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The Manicougan Crater in northern Canada is one of the largest impact craters known on Earth. The impact occurred around 210 million years ago at the end of the Triassic period and may have caused a mass extinction that killed around 60 percent of all species. Though the crater has mostly eroded, Lake Manicougan outlines what is left of the 43-mile wide impact structure. The asteroid that created the crater is thought to have been about three miles wide. Today the lake is a reservoir and popular salmon fishing location.

The Manicougan Crater in northern Canada is one of the largest impact craters known on Earth. The impact occurred around 210 million years ago at the end of the Triassic period and may have caused a mass extinction that killed around 60 percent of all species. Though the crater has mostly eroded, Lake Manicougan outlines what is left of the 43-mile wide impact structure. The asteroid that created the crater is thought to have been about three miles wide. Today the lake is a reservoir and popular salmon fishing location.

The Shoemaker crater in Western Australia, formerly known as the Teague crater, was renamed in honor of the planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker for whom the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 is also named. The age of the crater unclear, but it could be 1.7 billion years old, which makes it the oldest known impact in Australia. The brightly colored splotches are seasonal salt-water lakes. This image was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite.

The Shoemaker crater in Western Australia, formerly known as the Teague crater, was renamed in honor of the planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker for whom the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 is also named. The age of the crater unclear, but it could be 1.7 billion years old, which makes it the oldest known impact in Australia. The brightly colored splotches are seasonal salt-water lakes. This image was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite.

Aorounga crater is one of the best preserved impact craters on Earth, thanks in part to its location in the Sahara Desert in Chad. The 10 mile-wide crater is probably around 350 million years old. The stripes are alternating rock ridges and sand layers, known as yardangs, caused by persistent unidirectional wind. The image above was taken by astronauts in the International Space Station in July.

Aorounga crater is one of the best preserved impact craters on Earth, thanks in part to its location in the Sahara Desert in Chad. The 10 mile-wide crater is probably around 350 million years old. The stripes are alternating rock ridges and sand layers, known as yardangs, caused by persistent unidirectional wind. The image above was taken by astronauts in the International Space Station in July.

Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).  But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group.  Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy.  However, spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC.  Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars.  This higly detailed galaxy portrait highlights a bright core crossed with dust clouds, telltale pinkish star forming regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy. However, spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC. Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars. This higly detailed galaxy portrait highlights a bright core crossed with dust clouds, telltale pinkish star forming regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

What has happened to Saturn’s moon Iapetus?    Vast sections of this strange world are dark as coal, while others are as bright as ice.    The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon.   Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut.    To help better understand this seemingly painted moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers in 2007.  Pictured above, from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini’s trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is always trailing.    A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size.  The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike.    Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon’s equator and is less than a meter thick.  A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice sublimates.  An initial coating of dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons.  This and other images from Cassini’s Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.

What has happened to Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Vast sections of this strange world are dark as coal, while others are as bright as ice. The composition of the dark material is unknown, but infrared spectra indicate that it possibly contains some dark form of carbon. Iapetus also has an unusual equatorial ridge that makes it appear like a walnut. To help better understand this seemingly painted moon, NASA directed the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn to swoop within 2,000 kilometers in 2007. Pictured above, from about 75,000 kilometers out, Cassini’s trajectory allowed unprecedented imaging of the hemisphere of Iapetus that is always trailing. A huge impact crater seen in the south spans a tremendous 450 kilometers and appears superposed on an older crater of similar size. The dark material is seen increasingly coating the easternmost part of Iapetus, darkening craters and highlands alike. Close inspection indicates that the dark coating typically faces the moon’s equator and is less than a meter thick. A leading hypothesis is that the dark material is mostly dirt leftover when relatively warm but dirty ice sublimates. An initial coating of dark material may have been effectively painted on by the accretion of meteor-liberated debris from other moons. This and other images from Cassini’s Iapetus flyby are being studied for even greater clues.

Like grains of sand on a cosmic beach, individual stars of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1313 are resolved in this sharp composite from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).  The inner region of the galaxy is pictured, spanning about 10,000 light-years.  Hubble’s unique ability to distinguish individual stars in the 14 million light-year distant galaxy has been used to unravel the fate of star clusters whose bright young stars are spread through the disk of the galaxy as the clusters dissolve.  The exploration of stars and clusters in external galaxy NGC 1313 offers clues to star formation and star cluster evolution in our own Milky Way.

Like grains of sand on a cosmic beach, individual stars of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1313 are resolved in this sharp composite from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The inner region of the galaxy is pictured, spanning about 10,000 light-years. Hubble’s unique ability to distinguish individual stars in the 14 million light-year distant galaxy has been used to unravel the fate of star clusters whose bright young stars are spread through the disk of the galaxy as the clusters dissolve. The exploration of stars and clusters in external galaxy NGC 1313 offers clues to star formation and star cluster evolution in our own Milky Way.

