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Best Space Pictures: Ancient Cluster of Stars, Heavy Metal on Mars, and Europa's Frozen Bars
By Dan Vergano,
National Geographic News, 18 July 2014.

Astronauts welcome new supplies and summer brings beautiful skies in the week's best space pictures.

1. Antares Rocket Lifts Off

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A supply mission to the International Space Station began with this flawless launch on Sunday, delighting some hungry spacefarers.

"Fresh Food!" said astronaut Cady Coleman on Twitter, pleased about the arrival of the supplies.

The unmanned Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo capsule headed into space from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft carried 3,000 pounds of cargo, including science experiments.

Though only Russia's Soyuz space capsule can deliver astronauts to the space station, a number of cargo capsules, such as the Cygnus used on this Orbital-2 mission, can now resupply the orbiting lab.

2. Nearby Galaxy's Star Cluster Sparkles

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NGC 121, a ten-billion-year-old star cluster seen in this July 14 Hubble Space Telescope picture, sits in a neighbouring galaxy.

The star cluster is the oldest one residing in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy circling our own Milky Way.

Star clusters orbit the centre of galaxies; the Milky Way has about 150 of them. Why NGC 121 is much older than the other clusters in its galaxy is a mystery under study by astronomers.

3. Saltwater Belts Bind Europa

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Bands of ice crisscross the frozen surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa, revealed in this July 8 image - a filtered view from the archives of NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

In the colourized image, the blue-green ice represents relatively pure frozen water. The red ice holds water mixed with salts and possibly sulphuric acid.

A sea is thought to lie beneath Europa's icy crust. The red bands may contain material from this deeper water.

Galileo took the image of this 10,403-square-mile patch of the moon (26,944 square kilometres) in a series of flybys in 1997 and 1998. In some of the flybys, the spacecraft passed within 13,237 miles (21,700 kilometres) of the moon.

4. Stars Glitter Above Hungary

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Photograph by Tamas Ladanyi, TWAN

The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Hungary, seen in this view taken by photographer Ladanyi Tamas.

5. Rock of Iron

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A stranger in a strange land, NASA's Curiosity rover spotted this iron meteorite on Mars in May, shown in this photo released on July 15.

The iron meteorite stands out against the red dust of Mars; other NASA rovers have spotted similar ones in the past.

The pits marking the iron rock may result from mineral crystals embedded in the meteorite slowly being worn away by the Martian wind.

6. Wildfires Burnish Supermoon's Shimmers

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Photograph by Mike Cushman, National Geographic Your Shot

Local wildfires added to the gleam of the supermoon seen in this July 12 Your Shot picture, mirrored in a pond in Quincy, Washington.

A supermoon takes place when a full moon coincides with its closest approach to the Earth during its lunar orbit, adding to the appearance of its size. Two more are expected this summer.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]

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