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GET YOUR SAGAN ON WITH THESE 49 AWE-INSPIRING PHOTOS OF THE FINAL FRONTIER-3

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Cosmic collisions

This photograph was snapped by the Cassini spacecraft nearly 1.4 million miles from Saturn. In the right portion of the shot, you can see a hazy debris field inside the planet's F ring, which is normally the result of a collision.

This disruption was likely caused by Saturn's small moon Pandora, seen in the bottom-right portion of the photograph. However, the impingement could also have been the result of an interaction between other objects within the ring. Since these objects are often very small, however, tracking and identifying such an event is exceptionally complicated.

Going out on top

In a year chock-full of general low points, the European Space Agency (ESA) served up arguably the best highlight reel of 2016. On September 30, at the end of the Rosetta mission, the ESA executed a controlled fatal crash into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The final moments of the orbiter's life were livestreamed across the globe in real time via an onboard camera. The craft took the selfie above while in transit. Rosetta's grand finale generated more than 4 million views, making it the most livestreamed video of 2016. You can rewatch the video here.

A truly peculiar planet

This surreal photo of Earth rising behind our moon was taken by "Kaguya," a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) orbiter. The spacecraft was named after a 10th-century Japanese folktale in which a lunar princess visits Earth.

The orbiter spent more than 20 months orbiting and surveying the moon. The mission ended in June 2009, however, when Kaguya intentionally impacted the lunar surface near the crater Gill. JAXA later released a trove of photographs depicting our craggy moon, as well as the space rock we call home, in chilling clarity.

Pluto's sapphire silhouette

The New Horizons spacecraft spent more than six months studying Pluto and the dwarf planet's moon, Charon, in the latter half of 2015. Backlit by the sun, this high-resolution, true color image of Pluto was taken on July 14, 2015. The vibrant, hazy layers in the photo extend more than 120 miles above the Plutonian surface. It's believed that this gorgeous blue haze is a "photochemical smog," which is the direct result of the sun acting on methane and other molecules in the planet's atmosphere.

Rings abound

This is a rare glimpse of Uranus and the planet's elegant ring system. Astronomers had no idea Uranus even had a ring system until 1977. The astronomers who made the discovery believed there to be six rings in all, though, later observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope identified a total of 13 rings. The hazy white feature depicted near the top of Uranus is actually a massive aurorae. This was one of the first images taken to capture such a meteorological phenomenon on another planet.

A lucky rabbit's footprints

In 2013, China became became the third nation to successfully perform a soft landing on the moon (the United States and Russia being the two others). The landing module, Chang'e-3, and the rover, Yutu -- which translates to "The Jade Rabbit" -- were named after a Chinese goddess and her pet rabbit.

Yutu spent three months exploring the lunar surface before the mission ended abruptly due to mechanical failures. It is believed that the rover did not properly enter hibernation before a frigid, two-week lunar night. The "frostbitten" Jade Rabbit never fully recovered. China plans to send another lander to the moon and return samples to Earth in 2017.

A not so gentle giant

Jupiter is as gorgeous as it is anomalous. The planet actually has more in common with our sun than it does any other planet in our solar system, having developed from the celestial "leftovers" remaining after the formation of the sun. In fact, Jupiter has the same ingredients as a star (hydrogen and helium), however, the planet did not become massive enough to ignite. C'est la vie.

Jupiter also doesn't have a true "surface." A probe wouldn't be able to land on the the planet, however, a spacecraft would also be unable to fly through the gas giant. The intense pressure and extreme temperatures would literally vaporize anything that attempted to do so.

Ocean Moon

For decades, scientists were perplexed by Saturn's ultra-bright moon Enceladus, which remains the most reflective object in our solar system. The mystery behind the moon's radiance was finally explained, however, during the Cassini mission in 2005. Data from the flyby revealed that Enceladus is home to a vast saltwater ocean.

On the surface, this ocean is frozen, but beneath the dense layer of ice lies a liquid ocean heated by active hydrothermal vents. Jets of ice and water gush through the surface at more than 800 miles per hour. Some of this material continues into space, some of it rains back down onto the moon, and the remaining material actually escapes only to quickly become part of Saturn's iconic rings.

Asteroids and their moons

This is a photograph of asteroid 243 Ida -- informally known as simply "Ida" -- and its moon, Dactyl. While Ida was first identified in 1884, its small moon wasn't discovered until the Galileo spacecraft flyby en route to Jupiter in 1993. At that time, Ida was the first asteroid ever identified with its own satellite. Since then, however, more than two dozen others have been discovered. The International Astronomical Union named Dactyl after the dactyls, the creatures that inhabit Mount Ida in Greek mythology.

Deep impacts

This is a photo of the comet Tempel 1, taken by the Deep Impact space probe in 2005. Up until this mission, little was known about the interior composition of comets. The Deep Impact flyby craft snapped this image just seconds after the payload impactor intentionally collided with comet. Instrumentation revealed the comet to be significantly less icy than scientists had initially expected.

This mission was also infamous for its "Send Your Name To A Comet!" campaign. In 2003, individuals were allowed to submit their names on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. The names of more than 625,000 people were then burnt onto a mini CD and then attached to the impactor module prior to launch. Regardless of how this whole humanity thing eventually works out, shattering a CD on a space rock may go down as our single greatest achievement.

Desert planet

No, this isn't an artist's rendering of Arrakis -- it's a photo taken by the Mar's Curiosity rover. Curiosity has been exploring the Gale Crater since August 6, 2012. The craft has now spent more than 1,490 sols, or 1,537 Earth days, collecting samples and sending photos back to earth. This original mission was only expected to last 687 days. Talk about return on investment...

Billions and billions, indeed

Your are looking at one the most extraordinary photographs ever captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. This image was taken as part of NASA's Frontier Fields campaign, the point of which is to investigate galaxy clusters in more detail than ever before. For this image, Hubble homed in on the constellation Leo, revealing thousands of vibrant galaxies.




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


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GET YOUR SAGAN ON WITH THESE 49 AWE-INSPIRING PHOTOS OF THE FINAL FRONTIER-2


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