Images From Offworld

The Sun, imaged by Atmospheric Imaging Assembly aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, on November 12, 2015. (NASA / SDO)
The Sun, imaged by Atmospheric Imaging Assembly aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, on November 12, 2015. (NASA / SDO)
The Moon seen from orbit aboard the ISS om March 25, 2016, above New Zealand. (NASA)
The Moon seen from orbit aboard the ISS om March 25, 2016, above New Zealand. (NASA)
Much of London and its suburbs are visible in this photograph taken from the International Space Station on on September 27, 2015. Two of the characteristics that stand out at night are the progressively denser concentrations of lights and the change from yellower to whiter lights as you move towards the commercial center of the city. (NASA Earth Observatory)
Much of London and its suburbs are visible in this photograph taken from the International Space Station on on September 27, 2015. Two of the characteristics that stand out at night are the progressively denser concentrations of lights and the change from yellower to whiter lights as you move towards the commercial center of the city. (NASA Earth Observatory)
The chaco forests of northern Argentina spread across a vast outwash plain in the center of South America. Shrubs and hardwood forests thrive in the semi-arid region. For many years, puestos—small settlements centered around water sources—dotted the landscape. But in the past decade, large-scale farm and ranch operators have cleared broad swaths of the chaco to make way for livestock and crops raised on an industrial scale. In fact, an analysis of data collected by several Landsat satellites suggests that Argentina’s chaco faces one of the fastest tropical deforestation rates in the world. On October 15, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this false-color image of fields, forests, and puestos in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The fields, most of which appear to be fenced, are arranged in a grid pattern. Fires are actively burning in a few sectors of the grid, likely lit by land managers trying to clear shrubs and trees to make room for livestock, timber, or crops. Fresh burn scars are dark brown; older burn scars are lighter brown. Over time, burned areas become light green and eventually dark green. (NASA Earth Observatory, Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the USGS)
The chaco forests of northern Argentina spread across a vast outwash plain in the center of South America. Shrubs and hardwood forests thrive in the semi-arid region. For many years, puestos—small settlements centered around water sources—dotted the landscape. But in the past decade, large-scale farm and ranch operators have cleared broad swaths of the chaco to make way for livestock and crops raised on an industrial scale. In fact, an analysis of data collected by several Landsat satellites suggests that Argentina’s chaco faces one of the fastest tropical deforestation rates in the world. On October 15, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this false-color image of fields, forests, and puestos in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The fields, most of which appear to be fenced, are arranged in a grid pattern. Fires are actively burning in a few sectors of the grid, likely lit by land managers trying to clear shrubs and trees to make room for livestock, timber, or crops. Fresh burn scars are dark brown; older burn scars are lighter brown. Over time, burned areas become light green and eventually dark green. (NASA Earth Observatory, Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the USGS)
A crew member aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of the northern Mediterranean Sea and some coastal Italian towns and islands. The reflection of the Moon on the sea surface—moonglint—reveals highly complex patterns. The strongest reflection is near the center of the Moon’s disc, which brightens the water around the island of Elba. In these complex patterns, the dark areas of the sea surface can sometimes make islands (such as Montecristo and Pianosa) harder to see. (A similar phenomenon happens in the daylight, as shown in sunglint images of lakes in Brazil and aquaculture in the Nile Delta.) The reflection off sea surfaces captures many different natural processes, but also some made by humans. North of Elba, waves trailing behind ships make the classic V-shaped pattern. The meandering line coming off Montecristo Island is an “island wake,” a result of alternating vortices of wind that develop on the downwind side of the island. This wake is the strongest evidence that a northeast wind was blowing (right to left in this image) on the night of the photo. A shorter, meandering wind pattern is being shed off Punta Ala on the mainland. Smoother surfaces, protected from wind, are usually brighter because they are better mirror for moonlight. (NASA Earth Observatory)
A crew member aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of the northern Mediterranean Sea and some coastal Italian towns and islands. The reflection of the Moon on the sea surface—moonglint—reveals highly complex patterns. The strongest reflection is near the center of the Moon’s disc, which brightens the water around the island of Elba. In these complex patterns, the dark areas of the sea surface can sometimes make islands (such as Montecristo and Pianosa) harder to see. (A similar phenomenon happens in the daylight, as shown in sunglint images of lakes in Brazil and aquaculture in the Nile Delta.) The reflection off sea surfaces captures many different natural processes, but also some made by humans. North of Elba, waves trailing behind ships make the classic V-shaped pattern. The meandering line coming off Montecristo Island is an “island wake,” a result of alternating vortices of wind that develop on the downwind side of the island. This wake is the strongest evidence that a northeast wind was blowing (right to left in this image) on the night of the photo. A shorter, meandering wind pattern is being shed off Punta Ala on the mainland. Smoother surfaces, protected from wind, are usually brighter because they are better mirror for moonlight. (NASA Earth Observatory)
