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Space Image: Best of 2020



From Hubble’s 30th birthday photos in 2020 to bold sample plunder on asteroids, by 2020, there will be a feast of shocking images of the universe. This is our selected product this year.

Hubble’s “Universal Reef”

The portrait features the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbor NGC 2020
The portrait features the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbor NGC 2020

The Hubble Telescope is one of the most important scientific tools ever, and it celebrated its 30th anniversary in April.

To commemorate this moment, we released an amazing image showing a star-forming region close to our Milky Way.

In this magnificent Hubble portrait, the huge red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, 163,000 light-years away.

Nebulae are huge clouds of interstellar dust and gas in which stars can form.

At the core of NGC 2014 are many bright stars, each with a mass 10 to 20 times greater than the sun.

The image is nicknamed the “cosmic reef” because astronomers believe that the nebula is similar to the underwater world.

The BBC Horizon documentary was broadcast on the occasion of the anniversary, showing the 3D visualization of Hubble images, such as part of the Eagle Nebula.

You can also take a look: Show Hubble’s universe in 3D

Asteroid grab

This year, NASA’s Osiris-Rex and the asteroid Bennu conducted a bold “touch and go” exercise to collect rock and soil samples and transport them to Earth.

Asteroids like Bennu are primitive remnants from the beginning of the solar system. They are the building blocks for the free roaming of planets, and provide a window into how a world like the Earth is formed.

To collect samples, Osiris-Rex used a long boom with a circular collection chamber at the end. The spacecraft descended towards Bennu’s surface, and when the boom made contact with the asteroid, nitrogen was injected into it.

This gas will agitate Bennu’s surface, causing asteroid fragments to float into the collection chamber.

As shown in the figure above, this strategy seems to have worked.

At the same time, on December 5th, a Japanese mission collected samples from another asteroid and returned to Earth with precious stashes. The ab bird 2 spacecraft released its sample return capsule, which landed safely in the Australian desert.

The samples will be analyzed in a curatorial facility in Sagamihara, Japan.

Close-up with sun

In January, the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) took photos in Hawaii, which showed the surface of the sun in unprecedented detail.

The image shows a cell-like structure similar to the size of Texas. They are hot, excited clumps of gas or plasma.

The bright area indicates where the substance is rising. The dark line in the middle is where the colder plasma sinks.

DKIST is a brand new facility located on Haleakalā, a 3,000m high volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Scientists hope to use it to reveal new insights into the dynamic behavior of our parent star, hoping that they can better predict its active outbursts.

These huge eruptions of charged particles can damage satellites orbiting the earth, harm astronauts, and even shoot down the power grid.

Jupiter flies by

NASA’s Juno spacecraft launched in 2011 and continues to send back stunning images from Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.

The probe captured an image of the rotating cloud deck of the gas giant during its 27th close flyover on June 2.

Then, citizen scientist Kevin M Gill converted the data into video, which contained 41 still images taken during Juno’s close pass.

These still images are digitally projected onto a sphere, with a virtual “camera” that provides views of Jupiter from different angles.

These fragments in particular provide an amazing view of Jupiter’s most striking feature (the huge red spot), which is actually a huge continuous storm.

Interstellar spacecraft test

Elon Musk’s “starship” spacecraft looks like a rocket ship in the golden age of science fiction. He hopes to transport humans to the Red Planet in due course.

In December last year, SpaceX tested the first complete prototype of the aircraft and flew it straight up 12.5 kilometers from the company’s cushion at the company’s Boca Chica facility in southern Texas.

Starship
The Starship Raptor engine is unique in burning methane as a fuel

We deceived the content it contained because the images did not come from space. But we may see it one day in the near future.

The test flight demonstrated some of the unique features of the spacecraft, including a methane-burning Raptor engine and flight trajectory, which included descending to the earth facing the abdomen, and then flipping back to a vertical direction before landing.

Fall accident
RUD.But the test flight will provide SpaceX with valuable data

At this stage of the test, the starship prototype named SN8 was too fast and approached the pad too hard, leading to what Musk described as RUD (i.e., unplanned rapid disassembly). In other words, it is a crash.

But this flight will provide SpaceX with a lot of engineering data to help them improve the aircraft. The next prototype SN9 is waiting for the launch pad to start.

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