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Space Photos of the Week: A Cruise Around Mars' Hale Crater

Mars isn’t short of interesting craters, but Hale Crater has a lot going on. It’s a fairly large impact crater running almost 62 miles across, featuring recurring slope lineae (elements that are seasonal and some think are linked to liquid water) and active gullies. The greenish blue is colored bedrock, exposed by whatever giant rock or comet impacted the surface, and the other geologic activities, like wind erosion and possible melting ice, make Hale Crater a never-ending exciting place to explore.

While it doesn’t look like a giant arachnid, this sparkling region—captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, in unprecedented detail—is called the Tarantula Nebula. It’s only 160,000 light years away, which by astronomical standards is not rather far. The Tarantula Nebula contains regions where stars are forming, while others contain remnants of supernova explosions and large clouds of dust.

It’s easy to forget that our Sun is one star among many, and is actively aging and doing other starlike things. Last week NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light, shown here in bluish green. The bright white glow toward the left is a burst of highly charged particles that then speed around the magnetic field lines, shown in streaks around the white glow. You can think of these sort of like stellar burps, only with radiation that would kill any living thing.

That barred spiral galaxy is a glowing gorgeous blue, but it’s not what we are here to see. Take a look above the galaxy—all those smudges of glowing orange light are galaxies as well. This cluster is a feature called SDSS J0333+0651. Scientists study galaxy clusters like these to understand the early universe and star-forming regions. See, looking this far out can be hard, and even Hubble can’t resolve star-forming regions at such distances. That’s where galaxy clusters come in: Their mass is so large that they distort the very fabric of space-time, bending the light of objects behind them. That arc of bluish light highlights the brighter star-forming region of that galaxy, otherwise invisible to us without SDSS J0333+0651 doing all the heavy lifting of, you know, bending space.

At 55 million light years from Earth, there lives an unusual galaxy known as NGC 5643. This remarkable image combines data from the Alma observatory in Chile with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. NGC 5643 is a Seyfert galaxy; these types have very luminous centers, and scientists think what causes this brightness is a supermassive black hole at the center that sucks up material. These interactions cause dust and gas to move around creating a nebulous looking galaxy, unique among most others in the universe.

This is a close-up of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, also called the geyser moon. The Cassini spacecraft took this photo in 2009 and actually flew through one of those plumes! Enceladus is an icy moon with water below its crust, regularly spewing out ice, water vapor, and organic compounds. Here, sunlight illuminates these eruptions as they break through the frozen surface. Someday scientists hope to launch a mission to study Enceladus and find out if life might lurk below its icy crust.

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