Feast your eyes on the stunning images spacecraft captured this year


A large piece of space debris imaged by the Astroscale ADRAS-J mission.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft zipped just 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) above the volcanic world Io this year. The extraterrestrial vistas, including a view of the most powerful volcano known to humanity, didn’t disappoint.

“It’s absolutely stunning, stunning imagery,” Ashley Davies, a planetary scientist at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Mashable.

Other space missions have captured intriguing views of Mars, the moon, and beyond. Here are many of the impressive cosmic scenes from 2024, so far.

NASA craft snaps close images of volcano-covered world

NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this detailed view of Io on Feb. 3, 2024.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this detailed view of Io on Feb. 3, 2024.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Jason Perry

After swooping by Jupiter’s tortured moon on Feb. 3, NASA‘s Juno spacecraft beamed back some of the closest-ever images of this unique world. The agency’s deep space probe came within just 930 miles of Io, following a similar pass in December. Planetary scientists hope these much-anticipated flybys will answer fundamental questions about the mysterious, lava-spewing moon.

“The twin flybys are designed to provide new insight into how Io’s volcanic engine works and whether a global magma ocean exists under Io’s rocky, mountainous surface terrain,” mission operators wrote after the first images came back.

Io contains hundreds of volcanoes, many of which are active and hot enough for Juno to detect their heat on the moon’s surface.

Two volcanic plumes rising from Io.

Two volcanic plumes rising from Io.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / AndreaLuck / CC BY 3.0 Unported

Unprecedented photo of largest volcano in our solar system

Olympus Mons captured by NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter on March 11, 2024.

Olympus Mons captured by NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter on March 11, 2024.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU

NASA captured an expansive view of the largest volcano known to humanity.

The space agency used its 23-year-old Mars Odyssey orbiter to capture a never-before-seen view of Olympus Mons — a vista similar to how astronauts in a hypothetical orbiting space station might view the behemoth mountain. It’s 373 miles (600 kilometers) wide — about the size of Arizona — and 17 miles (27 kilometers) tall. That’s over twice as high as commercial airliners fly.

“Normally we see Olympus Mons in narrow strips from above, but by turning the spacecraft toward the horizon we can see in a single image how large it looms over the landscape,” NASA’s Odyssey project scientist, Jeffrey Plaut, said in a statement. “Not only is the image spectacular, it also provides us with unique science data.”

As you can see, it’s not a sharply peaked mountain, but a gradually sloping “shield volcano,” similar to the Hawaiian volcanoes. It was formed by progressive lava flows, as thick oozing lava layered upon earlier lava flows.

Spacecraft approaches metal object zooming around Earth, snaps footage

A spacecraft carefully approached and imaged a large hunk of metal orbiting Earth in April — a step in tackling humanity’s mounting space junk woes.

The delicate space mission, undertaken by the Japanese satellite technology company Astroscale, used its ADRAS-J satellite to travel within several hundred meters of an abandoned section of a noncommunicative, derelict rocket, proving it could safely observe in such close proximity.

The mission is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA, which is Japan’s NASA counterpart) “Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration” project, which seeks a proven way to remove problematic space junk from Earth’s orbit. A collision involving a large object can create thousands more pieces of debris, stoking a domino effect of future impacts.

U.S. spacecraft snap views of auroras encircling Earth

A view from above Earth showing the vibrant auroras on May 11, 2024.

A view from above Earth showing the vibrant auroras on May 11, 2024.
Credit: NOAA

A parade of intense solar storms hit Earth in May 2024 — the strongest since Halloween over 20 years ago.

While these outbursts from the active sun can pose serious threats to our electrical grid and communications systems, they also stoke brilliant events in our polar skies, commonly called auroras, or the northern lights. In particular, our medium-sized star recently emitted a number of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which are ejections of super hot gas (plasma). “It’s like scooping up a piece of the sun and ejecting it into space,” Mark Miesch, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, previously told Mashable.

When they collide with Earth, solar particles can become trapped by our planet’s magnetic field, traveling to the poles and colliding with the molecules and particles in our atmosphere. Then, these atmospheric particles heat up and glow. Three U.S. weather satellites captured this dramatic event from above the North Pole on May 11, showing a glowing ring around places that don’t usually witness the dancing lights.

“Multiple coronal mass ejections from the sun sparked an extreme geomagnetic storm around the Earth last week, creating stunning auroras, even in places where the northern lights are rarely seen,” NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) explained when it released the image above. “The Southern Hemisphere also reported remarkable auroras from the storm.”

