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Image: A member of the AMADEE-18 Mars simulation mission wearing a spacesuit standing in the doorway of a simulation habitat

In Focus

Month in Space Pictures: Cosmic Penguin and Playing Mars

A really big rocket, a sports car circles the Earth and more of the month's best space photos.

Image: SpaceX

Giant rocket

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket sits on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 6 ahead of its launch.

The rocket weighs more than 3.1 million pounds and stands almost 230 feet high. It's designed to carry up to 140,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit, or more than 37,000 pounds all the way to Mars.

Image: SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket In Historic Flight


The crowd cheers at Playalinda Beach just north of the Kennedy Space Center during the succesful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6.


Joe Burbank / TNS via Zuma Press
Image: A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral

Into the blue

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket climbs towards space. 

The Falcon Heavy is designed to lift more payload to orbit than any American booster since NASA’s Saturn V, the rocket that took astronauts to the moon during the agency’s Apollo program.

SpaceX via Reuters

Return to Earth

The solid rocket boosters of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy land at the Kennedy Space Center. 

SpaceX is hoping the reusable rocket is the breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access. 

SpaceX via Reuters
Image: A cherry red Tesla Roadster automobile floats through space after it was carried there by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy

Spaceman's road trip

The Falcon Heavy carried a special payload from Elon Musk’s electric car company: a red Tesla Roadster.

After orbiting the Earth, the car was sent into an elliptical orbit around the sun. In a press conference held after the launch, Musk said he expected the car to be "out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years." 


Image: Arp 142

The penguin and the egg

This image of distant interacting galaxies, known collectively as Arp 142, bears an uncanny resemblance to a penguin guarding an egg.

The "penguin" part of the pair, NGC 2336, was probably once a relatively normal-looking spiral galaxy, but its shape has now been twisted and distorted as it responds to the gravitational tugs of its neighbor.

Eventually these two galaxies will merge to form a single object, with their two populations of stars, gas and dust intermingling. 

Image released on Feb. 1.


Playing Mars

Israeli researchers start their mission on the D-MARS Project on Feb. 18.

Six Israeli researchers conducted a four-day Mars habitat experiment in Israel’s Negev desert where they simulated living conditions on the Red Planet. 


Menahem Kahana / AFP - Getty Images
Image: Aurora borealis or northern lights are visible in the sky above a lighthouse to the village of Strand

Aurora borealis

The northern lights shimmer in the sky above a lighthouse near Tromso in northern Norway on Feb. 22. Auroras are caused by the interaction between energetic charged particles from the sun and gas molecules in the upper atmosphere of the earth.

Martial Trezzini / EPA

Jovian swirls

Swirling cloud formations are captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on Feb. 7 during Juno's eleventh close flyby of Jupiter.

At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 5,086 miles from the tops of the clouds of the planet. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
Image: Expedition 54 Landing Preparations

Preparations in Kazakhstan

NASA and Russian search and rescue teams arrive in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, to prepare for the return of crew members of the International Space Station on Feb. 26. 

Bill Ingalls / NASA

Packed in

For their trip back to Earth after 168 days in space, Expedition 54 crew members, from left, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, and NASA's Mark Vande Hei rode in a Soyuz capsule. 


Image: Expedition 54 Soyuz MS-06 Landing

Descending through clouds

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft carrying Expedition 54 crew members descends beneath a parachute near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Feb. 28.  

Bill Ingalls / NASA

He's back!

Ground personnel carry NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei after the Soyuz capsule landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan.

The return of the three crew members ended a 5 1/2-month mission highlighted by robotic renovations, schoolteacher pep talks and heavenly greetings from Pope Francis. 

Alexander Nemenov / Pool via AP

Spiral galaxy

The spiral galaxy NGC 3344, located about 20 million light-years from Earth, is captured in the photo released on Feb. 14.

It's a composite of images taken through seven different filters. They cover wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the optical and the near-infrared. 

AFP - Getty Images

Fiery furnace

NASA tests a Space Launch System (SLS) engine on Feb. 1 at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

NASA is building SLS to send humans to deep-space destinations like the moon and Mars. 


Satellite launch

A Falcon 9 successfully launched the PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 22. 

Image: A member of the AMADEE-18 Mars simulation mission wearing a spacesuit standing in the doorway of a simulation habitat

Martian habitat

A member of the AMADEE-18 Mars simulation mission stands in the doorway of a habitat in Oman's Dhofar desert on Feb. 7. 

Hoping to pave the way for future Mars missions, the Austrian Space Forum brought more than 200 scientists from 25 nations to the desert near the borders of Yemen and Saudi Arabia for four weeks of experiments and field testing in Mars-like conditions.

Month in Space Pictures: Jan. 2018

Karim Sahib / AFP - Getty Images file