Docked with the International Space Station, a Russian Progress spacecraft seems to take aim at the space shuttleDiscovery as the shuttle approaches the ISS, as seen in an astronaut picture taken last Saturday.
Discovery docked with the station at 2:14 p.m. ET that day. Discovery's crew is spending 11 days at the station to deliver supplies and help install new modules.
Photograph courtesy NASA
And Then the Clouds Parted
Although it started out as a cloudy day in Gloucestershire, England, things cleared up just in time for backyard astronomer Rob Bullen to capture the space shuttle Discovery (left) as it approached the International Space Station on February 26.
Bullen, who described the frame as "a once-in-a-lifetime image," snapped the spacecraft rendezvous with a digital camera mounted to an 8.5-inch telescope, according to NASA.
Image courtesy Rob Bullen
A large solar flare on February 24 set off a swirling wave of plasma that danced over the sun's surface for 90 minutes.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured HD images of the event in extreme ultraviolet light, allowing astronomers to tease spectacular detail from each frame. The craft snapped a new picture every 24 seconds, including the one above. The pictures were then stitched together to make a movie of the solar eruption.
Image courtesy SDO/NASA
Upping the Atmospheric Ante
While attending an aurora conference in Poker Flat, Alaska, NASA's James Spann witnessed the start of a geomagnetic storm, which sparked a northern lights display on March 1.
An airplane accidentally photo-bombed a picture of the sun taken from Ocala, Florida, on February 27. The silhouette of the plane's wing crosses above a section dotted with sunspots. The lighter swaths around the sunspots are called plages, regions of higher temperature and density created by magnetic activity deeper in the sun.
The solar disk appears purple because photographer Howard Eskildsen snapped the shot using a Ca-K filter, which allows only a specific wavelength of light to reach the camera. Ca-K filters give better views of faint details on the sun, such as the plages, that would otherwise be washed out in regular, white light.
Also called M63, the Sunflower is a spiral galaxy about 37 million light-years away. Spitzer's infrared eye allows astronomers to trace the dusty structures in the galaxy's spiral arms and see where new stars are being born.
Image courtesy Caltech/NASA
The cratered face of Saturn's moon Rhea (top) looms large over the wispy moon Dione, which seems to balance on the planet's thin rings, in a newly released picture from NASA's Cassini orbiter. The rings were actually closer to the spacecraft than Dione was at the time.
Cassini has been touring the Saturnian system since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings, and its many moons. The long-lived probe is currently in the second extension of its mission, which will run through September 2017.
Image courtesy SSI/NASA
Pulling the Trigger
Seen in infrared light (left), the Orion molecular cloud seems fairly serene. But a new picture of radio wave observations, released February 25 by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, shows that the cloud of molecular gas is a violent stellar birthing ground.
Massive stars in the cloud send out huge amounts of powerful ultraviolet radiation. When this UV light hits dense clumps of material, the gas collapses to form new stars.
Image courtesy NAOJ
Black Hole Off Switch
Some supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies seem to have voracious appetites, gobbling up material so fast that some of it escapes as jets of radiation. But others, including the black hole at the heart of our own Milky Way, are oddly dormant.
According to new research, published March 10 in the Astrophysical Journal, hungry black holes also generate wider swaths of radiation that drive strong winds of gas. As illustrated above, these winds push material out of reach, until there's nothing near enough to fall into the black hole's grasp. Starved, the black hole goes dormant.
Illustration courtesy Lynette Cook, Gemini Observatory, and AURA
Bright stars punctuate the watercolor swirls of the nebula M43 in a newly released picture from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The cloud of interstellar gas and dust is so close to the famed Orion Nebula that M43 is sometimes called Orion's little brother.
Both nebulae are part of the massive stellar nursery called the Orion molecular cloud complex, which nearly spans the "belt" of its namesake constellation.