The Top 14 Astronomy Pictures of 2010

By Phil Plait | December 14, 2010 7:01 am

Use the thumbnails and arrows to browse the images, and click on the images themselves to go through to blog posts with more details and descriptions.

lro_holeinone
alanfriedman_sun_halpha
cassini_titan_rhea
hirise_tendrils
hst_20th_carina
hst_afgl-3068
hst_m51
hst_ngc6934
hst_p2010a2
iss_aurora_australis
orion_headtotoes
rosetta_lutetia
sunset_shuttle
top14pix2010
wise_ngc1514_web

Comments (113)

Links to this Post

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  1. Gary Ansorge

    Ooh,ow,OOh!!!

    So many to choose from, so little time. My favorites are,,,ah heck they’re ALL my favorites.

    Tanks.

    Gary 7

  2. Gary Ansorge

    Speaking of universes, here’s another take on concentric rings w/in the CMB. Possible indications of multiple universes.

    Way cool!

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26132/?nlid=3883

    Gary 7

  3. Awesome pictures, thanks

  4. CameronSS

    I just got to #1, and WOW. It took me an amazingly long time to recognize what I’ve been spotting since I was six.

    So what, do we get a Top 18 next year, then a Top 25, etc.?

  5. Paul from VA

    I confess that I may have just copied the last image and switched it to my desktop background. Awesome list.

  6. In honor of Robert Burnham, Jr., of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook fame, that portion of the Carina nebula should be referred to as “The Star Queen,” a rather romantic label Burnham championed, one of many in his fine and inspirational reference set.

  7. Michel

    Cool pics. Now I want to see the other 986. Without seeing those I can´t say anything relevant on your choice.
    URL?

  8. Not that it matters, but the M51 remix is actually from 2009.

    http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap091226.html

  9. I am absolutely amazed that you failed (as far as I can find, and the search box can find) to cover the image of Tracy Dyson looking down at the Earth through the ISS Cupola window bay. What it says about how far we’ve come is simply breath-taking. (See link from name for APOD coverage of image).

  10. Jessy

    All of these are amazing but the image of Orion is just breathtaking.
    Awe inspiring images made even better by the science behind them.
    Thank you!

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    The tendrils on the sand dunes in Mars still makes me shiver a bit. It looks like alien trees. Or a close-up of the sporolating stage of chocolate fingers slime mould (type those last four words into Google and view images to see what I mean).

    As usual, awe-inspiring pictures. Thank you.

  12. Richard

    No Comet Hartley 2? Travesty! :-)

  13. BigBob

    Thats excellent, thanks Phil

  14. It’s really an awesome period of space exploration that we’re in right now that all of these images came to us within the span of ONE YEAR! Any one of them could have been the top astronomy image of the year, each is so amazing in its own right.

    For artistic value, I do like Alan’s image the best though. Fan-tastic.

  15. The 14 images in this article is truly great. If you like space images these are from the ISS and take by astronaut Wheelock. They are out of this world (pun intended)
    http://triggerpit.com/2010/11/22/incredible-pics-nasa-astronaut-wheelock/

  16. You made a typo on NGC 6934, Phil! In the last a paragraph about the stellar photo, you mixed the numbers up to 6394. #corrections

    Great pics! This year truly was a fantastic year in astronomy photos!

  17. Donnie B.

    Perhaps we should assign the number 14 the name “Astronomer’s Dozen”.

    Great images. Now, what were the other 16 in your top 30?

  18. I’ve always wondered about this when nebulae are shown just outside the window in scifi movies – could you get close enough to things like the Carina nebula that they would fill a car/spaceship window? And if I read it right, it’s a visible light picture of the Carina nebula, but would it look anything like it does here? Could you have a habitable planet* close enough so that thing would fill the night sky (and look this awesome)?

    *only in the sense that, say, the moon is habitable – you could set up a base there (never mind how we get there, obviously)

  19. Image #5 is titled “Tendrils from Poplar Dunes”… Poplar’s are trees here on earth. Are these trees growing out of the tendrils?

  20. bigjohn756

    Fourteen is not a nice round number! I suggest that you find six more pics to bring the total up to 20 which is round on both ends.

  21. Harry1144

    Can you imagine what the night sky must look like on an Earth-like planet in that globular cluster?

  22. Eoin

    It sort of looks like one of those electron microscope images of a human egg.
    almost a hierarchy of life giving things.

  23. Matt B.

    Seriously, what are those vertical structures coming out of the Martian polar dunes?

  24. Keith Bowden

    Looking at the asteroid, Murray Gold’s Doctor Who themes (which were already running through my head, I’ve been watching 2005-8 and 1963-4 eps recently) were replaced by John Williams pieces from The Empire Strikes Back.

  25. veebs

    The picture of Orion is UNREAL!!

    Were the pictures from the LRO published in 2009? Otherwise, I would have expected at least one picture showing traces of human activity on the lunar surface!!

  26. Jacob B

    The picture of Orion was AMAZING! I also check his website out, and he has INCREDIBLE photos! And, to think, he has only been doing this for 3 years (I think, his first picture was in 2007 and he said in its description that it was his first.) But, wow, I’ve never seen anything like that! WOW!!!

  27. Naomi

    That Orion shot is AMAZING. I’ve watched Orion all my life, and I’ve never seen it like that.

    And I have to admit, after spending a semester in the Mars class at University of Arizona, I do get a tinge of the warm fuzzies when I see HiRISE shots. Those pictures were from the building next door! So cool. (We got to tour the operation center, McEwan did a guest lecture or two. The professor was Peter Smith, who was the PI on Phoenix. Very nice Mars pedigree – I took the final today.)

  28. @ Matt & Iris:

    Read the good doctor BA’s last paragraph. The dark streaks aren’t separate structures rising above dunes, they are “stains” of darker material on flat, nearly perpendicular slopes.

    @ Harry 1144:

    Isaac Asimov did just that in his most famous story, Nightfall:

    Through it shone the Stars!

    Not Earth’s feeble thirty-six hundred Stars visible to the eye; Lagash
    was in the center of a giant cluster. Thirty thousand mighty suns shone down
    in a soul-searing splendor that was more frighteningly cold in its awful
    indifference than the bitter wind that shivered across the cold, horribly
    bleak world.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminous. (Beyond just brilliant.) Thankyou Bad Astronomer. :-)

    I love the way you do these & have been looking forward to your choices for ages. Even if it *is* still 2010 now with a week or two left for a couple of other contenders to emerge! ;-)

    Great selection even if it doesn’t include the one I’d have picked as no. 1 – this :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/06/21/gravitys-galactic-brushstrokes/

    “aerial fly over” one of spiral galaxy Messier 66. Which is my personal all-time favourite astronomical image. :-)

    Also – Lutetia makes it (fair enough) but yet no Comet Hartley 2 close ups? Wha-aa .. ?

    Still, as you rightly note, there’s so many breath-takingly spectacular and beautiful possible candidate images and, yes, it must have been just so hard to choose. Top 14? I reckon you could easily have made it a top 20 at least! ;-)

    Please, pretty please, could we have a Top 10 or 15 Runners up to go with this later BA?

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    @24. Harry1144 Says:

    Can you imagine what the night sky must look like on an Earth-like planet in that globular cluster?

    With that many bright stars you’d have to ask – *what* “night” sky? ;-)

    Unfortunately, its likely there are very few (if any) exoplanets in the Globular clusters due to their low metallicities and unfathomable ancientness of them, born when the universe was young and there were far less non-Hydrogen, non-Helium elements around.

    Still there is at least one (although as far as I’m aware only one) known exoplanet orbiting inside a globular cluster the “Methuselah Planet” or “Genesis Planet” in the Globular Messier 4 next to Antares :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSR_B1620-26_b

    Although its a Superjovian world with twice -&-a-half Jupiter’s mass and most likely has no inhabitable moons given its history and the harsh radiation from the pulsar it orbits.

    I imagine its also possible some wandering rogue planets formed but then ejected from their original suns could have been captured into orbit around Globulars so I guess you never know! What a veiw they’d have indeed – and if on the Globulars outskirts they’d be able to look down on our Milky Way from above and below as well – skyglow permitting! :-)

    @7. kuhnigget :

    In honor of Robert Burnham, Jr., of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook fame, that portion of the Carina nebula should be referred to as “The Star Queen,” a rather romantic label Burnham championed, one of many in his fine and inspirational reference set.

    Great idea and well-remembered there – I second this suggestion. :-)

    @ 20. apaeter :

    I’ve always wondered about this when nebulae are shown just outside the window in scifi movies – could you get close enough to things like the Carina nebula that they would fill a car/spaceship window? And if I read it right, it’s a visible light picture of the Carina nebula, but would it look anything like it does here? Could you have a habitable planet* close enough so that thing would fill the night sky (and look this awesome)?

