, thin corona. At times, promineces can erupt, escaping the Sun's atmosphere. Emission in this spectral line shows the upper chromosphere at a temperature of about 60,000 degrees K (over 100,000 degrees F). Every feature in the image traces magnetic field structure. The hottest areas appear almost white, while the darker red areas indicate cooler temperatures. (Courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium)
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September 1, 2008 Permalink

Preparing to rescue Hubble

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch next month (October 8th), carrying new instruments, batteries and gyroscopes to the Hubble Space Telescope. This will be the final servicing mission to Hubble, the 30th flight of the 23-year old Atlantis, and one of the final 10 flights of the Space Shuttle program, which will be retired in 2010. Even though Shuttle launches may seem to have become commonplace, their preparation and execution is still a months-long process, requiring the work and diligence of thousands to make sure the aging, complex systems are all in perfect condition for launch. Here are some photos of the ongoing preparations for the launch of this mission, STS-125, some of the people involved in making it work, and the crew, who will assume the risks to help keep Hubble alive. (23 photos total)

One of the three main engines for space shuttle Atlantis is transported to bay number 1 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Orbiter Processing Facility for installation on June 10, 2008. Atlantis is the designated vehicle for the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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August 6, 2008 Permalink

Total solar eclipse of 2008

On August 1st, 2008, starting in the morning, over northern Canada, observers on Earth could watch this years only total solar eclipse. While a partial eclipse could be seen over a larger area, the shadow of totality passed over Greenland, Norway and Russia, then evaporated into the night sky over China. Here you will find a collection of photographs of this eclipse, and people here on Earth, taking it all in. (18 photos total) (Also, for more Boston Globe Photography - be sure to check out our new Globe Photography page)

A camel is silhouetted against the sun partly blocked by the moon during a solar eclipse in Gaotai, Gansu province August 1, 2008. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
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July 25, 2008 Permalink

Views of Jupiter

Jupiter is in the news again, this time because its "Baby Red Spot" - a storm less than a year old - appears to have been swallowed up by the massive storm known as the Great Red Spot. This is good occasion to share some of the best photographs of Jupiter and its larger system of rings and moons, as seen by various probes and telescopes over the past 30 years. (16 photos total)

Jupiter's moon Io floats above the cloudtops of Jupiter in this image captured January 1, 2001. The image is deceiving: there are 350,000 kilometers - roughly 2.5 Jupiters - between Io and Jupiter's clouds. Io is about the size of our own moon (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
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July 2, 2008 Permalink

Man on the Moon, Future and Past

With two currently functioning orbiters, and five more missions planned in the next year, Earth's Moon may soon have seven active probes operated by five nations, with even more coming soon. NASA's plans to return humans to the Moon by 2020 are moving steadily ahead, with some concrete prototypes and initial designs beginning to emerge. Called the Constellation Program, NASA's vision involves new and upgraded launch vehicles, exploration vehicles, autonomous rovers, new spacesuits, crew and cargo vehicles, and much more. Here are seven photographs of our possible future on the Moon, and a look back, with ten images from our last visits with the Apollo missions, more than 36 years ago now. (17 photos total)

Looking Forward -- Spacesuit engineer Dustin Gohmert drives NASA's new lunar truck prototype through the moon-like craters of Johnson Space Center's Lunar Yard. The lunar truck was built to make such off roading easy, with six wheels that can be steered independently in any direction. In addition, the steering center can turn a full 360 degree, giving the driver a good view of what's ahead, no matter which way the wheels are pointing. (NASA/JSC)
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June 20, 2008 Permalink

Martian Skies

Yesterday's announcement by NASA of the discovery of water ice on Mars by its Phoenix Lander probe made big news everywhere. The discovery involved the observation of water ice sublimating into the air - that is, the water went from solid to vapor state without reaching the liquid stage. The Martian atmosphere has perfect conditions for sublimation - extremely thin, dry and cold. How cold? Well, you can check the Live Martian Weather Report, with data from a station on board the Phoenix Lander. Today will see a high temperature of a toasty -26 degrees F.

What more do we know about Mars' atmosphere? It's hundreds of times thinner than Earth's atmosphere and is made of 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, and contains traces of oxygen, water, and methane. We also know, from observations that it can support dust storms, dust devils, clouds and gusty winds. With an amazing number of six current live probes exploring Mars (two rovers, a lander, and three orbiters), there are many thousands of images available. Only a few, however show atmospheric phenomena. Presented here are some of the best images of Martian atmosphere (and beyond) in action. (17 photos total)

High, wispy clouds cover a large portion of Mars, seen in this, the first true-colour image of Mars generated with the OSIRIS orange (red), green and blue color filters. The image was acquired by an instrument on the ESA's Rosetta probe on Feb. 24, 2007 from a distance of about 240,000 km. Image resolution is about 5 km/pixel. (Credits: ESA © 2007 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

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May 30, 2008 Permalink

Cassini Nears Four-year Mark

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft is now reaching the end of its four-year prime mission (on June 30th), and about to enter into its extended mission. What a nice excuse for a retrospective of some of the great images sent back home by Cassini over the past four years. (12 photos total)

The Sun is on the opposite side, so all of Saturn is backlit. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
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