The snowy scene disguises the origins of the Himalaya, built of marine limestone that crumpled upward to form mighty mountains in the collision of Asia with the Indian subcontinent, some 40 million years ago.
The "Super Earth" planet, GJ 1214b, possesses six times the mass of Earth and high, dense clouds, which are depicted here blanketing its atmosphere. The Hubble Space Telescope team reported atmospheric data from this world and a "Warm Neptune" planet orbiting another star this week. (See "A Banner Year in the Hunt for Exoplanets ."
Alien planets aplenty orbit nearby stars, with more than a thousand detected in the last decade. But the clouds that cloak these worlds are only now coming into focus. Ultimately, in their investigations of exoplanet atmospheres, astronomers hope to someday find an Earth-size planet with an atmosphere that might support life.
Sharpened by sunlight on the horizon, Mercury's dust-lined ridges come into sharp focus. In orbit around Mercury since 2011, MESSENGER has undertaken a high-resolution mapping campaign of scientifically compelling parts of its surface. The spacecraft will continue operating and taking pictures of Mercury until 2015.
New Year's Day Flare
Happy New Year! The sun greeted the calendar rolling over with a pair of flares, seen in various wavelengths captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.