Astronauts onboard the International Space Station snapped this shot of the space shuttleAtlantis as it executed a backflip on Sunday. The acrobatic feat allowed the ISS crew to check for damage before the shuttle docked with the orbiting outpost.
The shuttle's 12-day mission to the station most likely marks the last time Atlantis will be in orbit, as all space shuttles are slated to be retired by the end of 2010. (See pictures of Atlantis's final launch.)
So far astronauts have completed two spacewalks to install new batteries and tighten bolts on the outside of the ISS. The shuttle crew is also delivering a new cargo module and a Russian-built mini research module.
The moon looks larger on the horizon than when it's overhead because of an optical effect called the Ponzo Illusion: The human brain perceives the sky as a dome, so we subconsciously think the moon is farther away—and thus larger—when it's on the horizon than when it's above us. (See pictures illustrating why the moon looks bigger on the horizon.)
The Tadpole and the Asteroid
Tiny yellow dots at the top of a crescent-shaped cloud mark the path of an asteroid as it zooms in front of the Tadpole Nebula, as seen in a new picture by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, telescope. The asteroid is in our solar system, while the star-forming nebula lies 12,000 light-years from Earth.
The picture, released May 13, is a composite of 25 frames taken at four different wavelengths as WISE was conducting a scan of the infrared sky. The asteroid doesn't make a continuous streak, because its distance from the orbiting telescope means that its apparent motion is relatively slow.
Milky Way in the Desert
The plane of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, seems to cascade over sandstone hills in a long-exposure nighttime shot taken earlier this month in Algeria's Tassili n'Ajjer National Park, in the heart of the Sahara. The bright "star" at left is the gas giant planet Jupiter.
A UN World Heritage site, Tassili n'Ajjer is famous for its caves filled with thousands of drawings and engravings that date as far back as 6000 B.C. Photographer Babak Tafreshi writes on The World At Night (TWAN) astrophotography website that "prehistoric skygazers surely witnessed a similar sky." (See a similar picture of the southern sky over Brazil's Iguaçu Falls.)
Bright green swirls in a NASA satellite picture released this week represent a six-mile-high (almost ten-kilometer-high) dust plume from China moving among clouds (seen as columns of dark blue capped with red) over the United States.
The dust originated in April in China's Taklimakan and Gobi deserts. Over ten days, the NASA satellite CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations) tracked the dust as it moved across the Pacific Ocean, through Canada and the United States, and over the eastern state of Virginia.
"This transport of dust out of China happens every spring, but we rarely see it move this far with such intensity," NASA scientist Raymond Rogers said in a press release.