Many scientists expect the sun to die in about five billion years and become, like the Helix, a planetary nebula. Bounded by expanding bubbles of glowing gas, planetary nebulae were misnamed because, when seen through early telescopes, the gas clouds resembled gas-giant planets such as Jupiter or Neptune.
Image courtesy Caltech/NASA
The impact that created this crater on Mercury exposed a variety of subsurface materials—hence the color variations in this image taken by NASA's MESSENGER orbiter and released October 4. Earlier this year the colorful, quirky crater was named in honor of Theodore Seuss Geisel, known to fans of colorful, quirky picture books as Dr. Seuss.
Image courtesy JHUAPL/CIW/NASA
Seemingly bisected by a green laser, visible portions of the Milky Way rise over Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. The laser, fired from an atmospheric research station, is part of a project to water distribution in the atmosphere, according to photographer Cristoph Malin, who submitted this picture to the night-sky photography community The World at Night (TWAN).
Larger explosions are often associated with coronal mass ejections, or CMEs—clouds of superheated gas and charged particles hurled off the sun. If they hit Earth's atmosphere, the solar particles can spark auroras and even interfere with satellite communications systems and power grids. (See more pictures of solar storms.)
Image courtesy SDO/NASA
Captured by the Landsat 5 satellite over Kansas, a false-color satellite image shows vegetation as red and brown. Farms appear as rectangles or circles, depending on the irrigation system employed. (See NASA's top Landsat pictures.)
Image courtesy USGS/ESA
Cemented by a natural iron-nickel alloy, olivine crystals add a Midas touch to a sliver of meteorite in a picture released with a recent study published in the journal Nature.
Photograph courtesy J. Debosscher, K.U. Leuven/ESA
Shown in a picture captured for the 50th anniversary of the European Southern Observatory in Chile on October 5, nebula NGC 2359, aka Thor's Helmet, is nearly 15,000 light-years from Earth and over 30 light-years across. The "helmet" is a cosmic bubble—the result of powerful winds from a star within the gas-and-dust cloud.
Image courtesy B. Bailleul, ESO
Between snapping photos of Mars's horizon and ancient streambeds, NASA's Curiosity rover did a bit of shoe gazing with its navigational camera (Navcam) on October 3. The rover's distinct, zigzagging tread pattern features cut-outs that etch the Morse code for "JPL" into the Martian soil-short for "Jet Propulsion Laboratory," the California home of Curiosity's mission command.
But the repeating pattern isn't all about branding. "The purpose of the pattern is to create features in the terrain that can be used to visually measure the precise distance between drives," said Matt Heverly, the lead rover driver for Curiosity at JPL, said in a statement.