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Space Photos of the Week: Galactic Gravitational Field Creates a Cosmic Funhouse Mirror

Humans possess insatiable curiosity about the universe, and constantly wonder what might lie beyond the stars. “It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand,” said astronaut Michael Collins. “Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative.” Arms outstretched, we turn our eyes towards the stars, seeking to understand the cosmos.

Thanks to tools like the Hubble Space Telescope, knowledge is no longer limited by what can be seen from earth. In the 27 years since NASA sent the Hubble into space, it has peered into the far corners of the heavens and made some 1.3 million observations, providing a rare glimpse of Jupiter eclipsed by three moons, some understanding of how dark matter works, and other wonders.

This week, the spacecraft provided a peek at the Abell 370 cluster four billion light-years from Earth. Abell 370 contains several hundred galaxies: blue spirals, which are younger, and huge ellipticals, shining yellow-white. The gravitational field of the cluster warps how light travels, creating a funhouse mirror effect so galaxies appear to whirl through space.

But spacecraft doesn’t just give us the view from thousands of miles away. It can also transport us up close to celestial landscapes, like a 360-degree mosaic of the red planet’s Bagnold Dunes, taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. This spring, the rover examined four dune sites on Mars, as part of the first up-close study of active dunes beyond our planet.

Looking for more images of monster galaxies and the rocky terrain of other planets? See the whole collection here.

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