Space Photos of the Week: The Moon Needs Sunscreen

Did you know the moon can get a sunburn? Our celestial companion actually has a magnetic field, but it’s patchy and uneven. It can sometimes deflect damage that would otherwise be done by the solar wind when it comes in contact with the surface. However, some areas of the field are too weak to combat this force, and as a result of the solar radiation, marks called lunar swirls are left on the moon’s surface. This image shows the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl and it was imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It’s sort of like when you don’t apply your sunscreen evenly and come home from the beach to find your skin covered with weird splotches.

This region on Mars, called Mawrth Vallis, is of extreme interest to scientists who want to study the rich clays and minerals that exist on the Martian surface. Materials and features like this are evidence of Mars’s watery past. The colors in this enhanced image are particularly interesting—the dark regions are basaltic rock, evidence of ancient volcanic activity while the yellows, blues and greens are likely hydrated minerals.

NASA’s InSight lander has been busy working on Mars, placing its seismometer and other instruments on the surface. But last week when it finally started digging into the ground using its heat probe instrument called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3) its mole, as they’re calling it, hit a rock. Turns out Mars is rocky! The team had to stop digging and will have to make plans for what to do next. While there are rocks all over Mars, the InSight team had hoped that it wasn’t too rocky below the surface, so this was a bit of a surprise.

The cigar galaxy otherwise known as M82 is creating stars extremely fast, 10 times faster than our own galaxy. Using NASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) telescope, astronomers think they might finally know why: The galactic wind flowing out from the center of the galaxy functions as a sort of transport that moves enormous amounts of gas and dust around—and that’s the fuel for making new stars. This wind is so strong that it physically drags the magnetic field outwards, bringing that material with it, which is what you see in this composite photo.

NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope has spotted a pair of galaxies that are about to merge. The larger galaxy is called NGC 7752 and the smaller one towards the top is NGC 7753. Galactic mergers like these were more common in the earlier days of the solar system, but they do still happen. And there is no telling what the outcome of such a merger might be. While these collisions can sometimes help a newly combined galaxy to create more stars, their unity can also be their demise, halting the growth of new stars and turning off the lights for good.

A citizen scientist in New Zealand perfectly timed this photo of the International Space Station moving across the sun. The ISS orbits the Earth every 92 minutes, and it is traveling at almost 18,000 mph which means the station transited the sun in just a fraction of a second. This astounding speed makes it extremely difficult to capture—like grabbing a photo of a bullet in mid air, except the bullet is a science lab zipping six people through space.

The European Southern Observatory is having fun playing with a new telescope called SPECULOOS. While this telescope will ultimately help scientists identify stars that are ideal for exoplanet observations, astronomers there thought they would test out the optics on the famous Lagoon nebula that is 5,000 light years from us and this is the resulting image. It’s safe to say this telescope is going to do great things when it grows up.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired