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Space Photos of the Week: A stormy summer on Mars



Mars has a low atmospheric pressure compared to Earth, which makes it a dusty place. Storms often occur, and the warmer months are notorious for them, as hotter temperatures and rising air currents lift particles off the surface. Sometimes, however, the phenomenon becomes global. Several dust storms developed in April and May, and in the following weeks the sky of the red planet grew and turned our detailed view of Mars into an orange haze. The European Space Agency Mars Express Orbiter took this photo near the North Pole cap. Here you can see the storm rolling through the landscape.

Now you see, you are not doing it now: Here is Mars before and after the massive dust storms that populated the entire planet. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took these pictures, and the comparison is scary. The picture on the left is from late spring, and the picture on the right is from the beginning of this month, in the middle of summer. For Mars observers, there is no choice but to wait until things calm down.

It is said that one does not need a weatherman to know how the wind blows. What you really need is a satellite. Meet Aeolus ("Guardian of the Winds" in Greek mythology), to be launched at the end of August by the European Space Agency (ESA). This photo is a small taste of the view that Aeolus will have during his mission from Earth. Their task: to study the winds of the earth in real time and to help scientists gather data about our constantly changing climate. Aeolus will be the first space instrument to measure winds at all elevations from our surface to the stratosphere.

Neptune is a long way from Earth. So far, it's hard to take a good look at it, unless you send something to the edge of our solar system ̵

1; something we've only done once with Voyager 2 in the late 1980s. But wait: this picture of Neptune is new! The Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory used a technique called adaptive optics, in which laser telescopes on Earth consider and correct the effects of turbulence in our atmosphere as well as Neptune. Astronomers can now look through the thick clouds to get a detailed picture – sharper than possible from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments we've sent into space have captured and astonished our long-standing awe and have massively expanded it. Consider this image, an outstanding example of Hubble's ability to look into the Great Afterlife: the galaxy cluster shown here, known as SDSS J1336-0331, is 2.2 billion light-years from Earth. That the light in this photo took 2.2 billion years to reach Hubble's camera is not half. The pile contains so much mass that it literally bends the room – and as a result the light bends around it.


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