A group of hot young stars, to borrow a phrase from the European Southern Observatory, is seen in infrared from 16 quadrillion miles (26 quadrillion kilometers, or 2,700 light-years) away. Pictured lighting up nearby clouds of dust, the stars are part of the stellar nursery Monoceros R2—itself a part of the Monoceros, or unicorn, constellation.
Released Tuesday, the image was made in several exposures by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the ESO's Paranal Observatory. As a survey telescope, VISTA repeatedly scans the universe to find new objects of interest as well as to spot any changes over time in faraway stars.
Captured in a 360-degree fish-eye photograph, two atmospheric circles are seen above Brittany, France, on September 2.
The smaller circle, with the sun at its center, is known as a 22-degree halo, because any given point on the circle is roughly 22 degrees from the sun. Such halos are formed by sunlight, or occasionally moonlight, reflecting off of hexagonal ice crystals suspended high in Earth's atmosphere.
The larger circle, in the center of the image, is a parhelic circle—much rarer than sundogs or 22-degree halos, according to the astrophotography group TWAN's website. Parhelic circles are also formed by light shining through atmospheric ice crystals, though in these cases the crystals have a particular vertical orientation.
"I was waiting for [a parhelic circle] since about 15 years ago," said photographer Laurent Laveder on the TWAN site, and when these circles appeared above Brittany last month, he was ready to get the picture.
After an inspecting the rock via Opportunity's microscopic imager and alpha particle x-ray spectrometer, the rover's science team determined that the stone is a nickel-iron meteorite. Separately, they nicknamed it "Oileán Ruaidh," the Gaelic name of an Irish island.
Opportunity recently reached the halfway point in its multi-Earth-year journey to Endeavour Crater, an 12-mile (19-kilometer) drive. The 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater is particularly interesting to NASA scientists because of the recent detection of clay at the depression's rim. Clay forms only in the presence of water, and water on Mars could indicate the potential for life as we know it.
Image courtesy NASA
As reinforced by Hollywood blockbusters, the threat of a comet or asteroidhitting our planet is a causeofmuchconsternation. One way that humanity is addressing the threat is through the NASA's orbiting Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. This solar system diagram depicts comets, asteroids, and planets, as detected through the new NEOWISE project to hunt for near-Earth objects in WISE data.
Black specks depict asteroids, heavily concentrated in our solar system's main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Blue and yellow squares depict comets found by the NEOWISE mission.
The green and red dots are most worrisome: They depict near-Earth objects, thought to come within 124,000 miles (200,000 kilometers) of Earth.
On average, a 0.3-mile (0.5-kilometer) or larger asteroid impacts Earth every hundred thousand years, according to NASA, and such impacts are thought to have caused mass extinctions.
Fortunately, smaller asteroids or comets tend to burn up in our atmosphere.