NASA telescopes watch cosmic violence, mysteries unravel

NASA images from its Kepler, Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra telescopes highlight space show

  • The mystery of the solar corona: NASA researchers lead a team of scientists who this week said ground-based observations reveal the first images of what they called the solar corona in the near-infrared emission line of highly ionized iron. The images revealed some surprises, researchers said. Most notably the emission extends out at least three solar radii -- that's one-and-a-half times the sun's width at its equator, or middle -- above the surface of the sun, and that there are localized regions of enhanced density for these iron ions.

  • This one wasn't a NASA discovery but a University of Notre Dame astronomer this week said they discovered a distant star that exploded when its center became so hot that matter and anti-matter particle pairs were created. The star, dubbed Y-155, began its life around 200 times the mass of our Sun but probably became unstable and triggered a runaway thermonuclear reaction that made it visible nearly halfway across the universe.

  • A wisp of a galaxy: NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured what NASA said was an action-packed picture of the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that looks like a wispy cloud when seen from Earth. NASA is interested in the Small Magellanic Cloud not only because it is so close and compact, but also because it is very similar to young galaxies thought to populate the universe billions of years ago. The Small Magellanic Cloud has only one-fifth the amount of heavier elements, such as carbon, contained in the Milky Way, which means that its stars haven't been around long enough to pump large amounts of these elements back into their environment. Such elements were necessary for life to form in our solar system, NASA stated.

  • Glint of light shows lakes: NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft this week captures bright flashes of light that as beacons signaling large bodies of water on Earth. These observations give scientists a way to pick out planets beyond our solar system that are likely to have expanses of liquid, and stand a better chance of having life. One of the goals of the Deep Impact mission is to observe the Earth from far away — in this case, about 11 million miles away.

  • The pulse of space: NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has discovered 12 new gamma-ray-only pulsars and has detected gamma-ray pulses from 18 others. According to NASA, a pulsar is a rapidly spinning and highly magnetized neutron star, the crushed core left behind when a massive sun explodes. Most were found through their pulses at radio wavelengths, which are thought to be caused by narrow, lighthouse-like beams emanating from the star's magnetic poles, NASA stated.

  • Nasty black hole: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Magellan telescopes this week captured what scientists said was a dense stellar remnant being ripped apart by a black hole a thousand times as massive as the Sun. This discovery would be a cosmic double play: it would be strong evidence for an intermediate mass black hole, which has been a hotly debated topic, and would mark the first time such a black hole has been caught tearing a star apart, NASA stated.

  • Hot mama: NASA's star-gazing space telescope Kepler has spotted five new planets orbiting stars beyond our own solar system. The five planets are called "hot Jupiters" because of their deep mass and extreme temperatures, NASA said. They range in size from about the same size as Neptune to larger than Jupiter and have orbits ranging from 3.3 to 4.9 days, NASA stated. The orbs likely have no known living organisms because NASA estimates their temperatures to range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than molten lava and all five orbit stars hotter and larger than Earth's sun.

  • Wicked old galaxies: Astronomers have broken the distance limit for galaxies by uncovering a primordial population of compact galaxies that have never been seen before. They are from 13 billion years ago, just 600 to 800 million years after the Big Bang. Pictures from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope could show the newly found objects are crucial to understanding the evolutionary link between the birth of the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and the sequence of evolutionary events that resulted in the assembly of our Milky Way, NASA stated.

  • The disappearing star: The star known as Epsilon Aurigae seems to disappear from time to time and the reason for that has remained elusive. Astronomers know that Epsilon Aurigae is eclipsed by a dark companion object every 27 years, don't know why. Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope this week have raised two possible answers to the mystery. According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, one theory holds that the bright star is a massive supergiant, periodically eclipsed by two tight-knit stars inside a swirling, dusty disk. The second theory holds that the bright star is in fact a dying star with a lot less mass, periodically eclipsed by just a single star inside a disk.

  • One deep, black hole: NASA says astronomers have long known that the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, is a particularly poor eater as black holes tend to "eat " everything around them. Why that is – it has to do with gas pressure and heat -- may lie in a new model developed using data from a very deep exposure made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

  • In the past few days there has been a burst of new photos and information from all manner of NASA's spacecraft and telescopes. The devices, ranging from the Hubble to Kepler the Spitzer telescopes, are delivering new information on everything from massive supergiant stars to new planets. Here we've gathered up some of them for a quick look.

Show Comments