Wildfires scorch Australia in this image taken from the International Space Station and released January 8. To make matters worse, on January 7, the country experienced their hottest day on record, with average temperatures hitting 104.59 degrees Fahrenheit (40.33 degrees Celsius).
This new Hubble Space Telescope image of a nearby star, Fomalhaut, and its surrounding disc of debris have made astronomers sit up and take notice. That's because the picture, released January 8, reveals that the debris field—made of ice, dust, and rocks—is wider than previously thought, spanning an area 14 to 20 billion miles from the star.
Scientists have also used the image to calculate the path of a planet, Fomalhaut b, as it makes its away around the star. It turns out that the planet's 2,000-year elliptical orbit takes it three times closer to Fomalhaut than previously thought, and that its eccentric path could send it plowing through the rock and ice contained in the debris field.
The resulting collision, if it happens, could occur around the year 2032 and result in a show similar to what happened when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter, astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, said in a statement.
Image courtesy P. Kalas, U. California, and ESA/NASA
The venerable water body is host to alien-looking formations called tufa, the result of limestone buildup. Teaming with brine shrimp, alkali flies, and birds, Mono Lake was also the source of a bacteria scientists suspected of replacing phosphorus—an essential ingredient in DNA—with arsenic, fueling speculation on the possibility of life on other planets.
This crisp image of part of the Orion Nebula, released January 9, was taken by newly installed optics at the Gemini Observatory. This advanced system allows the observatory's two infrared optical telescopes—one installed in Hawaii and the other in Chile—to make observations while reducing distortions due to Earth's atmosphere. (See more nebulae pictures.)
Scientists are seeing the Vela pulsar—a thousand light-years from Earth—in a whole new light. Images from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, released January 7, show the rapidly rotating neutron star ejecting a particle stream that looks like a rotating helix.
This suggests that Vela could be wobbling as it whips around 11 times a second. If confirmed, it would be the first example of this kind of movement in a neutron star jet.