This is a golden era for space and planetary science, a time when discoveries, new understandings, and newly-found mysteries are flooding in. There are so many reasons to find the drama to be intriguing: a desire to understand the physical forces at play, to learn how those forces led to the formation of Earth and ultimately us, to explore whether parallel scenarios unfolded on planets far away, and to see how our burgeoning knowledge might set the stage for exploration.
But always there is also the beauty; the gaudy, the stimulating, the overpowering spectacle of it all.
Here is a small sample of what came in during 2016:
The Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy, can be seen only in the southern hemisphere. Here, the Hubble Space Telescope captured two nebulas in the cloud. Intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen in each of the nebulas, causing them to glow red.
Together, the nebulas are called NGC 248 and are 60 light-years long and 20 light-years wide. It is among a number of glowing hydrogen nebulas in the dwarf satellite galaxy, which is found approximately 200,000 light-years away.