POSITION:HOME >> ALL

GET YOUR SAGAN ON WITH THESE 49 AWE-INSPIRING PHOTOS OF THE FINAL FRONTIER-1

Views:

Once Sputnik 1 was successfully hurled into orbit in 1957, spaceflight was no longer a mere pipe dream reserved for the pages of pulp fiction. Not long after the peculiar satellite’s stunning series of orbits, an entire planet watched as mankind, against all odds, set foot on the moon, marking the dawn of the spacefaring age and leading to some of the best space photos to date. In the ensuing half century since these historic achievements, we have launched a panoply of instruments into outer space, allowing us to better understand our infinitesimal sliver in the infinite void of the cosmos.

At times, the space agencies around the globe have proposed some rather bizarre missions to whet our curiosities in the name of science. While many of these more, we’ll say, “far out” programs never left the launchpad — let alone the drawing board — there have been plenty of other pioneering probes that have blasted through our atmosphere, into the our solar system, and, at least on one occasion, drifted into interstellar space. We have rendezvoused with asteroids, sailed through the rings of Saturn, and quite literally roved robotic marathons on the red planet. (In pure, 21st-century fashion, at least one of these rovers can’t seem to resist the occasional selfie.)

While most of us will probably never escape Earth’s gravity, a joint partnership between the International Space Station (ISS) and Google recently unveiled an interactive Space View platform — a variation of Google Street View program. This allows those of us who never fully achieved our childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to virtually tour the ISS and even peer out at a panoramic Earth from the Cupola bay.

Luckily for us, some of the most sophisticated imaging technology is currently making its way through our solar system, transmitting breathtaking images of the final frontier back to Earth for our gawking pleasure. From the early, grainy images of the Martian surface sent from the Viking 1 lander to humanity’s first close-up of Pluto’s moon, glimpses of our celestial neighbors and those light-years away have long since filled us with a sense of wonder.

Without further ado, here are 49 of the best space photos to help you put our Pale Blue Dot in perspective.

Azure on approach

The Cassini spacecraft captured this photo of Saturn and the planet's heavily cratered moon, Mimas, on a flyby at a distance of about 870,000 miles. The colors have been adjusted to illustrate how the region would appear to the human eye, highlighting the vivid blues of the ringed planet's northern latitudes. Cassini has spent the last 13 years orbiting the gas giant, relaying never before seen glimpses of Saturn, the planet's vast ring system, and moons in stunning detail. Sadly, this mission is quickly approaching its bittersweet end. Earlier this year, the craft began its so-called Grand Finale -- a series of dives that will eventually culminate with the craft plunging into the planet on September 15. Recently, NASA released a movie compiled from 21 images taken from one of these dives documenting this elaborate ring system.

A rare glimpse of totality

On August 21, some of us witnessed the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire continental United States in nearly a century. Millions flocked to the direct path for the event for a chance to experience a few moments of totality, however, only the six humans aboard the ISS had the opportunity to take in this sight of the moon's shadow, or umbra, as the total solar eclipse passed over Earth. The ISS orbited the eclipse three times in total, at an altitude of roughly 250 miles. NASA recently released a time lapse of images taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) showing the moon's shadow as it crossed over our planet.

Juno spies Jupiter's crimson chaos

Orbiting at a speed of nearly 129,000 miles per hour, the Juno spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot on July 10. When this photo was taken, the probe was just 5,600 miles above the planet's atmosphere, making the flyby of the iconic storm system the closest to date. Although the spot has been shrinking in recent years, it is still more than 10,000 miles in width (or about 1.3 times wider than Earth). Juno's next flyby of the Jovian giant will take place in September, and we can only hope for a panoply of equally spellbinding snapshots.


Pluto's polygons

In July 2015, the New Horizons craft gave mankind its first up-close and personal look at the dwarf planet formerly known as our ninth planet, Pluto. When NASA began combing through these transmitted images, the team was initially taken aback by a patchwork of seemingly "fresh" polygonal shapes atop Sputnik Planum, an equatorial sea of frozen nitrogen. These findings and others indicate the dwarf planet is surprisingly still geologically active. An article published in the Nature suggests these cells could be the result of subsurface convection -- a process that replaces older surface material with fresh ice over time. This would allow the planet to essentially "repave" its icy surface roughly every one million years. To celebrate the two-year anniversary of New Horizon's initial flyby, NASA used mission data as well as elevation models based on Pluto and its moon, Charon, to create a series of virtual flyovers. You can watch these stunning cuts here.

Enceladus "jets" through the solar system

The Cassini spacecraft captured this rare glimpse of Saturn's plume-spewing moon, Enceladus, on April 13, 2017. Taken approximately 502,000 miles from the moon's surface, both Enceladus and the southern jet system are backlit by the sun, while the side facing the narrow-angle camera is illuminated by light reflecting off of Saturn.

