Space Shots: The Universe’s Best Images
A gallery of photos, visualizations, and other pictures of outer space.
This post was last updated on Friday, May 12, 2017.
Here at Popular Science, we love space—and we know you do too. From seeing the nearly-true colors of Europa, a molten metal orb levitate in microgravity, or even a map of a distant protoplanet, pictures of and from beyond Earth are often the best way to journey to the final frontier.
To that end, this is your (almost) daily dose of amazing space imagery. Bookmark this page to see a wide variety of space-related eye candy, including photographs our home planet taken from orbit, stunning scientific visualizations, and of course, amazing astronomy images.
X-ray observations have shown astronomers what happens when a star gets eaten by a black hole, and this is what they think it looks like. Brutal.
In April 2017, the Cassini spacecraft went where no spacecraft had gone before, diving between Saturn and its rings for our closest view yet of the ringed planet. All those bright swirls are storms in Saturn’s violent atmosphere.
A warp in space-time created this view of four supernovas in one image. As a galaxy passed in front of an exploding star, the galaxy’s gravity bent the light from the supernova, splitting the image into four copies.
Located 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia, the Bubble Nebula contains a star that is 45 times larger than our sun. Its strong solar winds push away the interstellar gasses into a ‘bubble’ around the star.
Saturn’s moon Daphnis is only five miles in diameter, but its orbit can still make some waves. The tiny moon clears a wide path in Saturn’s A ring, and causes the edges of the gap to ripple as it swings past. This visualization illustrates how this interaction might look.
More than just pretty pictures, views of Earth from space can help us learn more about how and where humans are spreading.
The Curiosity rover gave us our first close-up views of Mars’ dunes in November 2015. Scientists are trying to understand what forces drive Mars’ dunes to have ripples so much larger than Earth’s.
Not all planets orbit stars. PSO J318.5-22 is one such ‘rogue’ planet, wandering the universe without a star to tie it down. A closer look suggests this free spirit has clouds that rain molten iron. Probably not a great place to vacation!
The large red-brown blob near the center of this image is the Large Magellanic Cloud—one of the Milky Way’s nearest neighboring galaxies. The LMC is about ten billion times the mass of our sun. In the left-hand corner, the triangular blob is the Small Magellanic Cloud, which is only about seven billion times the mass of our sun. This image comes from Europe’s Planck satellite, which is revealing how stars form and helping to answer cosmological questions like how the universe began.
The dots in this image represent nearly 50,000 galaxies. It’s part of the largest map of the universe ever made. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey and its Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey are mapping 1.2 million galaxies in three dimensions across the sky. Each dot’s color indicates its distance from Earth; yellow is closer, and purple is farther.
The Hubble telescope captured this beautiful shot of the Crab Nebula, some 6,500 light years away from Earth in the constellation Taurus.
The day before the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, it sent us this love letter. The image was taken on July 13 from a distance of 476,000 miles, and it has a resolution of 2.5 miles per pixel. Since the flyby, New Horizons has sent back loads and loads of really cool pictures from this world on the edge of the solar system.
Smile for the Hubble
The two bright eyes are galaxies, and the smile is caused by a phenomenon called strong gravitational lensing. Essentially, the gravitational pull of some galaxy clusters is so strong that it warps spacetime around them. As light from even more distant stars and galaxies travels through this warped spacetime, it gets distorted, showing up to us as arcs and circles. When we see circles, like the outline of the smiley face above, that circle is called an Einstein ring.
Drops of Jupiter
The moons of Jupiter are rarely seen together. Getting three of the four Galilean moons (the moons of Jupiter observed by Galileo) together in one shot is something that only occurs every 5 to 10 years, which makes these images from the Hubble very exciting. Here you can see both the body and shadows of Callisto, Io, and Europa. Jupiter’s other Galilean moon, Ganymede wasn’t invited to this party, apparently. You can also watch a timelapse of the transiting moons.
Usually, the Trifid nebula, looks a bit like an anatomical heart glowing pink or red against a blue backdrop. But a new image from the VISTA telescope shows that there is much more to this nebula (found in the constellation Sagittarius) than meets the eye. Instead of looking at the formation in visible light, researchers took this image in infrared, a wavelength that clearly shows numerous stars and objects that would otherwise be obscured by the dust and gas of the nebula itself.
A phytoplankton bloom swirls in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands. The phytoplankton pictured here are mostly coccolithophores, which surround themselves with tiny calcite plates that show up in pictures like this, taken by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8.
The Eagle Nebula, Revisited
The iconic Hubble photograph, the Pillars of Creation, caused a stir when it was released in 1995. Now, 20 years later, the Hubble has revisited the Eagle nebula to capture a sharper vision of the ‘Pillars’, towers of gas that are more than five light-years tall.
Grand Canyon From Space
On December 26, NASA astronaut Terry W. Virts tweeted this image of the Grand Canyon taken on the International Space Station. Virts said in his tweet: “Wow! The Grand Canyon- not sure if it’s more spectacular from space or in person “
NuSTAR Image of Sun
High-energy x-rays are emitted from solar gases heated to above 3 million degrees Celsius. The x-rays are seen as blue and green in this composite image. The image was created by combining a picture of the sun taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory with data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR.)
This composite image of galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 was created with data from the Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer telescopes. These galaxies are located 130 million light years in the constellation Canis Major.
Plankton off Patagonia
Phytoplankton blooms in the waters off the coast of Argentina on December 2, 2014. The image was taken by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite.
Great Lakes From Space
A view of the Great Lakes and the central US, taken by Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore on December 7.
Sand Dunes on Mars
In this false color image taken by HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The dunes are located in a dusty area called Arabia Terra.
The Earth as seen from the ISS
A photograph of Earth taken by an astronaut on the ISS during Expedition 42, taken over western China on December 2, 2014.
Fireworks of a Spiral Galaxy
Spiral galaxy NGC 4258 is home to an impressive fireworks show, generated by the massive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Read more here
Sunlight on Titan
The sun reflects off the polar seas of Titan in this composite image, taken by the Cassini spacecraft.
Radioactive material (in blue) in the heart of a supernova remnant, as seen by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscope Telescope Array (NuSTAR).
The vibrant plumes are a supercomputer’s visualization of magnetic field loops on the surface of the sun. The sun’s magnetic field influences everything from solar wind to sunspots.
A sunspot in late October 2014 produced these incredible coronal loops off the surface of the sun.
Saturn And Tethys
Saturn’s iconic rings and its icy moon, Tethys, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.
A plume of erupted material streams out of the Pavlof volcano in Alaska, as seen by the Landsat 8 satellite’s Operational Land Imager (OLI)
It may look like just a hole in the dirt, but this is the first sampling hole made by the Curiosity at Mt. Sharp, the rover’s ultimate science destination.
A re-mastered photo of Europa’s surface. For more information, read Francie Diep’s Story on the nearly-true colors of Europa
Before the Philae lander separated, Rosetta took this snapshot of one of its solar arrays, with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko photobombing in the background.