    Well I think you *could* have a habitable planet (or even given the vast distances a lot of planets in a certain radius zone of distances) where this is possible.

    Regrettably, & I hate to be a downer & hope I’m wrong here, I’m not sure whether the human eye would be sensitive enough to pick up the colours and fine detail in the nebula here even if it was situated in the right area for the Carina nebula (& similar ones) to fill the sky. We don’t tend to see colour well enough at night – although it’d still be a superbly wonderful sight – and who knows if the nebula is bright enough it could still work out as you’ve suggested there and I really hope! :-)

  31. anonymous coward

    pity the mobile site is useless and lacks links to desktop site. honestly, mobile browsers are sometimes better than their desktop counterparts (apologies to all those IE 6 users out there).

  32. amphiox

    Regrettably, & I hate to be a downer & hope I’m wrong here, I’m not sure whether the human eye would be sensitive enough to pick up the colours and fine detail in the nebula here even if it was situated in the right area for the Carina nebula (& similar ones) to fill the sky.

    Even if true, though, it still leaves open the possibility of non-human eyes. What would an owl see, for instance? (Or an alien with nocturnal adapted color vision?)

  33. amphiox

    I have to also opine that even if the human eye can’t distinguish the colors of these nebulae very well, if we can still make out the shape and structure, even if we only see pale, wispy shades of white, it would still be an awesome sight to see one of these things up close.

  34. Tristan Heydt

    And just like that, I have a new lock screen image and a new homepage image for my phone.

  35. Great photos! :) I so love reading your blog. Everyone should be fed a lot more Science :)

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    @19. Donnie B. Says:

    Perhaps we should assign the number 14 the name “Astronomer’s Dozen”.

    I’d rather an astronomers dozen = fifteen & get another image.

    Besides ’15’ is more aesthetically pleasing, handier and generally better number in my view! ;-)

  37. Ben

    It looks like the stars in Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting, doesn’t it?

  38. Hugo Smulders

    Awesome pictures and I love your explanation on the subjects as well. I’m so very sorry that I’m no Beta man (I’m no good in math, physics, chemistry), how I would love to be a scientist that explores and investigates these matters!
    Love to all my fellow astronomy-lovers!

  39. Mindy

    If you think there is no higher power in the Universe – think again.

  40. Don’t forget about the horses head. (I think it looks more like a seahorse’s head). In the small red area to the immediate left of the belt stars.
    These are beautiful. I really enjoy your blog.

  41. “But I don’t see the need to make up fantasy-based scenarios for pictures like this one, when we can see that Mars is fantastic enough.”

    This follows “It’s no surprise that some people mistook them for some form of life on the Red Planet!”

    Be fair. Mistaking something for something else isn’t the same as “making up fantasy”.

    Good article, but please bear in mind that skeptic =/= closed-minded nonbeliever.

  42. Beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to put this list together. The photo of Orion is Spectacular! It’s always been my favourite & figures prominently in many of my winter night photographs taken in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. I call him my “Man of the Night” – and I miss him when he goes away in the summer! Again, thanks from an appreciative Canadian Luna-tic. ( I have another website that is just getting set up, as well – http://www.lunisi.com )

  43. Penelope

    Thank you so much for this. And yet, as I approach fifty years, I would swap all these images for just ONE of a definite form of life from somewhere other than earth. I wonder if I will live to see the confirmation of the idea that we (by which I mean all animals on earth) are not the only life; the only creatures? Mathematically, is it more likely that I will die before we find real proof of other lives, or is it more probable that I’ll get some good news for my eightieth birthday present? (Yes, Gran, it’s an amoeba…)

    Maybe next year…

  44. Thats excellent thankyou so much for sharing

  45. Lorena

    that negative picture of the sun reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of human eggs, (ovum) :D :D

  46. reidh

    I have only ever SEEN with naked eye the planet and moons of jupiter, but have been told that earth based viewing of this and similar clusters is like looking at a pile of diamonds or something even more dynamically precious. Jupiter and its moons look like jewels.

  47. reidh

    I would think that events like this are way more common than most astronomers would have me “believe”. it is probably such occurances that give rise to these niggling NEO’s that come by once every 3 months or so.

  48. Jisan Mahmud

    I just keep looking at these and be amazed! Man isn’t it the prettiest thing ever? I have to keep saying this over and over again. And such wonders…wow!

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