NASA space images
A look at some NASA images of Earth, our solar system and beyond. Check back for weekly updates.
This massive, young stellar grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. There is no known star-forming region in the Milky Way Galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.
Many of the diamond-like icy blue stars are among the most massive stars known. Several of them are 100 times more massive than our sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years.
The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four of these five galaxies are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317 have an overall yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides.
But the predominantly bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is closer, just 40 million light-years distant, and isn't part of the interacting group. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus. At the estimated distance of the quartet of interacting galaxies, this field of view spans about 500,000 light-years. However, moving just beyond this field, above and to the left, astronomers can identify another galaxy, NGC 7320C, that is also 300 million light-years distant. Of course, including it would bring the interacting quartet back up to quintet status.
Reflection nebulas reflect light from a nearby star. Many small carbon grains in the nebula reflect the light. The blue color typical of reflection nebula is caused by blue light being more efficiently scattered by the carbon dust than red light.
The brightness of the nebula is determined by the size and density of the reflecting grains, and by the color and brightness of the neighboring star(s). NGC 1435, pictured above, surrounds Merope (23 Tau), one of the brightest stars in the Pleiades (M45). The Pleiades nebulosity is caused by a chance encounter between an open cluster of stars and a dusty molecular cloud.
These two spiral galaxies make a photogenic pair, found within the boundaries of the northern constellation Draco. Contrasting in color and orientation, NGC 5965 is nearly edge-on to our line of sight and dominated by yellow hues, while bluish NGC 5963 is closer to face-on. Of course, even in this well-framed cosmic snapshot the scene is invaded by other galaxies, including small elliptical NGC 5969 at the lower left.
Brighter, spiky stars in our own Milky Way are scattered through the foreground. Though they seem to be close and of similar size, galaxies NGC 5965 and NGC 5963 are far apart and unrelated, by chance appearing close on the sky. NGC 5965 is about 150 million light-years distant and over 200,000 light-years across. Much smaller, NGC 5963 is a mere 40 million light-years away and so is not associated with the edge-on spiral. Difficult to follow, NGC 5963's extraordinarily faint blue spiral arms mark it as a low surface brightness galaxy.
Astronaut Mike Massimino is photographed through a window of the Space Shuttle Atlantis during the mission's fourth session of extravehicular activity as work continues to refurbish and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. (May 17, 2009)
In 1995, a now famous picture from the Hubble Space Telescope featured Pillars of Creation, star forming columns of cold gas and dust light-years long inside M16, the Eagle Nebula. This remarkable false-color composite image revisits the nearby stellar nursery with image data from the orbiting Herschel Space Observatory and XMM-Newton telescopes. Herschel's far infrared detectors record the emission from the region's cold dust directly, including the famous pillars and other structures near the center of the scene.
Toward the other extreme of the electromagnetic spectrum, XMM-Newton's X-ray vision reveals the massive, hot stars of the nebula's embedded star cluster. Hidden from Hubble's view at optical wavelengths, the massive stars have a profound effect, sculpting and transforming the natal gas and dust structures with their energetic winds and radiation. In fact, the massive stars are short lived and astronomers have found evidence in the image data pointing to the remnant of a supernova explosion with an apparent age of 6,000 years. If true, the expanding shock waves would have destroyed the visible structures, including the famous pillars. But because the Eagle Nebula is some 6,500 light-years distant, their destruction won't be witnessed for hundreds of years.
Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce.
The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away towards the constellation of the Water Bearer (Aquarius) and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture was taken three colors on infrared light by the 4.1-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.
This image released by NASA 04 March, 2004, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, bears remarkable similarities to the Vincent van Gogh work, "Starry Night" complete with never-before-seen spirals of dust swirling across trillions of kilometres of interstellar space. This image, obtained with the Advanced Camera for Surveys is Hubble's latest view of an expanding halo of light around a distant star, named V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon). V838 Mon is located about 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros, placing the star at the outer edge of our Milky Way galaxy.
One of the largest panoramic images ever taken with NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's cameras of the Carina Nebula, which was released Tuesday April 24, 2007, to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the launch and deployment of the Hubble. The image shows a 50 light-year-wide view of the tumultuous central region of the nebula ,where a maelstrom of star birth and death is taking place. The photo shows the process of star birth at a new level of detail. The bizarre landscape of the nebula is sculpted by the action of outflowing winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the monster stars that inhabit this inferno. These stars are shredding the surrounding material that is the last vestige of the giant cloud from which the stars were born. This immense nebula contains a dozen or more brilliant stars that are estimated to be at least 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun. The nebula is an estimated 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina.
Pismis 24-1, a bright young star that lies in the core of the small open star cluster Pismis 24, the bright stars in this Hubble Space Telescope image. It was one of the top candidates for the title of Milky Way stellar heavyweight champion until very recently, Pismis 24-1, about 8,000 light-years away from Earth, was thought to have an incredibly large mass of 200 to 300 solar masses. New NASA/ESA Hubble measurements of the star, have discovered that Pismis 24-1 is actually two separate stars, and, in doing so, have halved its mass to around 100 solar masses.The star cluster Pismis 24 lies in the core of the large emission nebula NGC 6357 that extends on the arm of the Sagittarius constellation. The results of the latest observations was reported to the Massive Stars Workshop in Argentina this month, December 2006.