Seen by ASTER, an imaging instrument onboard Terra, one of NASA's Earth Observing System satellites, Mount Erebus, the world's southernmost historically active volcano, overlooks the McMurdo research station on Ross Island. The 3794-m-high Erebus is the largest of three major volcanoes forming the crudely triangular Ross Island. An elliptical 500 x 600 m wide, 110-m-deep crater truncates the summit and contains an active lava lake within a 250-m-wide, 100-m-deep inner crater. The glacier-covered volcano was erupting when first sighted by Captain James Ross in 1841. Continuous lava-lake activity with minor explosions, punctuated by occasional larger strombolian explosions that eject bombs onto the crater rim, has been documented since 1972, but has probably been occurring for much of the volcano's recent history. Image taken on December 31, 2013, released on January 15, 2016. (NASA / GSFC / METI / ERSDAC / JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)
Seen by ASTER, an imaging instrument onboard Terra, one of NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites, Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost historically active volcano, overlooks the McMurdo research station on Ross Island. The 3794-m-high Erebus is the largest of three major volcanoes forming the crudely triangular Ross Island. An elliptical 500 x 600 m wide, 110-m-deep crater truncates the summit and contains an active lava lake within a 250-m-wide, 100-m-deep inner crater. The glacier-covered volcano was erupting when first sighted by Captain James Ross in 1841. Continuous lava-lake activity with minor explosions, punctuated by occasional larger strombolian explosions that eject bombs onto the crater rim, has been documented since 1972, but has probably been occurring for much of the volcano’s recent history. Image taken on December 31, 2013, released on January 15, 2016. (NASA / GSFC / METI / ERSDAC / JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)
Off North America's East Coast. 2016.03.27  (NASA)
Off North America’s East Coast. 2016.03.27 (NASA)
NASA's EPIC camera, aboard NOAA's DSCOVR satellite, captured a unique view of a solar eclipse on March 9, 2016. While residents of the Western Pacific looked up in the early morning hours to observe a total eclipse of the sun, DSCOVR looked on from a million miles away and captured the shadow of the moon crossing the planet. This series of images was captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite. A million miles away, NOAA's DSCOVR satellite is the Nation's first operational satellite in deep space. DSCOVR hovers between the sun and Earth at all times, maintaining a constant view of the sun and sun-lit side of Earth. (NOAA / NASA)
NASA’s EPIC camera, aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, captured a unique view of a solar eclipse on March 9, 2016. While residents of the Western Pacific looked up in the early morning hours to observe a total eclipse of the sun, DSCOVR looked on from a million miles away and captured the shadow of the moon crossing the planet. This series of images was captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite. A million miles away, NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite is the Nation’s first operational satellite in deep space. DSCOVR hovers between the sun and Earth at all times, maintaining a constant view of the sun and sun-lit side of Earth. (NOAA / NASA)
On Mars, the eastern edge of a very large deposit of wind-blown dust that occupies Ganges Chasma, imaged by the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, March 10, 2016. ( NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
On Mars, the eastern edge of a very large deposit of wind-blown dust that occupies Ganges Chasma, imaged by the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, March 10, 2016. ( NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
On Mars, dunes of Nili Patera, imaged by the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, December 31, 2015. ( NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
On Mars, dunes of Nili Patera, imaged by the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, December 31, 2015. ( NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the robotic arm of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used electric lights at night to illuminate this view of Martian sand grains dumped on the ground after sorting with a sieve. The view covers an area roughly 1.1 inches by 0.8 inch (2.8 centimeters by 2.1 centimeters). The grains seen here were too large to pass through a sieve with 150-micron (0.006 inch) pores. They were part of the sand in the first scoop collected by Curiosity at "Namib Dune." A different portion of that scoop -- consisting of grains small enough to pass through the 150-micron sieve -- was delivered to the rover's on-board laboratory instruments for analysis. The larger-grain portion dumped onto the ground became accessible to investigation by other instruments on Curiosity, including imaging by MAHLI and composition analysis by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer instruments. Laser-zapping of the dump pile by ChemCam caused an elongated dimple visible near the center of this view. The MAHLI images combined into this focus-merged view were taken on Jan. 22, 2016, after dark on the 1,230th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. The illumination source is two white-light LEDs (light-emitting diodes) on MAHLI. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)
The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the robotic arm of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used electric lights at night to illuminate this view of Martian sand grains dumped on the ground after sorting with a sieve. The view covers an area roughly 1.1 inches by 0.8 inch (2.8 centimeters by 2.1 centimeters). The grains seen here were too large to pass through a sieve with 150-micron (0.006 inch) pores. They were part of the sand in the first scoop collected by Curiosity at “Namib Dune.” A different portion of that scoop — consisting of grains small enough to pass through the 150-micron sieve — was delivered to the rover’s on-board laboratory instruments for analysis. The larger-grain portion dumped onto the ground became accessible to investigation by other instruments on Curiosity, including imaging by MAHLI and composition analysis by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer instruments. Laser-zapping of the dump pile by ChemCam caused an elongated dimple visible near the center of this view. The MAHLI images combined into this focus-merged view were taken on Jan. 22, 2016, after dark on the 1,230th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The illumination source is two white-light LEDs (light-emitting diodes) on MAHLI. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)
