Snow-capped Alpine peaks are visible as dim gray blotches near a bright concentration of lights at left—the Italian city of Torino (Turin).
A similar beacon of urban life at center-bottom is Lyon, France, which links to a small dot of light along the coast—the port city of Marseille. The French-held island of Corsica appears as a dark mass rimmed with light near the top of the frame.
Photograph courtesy NASA
Powerful jets of gas shoot out from the center of a galaxy in an artist's depiction. Such jets are produced as orbiting matter falls into the supermassive black holes at the centers of every galaxy.
A new study suggests that the most powerful jets come from "backward" black holes—those that spin in opposite directions from their host galaxies. That's because the backward rotation puts more space between the black hole and the orbiting matter, leaving more room for magnetic fields to build up, the study authors say.
Image courtesy T. Pyle, JPL-Caltech/NASA
Oil in the Delta
A false-color picture released May 26 shows the tip of the Mississippi River Delta branching like tree roots into the Gulf of Mexico, as silvery sheens of oil from the recent Deepwater Horizon spill touch the coasts.
Taken by a thermal imager aboard a NASA satellite, the picture shows vegetation in deep red and water in light blue. The smooth surfaces of oil slicks act like mirrors, reflecting sunlight to create the bright swirls. The cause of the dark patch at left is unknown, according to NASA, although the darkness could be due to changes in water motion, changes in salinity, or content such as chemical dispersants or organic matter.
Image courtesy NASA
This time it's no paper moon—the actual moon appears to crumple at one end due to distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere, as seen in a picture taken May 29 by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. (Take a moon mysteries and myths quiz.)
The swirling troughs of Mars's north polar ice cap are seen above in a recently released picture from the no-longer-operating Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, whose mission was terminated in 2007.
Hidden by a permanent layer of ice, the subsurface features that gave rise to these troughs—including the giant Chasma Boreale, a rift about the same length as the Grand Canyon—have long been shrouded in mystery.
But now radar data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have helped astronomers bisect a region of ice 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) thick and 155 miles (250 kilometers) across. The readings show how thin layers of ice bulge and tilt in relation to each other, which offers clues to the shape of the underlying ice sheet.
Image courtesy NASA
A new supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine gets put through its paces at a NASA research center in a ground-based test that simulated Mach 5 conditions in 2008. A scramjet is a type of jet engine that uses compressed air in place of conventional turbines to create thrust. (Read "U.S. Developing Jets That Fly Five Times the Speed of Sound.")
On May 26 the new engine successfully propelled a test flight of the U.S. Air Force's X-51A unmanned vehicle over southern California, breaking the record for the longest scramjet-powered flight to date. The X-51A burned for more than 200 seconds and accelerated the craft to five times the speed of sound.