Image of the Day Archive
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Above: Happy New Year from Cassiopeia A, a supernova remnant that gives Time Square's New Year's ball a run for its money in the beauty department. This colorful image, taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in 2009, shows an exploded star 11,000 light-years away. The green ring surrounding the supernova is from the initial shock wave generated by the explosion; it measures 10 light years in diameter. The bright blue areas are nearly pure iron gas from the hottest part of the star.
NASA's the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this gorgeous image on Dec. 21, 2013, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The rainbow effect is the result of a phenomenon called glory, in which light is diffracted as it passes through airborne water droplets to create colorful rings centered around a point or shadow, according to NASA Earth Observatory.
Here the glory graces a peaceful scene of stratocumulus clouds — those low, puffy masses that form below 6,500 feet (2,000 m) — off the Pacific coast of Peru. [In Photos: Reading the Clouds]
NASA's Earth-observing Terra satellite was launched on Dec. 18, 1999, with the aim of collecting information about the planet's changing climate. Since it's launch, the satellite's instruments have captured plenty of data and stunning views of planet Earth, including brewing tropical storms, blizzards, Antarctic ice, deep-sea eddies and swirling marine phytoplankton.
A New Year Dawns at Canyonlands National Park
As a new year dawns across America's national parks, adventure awaits in Utah's high desert.
The above photo captured a recent sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The famous Washer Woman arch can be seen in the background.
Canyonlands is a wilderness of countless canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts, with names that beckon outdoor enthusiasts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.
People have visited what is now Canyonlands National Park for over 10,000 years. Today's visitors enjoy hiking, biking, boating, four-wheel driving — or enjoying a beautiful sunrise.
There is more to Canyonlands than meets the high. This high desert is home to a hidden world of microscopic life. A living crust called "Biological Soil Crust" covers much of Canyonlands. The crust is composed of algae, lichens and bacteria, and provides a secure foundation for desert plants.
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This colorful map displays today's air temperature anomalies across the globe. Over North America, a blast of Arctic air, called a polar vortex, is pushing across the northern United States, causing air temperatures across the country to plummet.
The polar vortex is an area of low pressure that circulates from west to east in the Arctic during winter. A high-pressure system over Greenland and Canada is pushing the frigid air into the United States. The polar vortex is expected to move northward back over Canada near the end of the week, according to NASA. [Related Photos: The 8 Coldest Places on Earth]
Cosmic Dust Factory
A giant radio telescope in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile captured, for the first time, the immense dust-making capabilities of an exploding star. The remains of the stellar explosion, known as supernova 1987A, are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy roughly 168,000 light-years away from Earth.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope captured new views of the supernova brimming with freshly formed dust. If large amounts of this dust drift into interstellar space, it could explain how many galaxies in the universe acquire their dusty appearance, according to ALMA officials.
This artist's illustration of supernova 1987A shows the cold, inner regions of the exploded star (in red), where ALMA detected tremendous amounts of dust. The findings were reported Monday (Jan. 6) at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. [Related: Amazing Images of Star Explosions]
This ghostly photo, taken in January 2010, captures an exquisite sunset following a storm at Rodeo Beach in Marin County, Calif.
Rodeo Beach, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is known for its dark, pebbly sand, and the cliffs surrounding the picturesque lagoon. [Related: Scenic Shores – Gallery of the Top Beaches]
Spirals in the Southern Hemisphere
A NASA satellite captured these dreamlike swirls of plankton blooms on Dec. 30, 2013, roughly 370 miles (600 kilometers) off the coast of Australia, in the southeastern Indian Ocean. The agency's Earth-watching Aqua satellite snapped this image of the colorful blooms, which provide food for a diverse array of sea creatures, ranging from tiny zooplankton to large whales.
Phytoplankton blooms require sunlight, water and nutrients to grow. Unlike in coastal waters, nutrients in the open ocean can be sparse. In the case of this bloom, however, nutrients are being churned up by the motion of the ocean currents, according to NASA officials. [Related: 50 Interesting Facts About The Earth]
Trippy View at Paria Canyon
There's no digital trickery to the above photo. Paria Canyon is just that stunning. The above photo is uncropped and unenhanced.
Paria Canyon has towering walls streaked with desert varnish, huge red rock amphitheaters, sandstone arches, wooded terraces and hanging gardens. The 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness sprawls from northern Arizona into southern Utah.
The 3,000-foot (914 meters) escarpment known as the Vermilion Cliffs dominates the remainder of the wilderness with its thick Navajo sandstone face, steep, boulder-strewn slopes, rugged arroyos (creeks) and stark overall appearance.
The wilderness provides opportunities for backpacking, photography and solitude in the mind-boggling landscape. Some of the best slot canyon hiking in the Colorado Plateau is found here. Deer and desert bighorn sheep are often seen in the area.
No two trips to the wilderness are the same. The colors and textures in the rock formations within the wilderness constantly change with variations in the light and weather, creating a magical landscape that is just as cool as it looks in pictures.
Active lava flows from the Kilauea volcano slowly move through a forest in Hawaii. This photo, taken on Dec. 26, 2013, shows the flow front approximately 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) northeast of the Pu'u O'o, spatter cone on the volcano's flank currently its most active erupting center.
Pu'u O'o has been erupting continuously since Jan. 3, 1983, making it the longest-lived rift-zone eruption in the past 200 years. In this photo, Pu'u O'o is located in the distance just left of the center, but is partially obscured by the smoke. [Related: Amazing Images from Kilauea's Lava Lake]
Here Comes the Sun
The new year started off active for our nearest star, with the sun shooting off two solar flares (seen here in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light) on Jan. 2. The following week, on Jan. 7, the sun unleashed the first major solar flare of 2014, an intense X1.2-class outburst, according to NASA.
X-class flares are the most powerful type of solar flares that can erupt from the sun. There are also two weaker categories: M-class flares, which are considered medium strength but still powerful, and C-class flares, which are the weakest types of sun storms.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of the Jan. 2 flares. The spacecraft constantly gazes at the sun, snapping a new high-resolution image every second and collecting uninterrupted measurements of solar activity. [Related: Anatomy of Sun Storms & Solar Flares (Infographic)]
This artist rendering shows the binary system dubbed MAXI J0158-744, a dancing duo of sorts consisting of a white dwarf (left) and a Be star (right). The image was snapped by the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) instrument, which is mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station Kibo module.
MAXI discovered the binary system on Nov. 11, 2011, when it captured X-ray data from the explosion of the white dwarf star within that system. A white dwarf is a star that has burned up all of its hydrogen, meaning it no longer powers itself. However, the dwarf's gravity lets it grab mass from nearby sources, such as other stars like the Be star in the pictured binary system. This additional mass can ignite a thermonuclear explosion to create a nova, or an outburst the likes of the one picked up by MAXI in November 2011.
"The association of a Be star in a nova is very rare. In fact, MAXI J1058-744 is the first of this kind known so far, and there are only a few known binary systems consisting of a white dwarf and a Be star, and no nova has been seen from them," said lead study researcher Mikio Morii of RIKEN (the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research) in Japan. "We believe that the large luminosity is related to the fact that the white dwarf is small and heavy, meaning that the surface gravity is strong. Because of the strong gravity, only a small amount of accreted matter from the companion is required to make it sufficiently dense and hot to ignite a thermonuclear runaway. Since the accumulated matter is sufficiently small, the hot fireball was directly visible."
Research like this could help astronomers understand how the sun will evolve when it becomes a white dwarf 5 billion years from now.