Best Images from 2010

Shuttle Silhouette


Here are some of the best space and astronomy images from 2010. These are in no particular order or ranking, just our favorites from the year. If you think we’ve missed any, feel free to add or link to in the comment section. This top image, however, might be my personal favorite from 2010, an image of the space shuttle Endeavor backdropped by the breathtaking image of the earth’s atmosphere. This image was captured from the International Space Station the STS-130 mission on February 9, 2010.

A truly alien landscape on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This might win the prize for weirdest image of the year. This picture of Mars’ surface from the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been compared to a close-up of a man’s face (complete with whiskers) or pine trees growing on the Red Planet. Scientists say the dark streaks are actually trails of debris, created by landslides that occur when carbon dioxide ice melts away from sand dunes near Mars’ north pole.

The most detailed sunspot ever obtained in visible light was seen by new telescope at NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory. Credit: Big Bear Solar Observatory

A new type of adaptive optics for solar observations has produced some incredible results, providing the most detailed image of a sunspot ever obtained in visible light. A new telescope built by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Big Bear Solar Observatory has seen its ‘first light’ using a deformable mirror, which is able to reduce atmospheric distortions. This is the first facility-class solar observatory built in more than a generation in the U.S.

This brand new Hubble photo is of a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

This image was released in commemoration of the 20th Birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope. The amazing view of what has been nicknamed “Mystic Mountain,” is just a small portion of one of the largest known star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Three light-year-tall towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. The scene is reminiscent of Hubble’s classic “Pillars of Creation” photo from 1995, but even more striking. “Mystic Mountain has clouds of gas and dust, that have not only baby stars, but also baby solar systems,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble-hugger, repairman and now the Deputry Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “4.5 billion years ago, this may be what our solar system looked like.”

Marius Hills region on the Moon, from LRO's Wide Angle Camera. Image processing by Maurice Collins

Here’s a look at the Moon in a way we’ve never quite seen it before: a close up, but wide angle view. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera actually consists of three cameras: there are two narrow-angle cameras which make high-resolution, black-and-white images of the surface, with resolutions down to 1 meter (about 3.3 feet). A third, a wide-angle camera (WAC), takes color and ultraviolet images over the complete lunar surface at 100-meter (almost 330-foot) resolution. However, the raw wide-angle images are somewhat distorted by the camera, but Maurice Collins, a Moon enthusiast from New Zealand, found that putting several images together in a mosaic removes a lot of the distortions and produces a much clearer image. The results are nothing short of stunning; this jaw-dropping image of the Marius Hills region of the Moon is one example. For more, see Maurice’s website, Moon Science .

Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in glorious detail in this image from NASA's EPOXI mission. It was taken as the spacecraft flew by around 6:59 a.m. PDT (9:59 a.m. EDT), from a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). The comet's nucleus, or main body, is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and .4 kilometers (.25 miles) at the 'neck' or most narrow portion. Jets can be seen streaming out of the nucleus. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
An Extraordinary Celestial Spiral. Credit: ESA/NASA & R. Sahai

The Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys has captured a remarkable image of a spiral in space earlier this year. No, not a spiral galaxy, (and not another Norway Spiral!) but the formation of an unusual pre-planetary nebula in one of the most perfect geometrical spirals ever seen. The nebula, called IRAS 23166+1655, is forming around the star LL Pegasi (also known as AFGL 3068) in the constellation of Pegasus.

LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic of the lunar South Pole region, width ~600 km. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

More wide angle Moon (guess I can’t get enough from The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter….) This wide-angle mosaic of the South Pole shows Cabeus Crater, where LCROSS impacted in 2009, as well as the Aitken Basin, which contains impact melt that will allow scientists to unambiguously determine the basin’s age, plus Shackleton crater, the region touted as the perfect place for future outposts and huge telescopes. The permanently shadowed regions in this crater wonderland could harbor reservoirs of ice and other volatiles contain a “priceless record of water composition dating back to the beginning of our Solar System, an incomparable dataset for astrobiology investigations,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. “Additionally, these volatile deposits could serve as a tremendously valuable resource for future explorers.”

Shuttle underbelly as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA

The underside of the space shuttle Discovery is visible in this view from the International Space Station, captured after the shuttle undocked on April 17. The pretty feature on Earth below is the south end of Isla de Providencia, about 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson reflects on the view from the ISS's Cupola. Credit: Doug Wheelock/NASA

Another favorite from the ISS and the Cupola.

