Best Space Photos of the Week: From Solar Flares to Saturn’s Moons

A spitting sun, a well-loved lake and a happy accident on Mars star in this week’s best space images

Ten years ago this week, the Huygens probe gave scientists a first look at the icy surface beneath the haze of Saturn's moon Titan. (ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
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The green comet Lovejoy continues to sparkle for sky-watchers, NASA celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the Huygens landing on the hazy moon Titan, Virgin Galactic shows signs of bouncing back from its deadly crash and more in the best space-related photos released this week.    

First Big Flare of 2015

The sun started this week off with a bang, generating a mid-level solar flare that peaked on January 12. Captured here by NASA's sun-watching satellite the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the event was the first significant flare of the year—but it certainly won't be the last.

Solar flares are bursts of powerful radiation that happen when pent up magnetic energy in the sun's atmosphere is suddenly released. While the number and strength of solar flares in a year varies based on the sun's 11-year activity cycle, even a quiet sun usually produces several flares annually. Earth's atmosphere mostly protects us from the onslaught of radiation, although strong flares can disrupt GPS and communications signals. Flares can also send clouds of solar particles racing into space, and if they hit Earth, the particles can spark brilliant aurora displays.

About Victoria Jaggard

Victoria Jaggard is the science editor for Smithsonian.com. Her writing has appeared in Chemical & Engineering News, National Geographic, New Scientist and elsewhere.

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