The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

2012 was a remarkable year for jaw-dropping space imagery. Here, in no particular order, are our 22 favorite photos, videos, composites, timelapses and animations of the cosmos for the year.

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

An Impossibly Beautiful Image of Earth

Released in January of this year, NASA calls this update to the iconic "Blue Marble" photograph "the most amazing high-definition picture of Earth ever taken." [More]

A breathtaking aurora from one of the decade's largest geomagnetic storms

Back in January, the Sun unleashed an M9-class solar flare, showering Earth with subatomic particles that gave rise to one of the biggest geomagnetic storms in recent history. The resulting aurorae, which were even brighter than usual in the planet's northernmost latitudes, were an absolute marvel to behold. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

Saturn's Two Largest Moons, Captured in Tandem

Saturn has 62 known moons. Pictured here are the biggest of the lot (Titan and Rhea), arranged as two crescents, one sitting atop the other. This is the first of many images in this gallery captured by NASA's Cassini probe, and just one of the countless breathtaking images returned by the spacecraft this year.

Behold, the Librating Moon

Unless you're an astronaut, we're willing to bet that you have never seen the Moon depicted as stunningly as it is here. For several years now, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been snapping high resolution photos of the Moon's surface. Back in March, the Goddard Visualization Studio had the good sense to string thousands of those images together into a video. Then, Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait had the ingenious idea to kick things up a notch by adding a dramatic score and a bunch of informative annotations that explain, among other things, what the hell "libration" is.

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The Transit of Venus

Back in June, millions of people the world over (and a handful of astronauts, over the world) looked to the skies to watch Venus inch its way across the face of the Sun for the last time in over a century; the next time you'll be able to watch Venus cross the face of the Sun (at least from Earth) won't be until December, 2117.

This photo of the transit, captured by the NASA/JAXA Hinode spacecraft, was among our favorite of the event. [See more photos of the transit here]

An Absolutely Mindblowing Video Shot from the Space Shuttle During Launch

The launch itself did not take place in 2012, but this footage — remastered by the folks over at Skywalker sound — is hands down the most incredible rocket-booster video we've ever seen.

Michael Interbartolo — who used to work on the Shuttle Program at Mission Control in Houston — had this to say about the video when he posted it to Google+ back in March:

Just got this from the guys at Glenn who are finalizing the new special edition DVD/BluRay version of Ascent: Commemorating Shuttle which this will be an extra on. The video is shot from the Solid Rocket Booster Perspective up and down with enhanced sound thanks to Ben Burtt's son and the folks at Skywalker Sound. The team is still trying to figure out how to release this all to the public, but for now enjoy an exclusive first look. +NASA youtube doesn't even have the video.

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The biggest dust devil you've ever seen

On March 14th, NASA's powerful HiRISE camera spied this Martian dust devil winding its way over the Amazonis Planitia region in the Red Planet's northern hemisphere. But unlike this dust devil (photographed a few weeks earlier), which stood a "measly" 800 meters tall, this storm had some serious altitude to it — twelve miles of altitude, to be exact.

To put things in perspective, consider that on Earth, it's a big deal if a tornado reaches ten miles in height — and what you see here isn't actually a tornado at all. It's a dust devil. But dust devils here on Earth rarely exceed heights of even a few hundred meters. [More]

This beautifully composed space footage will 100% give you chills

2012 was a great year for beautifully edited space videos. Many of them (like this one, which was pieced together from thousands of photos captured during NASA's Cassini and Voyager missions) were created using publicly available, archival imagery. This composition was one of our favorites from the year; the carefully selected mix of imagery, old and new, is simply stunning. Just watch. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

Technicolor Dream Sol

The last time you heard the term "gradient filter," it was probably in reference to a feature on a photo editing program, but scientists studying images and video collected by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory use gradient filters, too — often with absolutely mesmerizing results. [More]

Why NASA engineers called the Curiosity Rover's Mars landing "Seven Minutes of Terror"

By the time NASA released this video back in June, we had been talking about the Curiosity rover's upcoming landing on Mars for months. We'd told you about the heat shields. We'd briefed you on the supersonic parachute. And, of course, we'd raved about the rover's rocket-powered sky crane. But we had never seen the landing presented like this. This video depicted the stress and excitement of exploration as experienced by those closest to the Mars rover project. It captured tension, anxiety, and anticipation, and helped make real (to anyone who wasn't directly involved with the Curiosity mission) the sensations that overcome you when you know exactly how much heart, emotion and energy you've poured into something — while being fully aware of what you stand to lose should things fall apart. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

NASA's HiRISE photographs Curiosity during its descent

One spacecraft (Curiosity) descends through the Red Planet's atmosphere by parachute, as a second, separate spacecraft (The Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, outfitted with the HiRISE camera) photographs it from Mars orbit. All of this is going on millions of miles away from Earth. Just let that sink in. Absolutely mindblowing. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

NASA's Curiosity rover snaps a selfie for the ages

Curiosity has been snapping truckloads of photographs since it landed on the Red Planet back at the beginning of August, many of them totally worthy of inclusion in this gallery; but this self-portrait - a high-resolution mosaic of 55 images taken by its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) — resonates particularly strongly with us.