Sedna, the farthest known planetoid from the Sun (over 8 billion miles away). When astronomers announced the discovery of Sedna last month they were nearly certain it had an unseen satellite (moon). New observations by the Hubble Space Telescope find no moon, however, deepening the mystery surrounding this already strange object. Sedna is about three-fourths the size of Pluto. It is so far away that it takes 10,000 years to orbit the Sun. Its discovery has astronomers arguing over whether to call it a planet or a planetoid, and whether to count it as one of many objects in the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto roams, or the first known example of an expected halo of more distant objects called the Oort Cloud.
This image provided by NASA shows the light echo around the variable star V838 Monocerotis taken by the Hubble Space Telescope released Saturday Oct. 27, 2006. The unusual variable star V838 Monocerotis continues to puzzle astronomers. This previously inconspicuous star underwent an outburst early in 2002, during which it temporarily increased in brightness to become 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun.
This photo, supplied by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), shows the Antennae galaxies in the sharpest image yet of this merging pair of galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters. The two spiral galaxies started to fuse together about 500 million years ago making the Antenna galaxies the nearest and youngest example of a pair of colliding galaxies. Nearly half of the faint objects in the Antennae are young clusters containing tens of thousands of stars.
The Hubble Space Telescope is shown following its release from the space shuttle Discovery Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1997. The operators of the Hubble Space Telescope say they are being bombarded by suggestions from the public on how to save the orbiting platform, which NASA has decided not to service anymore.
In this image from television the space shuttle Columbia's robotic arm moves the Hubble telescope up to the correct position for its release back into orbit March 9, 2002. Astronauts from the space shuttle have installed a central power unit, stronger solar wings, a new pointing mechanism and a powerful new camera on the 12-year-old telescope.
The majestic dusty spiral, NGC3370, looms in the foreground in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image released Sat. Sept. 6, 2003. Recent observations taken with th Advanced Camera for Surveys show intricate spiral arm structure spotted with hot areas of new star formation. But this galaxy is more than just a pretty face. Nearly 10 years earlier NGC 3370, in the constellation Leo, hosted a bright exploding star In November 1994, the light of a supernova in nearby NGC3370 reached Earth.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope trained its eye on one of the universe's most stately and photogenic galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy with the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys , in May-June 2003 . The image of the galaxy's hallmark brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy was released Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees south of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because of its resemblance to the broad rim and high-topped Mexican hat.
A nearly perfect ring of hot, blue stars pinwheels about the yellow nucleus of an unusual galaxy known as Hoag's Object. This image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures a face-on view of the galaxy's ring of stars, revealing more detail than any existing photo of this object. The image may help astronomers unravel clues on how such strange objects form.
The revived Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has penetrated layers of dust in a star-forming cloud to uncover a dense, craggy edifice of dust and gas in the image at right. This region is called the Cone Nebula, so named because, in ground-based images, it has a conical shape. The image shows the tip of the nebula, about half a light-year long. The four bright stars lined up on the left are in front of the nebula. Images taken May 11, 2002.
Resembling a nightmarish beast rearing its head from a crimson sea, this monstrous object is actually an innocuous pillar of gas and dust. Called the Cone Nebula (NGC 2264) because in ground-based images it has a conical shape, this giant pillar resides in a turbulent star-forming region. This picture, taken April 2, 2002, by the newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the upper 2.5 light-yearsof the nebula, a height that equals 23 million roundtrips to the Moon. The entire nebula is 7 light-years long. The Cone Nebula resides 2,500 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros.
In this image from television Astronaut John Grunsfeld uses the Space Shuttle Columbia's robotic arm to help install a radiator on the Hubble telescope during a spacewalk on Friday, March 8, 2002. The radiator is part of a prototype refrigeration system which connects to the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectometer.
A picture released by the European Space Agency on February 3 shows a picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, which is found in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a similar barred spiral, and the study of galaxies such as NGC 1073 helps astronomers learn more about our celestial home.
This NASA handout image received September 9, 2009, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a panoramic view of a colorful assortment of 100,000 stars residing in the crowded core of a giant star cluster. The image reveals a small region inside the massive globular cluster Omega Centauri, which boasts nearly 10 million stars. Globular clusters, ancient swarms of stars united by gravity, are the homesteaders of our Milky Way galaxy. The stars in Omega Centauri are between 10 billion and 12 billion years old. The cluster lies about 16,000 light-years from Earth.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image obtained February 3, 2012 of the nearby spiral galaxy M74. Bright knots of glowing gas light up the spiral arms, indicating a rich environment of star formation. Messier 74, also called NGC 628, is a stunning example of a grand-design spiral galaxy that is viewed by Earth observers nearly face-on. Its perfectly symmetrical spiral arms emanate from the central nucleus and are dotted with clusters of young blue stars and glowing pink regions of ionized hydrogen (hydrogen atoms that have lost their electrons). These regions of star formation show an excess of light at ultraviolet wavelengths. Tracing along the spiral arms are winding dust lanes that also begin very near the galaxy's nucleus and follow along the length of the spiral arms. M74 is located roughly 32 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Pisces, the Fish. It is the dominant member of a small group of about half a dozen galaxies, the M74 galaxy group. In its entirety, it is estimated that M74 is home to about 100 billion stars, making it slightly smaller than our Milky Way.
