How do binary stars form? To help find out, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) recently captured one of the highest resolution images yet taken of a binary star system in formation. Most stars are not alone -- they typically form as part of a multiple star systems where star each orbits a common center of gravity. The two bright spots in the featured image are small disks that surround the forming proto-stars in [BHB2007] 11, while the surrounding pretzel-shaped filaments are gas and dust that have been gravitationally pulled from a larger disk. The circumstellar filaments span roughly the radius of the orbit of Neptune. The BHB2007 system is a small part of the Pipe Nebula (also known as Barnard 59), a photogenic network of dust and gas that protrudes from Milky Way's spiral disk in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The binary star formation process should be complete within a few million years.
Something is lighting up the center of galaxy NGC 6251. Leading speculation holds that it is a large black hole not shrouded by gas and dust typically found near the center of a galaxy. Observations taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and released earlier this week indicate a new perspective on the strange beasts that rule the centers of galaxies: a bright central object that is illuminating a surrounding material disk, shown in blue. The lack of reflection from the upper part of the disk indicates that this disk is warped in shape. Although not visible in the above composite image, a huge plasma jet streams out from the central object, perpendicular to the warped disk.
30 Doradus is lit up like a Christmas tree. Shining in light across the electromagnetic spectrum, 30 Doradus glows because of all the energetic processes that go on there. A distinctive region visible in a Milky Way satellite galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), 30 Doradus is a hotbed of star formation, supernova explosions, and ionized plasma. The above image is a composite of three pictures taken in three different wavelength bands of light. Red represents X-ray emission created by gas as hot as 1 million degrees Kelvin. Green represents emission from ionized hydrogen gas, and blue represents ultraviolet radiation primarily emitted by hot stars. At the conclusion of this symphony of star formation and light in a few million years, astronomers expect that a new globular cluster will have formed.
This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy -- or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.
What does Venus look like beneath its thick clouds? These clouds keep the planet's surface hidden from even the powerful telescopic eyes of Earth-bound astronomers. In the early 1990s, though, using imaging radar, NASA's Venus-orbiting Magellan spacecraft was able to lift the veil from the face of Venus and produced spectacular high resolution images of the planet's surface. Colors used in this computer generated picture of Magellan radar data are based on color images from the surface of Venus transmitted by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 landers. The bright area running roughly across the middle represents the largest highland region of Venus known as Aphrodite Terra. Venus, on the left, is about the same size as our Earth, shown to the right for comparison.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The above image is a digital combination of a ground-based image from the 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory and a space-based image from the Hubble Space Telescope highlighting sharp features normally too red to be seen. Anyone with a good pair of binoculars, however, can see this Whirlpool toward the constellation of Canes Venatici. M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51's spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with a smaller galaxy just off the top of this image.
Dwarfed by Olympus Mons and the other immense shield volcanos on Mars, Apollinaris Patera rises only 3 miles or so into the thin martian atmosphere, but bright water-ice clouds can be still be seen hovering around its summit. Mars' volcanic structures known as "paterae" are not only smaller than its shield volcanos but older as well, with ages estimated to be around 3 billion years. Like Apollinaris Patera, narrow furrows typically extend from their central craters or calderas. It is thought that the paterae represent broad piles of easily eroded volcanic ash. This wide angle view of Apollinaris Patera was recorded last month by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. The large central crater is about 50 miles across.
A fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, gigantic glowing gas clouds, and imposing dark dust lanes surrounds the central region of the active galaxy Centaurus A. This mosaic of Hubble Space Telescope images taken in blue, green, and red light has been processed to present a natural color picture of this cosmic maelstrom. Infrared images from the Hubble have also shown that hidden at the center of this activity are what seem to be disks of matter spiraling into a black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun! Centaurus A itself is apparently the result of a collision of two galaxies and the left over debris is steadily being consumed by the black hole. Astronomers believe that such black hole central engines generate the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A and other active galaxies. But for an active galaxy Centaurus A is close, a mere 10 million light-years away, and is a relatively convenient laboratory for exploring these powerful sources of energy.
Intense ultraviolet light from massive, hot stars in the Orion region has sculpted and compressed clouds of dust and gas in to distinctively shaped Cometary Globules. Seen in this IRAS infrared image recorded at a wavelength sensitive to emission from dust, the elongated globules are easily visible along with a bright region which corresponds to the Trapezium star cluster. Otherwise known as the Witch Head Nebula, IC 2118 is the string of globules near the middle right. Suggestively similar to comets in general appearance only, Cometary Globules are interstellar condensations on a vastly different scale. These are likely related to star formation episodes in the Orion molecular cloud. Besides those indicated by the arrows, more comet-shaped clouds or globules are present in this image.
It has become one of the most famous images of modern times. This image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, shows evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs) emerging from pillars of molecular hydrogen gas and dust. The giant pillars are light years in length and are so dense that interior gas contracts gravitationally to form stars. At each pillars' end, the intense radiation of bright young stars causes low density material to boil away, leaving stellar nurseries of dense EGGs exposed. The Eagle Nebula, associated with the open star cluster M16, lies about 7000 light years away. The pillars of creation were imaged recently by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, and it was found that most EGGS are not strong emitters of X-rays.