Cassini has been orbiting the planet and its 53 moons for more than 13 years, and as part of its orbital pattern, the craft has drifted through these plumes on multiple occasions. In fact, in 2015, Cassini drifted just 30 miles from the surface of Enceladus while sampling the composition of these streams. Data from this flyby and others revealed the existence of molecular hydrogen, making the moon a potential candidate for sustaining life.

Historic firsts

Aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Jack Fischer captured this image of the SpaceX Dragon capsule as it burned through Earth's atmosphere upon reentry. The event marked the first successful relaunch of a recycled capsule. SpaceX, Elon Musk's private space company, has launched and landed multiple rockets at this point -- the company even reused one of these rockets earlier this year. Needless to say, recycled capsules and rockets such as these will be paramount in driving down the cost of space travel moving forward.

Veiled Titan

Cassini captured this image of Saturn's A and F rings, the craggy moon Epimetheus, and a hazy Titan drifting in the background. Titan is the only moon in our solar system known to have an Earth-like cycle of liquids flowing across its surface and also an atmosphere. It is believed conditions on the moon could possibly support life. Researchers have proposed an array of crafts that may one day unlock the secrets of the mystifying moon. These concept vehicles range from a subsurface probe capable of drilling through potential surface ice to a helium blimp that could circumnavigate the moon every few weeks.

Hidden in plain sight

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured this image of the Red Planet on April 8, 2015. The small, blue dot in the center of the photo is actually the Curiosity rover, trekking through a colorful valley known as Artist's Drive on the lower slope of Mount Sharp. For perspectives sake, Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV. The MRO once again spotted Curiosity climbing Mount Sharp on June 5, 2017. As of Sol 1734, Curiosity has traveled more than 10 miles across Mars; however, another Martian rover, Opportunity, surpassed 26.2 miles traveled on the Red Planet in 2015, making it the first manmade vehicle to complete a Martian marathon.

More than a "red" planet

On Mars, higher latitudes are often more concentrated with seasonal ravines than lower ones. However, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped this photo of the vibrant Krupac Crater and its subsequent gullies, which are located just south of the equator. These seasonal flows -- also known as recurring slope lineae -- occur during the warmer months, and the subsequent color of each channel corresponds to the eroded source materials.

Enigmatic Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) packs one of the largest cameras to ever visit another planet, allowing the spacecraft to snap the most vivid images of our planetary neighbor to date. This photo of the Red Planet was taken by the MRO during late summer in the Martian Southern hemisphere. During this season, the Sun sits low in the sky, brilliantly highlighting the shifting topography of this so-called "Swiss cheese terrain."

Mars has polar ice caps similar to Earth, however, on Mars these regions are made of a combination of water, ice, and carbon dioxide, known as "dry ice" in its frozen state. This photo depicts dozens of circular formations in these vast dry ice deposits created by impacts with foreign bodies or as a result of natural surface collapse. Researchers at JPL and NASA have yet to determine the cause of the massive pit -- estimated to be hundreds of feet wide -- featured in the right of this image.

Juno beholds a not-so-gentle giant

The Juno spacecraft snapped this photo of the gas giant, Jupiter, in August. Taken from an altitude of about 32,000 miles, we can see the planet's south pole and dozens of Earth-sized hurricanes in stunning detail. The probe arrived at the planet in June and makes a flyover every 53 days, at which point the probe uses eight instruments to collect data for roughly two hours. Once this information has been transmitted back to Earth, this file takes 36 hours for NASA to download.

Along with these sophisticated instruments, Juno packs a few other surprising items, including a trio of Lego passengers: The Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno, and -- last but certainly not least -- Galileo. In Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to conceal his mischief. Juno will get a small taste of this mischief and then some when the spacecraft makes its final plunge into the gas giant in early 2018.

Glinting through the darkness

Earlier this year, NASA started releasing global maps of Earth at night, known as "night lights." Until recently, these images were only produced roughly once a decade. However, NASA is now analyzing these intricate images more regularly for a host of economic, social science, and environmental applications. Researchers will soon be able to produce high-definition images daily, and NASA is currently comparing these photographs -- like this composite shot from 2016 -- to better project regional and global carbon dioxide emissions.


READ MORE:

ASKEDOO, A Q&A LIVE-STREAM APP, WILL REMIND YOU TO NEVER TAKE GOOGLE FOR GRA

READ MORE:

COLLECTIBLE TRUCKS INCREASE IN VALUE FAR BEYOND WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT

READ MORE:

EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT ‘TRUE DETECTIVE’ SEASON 3