filament sun
by Ali Berman
Categories: Science.
Photo: NASA, Sigurður Stefnisson

Each and every day the folks over at NASA choose an image to share with the world. Sometimes it reflects current projects at NASA, sometimes it’s scientifically interesting, and sometimes, it’s just pure beauty.

For the second year in a row, we’ve gone through an entire years worth of photos and picked out our favorites.  Check out last year’s list and scroll down for our favorite photos of 2012.

This image taken in 2008 near the north pole of Mars shows dark brown streaks over the pink sand.  NASA writes about the image, “When occurring near the top of a dune, dark sand may cascade down the dune leaving dark surface streaks — streaks that might appear at first to be trees standing in front of the lighter regions, but cast no shadows.”

This devastatingly beautiful image features two sections. The bottom gaseous looking area is emission nebula NGC 6357. Above it, the brightest star you can see is one of the brightest on record.  It’s part of the open cluster Pismis 24 and, according to NASA, 200 times brighter than the sun.

Just a normal day on the sun as a solar filament erupts (or an area covered with cool dense gas) into space causing a  Coronal Mass Ejection. While no one on earth could see it with the naked eye, it was such a strong event that days later star gazers enjoyed an auroral display. You can also watch the video of a filament bursting.

This image, taken by photographer Sigurður Stefnisson, shows the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland erupting in 2010. NASA writes that the second eruption “melted a large amount of glacial ice which then cooled and fragmented lava into gritty glass particles that were carried up with the rising volcanic plume.” We can’t believe that this photographer captured the image of the eruption with lightning bolts that work to illuminate the display of ash lifting from the volcano.

astronaut Aki Hoshide

This incredible self-portrait shows Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide while on a trip to work on the International Space Station. NASA boasts that in this unusual picture you can see the “sun, the Earth, two portions of a robotic arm, an astronaut’s spacesuit, the deep darkness of space, and the unusual camera taking the picture.” Can you find them all?

30 doradus

In this image you’re looking through the lens of the famous Hubble Space Telescope at the, as NASA puts it, “largest, hottest, most massive stars known.” This group of stars is called star cluster R136. The gas and dust amongst the cluster is the Tarantula Nebula. And all of it sits in the star-forming region of space 30 Doradus.

During the late summer thousands (or maybe even millions) of Americans looked up at the sky, or over the Hudson River to see the various retired space shuttles making their way to their final resting places. This shows the Enterprise heading to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in NY. Discovery relocated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Atlantis went to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And Endeavor traveled to Los Angeles to reign at the California Science Center.

This isn’t a photo in the traditional sense. It’s more a collection of photos and information that were used to make one incredibly detailed image of our big blue planet. The photos used to create this mega montage were taken by the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on board the Suomi NPP satellite. If you really want to blow your mind, check out the high resolution copy of the image. It’s so detailed.

hubble image of carina nebula

One doesn’t usually associate a word like “blob” with the super scientific language NASA usual puts on there. But, that’s what they call the brown cloud-like formations in the top right of the image. The blogs, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds, are evaporating in the Carina nebula. NASA notes, “Ironically the blobs, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them.”

According to NASA, when a star like our sun is dying, it casts off its outer layers which then create a predictable shape. Maybe a sphere, a double lobe, or a ring or helix. This one, called NGC 5189, defied all expectations. NASA wanted to know why so they put the Hubble Telescope on the job. NASA writes, “Results appear consistent with a hypothesis that the dying star is part of a binary star system with a precessing symmetry axis.” For more info on this complicated dying star, check out NASA’s full description.

So, those are our picks for the best of NASA’s image of the day from 2012. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. And we hope that Mars doesn’t feel left out. We know the planet had a big year, as did skydiving astronauts, but we went with visual composition, not who did the absolutely coolest stuff in space.

About Ali Berman

Ali Berman is a writer, teacher and activist. She works as a humane educator for HEART teaching kids about issues affecting people, animals and the environment. Ali is also a fiction writer. 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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