This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA's Curiosity rover. In the foreground -- about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover -- is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)
This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. In the foreground — about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover — is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)
The bright central spots near the center of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Such views can be used to highlight subtle color differences on Ceres' surface. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI / LPI)
The bright central spots near the center of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Such views can be used to highlight subtle color differences on Ceres’ surface. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI / LPI)
Saturn on March 22, 2016 and received on Earth March 24, 2016. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute)
Saturn on March 22, 2016 and received on Earth March 24, 2016. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute)
An enhanced color image of Pluto's north polar area. Long canyons run vertically across the polar area -- part of the informally named Lowell Regio, named for Percival Lowell, who founded Lowell Observatory and initiated the search that led to Pluto's discovery. The widest of the canyons is about 45 miles (75 kilometers) wide and runs close to the north pole. Roughly parallel subsidiary canyons to the east and west are approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. The degraded walls of these canyons appear to be much older than the more sharply defined canyon systems elsewhere on Pluto, perhaps because the polar canyons are older and made of weaker material. These canyons also appear to represent evidence for an ancient period of tectonics. A shallow, winding valley runs the entire length of the canyon floor. To the east of these canyons, another valley winds toward the bottom-right corner of the image. The nearby terrain, at bottom right, appears to have been blanketed by material that obscures small-scale topographic features, creating a 'softened' appearance for the landscape. Large, irregularly-shaped pits reach 45 miles (70 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, scarring the region. These pits may indicate locations where subsurface ice has melted or sublimated from below, causing the ground to collapse. (NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)
An enhanced color image of Pluto’s north polar area. Long canyons run vertically across the polar area — part of the informally named Lowell Regio, named for Percival Lowell, who founded Lowell Observatory and initiated the search that led to Pluto’s discovery. The widest of the canyons is about 45 miles (75 kilometers) wide and runs close to the north pole. Roughly parallel subsidiary canyons to the east and west are approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. The degraded walls of these canyons appear to be much older than the more sharply defined canyon systems elsewhere on Pluto, perhaps because the polar canyons are older and made of weaker material. These canyons also appear to represent evidence for an ancient period of tectonics. A shallow, winding valley runs the entire length of the canyon floor. To the east of these canyons, another valley winds toward the bottom-right corner of the image. The nearby terrain, at bottom right, appears to have been blanketed by material that obscures small-scale topographic features, creating a ‘softened’ appearance for the landscape. Large, irregularly-shaped pits reach 45 miles (70 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, scarring the region. These pits may indicate locations where subsurface ice has melted or sublimated from below, causing the ground to collapse. (NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)
This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at "Namib Dune," where the rover's activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis. The scene combines 57 images taken on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. The camera used for this is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover's robotic arm. Namib Dune is part of the dark-sand "Bagnold Dune Field" along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit have shown that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)
This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at “Namib Dune,” where the rover’s activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis. The scene combines 57 images taken on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The camera used for this is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Namib Dune is part of the dark-sand “Bagnold Dune Field” along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit have shown that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

Robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, a comet, and Saturn; two operational rovers on Mars; and a recent close flyby of Pluto and its moons. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are still performing experiments in low Earth orbit and sending back amazing photos.

With all these eyes in the sky, I’d once again like to put together a recent photo album of our solar system—a set of family portraits—as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have our closest look yet at the bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres, the shadow of an eclipse on Earth seen from a million miles away, a variety of landscapes on Mars, wonderful images of Saturn and its moons, several images from Pluto, and, of course, lovely images of our home, planet Earth. (via Atlantic)