What does a star look like when it is forming?    The prototypical example is the variable star T Tauri, visible as the bright orange star near the image center.  The orange star centered in this remarkable telescopic skyview is T Tauri, prototype of the class of T Tauri variable stars.  Surrounding T Tauri is a dusty yellow cosmic cloud named the Hind's Variable Nebula (NGC 1555/1554).  Over 400 light-years away, at the edge of a molecular cloud, both star and nebula are seen to vary significantly in brightness but not necessarily at the same time, adding to the mystery of the intriguing region.  T Tauri stars are now generally recognized as young — less than a few million years old — sun-like stars still in the early stages of formation.  To further complicate the picture, infrared observations indicate that T Tauri itself is part of a multiple star system.  Surprisingly, due to a close gravitational pass near one of these stars, T Tauri may now be headed out of the system.    The dramatic color image above captures a region that spans about 4 light-years.

What does a star look like when it is forming? The prototypical example is the variable star T Tauri, visible as the bright orange star near the image center. The orange star centered in this remarkable telescopic skyview is T Tauri, prototype of the class of T Tauri variable stars. Surrounding T Tauri is a dusty yellow cosmic cloud named the Hind's Variable Nebula (NGC 1555/1554). Over 400 light-years away, at the edge of a molecular cloud, both star and nebula are seen to vary significantly in brightness but not necessarily at the same time, adding to the mystery of the intriguing region. T Tauri stars are now generally recognized as young — less than a few million years old — sun-like stars still in the early stages of formation. To further complicate the picture, infrared observations indicate that T Tauri itself is part of a multiple star system. Surprisingly, due to a close gravitational pass near one of these stars, T Tauri may now be headed out of the system. The dramatic color image above captures a region that spans about 4 light-years.

When stars form, pandemonium reigns.    A textbook case is the star forming region NGC 6559.    Visible above are red glowing emission nebulas of hydrogen, blue reflection nebulas of dust, dark absorption nebulas of dust, and the stars that formed from them.    The first massive stars formed from the dense gas will emit energetic light and winds that erode, fragment, and sculpt their birthplace.    And then they explode.  The resulting morass can be as beautiful as it is complex.    After tens of millions of years, the dust boils away, the gas gets swept away, and all that is left is a naked open cluster of stars.

When stars form, pandemonium reigns. A textbook case is the star forming region NGC 6559. Visible above are red glowing emission nebulas of hydrogen, blue reflection nebulas of dust, dark absorption nebulas of dust, and the stars that formed from them. The first massive stars formed from the dense gas will emit energetic light and winds that erode, fragment, and sculpt their birthplace. And then they explode. The resulting morass can be as beautiful as it is complex. After tens of millions of years, the dust boils away, the gas gets swept away, and all that is left is a naked open cluster of stars.

A new star, likely the brightest supernova in recorded human history, lit up planet Earth’s sky in the year 1006 AD.  The expanding debris cloud from the stellar explosion, found in the southerly constellation of Lupus, still puts on a cosmic light show across the electromagnetic spectrum.  In fact, this composite view includes X-ray data in blue from the Chandra Observatory, optical data in yellowish hues, and radio image data in red.  Now known as the SN 1006  supernova remnant, the debris cloud appears to be about 60 light-years across and is understood to represent the remains of a white dwarf star.  Part of a binary star system, the compact white dwarf gradually captured material from its companion star.  The buildup in mass finally triggered a thermonuclear explosion that destroyed the dwarf star.  Because the distance to the supernova remnant is about 7,000 light-years, that explosion actually happened 7,000 years before the light reached Earth in 1006.  Shockwaves in the remnant accelerate particles to extreme energies and are thought to be a source of the mysterious cosmic rays.

A new star, likely the brightest supernova in recorded human history, lit up planet Earth’s sky in the year 1006 AD. The expanding debris cloud from the stellar explosion, found in the southerly constellation of Lupus, still puts on a cosmic light show across the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, this composite view includes X-ray data in blue from the Chandra Observatory, optical data in yellowish hues, and radio image data in red. Now known as the SN 1006 supernova remnant, the debris cloud appears to be about 60 light-years across and is understood to represent the remains of a white dwarf star. Part of a binary star system, the compact white dwarf gradually captured material from its companion star. The buildup in mass finally triggered a thermonuclear explosion that destroyed the dwarf star. Because the distance to the supernova remnant is about 7,000 light-years, that explosion actually happened 7,000 years before the light reached Earth in 1006. Shockwaves in the remnant accelerate particles to extreme energies and are thought to be a source of the mysterious cosmic rays.

Few auroras show this level of detail.  Above, a standard digital camera captured a particularly active and colorful auroral corona that occurred last week above  Alberta,  Canada.  With a shape reminiscent of a  flower, the spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail.  The vivid green and purple   auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons.    Many photogenic auroras have been triggered from a solar wind stream that recently passed the Earth.  The auroras were unexpected because the initiating Sun has been unusually quiet of late.

Few auroras show this level of detail. Above, a standard digital camera captured a particularly active and colorful auroral corona that occurred last week above Alberta, Canada. With a shape reminiscent of a flower, the spectacular aurora had an unusually high degree of detail. The vivid green and purple auroral colors are caused by high atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen reacting to a burst of incoming electrons. Many photogenic auroras have been triggered from a solar wind stream that recently passed the Earth. The auroras were unexpected because the initiating Sun has been unusually quiet of late.