Our Picks of Best Space and Astronomy Images from 2011

First Ever Portrait of the International Space Station and docked Shuttle Endeavour from Soyuz capsule. This image of the International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of 220 miles was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011. It is the first-ever image of a space shuttle docked to the International Space Station. Endeavour at left. European ATV cargo carrier at right. Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli


2011 was a picturesque year! The year brought us new discoveries, a new supernova, the end of an era in human spaceflight, and much more. Here’s a look back at some of the best images we’ve posted on Universe Today in 2011, listed in no particular order:

Above, is one of the first-ever images of a space shuttle docked to the International Space Station. The images were taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli on May 23, 2011 through a window inside the Soyuz TMA-20 vehicle as he and two crewmates were departing the ISS for their return trip to Earth. See the entire gallery of images of this event here.

Astrophoto: Supernova PTF11kly in M101 by Rick Johnson
Supernova PTF11kly in M101. Credit: Rick Johnson

A new supernova showed up in 2011 in the Pinwheel galaxy, and skywatchers around the world tried to capture it. Amateur astronomer Rick Johnson submitted this image for our new “Astrophoto” feature this year on Universe Today. Called the SN PTF11kly, the new Type Ia supernova was spotted by Caltech’s Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey in the M101, and is located 21 million light years away. You can see the supernova marked in the southern part of the galaxy.

Atlantis launches one last time on July 8, 2011. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

2011 saw the end of an era: the space shuttle program is now history. Universe Today photographer Alan Walters captured this stunning view of the last shuttle launch ever. Read our articles about the final launch and landing of the space shuttle era.

A portion of the Lagoon nebula imaged by the Gemini South telescope with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph. Credit: Julia I. Arias and Rodolfo H. Barbá Departamento de Física, Universidad de La Serena (Chile), and ICATE-CONICET (Argentina).

A gorgeous new look at the “Southern Cliff” in the Lagoon Nebula from the Gemini South Observatory.

Saturns moons and rings, in color. Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI. Edited by Jason Major. Click for larger version.

The Cassini spacecraft continues to crank out spectacular images, and this stunning image of a “flash mob” of moons strung along Saturn’s rings is just an example.

ATV2 (Johannes Kepler) as it departs the ISS against the backdrop of Earth. Credit: NASA/Ron Garan

Real image or from a movie? The ATV-2 Johannes Kepler looks like an X-Wing fighter from Star Wars as it departed from the International Space Station.

A new image from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an ethereal landscape near Mars north pole. Credit: NASA/HiRISE team

Incredible landscapes are specialties of the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and this observation shows dune gullies laced with beautiful swirls of tracks left by dust devils. Just like on Earth, dust devils move across the Martian surface and expose the underlying darker material, creating a striking view.

A new image from ESO of the reflection nebula Messier 78. Credit: ESO and Igor Chekalin

Here’s a “Hidden Treasure” from the European Southern Observatory, from the astrophotography competition where amateurs create images from unused ESO data. In this new image of Messier 78, brilliant starlight ricochets off dust particles in the nebula, illuminating it with scattered blue light and creating what is called a reflection nebula.

Series of transits taken on May 20, 22 and 23, 2011 from different areas of France, showing variations of orientation of the ISS with Endeavour docked. On May 23, the ISS passes besides a sunspot which is larger than the Earth. Credit: Thierry Legault

This series of images is just an example of the great work by award-winning French astrophotographer Thierry Legault. During shuttle Endeavour’s final mission, Legault traveled through Germany, France and Spain to find clear skies and good seeing to capture the shuttle’s voyage to the International Space Station. See more incredible images here.

The 'Rock Garden' at the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars as seen by the Opportunity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech, color by Stu Atkinson

The Opportunity rover is now exploring Endeavour Crater and this color view of shows a stunning landscape on Mars. This view of a Red Planet “rock garden” is the colorized handiwork of Stu Atkinson, a member of Unmanned Spaceflight and author of the Road to Endeavour blog. This is actually an ejecta field of rocks thrown about after the impact that created this huge crater, and has been an exciting region for the MER scientists to explore.

Dense filaments of gas in the IC5146 interstellar cloud. This image was taken by ESA’s Herschel space observatory at infrared wavelengths 70, 250 and 500 microns. Stars are forming along these filaments. Credits: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/PACS/D. Arzoumanian (CEA Saclay) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme Consortium.

Its true there is no sound in empty interstellar space, but the Herschel space observatory has observed the cosmic equivalent of sonic booms. Filaments like this have been sighted before by other infrared satellites, but they have never been seen clearly enough to have their widths measure.

A huge and spectacular prominence eruption on the Sun, June 7, 2011. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

On June 7, 2011 an amazingly massive and spectacular event took place on the Sun: a huge prominence eruption, marked by a solar flare and release of energetic particles. It was an event that was heretofore unseen on the Sun, but the Solar Dynamics Observatory saw it all.

A view of a recent aurora from the ISS. Credit: NASA

With the Sun’s activities ramping up, we saw more aurorae. What better place to see them than from the International Space Station? This view taken by astroanut Mike Fossum shows a stunning aurora, with two Russian vehicles docked to the station in the foreground.

The star cluster NGC 2100 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESO

A brilliant cluster of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, open cluster NGC 2100 shines brightly, competing with the nearby Tarantula Nebula for bragging rights in this image from ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT).

Martian Vista from Opportunity nearing Endeavour Crater on Sol 2678 - August 2011 Large ejecta blocks from the nearby, small Odyssey crater are visible in the middle, foreground and are Opportunity’s next science target in this photo mosaic taken 2 martian days ago on Sol 2678 (Aug. 6). Opportunity is now less than 400 feet from the foothills of Endeavour Crater and will soon make first landfall at Spirit Point - off to the left. At Endeavour, Opportunity will investigate the oldest minerals deposits she has ever visited from billions of years ago and which may hold clues to environments that were potentially habitable for microbial life. This photo mosaic shows portions of the discontinuous crater rim – Cape Tribulation at right. Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer helped bring this stunning image of the hills around Endeavour Crater to light, as the Opportunity Rover headed towards the crater in August.

Astrophoto: Moon Covers Venus by Kevin Jung
Moon Covers Venus. Credit: Kevin Jung

Another amateur astrophoto shows an occultation of Venus by the Moon, taken by Kevin Jung.

X-ray Image of Tycho's Supernova Remnant. (NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K.Eriksen et al.)

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory took a brand new, deep look inside the Tycho Supernova Remnant, providing a nearly three-dimensional view of the iconic space object.

Comet Lovejoy by Barry Armstead
Comet Lovejoy. Image Credit: Barry Armstead

And just the past several days southern skywatchers have been treated to the beautiful sights of Comet Lovejoy — which was also seen from the International Space Station. Go take a look!

These are just a sampling of the great images we’ve seen in 2011. Here’s to more great views in 2012!