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Hubble New Year

Looking for that last-minute holiday gift? Fire up your photo printer, click on over to the European Space Agency's Hubble site and churn out a 2007 calendar featuring eye-popping images from the Hubble Space Telescope. While you're on the Web, take a look at some fresh views of the sun, and cast your vote for the best snapshot from Saturn and its moons.

STEREO captures views of

the sun in different

ultraviolet wavelengths.

We've already mentioned the Hubble holiday cards offered by the Space Telescope Science Institute, but the ESA's Hubble Information Center has its own set of goodies, ranging from calendars to posters to computer wallpaper. Many of the graphics are suitable for printing, and others can be purchased online from the ESA's Hubble Shop (although the cost of shipping from Germany to the States may be prohibitive).

Over the past few days, there have been so many stunning images released that it's hard to hit them all. Here are some of the highlights, once you get beyond the Hubble:

  • The STEREO sun-watching spacecraft have sent back their first images from orbit, and the color-coded extreme ultraviolet images are as round and bright as Christmas tree ornaments. The "first light" pictures were taken on Dec. 4. One of the images included this week in NASA's advisory shows a solar eruption in progress.
  • For the second year in a row, the team behind the Cassini probe to Saturn is putting on a contest to select the year's best image from the ringed planet and its environs. Considering that we've just marked the 10th anniversary of astronomer Carl Sagan's death, it's hard to resist the "Pale Blue Orb" picture. (One of Sagan's books was titled "Pale Blue Dot," which referred to a similar picture of Earth as seen by a faraway probe.) Cast your vote online, then wait until February to find out the winner.
  • The Mars rovers have been plugging along for so long that it's sometimes easy to forget that Spirit and Opportunity are still working away, nearly three Earth years since their landing. But the latest round of processed pictures - including Opportunity's view of craggy Cape St. Mary - will give you a renewed appreciation for the coolness associated with having an earthly emissary wheeling around another planet. There's also a dynamite image of layered terrain from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.