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Spaced Out! 101 Astronomy Images That Will Blow Your Mind

Giant Seahorse?

a Hubble telescope of the Horsehead Nebula.

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))

This Hubble image, which was captured and released on April 19, 2013, to celebrate the orbiting telescope’s 23rd year in orbit, reveals part of the sky in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).

The Hubble observatory, which launched on April 24, 1990, captured the Horsehead Nebula (also known as Barnard 33) rising like a giant seahorse from the turbulent waves of gas and dust in this stunning infrared light image. "The result is a rather ethereal and fragile-looking structure, made of delicate folds of gas — very different to the nebula’s appearance in visible light," mission officials wrote in an image description Friday (April 19).

Colorful Venus

Magellan coverage image, composite image is color-coded to show elevation.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS)

This hemispheric view of Venus was created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission, and is centered on the planet's North Pole. The Magellan spacecraft imaged more than 98 percent of Venus and a mosaic of the Magellan images forms the image base. Gaps in the Magellan coverage were filled with images from the Earth-based Arecibo radar in a region centered roughly on 0 degree latitude and longitude, and with a neutral tone elsewhere (primarily near the South Pole). This composite image is color-coded to show elevation.

A Cloudy Space Mystery

Hexagonal clouds on Saturn

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Forget fluffy bunnies or rearing horses. On Saturn, the clouds form in the shape of hexagons.

This hexagonal cloud formation, first discovered in the 1980s by the Voyager spacecraft, was photographed again in 2012 by the Cassini spacecraft. The formation sits at Saturn's north pole; it's visible here in the foreground with a portion of Saturn's rings looping around in the upper right-hand corner of the image. No one knows why clouds form in this geometrical pattern in this region of Saturn.

Galactic Easter Egg

A colorful image of the Cartwheel galaxy.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P. N. Appleton (SSC/Caltech))

With colors that would make Faberge green with envy, the Cartwheel galaxy stands out against a backdrop of other brightly-colored galactic bodies. The Easter egg appearance of this galaxy is due to false colors representing various wavelengths of light — ultraviolet in blue, B-band visible light in green, infrared in red and x-ray radiation in purple.

The 'rings' of this galaxy are the aftermath of a collision between the Cartwheel galaxy and another galaxy about 100 million years ago. The first ripple is the blue outer ring, while the yellow-orange "yolk" of the Easter egg is a combination of visible and infrared light from the second ripple. The neon blob and green spiral in the background are two other galaxies, one of which may have been the one that collided with Cartwheel

View From Another World

A dwarf galaxy viewed from a hypothetical exoplanet.

(Image credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA))

What might the night sky look like from an exoplanet? No one knows for sure, but this science-informed artist's conception is a good starting point for the imagination. The cluster of stars is a dwarf galaxy, which are galaxies composed of up to 99 percent dark matter and only 1 percent normal matter such as stars. Dark matter is a mysterious, invisible substance, detectable only through its gravitational pull.

A recent Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics study finds that dark matter is distributed smoothly throughout dwarf galaxies, contradicting scientists' expectations that the dark matter would be clustered at the center of these galaxies like a pit in a peach. These findings suggest that scientists are missing something in their understanding of dark matter's mysteries.

Feeding the Beast

Galaxy formation fed by cold gas.

(Image credit: ESA–AOES Medialab)

Streams of cold gas feed a forming galaxy in this artist's visualization. The "arms" of gas bring in the raw material to feed star formation in the new galaxy.

No one has ever seen this process in real life; rather, this version of galaxy formation is a theoretical scenario based on numerical simulations.

Scars on Mars

new impact crater discovered near Mars Huygens crater.

(Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express recently returned new images of an elongated impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. Located just south of the Huygens basin, it could have been carved out by a train of projectiles striking the planet at a shallow angle, researchers say. The unnamed depressed is about 48 miles (78 kilometers) in length and reaches a depth of 1.2 miles (2 km). Here, purple indicates the lowest lying regions and gray the highest (scale in meters).

Impact craters are generally round, because the projectiles that create them push into the ground before the shockwave of the impact can explode outwards. As for why this crater is elongated, the researchers found the answer in the surrounding blanket of material (called the ejecta blanket). This ejecta blanket is shaped like a butterfly's wings, with two distinct lobes, suggesting that two projectiles, possibly halves of a once-intact body, slammed into the surface here.

Merging Galaxies Form Cosmic Exclamation Point

Galaxy Merge

(Image credit: X-ray NASA/CXC/IfA/D.Sanders et al; Optical NASA/STScI/NRAO/A.Evans et al)

VV 340, also known as Arp 302, provides a textbook example of colliding galaxies seen in the early stages of their interaction. The edge-on galaxy near the top of the image is VV 340 North and the face-on galaxy at the bottom of the image is VV 340 South. Millions of years later these two spirals will merge -- much like the Milky Way and Andromeda will likely do billions of years from now. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) are shown here along with optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, blue). VV 340 is located about 450 million light years from Earth.

far side of the moon

Mosaic of photos taken of the far side of the moon by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, orbiting at an altitude of just 30 miles (50 km).

(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Mosaic of photos taken of the far side of the moon by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, orbiting at an altitude of just 30 miles (50 km).

Galactic Thread

Perseus galaxy cluster

(Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration)

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows NGC 1275, the galaxy located in the center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. The red threadlike filaments are composed of cool gas suspended by a magnetic field.

Martian Valley Captured by Viking

Valles Marineris

(Image credit: Viking Project, USGS, NASA)

The largest canyon in the solar system, called Valles Marineris, cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. The grand valley extends over 1,864 miles (3,000 kilometers long), up to 373 miles (600 km) across, and as much as (8 km) deep. By comparison, Earth's Grand Canyon is 500 miles (800 km) long, 19 miles (30 km) across, and 1.1 miles (1.8 km) deep. The origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, although a leading hypothesis holds that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Several geologic processes have been identified in the canyon. The above mosaic was created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s.