The coolest new space pictures: May 2024

This month, our active Sun created dazzling aurorae that were seen by skywatchers around the world. The Sun is nearing the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, during which time more sunspots than usual appear. Sunspots are associated with solar flares, which emit intense bursts of radiation and charged particles:

A powerful solar flare
A powerful solar flare NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a powerful X5.8 solar flare on May 10, 2024. The flare is the brightest region of the image near center-right. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the hot material in the flare.Image: NASA SDO

Some of these charged particles get trapped by Earth’s magnetic field and interact with the gases in our atmosphere. The result is a dazzling light show known as the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere, and the aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere. Blues and purples are caused by interactions with nitrogen, while greens and reds are caused by oxygen.

Aurora from Seattle
Aurora from Seattle This photo of the aurora borealis was shared by Planetary Society member Gene Lewan, whose daughter Elyse and son-in-law Zack captured the image from their backyard in Seattle, Washington.Image: Elyse Lewan
Aurora from Wales
Aurora from Wales Planetary Society member Kelsey Harkness-Jones captured this shot of the aurora borealis from Llandegla Moors in Wrexham, UK.Image: Kelsey Harkness-Jones

Here are some other images that caught our attention this month:

Amalthea and Jupiter from two angles
Amalthea and Jupiter from two angles Jupiter and its moon Amalthea photographed at two different angles by NASA's Juno spacecraft. Amalthea is visible as a black dot in the foreground of Jupiter's Great Red Spot in the left image; in the right, it appears toward the bottom of the image.Image: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt
Perseverance inspects the Jezero landscape
Perseverance inspects the Jezero landscape NASA's Perseverance rover captured the images used to create this panorama of the landscape inside Jezero Crater on May 20, 2024.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Kevin M. Gill
A Europan platypus
A Europan platypus This black-and-white image of Europa's surface was taken by the Stellar Reference Unit aboard Juno during a Sept. 29, 2022, flyby. NASA released the image on May 15, 2024. Icy grooves and ridges dominate the image. In the upper-right corner are dark stains possibly linked to water bubbling up from beneath the surface. At center-right is a section of chaotic terrain that members of the Juno science team refer to as "the Platypus."Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI
Artemis after dark
Artemis after dark NASA astronaut Andre Douglas uses a hammer and chisel to break off a small sample during a nighttime simulated moonwalk in the San Francisco Volcanic Field in Northern Arizona on May 16, 2024.Image: NASA/Josh Valcarcel
Spotting the ISS from orbit
Spotting the ISS from orbit Space imaging company HEO Robotics captured this image of the International Space Station from a distance of just 69 kilometers (43 miles). The station was passing over the Indian Ocean at the time.Image: HEO Robotics
Cosmic butterfly
Cosmic butterfly What looks to be a butterfly in space is actually a planet-forming disk surrounding a star, in this image created from data captured by the Submillimeter Array (SMA) and Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). Officially known as IRAS 23077 and located about 1,000 light-years from Earth, astronomers believe the butterfly may be the largest planet-forming disk ever observed. It has enough dust and gas to form planets out to distances 300 times farther than the distance between our Sun and Jupiter.Image: Radio: SAO/ASIAA/SMA/K. Monsch et al; Optical: Pan-STARRS
New Shepard NS-25 mission liftoff
New Shepard NS-25 mission liftoff A Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft carrying six people lifts off on a suborbital flight on May 19, 2024. Among the crew was 90-year-old former Air Force Captain Ed Dwight, who was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as the nation’s first Black astronaut candidate but never had the opportunity to fly.Image: Blue Origin