Seen from space, the coral reefs that form the Ebon Atoll trace a pale heart against the Pacific Ocean. Astronaut Paolo Nespoli took the romantic shot from the International Space Station the Saturday before Valentine's Day.
Ebon Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands, a scattering of small atolls and islands once held by the United States. The islands gained independence in 1986.
Atolls are slim coral islands that arc around or completely enclose lagoons.
Photograph courtesy Paolo Nespoli, ESA
Feeling blue and scattered this winter? You're not alone: Starlight ricocheting off dust is giving an azure hue to the nebula M78, as seen in a newly released composite picture from the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
Two bright stars inside the nebula, HD 38563A and HD 38563B, are the main illuminators of M78, pumping out ultraviolet light that gets scattered into visible light by tiny dust grains.
Image courtesy ESO
Black Hole Blobs
Hot blobs of matter (one pictured pink, one yellow), each about the size of the sun, orbit close to the maw of a supermassive black hole in a NASA illustration of the hole and its surrounding disk of matter. (Related: "'Comets' Found Orbiting Monster Black Hole.")
Scientists think all large galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centers. Black holes that are actively consuming matter, such as this one, are known as active galactic nuclei. It's been hard to tell just how massive these black holes are, because they're surrounded by bright, superhot disks of infalling material.
According to a new paper published this week in the journal Nature, 37 known central black holes are actually less massive than previously thought, based on measurements of the rotation speeds of orbiting matter.
Image courtesy Dana Berry/NASA and SkyWorks Digital
Holden Crater is one of four possible landing sites for the next Mars rover, Curiosity, slated to launch in the fall. The region is of interest because it's thought the lighter material could be sediment layers deposited by ancient lakes.
Image courtesy U-Arizona/NASA
Cereal, schnitzel, and fruit cups make up part of the daily food rations for each of the six volunteers participating in the Mars500 mock Mars mission, which is being run by Russia's Institute for Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency.
Mars500 was designed to study the psychological effects of a year-and-a-half-long, deep-space voyage to the red planet. As part of the project, researchers at the German Aerospace Center have been conducting a metabolism study to see how salt intake affects blood pressure under isolated, stressful conditions.
Launched in December 2009, the spacecraft spent 13 months surveying in infrared to catalog objects such as asteroids, brown dwarfs, and galaxies with unprecedented sensitivity. The craft ran out of coolant in October 2010 but was able to take pictures for a few months more.