27 stunning photos of the cosmos taken this year

Image
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory captured the remains of a supernova called Tycho, October 23, 2019. X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS

The universe is filled with strange and beautiful objects, and we can now photograph them better than ever.

Space telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory have been capturing images of faraway galaxies in unprecedented detail.

This has also been a year of photographic innovation. Researchers stitched together thousands of Hubble photos to create an image of 265,000 galaxies. And astronomers captured the first photo of a black hole.

Here are 27 mind-blowing photos of the cosmos from 2019.


This was a year of stunning space photography.

Image
An infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, published September 20, 2019, shows a cloud of gas and dust full of bubbles, which are inflated by wind and radiation from massive young stars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope published this cloud of gas and dust in September.


Perhaps the most famous image of the cosmos in 2019 was this fuzzy, glowing ring — the first photo ever taken of a black hole.

Image
The first image of a black hole. Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

The international Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the photo on April 10 – a major milestone for space research. The accomplishment earned the team a Breakthrough Prize, which is considered the “Oscars of Science.” The $US3 million prize was divided equally among the group’s 347 scientists.


We also got photos of the most distant object humanity has ever visited: a space rock nicknamed Arrokoth.

Image
New Horizons took this detailed image of a space object called 2014 MU69 (or ‘Arrokoth’) at 12:26 a.m. EST on January 1, 2019. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

“We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the sun,” Alan Stern, principal investigator on the New Horizons mission, said in February after the probe’s initial photos were released.


Researchers created this unprecedented mosaic of the deep universe by stitching together 7,500 photos the Hubble Space Telescope took over 16 years.

Image
Astronomers developed a mosaic of the distant universe, called the Hubble Legacy Field, that documents 16 years of observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team.

The image, published in May, contains about 265,000 visible galaxies crammed into a region smaller than the moon’s apparent size in the sky.

“No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a press release.


Hubble also captured images that showcase the beauty of individual galaxies. This one is spiral-shaped like our Milky Way.

Image
A Hubble image published December 20, 2019 captures a spiral galaxy in the southern constellation of Mensa (the Table Mountain), about 85 million light-years away. ESA/Hubble & NASA, P. Erwin et al.

Hubble caught this galaxy in profile, giving astronomers an unprecedented look at its outermost reaches.

Image
Hubble photographed galaxy NGC 3432, which is oriented directly edge-on to us from our vantage point on Earth, August 2, 2019. ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Filippenko, R. Jansen

Sometimes two galaxies are better than one, especially when they fall into each other’s gravitational pulls like these do.

Image
Galaxies NGC 6285 (left) and NGC 6286 (right) interact in a Hubble Space Telescope photo released November 25, 2019. Together, the duo is named named Arp 293. ESA/Hubble & NASA, K. Larson et al.

Gravitationally locked galaxies can crash into each other. This rare, violent collision creates a ring structure around the galaxies’ merging cores for about 100 million years.

Image
The Hubble Space Telescope captured two galaxies colliding head-on, June 19, 2019. NASA, ESA, and J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and M. Durbin (University of Washington)

Source:

NASA


Such galactic pairs eventually merge into one giant galaxy, like this one Hubble captured in October.

Image
Hubble captured a galaxy called the Medusa merger in this image published October 24, 2019. Medusa formed when an early galaxy consumed a smaller system. ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Adamo

This Andy Warhol-esque portrait of the Whirlpool galaxy shows how telescopes use different wavelengths of light to see different features of cosmic objects.

Image
On the left is a visible-light image of the Whirlpool galaxy. The next image combines visible and infrared light, while the two on the right show how the galaxy looks in different wavelengths of infrared light. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The image comes from the Spitzer Space Telescope.


Closer to Earth, space telescopes also captured more familiar sights, like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, in unprecedented detail.

Image
A Hubble Space Telescope photo of Jupiter, taken June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet’s trademark Great Red Spot. NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Centre) and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

But sending spacecraft to visit planets, of course, gives us far better photos. As NASA’s Juno probe continues zipping around Jupiter, it beams back images of the planet’s poles — sides of the gas giant we don’t often see.

Image
Just after its close flyby of Jupiter on November 3, 2019, NASA’s Juno spacecraft caught this striking view of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere as the spacecraft sped away from the planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Up close, Jupiter’s atmosphere can be beautifully turbulent.

