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Stellar Images: The Year in Space
Spectators cheer as the United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket carrying NASA’s Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5. After two orbits around the planet, the capsule, an uncrewed version of the spaceship that NASA plans to use when it sends astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars, splashed down in the Pacific.
• Gallery: Mars Ahead! Orion Test Flight Blasts Off
NASA released this Hubble Space Telescope image of the Monkey Head Nebula on March 17 to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the telescope's launch in 1990. The nebula is a star-forming region 6,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. This infrared view shows how the dusty cloud is being sculpted by ultraviolet light from hot stars in the center of the nebula.
A camera looking back over SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for eventual commercial space tours.
A star cluster in the heart of the Flame Nebula, known as NGC 2024, glows in a May 8 image that combines data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope. Chandra's X-ray view is shown in purple, while red, green and blue hues add Spitzer's perspective in infrared wavelengths. The star cluster is about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion.
Chinese astronomers and others around the world witnessed the creation of the Crab Nebula by a supernova explosion in the year 1054. This 15th-anniversary image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, released July 22, shows a rapidly rotating neutron star spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles from the heart of the Crab Nebula. Lower-energy X-rays are shown in red, medium energy in green, and high energy in blue.
Star trails circle the celestial south pole over a cactus-dominated landscape in Chile's Atacama Desert, in a long-exposure image released by the European Southern Observatory on May 12. The trails show the apparent path of stars in the sky as Earth slowly rotates. A deeper exposure was superimposed over the magnificent trails, revealing fainter stars and the southern Milky Way.
The G292.0+1.8 supernova remnant is shown in a newly processed image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The picture is among several that were released July 22 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Chandra's deployment from the space shuttle Columbia. Chandra's "X-ray vision" traces the expanding debris of an exploded star and the shock waves associated with the long-ago blast.
Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, looms large in this reprocessed image released by NASA on Nov. 21. The original observations were collected by the Galileo spacecraft, which explored Jupiter and its moons from orbit in the 1990s. NASA officials reprocessed Galileo's data using modern imaging techniques. Europa's mineral-laced ice is thought to cover a deep ocean of water that some scientists suspect could harbor life.
Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes moments after its launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Oct. 28. The rocket was carrying Orbital's robotic Cygnus spacecraft, loaded with supplies for the International Space Station. No one was injured.
• Gallery: Final Moments of Antares Rocket
The destructive results of a powerful supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate tapestry of X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, released on Sept. 10.
The image shows the remains of a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth about 3,700 years ago. The remnant is called Puppis A. It's about 7,000 light-years away and about 10 light-years across.
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The selfie was released on June 23, a day before the "Marsiversary" of the robot's landing on Mars. By Earth's reckoning, that landing happened almost two years ago — 687 days, which equals one Martian year.
The camera on the Rosetta spacecraft's Philae lander captured this image of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from a distance of about 10 miles from the surface of the comet on Oct. 7. Also visible is one of Rosetta’s 46-foot long solar wings. Two images with different exposure times were combined to bring out the faint details in this very high contrast situation. The comet's active ‘neck’ region is clearly visible, with streams of dust and gas extending away from the surface. The European Space Agency wrote a new chapter in the history of space exploration on Nov. 12 by landing the probe Philae on the surface of a comet 317 million miles from Earth, marking the climax of a decade-long mission.
• Gallery: Probe Relays Photos from Comet
Astrophotographer Henri Luoma captured the aurora borealis filling the sky over a cottage in Finland on Sept. 12. The sun shot out a double burst of electrically charged particles — known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs — earlier in the week, and the geomagnetic activity produced fantastic northern lights.
• Gallery:Solar Storms Ignite Awesome Auroras
The sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Gulf Coast in this image from the International Space Station posted to social media on Dec. 14. The space station and its crew orbit Earth from an altitude of 220 miles, traveling at a speed of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Because the station completes each trip around the globe in about 92 minutes, the crew experiences 16 sunrises and sunsets each day.
This colorful image shows a cosmic lighthouse known as the Egg Nebula, which lies about 3,000 light-years from Earth. The image, which was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and released on Nov. 24, captures a brief but dramatic phase in the life of a sunlike star.
The Egg Nebula, also known as RAFGL 2688, is a "preplanetary nebula." These objects flare up when a dying star's hot remains briefly illuminate the cloud of gas and dust that surrounds the star.
Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov waves as he works outside the International Space Station on Aug. 18. During the five-hour, 11-minute spacewalk, Skvortsov and his Russian crewmate, Oleg Artemyev, deployed a small science satellite and swapped out experimental packages on the station's exterior.
The supermoon hangs on the horizon at the Astro-Physical Institute of the Canaries in Tenerife, Canary Islands, on Aug. 10. This was the closest that a full moon would get to Earth during 2014, making for the biggest and brightest supermoon of the year.
An employee of Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center hangs three spacesuits on a clothesline to dry in a wooded area near Noginsk on July 2. The suits belong to Russia's Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA's Kathleen Rubins and Japan's Takuya Onishi, who are being trained for a future mission to the International Space Station. This particular training exercise was intended to simulate a water landing in a Soyuz space capsule.
SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship arrives at the International Space Station on Sept. 23. After a two-day chase, the Dragon spacecraft caught up to the orbiting laboratory, and German astronaut Alexander Gerst used the space station's robotic arm to grab the capsule with help from NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman. "Hundreds of hours of training for one moment," Gerst said on the Flickr webpage where he posted this photo.
People crowd a bridge that crosses over 42nd Street in New York City as they take photos of the "Manhattanhenge" phenomenon on July 11. The spectacle occurs twice a year, when the setting sun lines up precisely with the gap between Manhattan's skyscrapers.
•Month in Space Pictures: November 2014
•2013 Year in Space Pictures