With another week coming to a close, let’s take a look back at the beautiful space images brought to us by astronauts and astronomers.
Wolf-Rayet star inside a blue bubble
That bright star shining at the center of the image is a Wolf-Rayet star called WR 31a. The blue stuff surrounding it? Yep, that’s a Wolf-Rayet nebula. It’s an interstellar cloud of dust and gas. Stellar winds blow the outer layers of hydrogen from WR 31 to form the massive cloud you see. And it’s a speedy one. Astronomers estimate it’s expanding at 220,000 kilometers per hour!
Wolf-Rayet stars are fighting a losing battle. They fuse heavy elements inside their cores as they try to avoid collapsing under their huge mass. But ultimately, they lose this stellar battle over the course of a few hundred thousand years. Once the heavy elements are exhausted, the star collapses and unleashes a massive supernova explosion sending stellar material out into the cosmos. Its death helps usher in the next generation of stars and planets.
Pluto’s canyons at the North Pole
The New Horizons team blew us away with a new image of Pluto this week. Frozen canyons stretching into its polar regions hint at a time when the dwarf planet was geologically active. Check out my earlier post on more about these canyons and what’s next for New Horizons.
A special view of the Milky Way
This is just part of the insanely big image released celebrating the work done by the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). You’re looking at many of the regions where new stars are born and the galactic center. Have a few minutes to spare? Get lost in this massive 187 million pixel image.
No list is complete without a few images from the Twitter accounts of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Scott Kelly is the most ‘Twitter famous’ of the group and releases steady stream of breathtaking images of Earth. His latest is one of my favorites. Shout to Gavin McMorrow for pointing out it’s in Algeria. Check out Gavin’s Twitter for more if you want to put a location name to many of these stunning images.
And another stunning image from Scott Kelly. I don’t know how they get any work done up there. I would just stare at the Earth the whole time.
Opportunity looks at Martian ridge
This is another enhanced color image. That’s why the sky looks blue in the image. Just like with the Pluto image, scientists do this to make details easier to recognize. Here’s the same image in true color. Check out the NASA story for more about the ridge seen above.