Year in Space Pictures: Strange moons, fiery launches and rough landings
Expand your perspective with these 40 stellar photos from our last trip around the sun.
Room with a view
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet looks out from the cupola of the International Space Station in an image tweeted on May 20. "The day of return is approaching: I can't wait to be on Earth again and see my loved ones... but I will certainly miss the view," he wrote.
Pesquet completed a six-month mission aboard the station. He previously worked as an aerospace engineer and is also a pilot for Air France.
The Cygnus cargo spacecraft approaches the space station on April 22.
The spacecraft brought more than 7,600 pounds of supplies and equipment to support the station.
A football-sized meteor streaks across the sky above the village of La Villa in northern Italy on Nov. 14. The shooting star was seen by thousands of people in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg.
British photographer Ollie Taylor happened to be on a shoot in the Dolomites when he captured the fireball in motion.
A Soyuz rocket blasts off carrying a new crew to the space station on Dec. 17 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Japan's Norishege Kanai arrived at the station on Dec. 19 where they will begin their six-month expedition by ringing in the New Year circling Earth.
The space station passes in front of the moon in a multiple-exposure image captured on Feb. 4, in Rouen, France, the birthplace of Thomas Pesquet, a French astronaut who was spending six months on the station at the time.
Astrophotographer Thierry Legault was unaware of Thomas' connection to Rouen at the time he made this photograph.
The Soyuz spacecraft leaves a deep trail behind it after returning to Earth with space station crew members Shane Kimbrough of NASA and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko in Kazakhstan on April 10.
This star may be in its death throes, but don't feel too sorry for it: from our perspective it's still going to be a star long after you and everyone you know has died.
The Calabash Nebula is captured here by the Hubble Space Telescope as it undergoes the transformation from a red giant to its afterlife as a planetary nebula. Astronomers rarely capture a "dying star" in this phase because it occurs within the blink of an eye in astronomical terms. It’ll take a thousand years for it to evolve into a fully-fledged planetary nebula.
Of course, what we’re seeing here is 5,000 light-years away in the Puppis constellation so it happened 5,000 years ago and the light is just reaching us. From that perspective, what we’re seeing is a ghost, a star long dead before we’d even invented telescopes.
During the transformation it blows its outer layers of gas and dust out into the surrounding space in opposite directions at immense speeds. The gas shown in yellow is moving close to 600,000 miles an hour.
Image released on Feb. 3.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted this photo of the Colorado River while aboard the ISS on April 26, asking "How can a river produce such elaborate and beautiful shapes and color?"
In photos from space where the sun illuminates the landscape from below, rivers often appear as raised ridges. If you rotate the picture 180 degrees, the optical illusion is usually foiled.
The Dnieper River north of Kiev, Ukraine, is covered in snow in this view captured from the space station on Feb. 9.
Solar eclipse watchers were ecstatic as the clouds broke minutes before totality during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 in Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
It had been 99 years since a total solar eclipse crossed the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
The umbra, the moon's shadow, crosses the United States as seen from the space station on Aug. 21. The station crossed the path of the eclipse three times as it orbited 250 miles above the Earth.
The total solar eclipse moved across the country at 1,500 miles per hour, passing through twelve states.
The setting sun lights up Australia's Uluru, better known as Ayers Rock, in this picture tweeted from the space station on Feb. 5.
The sandstone formation rises more than 1,100 feet above the surrounding terrain and is almost 6 miles around.
"Death Star" moon
"That's no moon," says Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars" when the Empire's deadly space station appears in the distance. In this image, it is a moon, Tethys, one of Saturn's larger icy moons, but so many have been struck by the resemblance that it has earned the nickname "Death Star" moon. The similar appearance is due to the enormous crater, Odysseus, and its complex of central peaks.
Like any solar system moon, Tethys (660 miles across) has suffered many impacts. These impacts are a prime shaper of the appearance of a moon's surface, especially when the moon has no active geological processes. In this case, a large impact not only created a crater known as Odysseus, but the rebound of the impact caused the mountainous peaks, named Scheria Montes, to form in the center of the crater.
This view was acquired from approximately 228,000 miles away and released on Jan. 23.
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, shimmer in the sky over Bifrost, Western Iceland, on March 1.
Auroras occur when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere.
Wildfires from above
Smoke rises from wildfires east of Camp Pendleton in Southern California in this image captured by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik on Dec. 7.
Massive wildfires fueled by Santa Ana winds scorched Southern California.
"The Betsimboka river in Madagascar, one of the most unbelievable landscapes I’ve seen so far. Madagascar and Africa are so beautiful from space!” wrote French astronaut Thomas Pesquet when he posted his view from the space station to Twitter on May 13.
In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, NASA's Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series of images that was assembled into a mosaic.
Cassini's wide-angle camera acquired 42 red, green and blue images, covering the planet and its main rings from one end to the other, on Sept. 13, two days before its dramatic plunge into the planet's atmosphere.