'Blazing Bristlecone' by Tom Lowe of the USA, winner of this years Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.
A ghostly nebula, IRAS 05437+2502, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a ghostlike nebula known as IRAS 05437+2502. The nebula is a small star-forming region filled with dark dust that was first noted in images taken by the IRAS satellite in infrared light in 1983.

STS-130 launch. Credit: Alan Walters Photo

Here’s a personal favorite — the launch of Endeavour on February 8. Why a favorite? I was there to watch the launch live and in person, which left me speechless. A great shot by UT photographer Alan Walters.

Hubble Views of Comet-like Asteroid P/2010 A2. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

Hubble took a look at a possible asteroid collision after it was originally seen by ground-based observatories
on January 6, 2010, spotted evidence of an asteroid collision in the asteroid belt, revealing a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust. With Hubble’s sharp vision, astronomers believe a head-on collision between two asteroids may have occurred. Astronomers have long thought the asteroid belt is being ground down through collisions, but such a smashup has never been seen before.

NGC 1514, sometimes called the 'Crystal Ball' nebula shows a new double ring feature in an image from WISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

It’s not like we’ve never seen the planetary nebula NGC 1514 before, but we’ve never seen it though WISE’s infrared eyes, until now. And in a stunning surprise, cylindrical rings appear to be encircling the dying star, like a neon-lit carousel, or perhaps like rolling tire surrounding a glowing blob. “I just happened to look up one of my favorite objects in our WISE catalogue and was shocked to see these odd rings,” said Michael Ressler, a member of the WISE science team at JPL. “This object has been studied for more than 200 years, but WISE shows us it still has surprises.

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 a.m. EDT. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.
Lutetia at closest approach. Image credit: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The Rosetta spacecraft flew by asteroid Lutetia, returning the first close up images of this battered, cratered body. Closest approach took place on July 10, at a distance of 3,162 km (1,964 miles). The images show that Lutetia has been on the receiving end of many impacts during its 4.5 billion years of existence. As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view. The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130 km (80 miles).

The Votes Are In: Top 10 Stories of 2010

2010 was packed with interesting, exciting and breakthrough events and discoveries. We asked you to vote on the top 10 stories of the year, and below are the results. Some of you asked how we chose the 17 news stories to pick from and perhaps thought we missed out on some rather important astronomical discoveries of the year. The stories to vote on were chosen based on the “most viewed” articles in 2010 from our Google Analytics, and some were single articles, while some were a combination of articles on the same topic (for example, there was lots of exoplanet news this year). The survey was done with “Survey Monkey,” which worked out great. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments on the survey, which ranged from “Keep up the great work” to” Love Ya!! Such a fantastic articles, keep going!!” to “I want more cosmology on UT.”

We’ll continue to do our best to provide great coverage on everything space and astronomy-related in the years to come, and, yes we hope to expand in different areas, too. Thanks to all our readers for your continued support and comments! Also, thanks to our excellent staff of writers who contributed news articles this past year: Tammy Plotner, Nicholos Wethington, Jon Voisey, Mark Thompson, Mike Simonsen, Steve Nerlich, Jason Rhian, Jean Tate, Ken Kremer, Mark Mortimer, Darnell Clayton, Ryan Anderson, and the Spacevidcast crew.

And now, without further ado, the Top 10 Stories of 2010, as chosen by our readers:

10. Bacteria Found that can Live on Arsenic

Despite the pre-announcement hype, NASA did not find life on another planet, but found life here on Earth that can live and grow almost entirely on a poison, arsenic, and incorporates it into its DNA. This announcement was soon met with opposition — not only for the science, but for how the hype got completely out of hand.

9. Solar Dynamics Observatory gives us a New View of the Sun

Large eruptive prominence on the sun's edge, as seen by SDO. Credit: NASA

The Solar Dynamics Observatory launched in February of this year, and has been sending back a non-stop stream of data and images of the Sun like we’ve never seen before. SDO showed us almost up-to-the-minute views of a looping solar prominence, and have provided solar physicists with new details in helping them to understand the Sun.

Here are just a few articles we posted about SDO:

SDO Soars To Study the Sun
SDO Wows with First Light Images
Near Synchronous Explosions Connect Across Vast Distances on the Sun

8. Enceladus and the Tiger Stripe Jets

2010 was the year we learned more about the geysers on Enceladus, and the Cassini spacecraft sent back more astonishing images of the geysers and the “tiger stripe” regions from which the geysers emanate. One new study even suggested that an exotic form of warm, bubbly mineral water could be what feeds the mysterious jets.

