As summer quickly approaches the U.S., there are a lot of exciting things happening way above Earth, out there in space. We have new closeup images of dwarf planet Ceres, while NASA's Cassini is making its last approach to Saturn moon Hyperion.
We're also edging ever closer to Pluto, with an all-systems-go given to rendezvous with the dwarf planet soon.
Meanwhile, Hubble took an extraordinary photo that shows the distribution of matter in our galaxy.
In other words, it was yet another amazing week in the world of space exploration.
NASA's Dawn takes an extreme closeup of Ceres.
Thanks to NASA's Dawn spacecraft, we're getting a look at dwarf planet Ceres unlike anything we've seen before. Now, the spacecraft has captured an image at just 3,200 miles away from Ceres' surface with a whopping 1,600 feet per pixel resolution. This happened just before Dawn began moving into its second orbit around the dwarf planet that will take it just 2,700 miles above Ceres' surface.
Cassini prepares for its last look at Hyperion.
Before NASA's Cassini spacecraft moves on to its next mission, it plans on getting one last good look at Saturn moon Hyperion on Sunday. Then, it will pass about 21,000 miles above Hyperion's surface and take photos of the moon, which will arrive back on Earth in a few days. Astronomers hope that the new photos will highlight more of Hyperion's surface features.
Hyperion has proven problematic, at least when it comes to getting decent images, because it's an oddball celestial object: it has a chaotic rotation and an unpredictable orbit. So, basically, because of this, we've only actually seen one side of the spongy-appearing moon.
New Horizons cleared for Pluto arrival.
As New Horizons closes in on Pluto, NASA made sure that its path doesn't contain any debris that could be hazardous to the mission. After analyzing photos taken by the spacecraft, so far, all looks well for the path New Horizons has plotted out for the dwarf planet. Of course, for safety, New Horizons continues to take photos as it makes its way through space so that a hazards detection team can continue to chart its progress and any dangers it could come across. If anything does get detected, NASA can redirect the spacecraft to avoid obstacles.
New images of the galaxy show the distribution of matter in the Milky Way.
One thing we're still trying to figure out about our own galaxy concerns the distribution of matter. However, a new image taken by the Herschel space observatory shows how filaments of gas and dust create a sort of web around our galaxy, giving us new insight into that distribution. The mass of these filaments are at least thousands times that of our sun and their length is around 100 light-years long with a width of 10 light-years. This is the first time we've ever observed such massive filaments.
"Long and flimsy threads emerge from a twisted mix of material, taking on complex shapes as the gas and dust in them become denser and cooler," writes the European Space Agency (ESA) on their website. "Two of them even exhibit a 'head' - a brighter clump of matter at the tip of the wispy thread."
Hubble observes a "death star" beam in a black hole.
In the Star Wars films, Darth Vader's death star sends a beam to a planet and blows it up. Something similar happens in space, although the beam is a lot more powerful than anything George Lucas could dream up. Hubble spotted one of these beams 25 years ago traveling at 98 percent the speed of light inside a supermassive black hole.
Hubble has spent most of its life in space observing the beam in galaxy NGC 3862, which is about 260 million light-years from Earth, but after putting these images into a time-lapse movie, astronomers recently discovered a massive collision of materials within that beam, which speeds up particles trapped within it even faster, even closer to the speed of light.
Of course, because the galaxy is so far away, what we're actually seeing is something that happened millions of years ago.
[Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA]