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