The planet Uranus is spectacularly far away. Even when viewed from Saturn, the next planet in, icy Uranus is still just a few pixels of blue in an inky black sky.
This photo was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft while the probe was 2,659,800,000 miles away from Uranus.
Here, Saturn’s A and F rings arc across the foreground. Uranus is in the upper left. With the equivalent of 14.5 Earth-masses of material, the planet is considered an ice giant (its neighbor Neptune is, too) since it’s primarily made of water, ammonia, and methane ices.
It looks blue in photographs because the methane in its atmosphere absorbs red wavelengths and reflects blue.
Like Saturn, Uranus has rings and moons.
But unlike Saturn — and indeed every other planet in the solar system — the ice giant is tipped on its side. In other words, rather than spinning like a top as it circles the sun, Uranus rolls around on its side.
It’s not exactly clear why this is the case, but one of the more popular theories suggests that early on, a pair of giant impacts pummeled the planet and knocked it over.
This strange configuration isn’t the only enigma in cool, blue Uranus’ clutches, though: The planet’s moon Miranda is one of the strangest objects in the solar system, a tiny world that looks like it’s been blasted apart and put back together again.
In this incredible image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, we are witness to the birth of a star.
This Hubble image shows IRAS 14568-6304, a young star that is cloaked in a haze of golden gas and dust.
It appears to be embedded within an intriguing swoosh of dark sky, which curves through the image and obscures the sky behind.
This dark region is known as the Circinus molecular cloud. This cloud has a mass around 250 000 times that of the Sun, and it is filled with gas, dust and young stars.
Within this cloud lie two prominent and enormous regions known colloquially to astronomers as Circinus-West and Circinus-East. Each of these clumps has a mass of around 5000 times that of the Sun, making them the most prominent star-forming sites in the Circinus cloud.
The clumps are associated with a number of young stellar objects, and IRAS 14568-6304, featured here under a blurry fog of gas within Circinus-West, is one of them.
IRAS 14568-6304 is special because it is driving a protostellar jet, which appears here as the “tail” below the star. This jet is the leftover gas and dust that the star took from its parent cloud in order to form.
While most of this material forms the star and its accretion disc — the disc of material surrounding the star, which may one day form planets — at some point in the formation process the star began to eject some of the material at supersonic speeds through space.
This phenomenon is not only beautiful, but can also provide us with valuable clues about the process of star formation.
Photographic Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
During a recent calibration exercise, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a remarkable view of Earth and its moon from a distance of 127 million miles (205 million kilometers).
It’s so clear, you can even make out our planet’s continents.
To calibrate the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Orbiter, NASA scientists needed to scan an object other than the Red Planet.
Seeing as Earth is right next door, that was an obvious choice.
The image is a combination of two separate exposures taken on November 20, 2016, and have been moderately adjusted to make both objects appear equally as bright (otherwise the Earth would have appeared too dark).
The combined view shows the correct positions and sizes of the two celestial bodies relative to each other.