Lunar spacecraft lands on its head

Japan's robotic SLIM spacecraft landed upside down on the moon in January 2024.

Japan’s robotic SLIM spacecraft landed upside down on the moon in January 2024.
Credit: JAXA

Japan landed its SLIM spacecraft — short for Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon — on Jan. 19. About a week later, Japan’s space agency (JAXA) released an image of the robotic lander (taken by a baseball-sized robot released before landing), revealing why its solar panels failed to generate electricity.

It landed upside down.

One of SLIM’s thrusters malfunctioned 50 meters (around 50 yards) above the lunar surface, resulting in the mishap. Even so, the craft still demonstrated an unprecedented “pinpoint landing,” wherein it touched down under 100 meters (about 110 yards) from its intended target.

“The pinpoint landing performance was evaluated to be at approximately 10m or less, possibly about 3 – 4m,” JAXA said in a statement.

NASA rover finds damaged helicopter in middle of Mars desert

After a rough landing this year, the damaged Ingenuity helicopter can’t fly again. NASA’s nearby Perseverance rover spotted the grounded extraterrestrial chopper sitting alone in a valley on Mars in early February 2024.

The NASA image below, processed and enhanced by the geovisual designer Simeon Schmauß, underscores the desolation of profoundly arid Mars, a desert planet that’s largely lost its insulating atmosphere and is 1,000 times drier than the driest desert on Earth.

The Ingenuity helicopter is visible just below the center of this image.

The Ingenuity helicopter is visible just below the center of this image.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / Simeon Schmauß

Both the Perseverance rover and its former aerial scout, Ingenuity, had been searching for the best places to look for past evidence of Martian life — should any ever have existed. Now the car-sized rover will hunt alone.

Before its accident, the Ingenuity craft made history. The experimental robot was the first craft to ever make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. And then, it kept flying. Ingenuity flew on Mars a whopping 72 times — engineers initially hoped it might fly five times, if at all. It flew distances as far as 2,315 feet.

And it overcame a daunting flight challenge. The Martian atmosphere is quite thin, with a volume about one percent of Earth’s. This makes it difficult to generate the lift needed for flight. To take to the air, Ingenuity spun its four-foot rotor blades at a blazing 2,400 revolutions every minute.

Rough robotic U.S. moon landing

The robotic Odysseus spacecraft landing on the moon on Feb. 22, 2024.

The robotic Odysseus spacecraft landing on the moon on Feb. 22, 2024.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus moon lander snapped a leg while landing on the moon in February 2024. An onboard camera caught the dusty touchdown.

While Odysseus’ landing wasn’t perfect, NASA, which provided $118 million for the commercial mission, hailed the challenging Feb. 22 touchdown as a success. Even in a compromised state, the lander beamed back scientific data from all of NASA’s equipment, which included research into space weather and interactions between the spacecraft’s plume and the moon’s chalky surface.

The mission is part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which picks companies to deliver NASA missions to the moon. This frees the agency, already burdened with an ambitious timeline to return astronauts to the moon under the Artemis program, from having to completely plan and fund missions leading up to human landings. Such a crewed mission won’t happen before 2026.

The moon’s eclipse shadow crossing over Earth

On April 8, 2024, millions of people in North America witnessed a rare total solar eclipse — when the moon passes in between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on our planet.

For those in the relatively narrow path of totality, it’s an experience that cannot be overhyped. “On a scale of one to 10, a partial eclipse is a seven,” Terry Virts, a former NASA astronaut who experienced his first total eclipse (from down on Earth) in 2017, told Mashable. “And a total eclipse is a million.” (A partial eclipse is when just a portion of the sun is blocked by the moon — an interesting experience, but nothing like totality.)

Here’s how the poignant event looked from space, captured by a U.S. science satellite.

Like it? Share with your friends!


What's Your Reaction?

hate hate
confused confused
fail fail
fun fun
geeky geeky
love love
lol lol
omg omg
win win


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Choose A Format
Personality quiz
Series of questions that intends to reveal something about the personality
Trivia quiz
Series of questions with right and wrong answers that intends to check knowledge
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
The Classic Internet Listicles
The Classic Internet Countdowns
Open List
Submit your own item and vote up for the best submission
Ranked List
Upvote or downvote to decide the best list item
Upload your own images to make custom memes
Youtube and Vimeo Embeds
Soundcloud or Mixcloud Embeds
Photo or GIF
GIF format