Three telescopes have spotted a bright new star in the heavens—a young pulsar surrounded by the remains of a supernova. Pulsars are the spinning cores of dead stars that ended their lives in huge explosions.
Revealed by x-ray data, the newfound pulsar is the blue-tinged point of light seen at the upper right of the frame. Optical data show that the stellar corpse is encased in a shell of dust and gas—the first time such an object has been found in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The picture also shows the intricate structure of a nearby star-forming region.
The above picture, released this week, combines x-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton space telescope with visible-light data from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Image courtesy L. Oskinova et al, University of Potsdam/CXC/NASA
Lights of Atlantis
The flight deck of the space shuttle Atlantis is seen lit up like a Christmas tree in a picture taken recently inside one of the orbiter processing facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In a surprise to astronomers, comet Lovejoy survived a close encounter with the sun last week, skimming about 86,992 miles (140,000 kilometers) above the solar surface before emerging hours later on our star's other side.
In the above video still from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, Lovejoy's vaporizing ices create a bright streak in the hazy solar atmosphere as the comet reappears on December 15.
Lights from airplanes seem to slice through circles of star trails in a long-exposure picture taken from the Alentejo region of Portugal and submitted this week to National Geographic's My Shot website.
In the Northern Hemisphere, stars appear to circle around Polaris, the Pole star, which is the brightest "dot" in the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear.
Comet Lovejoy is reflected in the waters of an Australian estuary in a picture taken this week by amateur astronomer Colin Legg.
The comet's close pass by the sun caused the icy object's original "tail" of vaporizing ices and dust to detach from the main body. But the tail regrew after the comet reemerged, helping Lovejoy become visible from the Southern Hemisphere just before sunrise.
Views of Lovejoy "could improve in the days ahead as the comet moves away from the sun and the background sky darkens accordingly," according to Spaceweather.com.
Photograph courtesy Colin Legg
The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan sits blanketed in snow as a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is prepared for launch in a picture taken December 19.
Astronauts Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit, and Andre Kuipers successfully lifted off from the Russian facility December 21, headed for the International Space Station.
Photograph courtesy Carla Cioffi, NASA
A Boeing 737 jetliner is silhouetted against the sun in a picture taken using a ground-based telescope with a calcium-K filter, which allows photographers to capture ultraviolet wavelengths of light from our star.
The picture was made on December 19 by a sixth-grade student at Hopewell Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project, a worldwide outreach program.
Photograph courtesy Stephen W. Ramsden, Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project
The universe is playing horseshoes—thanks to a warping effect of gravity predicted by Einstein.
A newly released picture from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a red, massive galaxy surrounded by a partial blue ring. This cosmic horseshoe is actually a very distant galaxy whose light has been magnified and distorted by the strong gravitational pull of the red galaxy in the foreground.
Such Einstein rings are rare because they require a precise alignment of galaxies, as seen from Earth. (Find out more about Einstein rings.)