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Year in Space: 2016

See major lasers, distant stars, orbiting astronauts and other out-of-this-world photos from 2016.


A man and his dog are silhouetted by a supermoon on a hill behind Shadow Mountain Sports Complex in Sparks, Nevada, on Nov. 14.

The brightest, biggest moon in almost 69 years lit up the sky in a treat for star watchers around the globe. A supermoon occurs when there is a full moon on the same days it is in perigee, which is the closest point in the moon's orbit to Earth. Supermoons can be 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than an ordinary full moon, according to NASA.

PHOTOS: Stunning Views of the Supermoon

Andy Barron / AP
Image: Six objects ranging in location from about 20,000 to nearly 3 billion light years away.

Westerlund 2, a cluster of young stars — about one to two million years old — is located about 20,000 light years from Earth. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory released this image on Oct. 14.

Data in visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope (green and blue) reveal thick clouds where the stars are forming. High-energy radiation in the form of X-rays, however, can penetrate this cosmic haze, and are detected by Chandra (purple).

Chandra X-ray Observatory Center / NASA/CXC/SAO

Japan's H-IIB rocket with a capsule called Kounotori, or stork, lifts off at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Dec. 9

The Japanese capsule contained nearly 5 tons of food, water and other supplies for the International Space Station.

Ryosuke Uematsu / AP

The Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft departs the International Space Station in front of a nearly full moon on June 18.

Onboard the spacecraft, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, British astronaut Tim Peake and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko were returning to Earth after 186 days in space.

Jeff Williams / NASA
Image: Expedition 46 Landing

Scott Kelly of NASA is helped out of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft just minutes after he and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on March 2.

Kelly and Kornienko's year-long mission provided valuable data on the effect of long duration weightlessness on the human body that will be used to formulate a human mission to Mars. Volkov returned after spending six months on the station.

PHOTOS: A Look Back at Scott Kelly's Year in Space

Bill Ingalls / NASA

The distinctive blue bubble appearing to encircle WR 31a in this Hubble Space Telescope image released on Feb. 26 is a Wolf-Rayet nebula — an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases.

Created when speedy stellar winds interact with the outer layers of hydrogen ejected by Wolf-Rayet stars, these nebulae are frequently ring-shaped or spherical. The bubble — estimated to have formed around 20,000 years ago — is expanding at a rate of around 136,700 miles per hour.

ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgemen

Colombian astronaut Diego Urbina tests the Gandolfi 2 spacesuit next to the "Yemo" robot during the MOONWALK project's first Mars mission simulation in Minas de Riotinto, Spain, on April 22. Funded by the European Commission, the goal of the project is to develop and test technologies and training procedures for future human missions to Moon and Mars.


The southern lights, or aurora australis, glow above the Earth in this image captured on June 12 by British astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station.

Tim Peake / ESA / NASA
Image: ***BESTPIX*** John Glenn in Repose at the Ohio Statehouse

John Glenn, a former astronaut and U.S. senator, lies in repose under a U.S. Marine honor guard in the rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse on Dec. 16 in Columbus.

Glenn grew up in eastern Ohio before becoming a national hero when he orbited Earth in 1962. Before that he was a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

A Democrat, Glenn also spent more than two decades representing Ohio in the U.S. Senate and became the oldest man in space, at age 77 in 1998.

PHOTOS: Mourners Remember Beloved Astronaut


Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images

The ET-94 space shuttle external fuel tank travels through Inglewood to complete its 4,000 nautical mile from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana to the California Science Center in Los Angeles on May 21. It will be paired with the space shuttle Endeavour in a vertical launch position at the museum.

PHOTOS: Space Shuttle Fuel Tank Rolls Slowly Through Los Angeles

MARK RALSTON / AFP - Getty Images

The "Spider Nebula" glows fluorescent green in an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) released on April 15. Nebulae are clouds of interstellar gas and dust where stars can form. The Spider, officially named IC 417, is located about 10,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga.

NASA via AFP - Getty Images

Astronauts admire a beam of sunlight penetrating a cave in Sardinia, Italy, during a training session on June 28. The European Space Agency is sending an international team of astronauts into caves to experience the isolation of space.


Venus appears above the moon over rolling mountains as viewed from the Paranal Observatory in Chile on Nov. 25. 

