Huge loops of plasma—superheated, charged gas—rise from an active region on the sun in a newly released picture from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Each loop is as tall as several Earths stacked on top of each other.
The plasma loops trace the sun's otherwise invisible magnetic field lines, which rise from the star's magnetically active regions—the starting points for huge eruptions of radiation known as solar flares.
The 2012 blue marble was released this week to mark the announcement of the probe's new name—Suomi NPP—in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin, a pioneer in satellite meteorology.
Image courtesy Norman Kuring, Suomi NPP/NASA/NOAA
Sands of Mars
Dunes and ripples in a variety of shapes and sizes add texture to an impact crater in the Noachis Terra region of southern Mars. The enhanced-color picture was recently released by scientists using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The distribution and shapes of Martian dunes are determined by changes in wind direction and strength. Pictures such as the one above therefore help scientists study the ongoing geologic processes that are affecting modern Mars.
Image courtesy U. Arizona/NASA
Multihued halos surround the nearly full moon over Borrego Springs, California, in a newly released picture of a lunar corona.
The faint rings of color are an optical effect caused when moonlight interacts with wispy clouds and ice crystals high in the night sky. The width of such coronas can shrink or swell as different clouds move past the moon.
Sand dunes curve across northern Iran's salt desert, Dasht-e Kavir, in a newly released picture from the Ikonos-2 satellite.
The mostly arid region hosts a scattering of shallow lakes, mudflats, and salt marshes. Scorching summer temperatures cause high rates of evaporation, leaving concentrated salt crusts that become part of the desert sands.
Image courtesy EUSI/ESA
Galaxies Far, Far Away
Red drops on a cosmic field mark "starburst" galaxies, which are undergoing the most intense known rates of star formation. Seen in a newly released composite picture from the European Southern Observatory's Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, these galaxies lie ten billion light-years from Earth.
Astronomers studying the distant objects found that the starbursts last for only a hundred million years, during which time the galaxies double their quantities of stars. But this early frenzy of star formation comes to an abrupt end, and now astronomers think they know why: the emergence of supermassive black holes at the centers of the huge galaxies.
The actively feeding black holes not only consume vast amounts of galactic material, their radiation blows away much of the dense gases that are the raw materials for stars.
The ancient fan looks similar to modern deltas on Earth, which form when water in a channel flows into a larger body of water, as with the Nile Delta in Egypt. As the water spreads out, it moves slower and drops any sediment it's carrying, creating the fan-like structure.