Space is big. Really big. It would take a gargantuan trek of 21.24 billion kilometres for you to reach the outer edges of our solar system, and a further 435 sextillion (that’s 10 to the power of 21!) kilometres to reach the furthest region of the observable universe. There is so much to explore but what we’ve seen so far has been incredibly beautiful.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory keeps an extensive catalogue of cosmic images taken by the various spacecraft up in the heavens. Here’s a small selection of our favourites space images taken in 2013.
Taken by Herschel and Hubble, the Crab Nebula is a cloud of gas and dust that resulted from the explosion of a star in a supernova. The emission from oxygen and sulphur ions are shown in blue and the emission from dust is coloured red.
This six-sided jet stream on Saturn’s north pole is is called “the hexagon”. An extremely large hurricane is centred on the pole, and its eye is calculated to be 50 times bigger than the average hurricane eye seen on Earth. The Cassini spacecraft took this image using coloured filters. Us humans would see it in tones of gold and blue.
On July 19, 2013 Cassini’s cameras pointed squarely at Saturn and captured over 300 images in the hours that it was in the planet’s shadow. This magnificent composite spans 651,591 kilometres across and is made up of 141 of those images. Mars, Venus, and Earth are also pictured as teeny tiny dots.
The Sculptor Galaxy is a starburst galaxy in which more stars are constantly being formed in the nucleus. This galaxy is bright and can be seen in the Southern hemisphere through a pair of binoculars.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory built Curiosity, the 900-kg car-sized rover that is currently photographing the Martian environment and sampling its geology. This image was taken on the afternoon of the 335th Martian day, after Curiosity had travelled one kilometre.
The Small Magellanic Cloud is one of the Milky Way’s closest neighbours and is dazzling to look at. With a diameter of 7,000 light years and home to several hundred million stars it is a relatively small galaxy but it is bright enough to be seen in the Southern Hemisphere with the naked eye.
The Herschel space observatory captured this image of W3, a star-forming cloud that spans almost 200 light-years. In this nursery, low-mass stars are shown in yellow while the highest-mass stars, some of which are eight times the mass of our sun, show up in blue.
Captured by the Herschel space observatory, Messier 31 is more commonly known as the Andromeda Galaxy. Spanning 2.5 million light-years, the Andromeda Galaxy is home to trillions of stars and weighs in at a hefty 7.1 x 1011 solar masses. Note that one solar mass is two nonillion kilogrammes.
With a diameter of 525 kilometres, Vesta is one of the largest asteroids rolling around in our solar system. This image is of the Aelia crater on Vesta and shows the flow of material inside and outside a crater. These materials are highlighted in blue and their origins are unknown.
To see more, head over to the JPL’s library of space images.