Warm Perrier Ocean Could be Powering Enceladus Geysers

Enceladus the Jet Powered Moon

7. Hayabusa Returns To Earth with Samples of Asteroid

The recovery team handles the heat sheild for the Hayabusa sample return capsule. Credit: JAXA, Hayabusa Twitter feed.

Japan’s little spacecraft that could returned to Earth this summer, making a fiery reentry in the Australian outback, overcoming several problems and obstacles. Later, scientists opened the sample return container revealing small particles which are likely from asteroid Itokawa.

6. Faster Than Light Pulsars Discovered

Artist's impression of an anomalous X-ray pulsar. Credit: ESA

Observational data from nine pulsars, including the Crab pulsar, suggest these rapidly spinning neutron stars emit the electromagnetic equivalent of a sonic boom, and a model created to understand this phenomenon shows that the source of the emissions could be traveling faster than the speed of light. Researchers say as the polarization currents in these emissions are whipped around with a mechanism likened to a synchrotron, the sources could be traveling up to six times light speed, or 1.8 million km per second. However, although the source of the radiation exceeds the speed of light, the emitted radiation travels at normal light speed once it leaves the source. “This is not science fiction, and no laws of physics were broken in this model,” said John Singleton of Los Alamos National Laboratory at a press briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC. “And Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity is not violated.”

5. SpaceX Makes Great Strides in Commercial Space Endeavours.

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

SpaceX’s launch of the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule leads the way for commercial companies to bring cargo and crew the International Space Station, providing new access to space that may one day lead to a cheaper way for the general public to be involved in space travel.

One commenter said, “SpaceX has the opportunity to totally alter mankind’s access to space. I didn’t think they could do it, but they have.” Another said, “The potential of human space flight is the most important to me.”

4. More Mysteries of Titan Revealed

Crescent Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

2010 was the year we learned more about Titan, as the Cassini spacecraft continues to send back more incredible images and data of Saturn’s largest Moon. Scientists were able to discern more about the weather on Titan, and they also saw clouds in the Moon’s atmosphere, plus one researcher found that Titan’s atmosphere could produce the building blocks of life, while another group found evidence of cryovolcanoes on Titan.

3. The Discovery (or not) of Exoplanet Gliese 581g

Artists impression of Gliese 581g. Credit: Lynette Cook/NSF

In September, astronomer Steven Vogt and his team announced what they claimed was the closest Earth-sized planet found so far that also exists in the habitable zone around its star. The planet, During a press conference, Vogt was quoted as saying, “Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it.” Although the announcement created a lot of excitement, almost immediately after the announcement, another group of planet hunters said they could not find evidence of the planet in their data. Only further review will say for sure if Gliese 581g is there or not, but one thing is certain: the Gliese system is the most interesting planetary system we’ve found yet.

2. Exoplanets Galore!

A gallery of six exoplanets that have retrograde orbits (artist concepts). ESO/A. C. Cameron

2010 saw a plethora of new exoplanet discoveries, including the first four-planet system that was imaged, the Kepler mission which found 750 exoplanet candidates, the observation of the atmosphere of aso-called “Super-Earth“, and the discovery of what astronomers think is the “youngest” exoplanet.

One commenter said, “Exoplanet science and discovery has the potential to alter our fundamental views not only of the universe but our place within it. It will affect all of mankind one day.”

Jon Voisey has written several articles on extra solar planets recently. You can read all about them under the category of of “Exoplanet.”

And the #1 story of 2010:

1. Radar Images Reveal Tons of Water Likely at the Lunar Poles

Craters at the north pole of the Moon. Red mean fresh craters and green means anomalous craters. Credit: NASA

The Mini-SAR radar instrument on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and the Mini-RF instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter are revealing there are likely massive amounts of water in the permanently shadowed craters at the poles, with over 600 million metric tons at the north pole alone. “If that was turned into rocket fuel, it would be enough to launch the equivalent of one Space Shuttle per day for over 2,000 years,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator for the Mini-SAR. He said the ice would have to be several meters thick to give this signature they are seeing.

This has huge implications for future human and robotic exploration of the Moon.

Thanks again for voting! Here’s a bar graph of the votes:

Chart from Survey Monkey showing the votes of top articles on Universe Today.