New studies of the Tarantula Nebula, seen in a recently released picture from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, have revealed a stellar surprise.
Among the nebula's denizens is an extraordinarily bright star dubbed VFTS 682 that's 150 times the mass of the sun. The star is an oddity because it sits alone, even though such massive stars are normally found only in crowded clusters.
Astronomers think the mysterious loner may have been ejected from a nearby cluster, R 136, which is filled with similar giants.
The face of project scientist Mark Clampin is reflected in the flight mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in a newly released picture.
The telescope's main mirror will ultimately be made of 18 hexagonal segments, fitted together to create a 21-foot-wide (6.5-meter-wide) honeycomb. Billed as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST is due to launch in 2014.
Space Station Homecoming
The Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft sits in a remote area of Kazakhstan shortly after landing on May 24. The capsule carried astronauts Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli, and Cady Coleman back to Earth after they had spent more than five months aboard the International Space Station.
The remaining members of what was called ISS Expedition 27—Andrey Borisenko, Ron Garan, and Alexander Samokutyaev—will be joined by three more astronauts in early June, kicking off Expedition 28.
See the Burn
While it may look like NASA is trying to enter the market for blacklight posters, this recently released picture is actually part of a science experiment to find the best ways to put out fires in space.
The Flame Extinguishment Experiment on board the International Space Station examines how fuel droplets burn in the absence of gravity to help assess the effectiveness of flame suppressants on spacecraft.
The above image shows a three-millimeter-wide droplet of heptane fuel burning in microgravity. The burning fuel (yellow) produces particles of soot (green) that ultimately spiral out from the flame zone in long, twisting streamers.
Stellar Time Bomb
Seen in a new composite picture, the massive star Eta Carinae is surrounded by gas and dust in the Carina Nebula. Astronomers believe this star is nearing the end of its life and may soon die in a violent supernova that would be visible from Earth.
The picture was taken as part of a recent probe of the Carina Nebula, which found a new population of massive stars hidden in the dust. Infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope show thick dust clouds in red, while regions seen in visible light are colored blue.
The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5128 is dwarfed by two huge lobes of gas in a picture released May 20 by an international team of radio astronomers. Nine radio observatories across the Southern Hemisphere collaborated to make this new picture—the most detailed yet of this kind of galactic activity.
The galaxy is one of the closest to Earth with a supermassive black hole at its core that produces particle jets. These jets send gas shooting outward at a third the speed of light, creating the radio-bright lobes, each of which is nearly a million light-years long.
Stars seem to whirl outside the dome of an amateur observatory in Iran in a recently released long-exposure picture. Taken over two hours, the star trails circle the north celestial pole, which is almost exactly aligned with the northern pole star, Polaris.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the south celestial pole is marked by a much fainter star called Sigma Octantis. This star is among 27 featured on the Brazilian flag.
The Mars rover Spirit shines like a pearl against the dark red dust of Gusev Crater in a recently released picture by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.