Twenty-three million light-years away, the "Whirlpool galaxy" crashes into its tiny dwarf companion, NGC 5195, at left. The massive forces of the collision form the distinctive spiral "arms" of stars seen above in a new image from the German-Spanish Astronomical Center at Calar Alto, Spain.
Although there's noshortageofimages of the Whirlpool galaxy, or Messier 51, this new, color-enhanced picture was made with particular attention to hydrogen, shown in pink. Ionized hydrogen is emitted as the colliding gases of these galaxies explode into new stars.
Image courtesy Calar Alto Observatory
Hayabusa's Fiery Return
Like a sparkling firework, much of the Japanese space probe Hayabusa disintegrates as it reenters Earth's atmosphere on June 13.
Hidden in the shower of sparks, a heat-shielded 16-inch (40-centimeter) capsule may contain precious scrapings from an asteroid, which could help us understand how our planet and solar system formed.
If Hayabusa has succeeded in harvesting asteroid dust—results are pending—the craft would be among the few to return rock samples from space. Other such missions include the Apollo program, which retrieved moon rocks in the late 1960s and early '70s, and the comet-dust harvester Stardust, which crashed into the Utah desert at 28,900 miles (46,400 kilometers) an hour in 2006.
The Hubble Space Telescope surveys the universe even in its spare time, when the telescope's not being used for scheduled research. During one such "snapshot" session, Hubble recorded the little-known nebula IRAS 05437 2505, with its strange, boomerang-shaped arc (shown in a picture released June 14).
First noticed in 1983, this faint gas cloud remains a mystery in many ways. Hubble scientist say the cloud's bright boomerang could be the result of a young star shooting through a dust cloud at 125,000 miles (200,000 kilometers) an hour—or not.
If you'd been an astronaut on the International Space Station last month, you might have often looked out the window and seen this: Earth's atmosphere, laid out as plain as day, like rainbow-colored layers of an onion.
From the top: First, there are the deep blues of the upper atmosphere, which is responsible for the blueness of our sky, as seen from the ground. Next is a lemon yellow slice of stratosphere, 30 miles (50 kilometers) above Earth's surface, which would be an arid place in person—few clouds are found at such heights.
Glowing pumpkin orange in this May 25 picture, which was released June 14, the troposphere holds nearly all of the water vapor above Earth. Variations in its color, such as the dark streaks at right, are caused by clouds or airborne particles. Wafting 4 to 12 miles (6 to 20 kilometers) above Earth's surface, the troposphere also holds 80 percent of the mass of our planet's atmosphere.