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by Ali Berman
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Photo: R. Jay Gabany, TRACE Project, NASA, NASA, ESA, J. Hester, A. Loll (ASU) Maximilien Brice, CERN NASA / CXC / F.J. Lu (Chinese Academy of Sciences) et al. HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Megeath Babak Tafreshi NASA, Bill Ingalls The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA

Since 1995, without fail, NASA has released a photo of the day every day. Featuring nebulae, the aurora, comets, meteors, planets, moons and galaxies, you can’t help but be amazed by each and every image. Some are instructional, others simply magnificent but with all of them, you’d think the photographers were artists instead of scientists.

We’ve looked through all of the 2011 images of the day, and chosen the 10 most awe inspiring that NASA had to offer. Well, almost. There are still a few days left to the year so you might have to rephrase the title of this post to “NASA’s 10 Most Stunning Images from 2011 Minus Four Days.” Enjoy!

May 13 – The Trifid Nebula
The Trifid Nebula, discovered by Charles Messier in 1764, is approximately 5,000 light-years away. According to NASA, the Trifid has three types of astronomical nebulae (hence the name): emission nebulae, reflection nebulae and dark nebulae. If you wanted to get there, you’d just head toward Sagittarius and smack right into the thing. We have R. Jay GaBany to thank for this magnificent image. Doesn’t it look like a beating heart?

April 10 – Sunspot Loops in Ultraviolet
This ultraviolet image of the sun will give you an idea of just how hot it gets out there. While the darker spots are only a few thousand degrees Celcius, the red glowing gas around the sunspots can get to over one million degrees Celcius. Aren’t you glad it’s 93 million miles away?

December 25 – The Crab Nebula from Hubble
When a star explodes in space, no one is around to clean up the debris. Happily for us, these are some of the most beautiful remnants of a celestial object we’ve ever seen. The crab nebula is the result of a supernova that occurred in 1054 AD. This image was taken by the Hubble telescope, and in the center is a pulsar, or a neutron star.

December 18 – Hints of Higgs from the Large Hadron Collider
While it’s certainly amazing to look at what occurs naturally millions of miles away in the lonely vacuum of space, many human objects can bring just as much awe and wonder. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is such an object. The LHC is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, and was designed to smash protons into one another at speeds one can’t even imagine. According to NASA, “The LHC is exploring the leading explanation that mass arises from ordinary particles slogging through an otherwise invisible but pervasive field of virtual Higgs particles.”

April 30 – Tycho’s Supernova Remnant
Located in the constellation Cassiopei, Tycho is a supernova remnant about 13,000 light-years from our little blue planet. This exploding white dwarf star is one of only a few supernovae that is visible to the naked eye. Tycho has been around since 1572 and was named after Tycho Brahe, although, he certainly wasn’t the first to see the exploding star.

September 26 – Dry Ice Pits on Mars
Just like here on Earth, the surface of Mars changes with the seasons. When the Martian summer approaches and warms the planet, the carbon-dioxide ice cap around the south pole start to evaporate leaving these beautiful gold ringed shapes. This image was captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in July of this year. While the lines around the ice look like gold, scientists are unsure of the composition of the material. When winter comes back around, more ice will develop.


September 17 – Spitzer’s Orion
Compared to the other nebulae in this group, Spitzer’s Orion is relatively close. Only 1,500 light-years away, this haunting image was taken with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. This is what they call an active stellar nursery. It houses thousands of young stars and protostars. The red spots in this image reveal the protostars, which are clouds of interstellar gas and dust that will one day form dense cores and become stars.

January 14 – Quadrantids over Qumis
This time lapse photo titled The World at Night by Babak Tafreshi shows the Quadrantid Meteor Shower above the ruins of the city Damghan in Iran. Two quadrantid meteor streaks (two streaks going in opposite directions to the rest of the star streaks) can be viewed in the top right of the image. One is very strong, and the other is quite faint, but runs parallel and just below the defined meteor. For those in the northern hemisphere who would like to witness the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower for themselves, wake up early on January 4th if it’s a clear morning, look up and behold.

July 9 – Atlantis Reflection
You can’t even talk about stunning images from NASA without mentioning Atlantis, the very last planned shuttle mission in the 30 year long space shuttle program. While Russia will still be sending people into space, the USA has stopped for the foreseeable future. Americans may still go up, but it will be with a 56 million dollar ticket paid to Russia. However, just because we’re not sending shuttles up right now doesn’t mean we’ve stopped exploration. NASA’s programs continue and data gathering devices tell us more about the universe every day.

August 21 – The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
This is just one out of many of what NASA calls a dust pillar. Created in the Eagle Nebula, these tall graceful forms are evaporating shells of gas and dust. Inside of each is a nursery where new stars are being formed. Standing at ten light-years tall, it sends out burning hot radiation. This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005.

About Ali Berman

Ali Berman is the author of Choosing a Good Life: Lessons from People Who Have Found Their Place in the World (Hazelden) and Misdirected (Seven Stories Press). She works as a humane educator for HEART teaching kids about issues affecting people, animals and the environment. Her published work can be found on her website at aliberman.com. In early 2012 Ali co-founded flipmeover, a production company with the mission to use media to raise awareness of social issues.

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    Really cool pics, thanks for sharing! These also make for interesting design inspiration!