Y. Beletsky / ESO

A Hubble image released in May shows IRAS 14568-6304, a young star that is cloaked in a haze of golden gas and dust. It appears to be embedded within an intriguing swoosh of dark sky, which curves through the image and obscures the sky behind. This dark region is known as the Circinus molecular cloud. This cloud has a mass around 250,000 times that of the sun, and it is filled with gas, dust and young stars.

ESA/Hubble & NASA

A European Space Agency Sentinel-2A satellite captured this view of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, released on July 15.

A region comprising southern Bangladesh and a small part of the Indian state of west Bengal, the whole area of the Sundarbans incorporates some 6,000 square miles, consisting of mangrove and swamp forests.


The undocked Russian Progress 62 spacecraft backs away from the International Space Station for a test of the upgraded tele-robotically operated rendezvous system on July 1.

The Progress resupply vehicle is an automated, unpiloted version of the Soyuz spacecraft that is used to bring supplies and fuel to the International Space Station.


The aurora borealis, or northern lights, illuminates the night sky on Aug. 23 in Erikslund village in Sweden.

Image: Pluto's largest moon, Charon, is seen in a high-resolution, enhanced color view captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft

Pluto's largest moon, Charon, appears in a high-resolution, enhanced color view captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released on Sept. 15.

Scientists have learned that reddish material in the north (top) polar region is chemically processed methane that escaped from Pluto's atmosphere onto Charon.

NASA / Reuters

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet captured this image from the International Space Station of a dragon-shaped river in South America on Dec. 2. 

Thomas Pesquet / ESA

Four lasers reach into the night sky at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope on Sept. 2 in Paranal, Chile. The lasers are a part of the adaptive optics system on the VLT which allows astronomers to drastically reduce the atmospheric distortion present at even the best sites in the world for astronomy.

F. Kamphues/ESO

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins floats outside the International Space Station during a five-hour and 58-minute spacewalk on Aug. 19.

Image: The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft lands near the town of Zhezkazgan

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft lands with NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 7.

Bill Ingalls / NASA
Image: The International Space Station (ISS) crew members are seen inside the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft capsule after landing near the town of Zhezkazgan (Dzhezkazgan), Kazakhstan

 International Space Station crew members, from left, astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka sit inside the Soyuz capsule after landing in Kazakhstan on Sept. 7. The three were returning after 172 days in space. Adding those days to his three previous space flights, Williams has spent a total of 534 days off the planet, the longest for a NASA astronaut.

PHOTOS: Record-Breaking Astronaut Returns to Earth

Bill Ingalls / NASA via Reuters

Lightning flashes inside clouds as the International Space Station flies approximately 250 miles over thunderstorms on Sept. 18.


The sunlit part of Jupiter and its swirling atmosphere are seen in this image released on Oct. 21 and created by a citizen scientist (Alex Mai) using data from Juno's JunoCam instrument.

NASA's robotic Juno probe began circling the solar system's largest planet in July, ending a nearly five-year journey through deep space.

NASA via AFP - Getty Images

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, sits on the launch pad at sunrise on Oct. 16 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Bill Ingalls / NASA

U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins tweeted out this image from the International Space Station on Oct. 26, writing "The city lights of Europe illuminate the space station as we fly past."


Kate Rubins / NASA

This labyrinth-like system of troughs and plateaus was imaged by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft on June 21. It shows part of a region known as Adamas Labyrinthus, which is found in Utopia Planitia in the northern lowlands of Mars.


Astronaut Peggy Whitson tweeted this photo of herself at the International Space Station on Nov. 29, saying, "Gotta love zero gravity!"

Whitson became the oldest woman to travel to space when she began her third space station mission in November. She will turn 57 aboard the station. 

PHOTOS: U.S. Astronaut Becomes Oldest Woman in Space


Astronauts on the International Space Station captured these incredible trails from city lights on Oct. 3 as they orbited the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour.


The moon passes in front of the sun during a total solar eclipse in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on March 9. A total solar eclipse swept across the vast Indonesian archipelago, witnessed by tens of thousands of sky gazers and marked by parties, Muslim prayers and tribal rituals.

Year in Space Pictures: 2015

Month in Space: November 2016