This NASA image obtained on February 15, 2011 shows a new image of a ring-not of jewels- but of black holes. This composite image of Arp 147, a pair of interacting galaxies located about 430 million light years from Earth, shows X-rays from the NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (pink) and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, blue) produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, or STScI. Arp 147 contains the remnant of a spiral galaxy (right) that collided with the elliptical galaxy on the left. This collision has produced an expanding wave of star formation that shows up as a blue ring containing in abundance of massive young stars. These stars race through their evolution in a few million years or less and explode as supernovas, leaving behind neutron stars and black holes. The nine X-ray sources scattered around the ring in Arp 147 are so bright that they must be black holes, with masses that are likely ten to twenty times that of the sun. An X-ray source is also detected in the nucleus of the red galaxy on the left and may be powered by a poorly-fed supermassive black hole. This source is not obvious in the composite image but can easily be seen in the X-ray image. Other objects unrelated to Arp 147 are also visible: a foreground star in the lower left of the image and a background quasar as the pink source above and to the left of the red galaxy.
This image obtained from NASA shows a portrait of Stephan's Quintet, also known as Hickson Compact Group 92, which was taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Stephan's Quintet, as the name implies, is a group of five galaxies. The name, however, is a bit of a misnomer. Studies have shown that group member NGC 7320, at upper left, is actually a foreground galaxy about seven times closer to Earth than the rest of the group. NASA released new images taken by Hubble since its refurbishing in May 2009.
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope handout image creates a picture composed of gas and dust, the pillar resides in a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. The image shows that astronomers are given a much more complete view of the pillar and its contents when distinct details not seen at visible wavelengths are uncovered in near-infrared light. Scorching radiation and fast winds (streams of charged particles) from these stars are sculpting the pillar and causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of gas and dust can be seen flowing off the top of the structure.
The space shuttle Columbia illuminates a cloud during liftoff early Friday morning March 1, 2002 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Columbia and her seven member crew will refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope during the 11-day mission.
This image obtained from NASA shows the planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 6302, but more popularly called the Bug Nebula or the Butterfly Nebula. The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), a new camera aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was installed by NASA astronauts in May 2009, during the servicing mission to upgrade and repair the 19-year-old Hubble telescope. NGC 6302 lies within our Milky Way galaxy, roughly 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius. The glowing gas is the star's outer layers, expelled over about 2,200 years. The "butterfly" stretches for more than two light-years, which is about half the distance from the Sun to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.
This image provided by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope taken with it's Wide Field Camera 3 on Thursday July 23, 2009 shows the sharpest visible-light picture taken of the impact feature (dark spot) and "backsplash" of material from a small object that plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrated. The only other time in history such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was in 1994 during the collision of fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. This is a natural color image of Jupiter as seen in visible light.
A cluster of diverse galaxies. A new study led by a Yale University astronomer looks at elliptical galaxies, such as the bright one in the top middle of this 2006 Hubble Space Telescope photograph, and finds they have far more stars than initially thought. That means the universe may have three times more stars than astronomers previously figured. The bright part of the Hubble photo shows a cluster of galaxies 450 million light years with the giant elliptical galaxy ESO 325-G004 looming large at the cluster's center.
In an image that scientists call the sharpest image ever made from Earth, the planet Mars is seen as a dynamic planet covered by frosty white water ice clouds and swirling orange dust storms above a vivid rusty landscape, in this view made by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope on June 26, 2001. Details as small as 10 miles (16 km) across can be seen. The colors have been balanced to give a realistic view of Mars' hues as they might appear through a telescope.
Several hundred never before seen galaxies are visible in this "deepest-ever" view of the universe, called the Hubble Deep Field (HDF), made with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Besides the classical spiral and elliptical shaped galaxies, there is a variety of other galaxy shapes and colors that are important clues to understanding the evolution of the universe. Some of the galaxies may have formed less that one billion years after the "Big Bang." Representing a narrow "keyhole" view all the way to the visible horizon of the universe, the HDF image covers a speck of sky 1/30th the diameter of the full Moon (about 25% of the entire HDF is shown here).
This image provided by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Tuesday Dec. 15, 2009 shows hundreds of brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of the largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood. The massive, young stellar grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. There is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope view of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672 unveils details in the galaxy's star-forming clouds and dark bands of interstellar dust. As a prototypical barred spiral galaxy, NGC 1672 differs from normal spiral galaxies, in that the arms do not twist all the way into the center. Instead, they are attached to the two ends of a straight bar of stars enclosing the nucleus. Viewed nearly face on, NGC 1672 shows intense star formation regions especially off in the ends of its central bar. Astronomers believe that barred spirals have a unique mechanism that channels gas from the disk inward towards the nucleus. This allows the bar portion of the galaxy to serve as an area of new star generation.