Seen in visible light, the star known as Zeta Ophiuchi is dim, red, and surrounded by inky blackness. But in infrared the star becomes a bright blue ball of fire topped with a glowing "mustache" of interstellar dust, as seen in a new picture from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, telescope.
Astronomers think Zeta Ophiuchi was once part of a stellar duo known as a binary pair. Then the companion star exploded, releasing Zeta Ophiuchi to go flying away on a fast-tracked solo act through space. The star is now plowing through a cloud of dust and gas at 15 miles (24 kilometers) a second. As the star moves, its powerful radiation is compressing the gas and dust in its path, creating a bow shock that shines in infrared.
Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Martian Moon's Bottom
Pitted and pallid, the Martian moon Phobos hangs like a boulder in space in a new high-resolution picture taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. The spacecraft recently flew past the moon's southern hemisphere, snapping pictures from about 62 miles (a hundred kilometers) away.
The shots were taken by a stereo camera, allowing ESA scientists to construct a 3-D view of the tiny moon. Studies of the cratered surface will help researchers plan the upcoming Phobos Grunt mission, a Russian project that aims to put a lander on the moon's surface to study the Martian system and send samples back to Earth.
Image courtesy G. Neukum, Freie Universität Berlin/ESA/DLR
Wide Open Space
Snow-capped mountains decorate the west coast of British Columbia in the first official picture taken from the International Space Station's Window Observational Research Facility, or WORF.
The picture was made to test the EarthKAM system, an educational outreach project that allows middle school students to take pictures of Earth remotely via WORF, which was delivered to the ISS last April by the space shuttle Discovery.
Photograph courtesy NASA
An asteroid the size of the Titanic careened into Jupiter in July 2009, according to two recently published papers. Although no one saw the object, an amateur astronomer first noticed a dark spot on Jupiter in visible light. Seen in infrared (above), the impact generated heat and debris that formed a bright glowing scar on the gas giant planet's southern hemisphere.
Image courtesy NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/University of Oxford
Exploration of Santa Maria
Ripples of blue sand seem to flow along the bottom of Santa Maria crater in a new false-color picture taken by the Mars rover Opportunity. The colors—based on the wavelengths of near-infrared and visible light captured by the rover's camera—help show the differences in soil and rock compositions around the crater.
The picture was taken to mark Opportunity's seventh year exploring the face of the red planet. The rover landed on Mars on January 24, 2004, for a mission that was supposed to last just three months. Opportunity will spend a few weeks taking data on Santa Maria before resuming its primary trek toward the much larger Endeavour crater.