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Week's Best Space Pictures: Orion Gets Wet and Clusters Twinkle
By Jane J. Lee,
National Geographic News, 8 August 2014.

Hawaii gets spotted from space, the Orion spacecraft gets wet, and Curiosity makes tracks on Mars in this week's best space pictures.

1. High on Hawaii

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Panels from the International Space Station dip into a shot of some of the Hawaiian islands (centre) in an image released August 6.

An Expedition 40 crewmember snapped a picture of the tropical paradise as the ISS flew 293 miles (472 kilometres) above the Pacific Ocean.

2. Testing…Testing…

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NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Lockheed Martin test the Orion spacecraft off the coast of San Diego, California, in an image released August 4. Officials plan to use Orion to carry astronauts on missions to asteroids and Mars.

The open ocean exercise was designed to test the ability of the equipment and crew to recover the capsule after splashdown in preparation for eventual manned flights. The first unpiloted test flight for Orion is scheduled for this year aboard a Delta IV rocket.

3. Rover Prints

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The Mars rover Curiosity continues to make its mark on the red planet, this time with wheel tracks in the sand of an area called Hidden Valley.

The image, taken August 4 - one day shy of Curiosity's two-year anniversary on Mars - is courtesy of the vehicle's navigation camera.

4. Glitter

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Globular cluster IC 4499 twinkles in an image released August 4. This cluster of stars orbits the Milky Way galaxy and is about 12 billion years old. Massive globular clusters are made of stars differing in age - a collection of multiple generations of stars. Stars in smaller, lower-mass globular clusters tend to all be the same age.

IC 4499 is somewhere in between. Astronomers hope to use its special status to study how a globular cluster's mass affects its makeup.

5. Lithium Brine

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An instrument on the Terra satellite captured the former mining town of Silver Peak, Nevada, in an image released August 5. The area is now home to the only source of lithium - extracted from brine - in the U.S. The element is used mainly in the manufacture of batteries.

6. Water-Bearing Rocks

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No, that's not snow on Mars. The bright white rocks in this image are riddled with minerals containing water. The area, named Noctis Labyrinthus, harbours a lot of these types of rocks in its various depressions.

Researchers can study how water shaped this alien landscape using instruments on a spacecraft orbiting the red planet.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Some links added.]

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