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Space Photos of the Week: Black Holes and Jellyfish Rainbows

NASA studies cosmic phenomena of all sorts, but here it’s tackling something very close to home. It recently launched two rockets as part of the Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment, or AZURE, meant to study the Earth’s aurora. Each rocket measures the density of the atmosphere and releases gas tracers—those are the jellyfish-things you see in this image.

Behold the first image of a black hole humankind has ever seen. On Wednesday, the Event Horizon Telescope array released the first photo of the ultramassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, some 55 million light years away. The dark center is the shadow being cast by the bright ring of the event horizon. At this black hole that is not just big—it’s 6.5 billion times more massive than our Sun, making it as large as our entire solar system.

Scientists using the Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrograph, or COMICS instrument, at the Subaru Telescope in Japan have captured Jupiter heating up and we know the culprit—our Sun. As the solar wind moves through space and arrives at Jupiter, it has a similar effect as it does here on Earth. The interaction of these highly charged particles with the planet’s magnetic field create massive, psychedelic aurora.

We often think about Mars as a desolate, boring planet. While it might be that way most of the time, it does see some activity. This abstract image shows the scars of some very busy dust devils in the Cimmeria region on Mars. The area where this photo was taken is heavily laden with craters, and is not far from where NASA’s Spirit rover roamed for years. Scientists think this area was once covered in flowing rivers of water, so while it’s flat and seemingly lifeless now, it was once a hoppin’ watering hole.

This photo shows the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope with the sparkling Milky Way just behind it. This telescope is so sensitive that it can see objects that are 4 billion times fainter than what we can see with our eyes. Combine that stunning technology with this beautiful desolate landscape in Chile’s Atacama desert, and you’ve got a recipe for some epic science.

This is Messier 2, a globular cluster 55,000 light years away. The many stars that are part of it are bound together by their own gravity. Messier 2 is so huge that on a clear night it can be seen with the naked eye.

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