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Space Photos of the Week: Shooting Stars and Dwarf Galaxies

Meet comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which just made its closest approach to Earth in 72 years. As our planet’s orbital path passes through its tail of icy debris, it sets off the Draconic meteor shower, peaking around October 8 every year. Astronomers study comets and their paths because they are relics of our solar system’s early days. By monitoring their trajectories, they can better understand where and how the objects might have formed; sometimes scientists can even send a spacecraft close enough to study their composition.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is officially up and running! This week the telescope, which launched in August to study the Sun and its corona up close, sent back what’s called a “first light” image to test the optics and make sure all is going well on its journey. This image shows the galactic center of the Milky Way, dusted with starlight. The bright dot on the right of the image? That’s Jupiter.

When you pack for Mars, bring a snowboard: The European Space Agency/Roscosmos spacecraft called Trace Gas Orbiter took this image of a crater in the Sisyphi Planum region, and in the winter months, it’s dusted with bright, white, frozen carbon dioxide. When summer comes, the CO2 ice sublimes away, revealing the active geology in the crater.

The Phoenix Dwarf galaxy, so called because it is situated in the constellation Phoenix, is not like other galaxies. Located 1.4 million light years from Earth, it’s called a dwarf, first of all, since it contains hundreds of millions of stars instead of hundreds of billions of stars like our Milky Way. Also when we think of galaxies, we usually picture spirals or neat disks of colors. But Phoenix, originally mistaken for a grouping of older stars called a globular cluster, stands out of the crowd because of its unique, irregular pattern of stars and gas.

We don’t know who the man in this photo is, so we’ll just call him Starman. We do know he is looking up at the Milky Way as it stretches over the Alma Observatory in Chile. The Alma array, peering into the clear skies above the Chilean desert, is one of the most powerful tools available to astronomers—allowing them to observe infrared light from stars and galaxies, revealing events that would otherwise be invisible.


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