What was your favorite space image of 2022? There was a lot to choose from. All the focus was on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which launched on Christmas Day 2021 and began doing science in mid-2022.
However, there were many other sources of awesome space images, from the Hubble Space Telescope, a new solar telescope and key NASA missions including a mission to smash up an asteroid, fly past the moon and measure marsquakes on the red planet.
Here are the 15 best space photos of 2022, ranked:
15. Mars InSight’s final photo
NASA’s InSight on Mars has finally gone dark after being covered in red dust. Before its final communication with Earth on Dec. 15 it posted this final image—as well as a very sad tweet. The seismometer-equipped lander was declared an extraordinary success—only a few days earlier it was revealed that a marsquake it had detected in May 2022 was a record-breaker.
14. NASA’s Orion flys past the Moon
NASA’s Artemis I mission finally got off the ground in Nov. 2022, with cameras on its Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5, 2022 taking this image of the moon. It safely splashed-down back on Earth on Dec. 11.
13. Hubble’s majestic spiral galaxy
As barred spiral galaxies go, NGC 6956 is perfect, as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2022. The galaxy exists 214 million light-years away in the constellation Delphinus, “the dolphin.”
12. Ganymede’s shadow
NASA’s Juno spacecraft continues to buzz around the giant planet, making close passes of its polar regions once per month. In 2022 it got close to Jupiter’s moons Europa, Io and Ganymede. During its 40th close pass on Feb. 25, 2022 it snapped this image of the shadow of Ganymede on the cloud-tops of Jupiter. As it did so it was 44,000 miles from the planet, 15 times closer than the giant moon orbits.
11. NASA’s ‘moon rocket’ on the pad
On November 16 2022, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched for the first time, taking the space agency’s human-rated Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and back again on its successful Artemis-1 mission. However, some of the most iconic images of the mission were actually taken while toe rocket waited … and waited … on the pad during much of summer 2022.
10. Blue ripples on the red planet
In June NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this false-color image of the red planet’s Gamboa Crater featuring sand dunes, crests and domes.
9. Curiosity’s ‘alien door’ on Mars
In May 2022 NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered what looked like an “alien doorway” in the Mount Sharp region it was exploring. The photo went viral on social media with claims that the crevice looked artificial. It’s not—it’s likely the result of natural erosion. It’s also only about 11 inches wide.
8. NASA re-directs an asteroid
How do you redirect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth? You send a spacecraft to smash into it, of course. That’s what NASA did when, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)—the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration—impacted its “practice” asteroid target, called Dimorphous. This was the final whole image taken by its onboard camera from ~7 miles (12 kilometers) from the asteroid just two seconds before impact.
7. Hubble’s Cosmic Cloud
JWST may have gotten all the attention, but the Hubble Space Telescope continued to pump out incredible images in 2022. Here a portion of the open cluster NGC 6530—4,350 light-years from Earth within the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius—appears as a roiling wall of smoke studded with stars.
6. A close-up of icy moon Europa
One of NASA’s top targets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life—Jupiter’s moon Europa—was in September 2022 photographed up close by its Juno spacecraft when it was just 219 miles/352 kilometers from the moon’s fractured icy surface. The moon’s mess of ridges and bands criss crossing its surface is often referred to as a “chaos terrain” by planetary geologists.
5. ‘Cosmic Cliffs’ announces JWST’s arrival
Surely the show-stopper from the first batch of images from JWST published in summer 2022, “Cosmic Cliffs” shows one of the jewels of the southern hemisphere night sky, the Carina Nebula. It’s 7,600 light-years away and 300 light-years across, one of the largest nebulae in the night sky—and a mind-boggling 500 times larger than the Orion Nebula, which hangs close to the stars of Orion’s Belt.
4. A new solar telescope’s first images
The brand new Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii saw “first light” in June 2022 and celebrated the occasion by publishing four incredible new close-up images of the Sun. This one shows the first images of the photosphere, the lowest layer of the sun’s atmosphere.
3. Jupiter in infrared
JWST doesn’t just do deep-sky. In August 2022 it dropped its first test image of Jupiter, an infrared image that shows the giant planet’s storms, cloud bands, faint aurora, rings and tiny moons.
2. Our own black hole
May 2022 saw the first ever image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy—called Sagittarius A*—published by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). It came from the same team of over 300 international scientists who produced the first ever image of a black hole in another galaxy in 2019. Taken using a network of 11 telescopes across the globe to produce an “Earth-size” telescope, the image actually shows not the black hole itself, but the shadow of the event horizon around it—hence the name of the EHT.
1. The ‘Pillars of Creation’ redux
First imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, it was only a matter of time before JWST had its turn on the “Pillars of Creation,” fingers of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula. About 7,000 light years distant in the constellation of Serpens, it’s a region where new stars are forming within dense clouds of cool gas and dust. JWST’s stunning infrared view shows the pillars with semi-transparent depth, allowing astronomers to revisit models of star formation by identifying far more precise counts of newly formed stars, along with the quantities of gas and dust in the region.
Do yourself a favor this holiday season by downloading a full-resolution, uncompressed version of 2022’s most iconic space image.