Space Photos of the Week: X-rays, Binary Stars, and Mars Moles
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured two stars in an epic family portrait. Stars are born from clouds of dense dust and gas. Cepheus C and Cepheus B were created in the same nebula and now are making waves of their own. The massive green and orange cloud on the left is a nebula that has been carved by radiation from the stars. Sptizer detects infrared light, and the colors are representative of different gases present in the nebula.
NASA’s got a nice instrument on board the International Space Station called NICER, short for Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, and it is studying x-ray sources in space. Over a period of 22 months NICER watched the skies, looking at active places like neutron stars to check for x-ray sources. These arcs of x-rays end up serving almost as a GPS for astronomers, and they might even work as a way to help guide spacecraft. The photo looks like the space version of Spider-Man has been weaving x-ray webs between the stars.
NASA’s InSight lander has been doing science on Mars since it touched down last November. But undertaking research on that planet from this one involves … difficulties. Take what InSight attempted after landing, which was drilling into the surface. One of its instruments is a heat flow probe meant to take the temperature of Mars. But when the NASA team deployed the “mole” to dig deeper, it hit rock and got stuck. This image shows where the probe is placed on the lower right. Soon NASA will try to remove the mole and try to break through the rocky Martian exterior once again.
Galaxy Markarian 1216 is an odd duck. Galaxies mostly have the same ingredients — matter, dark matter, the usual. While most galaxies have a certain amount of dark matter sprinkled throughout, Markarian 1216 has more dark matter than it should. The image at left shows the galaxy in x-ray light, while the image on the right is a visible light view from Hubble. Scientists think the reason there’s more dark matter is that this galaxy stems from dense compact galaxies, called “red nuggets,” which formed in the earliest days after the Big Bang. The large amount of dark matter at the center of Markarian 1216 lends itself to this specific galactic theory of evolution, and scientists plan on studying this strange galaxy in the hopes of understanding more.
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has the best earthbound views of space because of its remote location, in the Chilean high desert. This photo shows one of the telescopes with the dazzling arm of the Milky Way shooting out behind it, the bright light of the galactic center flanked by dust-speckled starlight.
Now that we’ve met Cepheus C and Cepheus B, we can see them with a different instrument on the Spitzer Space Telescope to detect different gases in the nebula — resulting in slightly more reddish and purple colors. It’s hard to imagine the scale of images like this, but let’s try: From the tip of the star to the bottom of the nebula is 40 light years long. That means that the light that leaves the star takes 40 years to reach the tail end of the gas flowing out of it.