NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an observatory in low Earth orbit that the Agency uses to study some of the most high-energy sources of radiation in the Universe. Its wide-eyed Large Area Telescope (LAT) makes a sweep of the entire sky every three hours, soaking up gamma rays that emanate from cosmic entities ranging from supernovae to pulsars.
Among the most famous subjects of LAT's scrutiny is a pulsar by the name of Vela — according to NASA, it's the brightest, most persistent source of gamma rays the LAT sees.
The video above, created by NASA's Goddard Visualization team, transforms 51 months of LAT position and exposure data on the Vela pulsar into a gorgeous spirographical pattern, reflecting a variety of the spacecraft's maneuvers, including its orbit around Earth, the precession of its orbital plane, the north-south sway of the telescope's gaze from orbit-to-orbit, and more. It is positively spellbinding — hands down one of the most unique space visualizations we've seen in ages.
The image below compresses eight individual frames from the entire animation [click here for hi-res]. Below that, the effective limit to the LAT's field of view (78.5 degrees from its center, denoted with a red circle) is charted over swirls of transformed observational data [click here for hi-res]. Really beautiful stuff.