For billions of years, massive stars in our Milky Way Galaxy have lived spectacular lives. Collapsing from vast cosmic clouds, their nuclear furnaces ignite and create heavy elements in their cores. After a few million years, the enriched material is blasted back into interstellar space where star formation begins anew. The expanding debris cloud known as Cassiopeia A is an example of this final phase of the stellar life cycle. Light from the explosion which created this supernova remnant was probably first seen in planet Earth's sky just over 300 years ago, although it took that light more than 10,000 years to reach us.
This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows what astronomers are referring to as a 'snake' (upper left) and its surrounding stormy environment. The sinuous object is actually the core of a thick, sooty cloud large enough to swallow dozens of solar systems. In fact, astronomers say the 'snake's belly' may be harboring beastly stars in the process of forming.
Disney's space ranger Buzz Lightyear returned from space on Sept. 11, 2009 aboard space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 mission after 15 months aboard the International Space Station. His time on the orbiting laboratory was celebrated in a ticker-tape parade together with his space station crewmates and former Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin on Oct. 2, at Walt Disney World in Florida.
This image of the International Space Station (ISS), with Earth as a backdrop, was taken from Space Shuttle Discovery on Sept. 8, 2009, as the two spacecraft began their relative separation.
The comparatively low-key mission, scheduled to launch at 1:36 a.m. Tuesday, marks the winding down of the space shuttle program.