Week's Best Space Pictures: Mars Dunes, Saturn Storms, and Sicily Shakes

Carina's young stars kick off views of Mars, Saturn, and the skies of Chile, seen in the week's best space pictures.

Young stars burst from a crescent-shaped cradle in the constellation Carina, revealed in the above February 12 Your Shot image.

The stellar nursery called NGC3324 hangs more than 6,500 light-years away, in the northwestern corner of the Carina Nebula. There, the eruptions of young stars compress a surrounding veil of gas, birthing more stellar infants.

Our own sun likely started its life in a similar starry blaze.

Below and to the right lies the cobalt, ruby, and diamond-colored sparklers of the Gem Cluster, a collection of young stars further along in their cosmic lifetimes.

View Images

High above Earth, here come the CubeSats. The small, stackable satellites drop away from the International Space Station in this February 11 photograph.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata sent the tiny satellites into orbit with the help of the Kibo laboratory robotic arm aboard the orbiting lab.

The CubeSats are just the start of an intended flock of 28 small Earth-observing satellites. They are the first of what many space advocates hope will grow into a thriving business in smaller, cheaper satellites.

View Images

Glorious rings crown Saturn even in its whirling clouds, NASA reveals in this February 11 view of northern lights circling the ringed planet.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft trained their cameras above Saturn's north pole to capture this image of the dance of the auroras. The combined views, seen in ultraviolet light, came in April and May 2013.

"Saturn's auroras can be fickle—you may see fireworks, you may see nothing," said space scientist Jonathan Nichols of England's University of Leicester, in a statement on the effort. NASA scientists hope to discover how solar blasts help fuel Saturn's surprisingly powerful winds.

View Images

Star Trek's badges seem to have been re-created on the surface of Mars in this February 13 glimpse of sand dunes from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

These V-shaped sand dunes, sculpted by wind, are hidden in a crater in the planet's Mawrth Vallis region. The area was once a contender for the landing site of the Curiosity rover. Possibly carved by vast, ancient floods, it offers observers a plethora of geologic puzzles along with its curious dunes.

View Images

A hazard-avoidance camera mounted on NASA's Curiosity rover sent back this image of the terrain in the vehicle's path as it maneuvered over a dune.

On its way to Mount Sharp, the rover made a 23-foot (7-meter) scoot through Dingo Gap, a sandy break in the rocky floor of Gale Crater leading to a valley that promises safe driving.

Providing a low-angle view of obstacles, the driving cameras on the $3.5 billion rover also offer unusual panoramas of the red planet. The round hump on the far right of the picture is Mount Sharp, the rover's eventual destination.

View Images

A campsite high in the mountains of Chile gleams beneath the stars of the Milky Way, seen in this February 11 Your Shot picture.

Sollipulli, a broad, dormant volcano located along a spine of protected parks in the Andes, looms near the campsite.

View Images

Far from dormant, Sicily's Mount Etna boils over with lava in this February 7 view from NASA's Terra spacecraft.

Terra's instruments show vegetation in red, snow in white, and flowing lava as dark gray, according to the space agency. The hot, central crater and fresh lava are in yellow. A thin blue-gray cloud holds ash and gas fuming eastward from the caldera.

Sicilians have long mythologized Mount Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, as an abode of monsters. Today, volcanologists call it a "Decade Volcano," one of 16 regarded as most worthy of study worldwide. (See also: "Mt. Etna Volcanologist.")