When it comes to space photography, it feels like every year gets better than the last. From images of far off planets, to social media-savvy astronauts with DSLRS, to the excitement around SpaceX’s reusable rocket, 2015 has been ablaze with exceptional image after exceptional image of the cosmos and the vehicles that take us there.
This was the year evidence of liquidized water was found on Mars and the year we rediscovered our admiration for Pluto. A new generation of probes, armed with a new generation of cameras, has shown us more about our universe in more detail than ever before, and these images have awoken our collective love for adventure. These are our picks for the most awe-inspiring, jaw dropping, curiosity-kindling space photographs of 2015.
Space looks simple in this image of Saturn’s two moons, Enceladus and Tethys, floating above Saturn’s rings, taken by Cassini. Looking more like an abstract art piece than an actual photograph, this image encapsulates space’s nothingness.
Pluto may have gotten most of the attention this year, but this detailed image of its moon, Charon, is interesting because of its imperfection. Imperfectly round with a huge scar around its midsection, Charon showed us that our own moon may be as rugged as we thought.
You can stop taking selfies now. Astronaut Scott Kelly has you beat. This #SpaceWalkSelfie was shared to Twitter in late October during his first space walk. In a year where NASA made a huge PR push in tandem with The Martian, this image helped us relate more to the astronauts who orbit us in the ISS.
It’s not often we get to see the far side of the moon, but thanks to the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (phew!), we got to see it move into the sunlit side of the Earth. Frankly, it looks pretty fake – which makes its realness all the more surreal.
Of course this image would be on this list. It’s the image that made us all fall back in love Pluto after we told it to leave our textbooks as our 9th planet. This enhanced color image of the (still) dwarf planet let us know that Pluto loved us all along with its big heart.
An unprecedented look at failure from America’s most promising space company, SpaceX, shows the Falcon 9 Rocket failing a landing on an oceanic barge in February. It was supposed to herald a new age of reusable rockets, but we’d have to wait until December 2015 for that goal to be realized. Elon Musk shared a video of this crash with the caption, “Close, but no cigar. This time.”
America wasn’t the only space agency turning out incredible space images. This is comet 67P captured by the European Space Agency. The Rosetta probe was the first craft to rendezvous with a comet. Comet 67P may not look exactly how we’d expect, but that’s what makes it so fascinating.
Mars and NASA’s Curiosity Rover have been getting pretty friendly this year. This image of Mars’ sand dunes looks like it could be taken from Earth, reminding us that the alien can also be familiar.