Check out some of the best space images of 2016

16 Dec 201628 Shares

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Huge waves are sculpted in this two-lobed nebula called the Red Spider Nebula, in the constellation of Sagittarius. The waves are caused by supersonic shocks. Image: ESA/Garrelt Mellema (Leiden University, the Netherlands)

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2016 has seen some of humankind’s finest achievements in space exploration, with Juno at Jupiter, Cassini at Saturn and multiple Mars rovers doing their thing.

At the moment Cassini – one of NASA’s most successful space missions – is diving above and below Saturn’s rings, teeing itself up for a deep dive towards the giant planet’s surface.

This means 2017, when the spacecraft crashes into Jupiter’s surface in September, will see a plethora of incredible discoveries coming from our solar system’s largest planet.

In the meantime, 2016 has thrown up its own array of fascinating findings, with images of planets, stars and explosions entertaining us space enthusiasts.

Space pics

We may as well start with some approach images made by Juno, capturing Jupiter and its moons.

Jupiter image from Juno

Juno was about 78,000km above Jupiter’s polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Jupiter Juno

Jupiter’s north polar region is coming into view as NASA’s Juno spacecraft approaches the giant planet. This view of Jupiter was taken on 27 August, when Juno was 703,000km away. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Astronomers are using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Image: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols

Astronomers are using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Image: NASA/ESA/J Nichols

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)

Jupiter, captured by Juno on the approach, with three of its four moons in shot. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS (click to enlarge)

A galaxy cluster 11.1bn light years from Earth called CL J1001 was captured in August by NASA scientists, breaking the record for the most distant galaxy ever recorded.

With 11 “massive galaxies” at its core, CL J1001’s discovery shows it in an early-stage growth spurt. Nine of the 11 are growing so rapidly that star birth is at around the rate of 3,000 suns a year.

Galaxy Cluster CL J1001 is the most distant of its kind ever recorded. Image via NASA/CXC/CEA/T. Wang et al (X-ray); ESO/UltraVISTA (Infrared); ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA (Radio)

Galaxy Cluster CL J1001 is the most distant of its kind ever recorded. Image: NASA/CXC/CEA/T. Wang et al (x-ray); ESO/UltraVISTA (infrared); ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/ALMA (radio)

Curiosity is one of the more active rovers to have landed on, and explored, Mars. The NASA team behind Curiosity’s investigations of the Martian surface obviously aren’t immune to pop culture, with several ‘selfies’ emerging in recent months.

Curiosity Mars rover at Mount Sharp (click to emlarge). Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars rover at Mount Sharp (click to enlarge). Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Curiosity

This epic shot is a panoramic view of the Bagnold Dunes, including a portion of Mount Sharp on the horizon (click to enlarge). Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The below Uranus portrait is old, true, but the image Voyager 2 took in 1986, as it neared the edge of our solar system, is still offering fascinating insights into the planetary make-up of our nearest and dearest neighbours.

A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet’s rings.

Rob Chancia spotted key patterns in the two rings while examining Voyager 2’s images, with the material on the rings varying periodically.

Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with extremely subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet’s cloud features from view. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with extremely subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet’s cloud features from view. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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: ESO/B. Tafreshi

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: ESO/B Tafreshi

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”.

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: ESA/Hubble & NASA

NGC 6814. Image: ESA/Hubble and NASA

Every star should go out in a blaze of glory. Storm off stage, thrash a hotel room, slag off journalists etc. For real stars, though, explosions come on a far bigger, yet rarely seen, scale.

That was before March, though, as NASA has amazing footage of the early flash of an exploding star, the bright point amid a fiery, speedy death.

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

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. Image: NASA Ames, STScI/G Bacon

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of more than 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of this cosmic community, NGC 4388, is captured hee. Image: ESA/NASA

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally bound collection of more than 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of this cosmic community, NGC 4388, is captured here. Image: ESA/NASA

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

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: NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA

The Milky Way as seen at shorter wavelengths, and seen through traditional light, thus obscuring some structures from view. Image: ESO/ ATLASGAL/NASA/GLIMPSE/VVV/ESA/Planck/Minniti/Guisard

The Milky Way as seen at shorter wavelengths, and seen through traditional light, thus obscuring some structures from view. Image: ESO/ATLASGAL/NASA/GLIMPSE/VVV/ESA/Planck/Minniti/Guisard

Updated, 5.59pm, 16 December 2016: This article originally declared this collection ‘some of the best space images of 2017’, no doubt due to an editorial staff now eagerly plotting the year ahead. We apologise for this error, and the implication that Silicon Republic has seen into the future of space travel. We can only hope that 2017 delivers more beautiful images from beyond Earth’s stratosphere.

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com