The best video of Curiosity's landing

Video editors spent hundreds of hours in the weeks following Curiosity's arrival on Mars using a technique called "interpolation" to artificially transform the choppy footage of the rover's descent (originally captured at just four frames-per-second) into a much smoother, high framerate version. This video, pieced together by Bard Canning, was the most impressive descent footage to emerge from the lot. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The most detailed picture yet of a star nursery birthing new suns

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was lifted into low Earth orbit and promptly turned its attention to the depths of space. Today, over 10,000 publications and almost 22 years later, Hubble continues to change the way we see and understand our Universe with images that are truly awesome in every sense of the word.

This panoramic view of 30 Doradus - the brightest and most prolific star-forming region in our galactic neighborhood - is one of several breathtaking hi-res images released earlier this year in celebration of Hubble's 22nd anniversary, and is one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

A series of spellbinding true-color photographs of Saturn

Every time you think you've seen all there is to see of Saturn and its moons, the Cassini imaging team goes ahead and blows that notion right out of the water, along with your mind. In this series of images released by CICLOPS back in August, Saturn and its giant moon, Titan, show their true, jaw-dropping colors. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The most Spectacular Solar Eruption of 2012

2012 was host to its fair share of sublime solar eruptions, but this particular explosion, captured during an intense solar storm on August 31st, was hands down the most spellbinding of the lot.

This "long filament of solar material," as NASA calls it, was spotted tearing away from the Sun at upwards of 900 miles per second. Yes, per second; this CME, as is typical of super-hot plasma filaments that are flung from the sun, was hauling serious ass. It was also freaking enormous — plenty big enough to wrap itself around the Earth a few times — not to mention a few other planets — and still have some plasma left over. Check out photos and videos of the explosion here.

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition, 2012

This year's winning photographs were jaw-dropping as always. This image of NGC 6960 (aka "The Witch's Broom"), which was highly commended in the competition's "Deep Space" category, was one of our favorites.

Photographed by Robert Franke, the "Broom" is the glowing debris from a supernova explosion -– the violent death of a massive star. Although the supernova occurred several thousand years ago, the gaseous debris is still expanding outwards, producing this vast cloud-like structure. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

The Deepest View of the Universe Ever Captured

Back in September, astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope released the most detailed view of the early Universe ever captured. It's called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF for short. The image combines over ten years' worth of photographs by Hubble. It required 2-million seconds of exposure time to produce, and contains over 5,500 of the Universe's most ancient galaxies. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

Things that GIFs are good for, in no particular order:
1. Cats. This one, specifically.
2. IWDRM
3. Absolutely jaw-dropping 3D renderings of astronomical bodies. Like this one, created by astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio, of a star cluster named IC 1396.

[More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

An Absolutely Incredible Raw image of Saturn's Swirling North Pole

This swirling maelstrom of clouds was seen over Saturn's north pole on November 27, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Known informally as "The Eye of Saturn," this whirling storm system measures approximately 1,200 miles in diameter. It's been a few years since we've gotten such a good look at the planet's north pole… thanks to Cassini's new orbital trajectory, which is taking it high above the ring plane and poles of Saturn, we now have the opportunity to view the gas giant's dynamic upper latitudes again. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

"The Black Marble": NASA's Most Detailed Nighttime Views of Earth to Date

At the beginning of December, NASA released a remarkable collection of images of Earth at night — the most detailed, highest resolution nighttime views of the planet ever captured.

The images were acquired by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite over a total of 22 days in April and October of this year (Suomi is the same Earth-observing spacecraft behind NASA's recently updated "Blue Marble" photograph of a fully illuminated Earth). The camera aboard the satellite can only photograph small sections of the globe at a time, so it had to orbit the Earth 312 times to photograph every last bit of the planet's surface. NASA calls the series — awesomely — its "Black Marble" images of Earth. [More]

The Hottest Space Porn of 2012

This rare view of Saturn is one of the most beautiful images of the planet we've ever seen

Banded, backlit and beautiful, this verdant view of Saturn — released by CICLOPS just last week — is one of the most remarkable images of the planet ever captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. [More]