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Week's Best Space Pictures: Space Smiley Face, Mercury Megacrater
By
National Geographic News, 13 February 2015.

A star smiley face seems to form a cosmic grin, a Space X rocket launches, and a giant iceberg breaks free in Antarctica in this week's roundup of space photos.

1. Space Smiley Face

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A galaxy cluster appears to flash a smile at Earth in a newly released image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The eyes in this cosmic smiley face are actually very bright galaxies - technically known as SDSS J1038+4849 - while the smile lines are arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing. (See more galaxy pictures.)

When cosmic objects align with one right in front of the other, the foreground object's gravity can act as a lens, warping and magnifying the background object's light.

2. Blast Off

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Aboard the spacecraft is the Deep Space Climate Observatory, which will provide a 24-hour view of the Earth's sunlit face and 20- to 30-minute warnings of threatening solar geomagnetic storms before they reach Earth. (Related: "Spacecraft Launched to Watch Earth and Warn of Solar Storms.")

"These geomagnetic storms can be very dangerous to critical infrastructure on Earth-power grids, aviation communications systems, satellites in orbit," said Tom Berger of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Centre.

3. Now That's a Hole

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A 12-mile-wide (20-kilometre) crater on Mercury seems to stare like an ominous eye in an image taken by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft.

Released February 11, the image shows the complexity of Mercurian craters, which, unlike smaller craters that are simple and bowl-shaped, have terraces and peaks.

The tiny white flecks near the southwestern rim are boulders created during the impact event. The largest is 590 feet (180 meters) across.

4. A Chip Off the Big Block

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A 27-square-mile (70-square-kilometre) chunk of ice breaks off the King Baudouin Ice Shelf, part of the East Antarctica ice sheet, in a picture taken by NASA's Earth Observatory on January 24.

Large icebergs calve regularly from the more active shelves of West Antarctica, but less so along the cooler, drier eastern coast - which is why scientists were surprised by the recent event, according to NASA. (See "Scientists Witness Birth of NYC-Sized Iceberg.")

The last time such a large iceberg snapped off the King Baudouin Ice Shelf was in the 1960s.

5. Sun Belt

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A dark line snaking across the lower half of the sun was captured in a February 10 image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

The mark is actually an enormous swath of cold material hovering in the sun's atmosphere, or corona. Stretched out, it would be more than 533,000 miles (857,000 kilometres) long, which is more than the length of 67 Earths lined up in a row.

Such filaments, as they're called, can float sedately before disappearing or can erupt into a coronal mass ejection, a sort of solar storm capable of impacting telecommunications on Earth. (Read about solar storms in National Geographic magazine.)

Photo gallery by Mallory Benedict.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]

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