A collection of Cosmos Snapshots


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The Milky Way

Light pollution in the world’s cities has cut millions off from the stars and made what was a common sight for our ancestors a rare delight today. In this picture, taken in the depths of winter, the Milky Way has to compete with a different sort of natural light pollution, the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. This cosmic show occurs when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the earth’s atmosphere.

Snapshot reef restoration

Reef restoration

These old bicycles have not fallen victim to rising sea levels. They have been placed underwater to help seed coral regrowth in tropical waters completely stripped of their natural reefs. Wired up to a solar panel, an electrochemical process coats their metal frames with calcium carbonate from the seawater, creating the perfect surface for coral growth. This new reef, in Pemuteran, Bali, Indonesia, is already attracting fish and other inhabitants.

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Gold leaf

If you want to strike gold, try reading the leaves. As eucalyptus trees push their roots tens of metres below the parched Australian soil in search of moisture, they sometimes find other riches buried beneath them. Gums growing above gold deposits will suck up trace amounts of the metal in the water they drink, slowly accumulating it in their leaves. The amount of gold in the leaf is minute but can be detected using X-ray imaging, helping miners decide where to dig.

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Fire and brimstone

Liquid-hot sulfur gushes from an active vent in the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java, Indonesia. By night it lights the crater with its eerie violet-blue glow, the characteristic colour of burning sulfur. Despite the heat and the toxic fumes, locals tap this highly pure sulfur source to make a meagre living, hauling the cooled, solidified sulfur out of the crater to sell.  

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NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Martian scar

NASA cameras have captured a new feature on the Martian landscape: a fresh impact crater, caused by a recent space rock strike. The rock gouged a 30-metre-wide crater in the planet’s surface, surrounded by a blast zone that radiates up to 15 kilometres from the point of impact. The image was taken on 19 November last year by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The picture shows how the impact’s blast blew away the characteristic red dust that normally coats this part of the planet: colour-enhancement NASA applied to the image makes the freshly exposed rock appear a dramatic shade of blue.

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Eberhardt Josué Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Rodríguez Cañas, Wellcome Images

Nanoscale structures

It looks like a new variety of dahlia, but it’s origins are in agricultural sludge. Silver oxide “flowers” blossom from calcium carbonate “branches” in an unexpectedly beautiful transformation of waste. Researchers Eberhardt Josué Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Rodríguez Cañas at the Autonomous University of Madrid captured the image of the nanoscale structures left over after measuring the sludge’s carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur content by burning the elements away. The work was a winner in the Wellcome Image Awards 2014. The other wining images can be viewed at wellcomeimageawards.org

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Mark Talbot/CSIRO/2014 Eureka Prize for science photography

Birth of a seed

In its first moments, a young wheat seed is a strange coil of tangled cells. The image was created by superimposing two shots captured with an electron microscope. One focused on the outline of each cell (artificially coloured blue) and the other captured the nucleus within each cell (artificially coloured orange). Combining the two shots gives the image its semi-transparent, three-dimensional look. It’s almost as though the surface of each cell has been peeled away to reveal the nucleus within. Wheat through the looking glass was created by Mark Talbot from CSIRO. In September his picture won the Eureka Prize for Science Photography.

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Solar Flare

This face-like pattern that appeared briefly on the Sun’s surface on 8 October, likened by some to a Jack-o’-lantern, was the result of solar activity playing across our star’s surface. Active spots appear as bright patches. The image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, using its extreme UV light detectors. The false colour added to the image gives a particularly eerie effect.

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