As Juno approaches its closest point to Jupiter, we look back on the best space pictures of the year so far.
2014 was the year of Rosetta and Philae, 2015 the year of Pluto. 2016 will be the year of Jupiter, once Juno gets into gear on 27 August, with imagery and all kinds of scientific discovery set to flow from the giant planet.
But let us not forget just how many other amazing discoveries have been made in space this year. NASA, ESA and ESO have each been incredibly active in 2016, resulting in a swathe of fine space pics for us to go through.
So, before Juno dominates our screens in the weeks and months to come, enjoy some of 2016’s highlights so far:
This epic shot is a panoramic view of the Bagnold Dunes, including a portion of Mount Sharp on the horizon. All images are via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and, if you click on them, can be viewed in a larger format.
In this picture, our home galaxy the Milky Way stretches across the sky above the landscape of the Chilean Andes. In the foreground, the roads of ESO’s La Silla Observatory are packed with state-of-the-art astronomical telescopes pointing towards, and far beyond, the Milky Way. Image via ESO/B. Tafreshi
The New Horizons spacecraft may be heading towards the outer edges of our solar system on a follow-up mission to the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt some time in 2019, but its successful passing of Pluto last year continues to throw up interesting findings. A close-up shot of Pluto. Image via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Called NGC 6814, this ‘face-on’ image flattens out the galaxy, with a luminous nucleus, “spectacular sweeping arms” and dark dust rippled throughout. NASA says this galaxy enjoys a particularly bright nucleus, which is probably why this image is so clearly estimated – the brightness is a “telltale sign that the galaxy is a Seyfert galaxy”. image via ESA/Hubble & NASA
Situated in Ursa Major – alongside the likes of the Pinwheel Galaxy and the Owl Nebula – UGC 4459 lacks any distinct shape or structure, according to NASA. By that, NASA means it’s neither a spiral extending from a central star, or a nuclear bulge of tightly-packed stars. Image via NASA/ESA
The animated recreation of KSN 2011d shows when a star’s internal furnace can no longer sustain nuclear fusion, and its core collapses under gravity. A shockwave from the implosion rushes upward through the star’s layers. The shockwave initially breaks through the star’s visible surface as a series of finger-like plasma jets, via NASA Ames, STScI/G. Bacon
Astronomers are using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Image via NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols
The Crab Nebula is in the Taurus constellation, around 6,500 light-years away from Earth. It’s bright enough to be viewed in amateur telescopes and, having originally been recorded in 1054 by Chinese astronomers, it has fascinated scientists ever since. Hubble’s view of the Crab Nebula (click to elarge) via NASA/ESA/J. Hester/M. Weisskopf
Jupiter, captured by Juno on the approach, with three of its four moons in shot. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS (click to enlarge)
NASA’s Hubble Telescope spotted a timely firestorm of star birth in a nearby galaxy, with the firework-like view coming just ahead of 4 July celebrations in the US. Image of Kiso 5639 via ESA/Hubble & NASA
Star cluster NGC 1854, a gathering of red, white and blue stars in the southern constellation of Dorado (The Dolphinfish). NGC 1854 is located about 135,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of our closest cosmic neighbors and a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Image via ESA/Hubble/NASA
This image shows the Pleiades cluster of stars as seen through NASA’s wide-field infrared survey explorer. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Hubble captured the glow of new stars in these small, ancient galaxies, called Pisces A and Pisces B (above). The dwarf galaxies have lived in isolation for billions of years and are just now beginning to make stars. Image via NASA, ESA, and E. Tollerud (STScI)
This annotated, infrared image from Hubble shows the scale of the galactic core. The galaxy’s nucleus (marked) is home to a central, supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star (click to enlarge). Image via NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA
The blue stars you see in the picture – related to the four-strong image above – are in the foreground, but everything else is part of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster, the densest collection of stars in our galaxy.
The Milky Way in newer detail. All images via ESO, ATLASGAL, NASA, GLIMPSE, VVV, ESA, Planck, Minniti, Guisard. Below images are the Milky Way as seen at shorter wavelengths, and seen through traditional light, thus obscuring some structures from view.