See the world's first commercial spaceship, the first direct picture of a planet orbiting a sunlike star, the deepest known image of the universe, and more in our selection of the week's best space pictures.
December 7, 2009--Aspiring space tourists got a first look at their future ride late Monday, when Virgin Galactic unveiled the first of its long-awaited SpaceShipTwo planes--pictured in a hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California Monday with wings folded upward, suspended from the middle of its twin-fuselage launch vehicle.
The craft, dubbed the V.S.S. Enterprise, is intended to provide space tourists with two-and-a-half-hour flights into suborbital space, where they'll experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. (Read full story.)
Photograph courtesy Mark Greenberg, Virgin Galactic
Active Regions of the Sun
November 26, 2009--The sun glows a sedate blue in this composite of magnetic and UV-light images, a still from a video published December 4 on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) Web site. By comparing the images in the video, astronomers were able to tease out details of two active regions on the sun, which otherwise might have gone undetected.
Image courtesy SOHO/STEREO/NASA
Ancient Galaxies in Deepest Universe View
December 8, 2009--The deepest known image of the universe (above) was captured in near-infrared light in August by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and released Tuesday.
The faint, reddish objects (pictured) are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the big bang--marking the first time such ancient galaxies have been spotted. Such an in-depth view gives astronomers insights into how young galaxies matured early in the universe's history, according to the Hubble Web site.
Image courtesy NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Rare Metals in Perseus Cluster
December 12, 2009--The product of three billion star explosions, the largest known grouping of rare metals in the universe—in this case chromium and manganese—have been detected via the x-ray radiation of the hundred-million-degree Fahrenheit gas in which the metals reside, according to findings from the orbiting Suzaku x-ray telescope.
The chromium in this intergalactic cloud in the Perseus galaxy cluster (pictured) is more massive than 30 million suns, Suzaku scientists said.
"By measuring metal abundances, we can understand the chemical history of stars in galaxies, such as the numbers and types of stars that formed and exploded in the past," project leader Takayuki Tamura, an astrophysicist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said in a statement.
Image courtesy JAXA
Planet Like Ours?
December 3, 2009--For the first time, astronomers have directly imaged a planet-like object—dubbed GJ 758 B (pictured)—orbiting a star (center) similar to our sun, Japan's Subaru Observatory announced Thursday. Less clear is whether potential companion object GJ 758 C is also within the star's orbit.
With their current number hovering around 400, discoveries of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) are practically a dime a dozen these days. But, mainly because orbiting planets are generally obscured by the blinding glares of their host stars, direct pictures of exoplanets remain extreme rarities. (See "First Pictures of Alien Planet System Revealed."
Most exoplanets are found when astronomers detect not the planet itself but its effects on its star's gravitational field or brightness.