Farewell old friend
Project manager Earl Maize and flight director Julie Webster hug in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Sept. 15 in Pasadena, Calif., after confirmation of Cassini's demise.
The spacecraft plunged into Saturn while fighting to keep its antenna pointed at Earth to transmit its farewell.
For over a decade, Cassini sent us captivating images of Saturn, its mysterious rings, and its family of icy moons.
A European Southern Observatory telescope captured this glittering view of the stellar nursery called Sharpless 29 on Dec. 12.
Many astronomical phenomena can be seen in this giant image, including cosmic dust and gas clouds that reflect, absorb, and re-emit the light of hot young stars within the nebula.
Earth's city lights stream below the Soyuz spacecraft docked at the space station on March 16 in a long-exposure image captured by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this view of the south polar region of Jupiter on May 19 from about 29,100 miles above the cloud tops.
Four of the white oval storms known as the "String of Pearls" are visible near the top of the image.
Farewell through glass
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer fist bumps his wife through the glass during a farewell ceremony before his launch to the space station on April 20 at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A Soyuz rocket carrying a new crew to the space station blasts off at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 28. Three veteran space travelers, Randy Bresnik, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, began a 5-month mission to the station.
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the three new space station crewmembers sheds its four boosters after blasting off on July 28.
The spacecraft drops its boosters as they exhaust their liquid fuel and can no longer propel the craft. Because of the unusual lighting of a twilight launch, the spacecraft's condensation trail is very bright and it's easy to see the cross-shaped pattern formed by the discarded boosters.
Jack Fischer captured the streak of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, lower left, as it reentered Earth's atmosphere before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 3, 2017. A variety of technological and biological studies conducted on the station were returned to Earth in the Dragon cargo craft.
Staring at the sun
A solar flare appears as a bright flash in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Sept. 10
Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, churns in the Caribbean in this satellite image from Sept. 5.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria steamrolled through southeast Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean during the 2017 hurricane season, leaving behind historic devastation.
A chance to float
British astronaut Tim Peake, left, looks on as a child experiences weightlessness during a parabolic flight on an Airbus A310 on Aug. 24.
Eight children with disabilities from five European Space Agency member states boarded the plane in Bordeaux, France. The parabolic flight path of the plane produces short periods of weightlessness, followed by brief stints of hypergravity, analogous to what happens during a roller coaster ride or a fast elevator descent.
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer tweeted this photo of the sun through a window on the space station on Aug. 9, writing "Tried a new lens and snapped a lucky pic as the sun ducked behind International Space Station. "
The landing team approaches the Soyuz capsule carrying the space station crew of cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Peggy Annette Whitson and Jack Fischer after it landed in Kazakhstan on Sept. 3.
... Breaking Records
Peggy Whitson is helped out of the Soyuz capsule after landing in Kazakhstan on Sept. 3.
Whitson, the first woman to command the space station, broke the record for the most time accumulated in orbit by an American during her mission. She logged 665 days in orbit over three flights.
At 57, she was also the oldest woman in space.
Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanksiy tweeted this photo of a "moonset" from the space station on Nov. 6.
Refraction of light by Earth’s atmosphere causes the moon's squashed appearance.
Launch in India
India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-39, carrying the IRNSS-1H navigation satellite, lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, on Aug. 31.
India has been achieving recognition as a budget option for launching satellites.
Stirring the clouds
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted this image on Feb. 9 from the space station showing a storm on Earth at dusk.
"It looks like our solar arrays are stirring the clouds!" said Pesquet.
Repairs in orbit
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei waves during a spacewalk on Oct. 10 to perform repairs on the space station's robotic arm.
The future of space travel
A replica Orion spacecraft lands at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona, on Dec. 15, after being dropped from a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft at 35,000 feet.
The test used two of Orion's three main parachutes to simulate the failure of the third and still sufficiently slowed the spacecraft for a landing.
NASA says the Orion spacecraft is being developed for deep-space missions that will usher in a new era of space exploration.
The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft captured this sweeping view encompassing the red planet's north pole, bottom, to equator on June 19.
After a 6-month journey, the Mars Express successfully entered Martian orbit on Dec. 25, 2003.
During each orbit, Mars Express spends some time turned towards the planet for instrument observations and some time turned towards Earth for communications with ground stations.
Annie Glenn, the widow of former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, receives the folded American flag from commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller, during a graveside interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on April 6.
Glenn died last December 2016 at age 95 but the family scheduled the burial for what would have been John and Annie's 74th wedding anniversary.
An airplane crosses in front of the moon, a so-called supermoon, in Avondale Estates, Georgia, on Dec. 3.
A supermoon occurs when a full moon coincides with the point at which the moon's orbit is closest to Earth. This was the only supermoon of 2017 but it's part of a succession of three supermoons set to occur into 2018; the others are projected to occur Jan. 2 and Jan. 31, according to NASA.