Space Photos of the Week: Here Comes the Sun

The Sun is constantly sending charged particles streaming into space. These highly ionized particles are better known as the solar wind, and its interaction with our atmosphere creates the aurora borealis. Examining how the Sun releases these particles is extremely important—the radiation affects our GPS satellites, as well as other spacecraft and even ground-based power systems—which is why NASA recently unveiled two new missions devoted to solar wind-driven weather.

This rainbow series of images actually shows two different galaxies, Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195 Â?. (Yes, the circumflex and the question mark are part of the name.) Scientists look at galaxies in visible light (the image at far left) and also in various other wavelengths of light to learn everything they can about what’s out there. For example, the image at far right relies on long wavelengths of infrared light to reveal hot dust, seen in red. Spots in reddish white depict young star formation, which heats up nearby material. At second from right, the blue haze from short infrared wavelengths show light blended from billions of stars. These renderings help astronomers understand how much gas and dust is inside each galaxy.

There’s a lot more going on in this sparkling image from the Hubble Space Telescope than a smattering of stars. It’s actually a galaxy that among astronomers goes by special names: an irregular galaxy; a starburst galaxy for its off-the-charts rate of star formation; and also IC 10, a member of a set of more than 50 galaxies called the Local Group. Bursting with new stars, IC 10 sits 2.2 million light years away from Earth and behind clumps of cosmic dust and gas, making it a really difficult galaxy to study. But study it we must, since it’s the closest starburst galaxy that has been found.

The European Space Agency will celebrate Asteroid Day on June 30 in honor of all the small but mighty rocky bodies of our solar system. Consider, for example, Ryugu: The Japanese Space Agency has sent a spacecraft, Hayabusa2, to collect a sample from this asteroid and bring it back to Earth. If this rock looks a bit familiar, maybe like Bennu, that’s not just a coincidence. The spin of small asteroids shapes them into something like diamonds in the sky.

This spiky-looking simulation made by the European Space Agency reveals amazing data: Each colorful dot represents a habitable planetary system outside of our own solar system, and each streak a potential mission between the stars. Granted, the possibly habitable star systems beyond our own are painfully distant, but this simulation shows that if our science and technology ever make enough leaps, there will be no shortage of places to visit.

Hubble offers a view into the glorious mosaic of space, made even more awesome by a slurry of asteroid photobombs. We’re looking at a dizzying number of galaxies, and those white streaks are actually asteroids swooping across the image. This is photobombing at a different level: Most of the galaxies are many billions of light years away, while the show-hogging asteroids are only around 100 million miles from Earth.

Galaxies on the verge of a calamitous collision: The pair 1E2215 and 1E2216 are seen here, taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, as they are about to become one tangled galaxy. Because a crash like this takes place over such a lengthy time span, it’s rather fortuitous for astronomers to spot such a scenario at this juncture, so close to the cusp of entanglement.

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