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Space Photos of the Week: New Horizons Breaks a Record for Long-Distance Photography

This abstract glow isn’t just a regular old space photo—it was taken a record-breaking 3.79 billion miles away from Earth. NASA’s Pluto-grazing New Horizons spacecraft snapped this photo of the Wishing Well open galactic star cluster on its way toward its second destination, the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69. For comparison, the runner-up for distance photography is the famous Pale Blue Dot, taken by the Voyager spacecraft while it was 3.75 billion miles away.

This stunning photo of Jupiter was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on its tenth orbit on December 16. The planet’s odd zigzagged storms are on full display, along with a white cyclone. Jupiter looks huge in this photo, but it’s still hard to get a sense of scale—the white cyclone on the left is the size of an entire continent on Earth.

This Hubble image looks like an artfully crafted watercolor painting, but it’s a real photograph of galaxy NGC 7331, which is located 45 million light years away. NGC 7331 shares a lot in common with our own Milky Way Galaxy—it’s roughly the same size and hosts a similar number of stars, upwards of 100,000 million.

Hubble is at it again! This wispy galaxy is officially NGC 7252, but its nickname is Atoms for Peace, after a speech given by President Eisenhower in 1953 with the goal of a peaceful resolution to nuclear power. But 1 billion years ago this area was the opposite of peaceful, when two galaxies violently merged together.

Martian avalanche! No one spilled paint on Mars; this is a naturally occuring feature caused by dust flowing downhill. The contrast in color is due to there being less dust in the darker regions than in the surrounding lighter areas. So while the dirt itself isn’t that much darker, the amount of material changes its perceived color.

This week NASA’s Curiosity rover sent back this image of a rock. But it’s not just any Martian rock; geologists on Earth identified odd star-shaped and swallowtail-shaped crystals on the outside of the rock. On Earth these kinds of shapes are found in gypsum, a mineral formed in water. These sesame seed-sized features are characteristic of gypsum-crystals that can form when salt water evaporates—but it’s thought Gale Crater was home to a non-salt water lake, leaving this rocky mystery an open investigation.

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