Image
NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a jet stream region in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere on May 29, 2019. Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt enhanced the colour using Juno data. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has given us unprecedented close-up views of the red planet.

Image
This contrast-enhanced image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows sedimentary rock and sand within Mars’ Danielson Crater. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Sometimes, conditions on Mars lead frost to form, just like some chilly mornings on Earth. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this shot of white frost on the planet’s red rock in September.

Image
This image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a Martian crater rim with frost on flows in the crater wall, September 5, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

More distant planets still harbour plenty of mysteries. In February, Hubble discovered a new and enigmatic “dark tempest” on Neptune that’s 6,800 miles across.

Image
The Hubble Space Telescope photographed a ‘dark tempest’ storm on Neptune in September 2018. NASA/ESA/A. Simon (GSFC)/M.H. Wong and A. Hsu (UC Berkeley); Business Insider

The image was taken in 2018, but scientists didn’t publish the findings until earlier this year. The giant storm (the dark spot toward the top of Neptune in the image above) is so wide that it would stretch from New York City to the tip of South America on Earth.


Sometimes, space photography is all about juxtaposition. If you look closely, that tiny dot to the left of the moon in this image is Saturn.

Image
An occultation of Saturn and the moon, as seen from South Africa on March 29, 2019, using a smartphone mounted to a telescope. Copyright of Grant Petersen

Saturn and the moon lined up perfectly in March – a relatively common yet easy-to-miss event called a conjunction. Astrophotographer Grant Petersen captured this photo using a smartphone mounted to a telescope.


Here’s a more zoomed-in photo that Petersen took of the conjunction.

Image

An Israeli spacecraft called Beresheet — the first attempt to put a private lunar lander on the moon — also used a captivating juxtaposition in its space selfie.

Image
A ‘spacecraft selfie’ taken by SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander on the way to the moon. The image was taken 23,364 miles from Earth on March 5, 2019. The inscribed message shows an Israeli flag and says ‘Small country, big dreams.’ SpaceIL

In the end, however, the mission failed. The dishwasher-sized robot smacked down into the lunar surface due to a technical glitch that caused the spacecraft’s main engine to malfunction.


China’s groundbreaking lunar mission succeeded, though, and gave us the first photos ever taken on the far side of the moon.

Image
China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander took this panorama from the surface of the moon’s far side on January 11, 2019. The mission’s Yutu-2 rover is seen in the background (centre). CNSA/CLEP

The mission, called Chang’e 4, put a lander and a rover on the moon’s far side (“dark side” is a misnomer) in early January. Soon after, China released this detailed panoramic image.


This abstract-looking shot shows the launch of another spacecraft — a Russian Soyuz MS-15 — as seen from the International Space Station.

Image
From the ISS, astronaut Christina Koch photographed the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft ascending into space after its launch from Kazakhstan on September 25, 2019. NASA/Christina Koch

Throughout the year, space telescopes also captured images of fantastic structures of dust and gas, which sometimes birth thousands of new stars.

Image
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured two nebula, or clouds of gas and dust. On the left, baby stars (the red and yellow dots) are born in a dark clearing of the nebula. NASA/JPL-Caltech

This star nursery has two “wings” — giant bubbles of hot gas blowing from the region’s hottest, most massive stars.

Image
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured this nursery with hundreds of baby stars in infrared, March 27, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Newborn stars cluster together in strange shapes. As they get older, they drift apart.

Image
Newborn stars, hidden behind thick dust, appear as pink and red specks in this image of a section of the so-called Christmas Tree Cluster from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, December 23, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Centre for Astrophysics)

The Southern Crab Nebula’s two dying stars give it an hourglass shape, since one burned-out star is attracting the material its ageing companion sheds.

Image
The Southern Crab Nebula, captured by Hubble and published April 18, 2019. NASA, ESA, and STScI

Ageing stars undergo colourful, explosive deaths, like this one in the Orion constellation.

Image
An ageing star in the constellation Orion casts off clouds of gas, August 16, 2019. As the star sheds its outer layers, shrinks, and grows hotter, it emits ultraviolet light that causes the expelled gases to glow. ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Wade

X-ray images can reveal the clumps of silicon, iron, and other elements that dying stars leave behind after they have disappeared.

Image
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory captured the remains of a supernova called Tycho, October 23, 2019. X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS