The third Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket cargo run to the space station launches from Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Jan. 9, 2014. Orbital is one of two private firms contracted by NASA to resupply the outpost.READ MORE: Belated Christmas: Orbital Rocket Launches ISS Cargo
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:06 p.m. EST. successfully carrying the Thaicom 6 satellite to a parking orbit 55,900 miles above Earth.READ MORE: SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Thai Communications Sat
SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine burst to life during a successful powered test flight over the Mojave Desert, Calif., on Friday. This comes ahead of the company's plan to see the first suborbital space tourist trips later in 2014.READ MORE: SpaceShipTwo Aces Third Rocket-Powered Test Flight
A tiny amount of sunlight leaks through a truss-based radiator panel and a primary solar array panel on International Space Station, as seen by an Expedition 39 space station crewmember.
A recent Mastcam photograph by Mars rover Curiosity of damage on one of its aluminum wheels. This week, NASA released images of Curiosity as seen by the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.READ MORE: NASA Orbiter Spies Curiosity Ripping Up Mars Dust
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Color version of the Dec. 11, 2013, observation by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Note the geological variations in the surrounding landscape.
Meanwhile, a decade ago... A panorama of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's landing site inside Gusev Crater. Jan. 4 marked the 10 year anniversary since the rover touched down on the red planet.READ MORE: Spirit's Decade Old Mosaic of Mars is Still Stunning
A X1-class solar flare erupted from AR 1944 on Jan. 7. The flare also triggered a coronal mass ejection (CME) that that was directed toward Earth, but it had minimal impact on Jan. 9. The event, however, delayed the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch by two days amid concerns for the high-radiation environment surrounding Earth.READ MORE: Solar Boom: Sun Blasts X-Class Flare Right At Us
The recommissioned infrared NASA orbiter NEOWISE observed a newly-discovered near-Earth asteroid 2013 YP139.READ MORE: Recommissioned NEOWISE Discovers Near-Earth Asteroid
GPI/Gemini/Christian Marois, NRC Canada
Gemini Planet Imager's 'first light' image of Beta Pictoris b, an exoplanet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The commissioning of the GRI represents a new era in exoplanetary studies.READ MORE: New Exoplanet Hunter Directly Images Alien Worlds
Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Artist conception of Supernova 1987A and its newly discovered dust cloud.READ MORE: Dust Bunnies Discovered Around 'Dirty' Supernova
NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)
This long-exposure Hubble Space Telescope image of massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is the deepest ever made of any cluster of galaxies. This is the first image from Hubble's "Frontier Fields" project.READ MORE: Hubble Takes Deepest View Into Cosmic Frontier
It’s hard not to see a giant glowing hand in the image above — thanks to a phenomenon known as pareidolia — but the ghostly palm and fingers reaching out into the cosmos are actually the blown-apart remains of a dead star, zapped by powerful energy beams shooting out from its spinning corpse
Which is pretty creepy too, when you put it that way.
The image is a composite made from observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), showing the appropriately-named “Hand of God” nebula located 17,000 light-years away. Chandra data is in red and green and the more recent NuSTAR observations are in blue, revealing a high-energy X-ray source near the “wrist” of the hand.
Somewhere within that bright area is the pulsar PSR B1509-58, a super-dense, rapidly spinning neutron star barely 12 miles wide — but blasting huge amounts of high-energy radiation into the 150-light-year-wide cloud of material it blew off nearly 2,000 years ago.
As the pulsar’s emissions interact with the surrounding, expanding material, it glows in X-rays that our orbiting observatories can see.
“NuSTAR’s unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light,” said Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR’s principal investigator at Caltech.
These new observations by NuSTAR will help astronomers better determine the “actual” shape of the nebula, which can seem more like a fist than a hand, depending on what wavelengths of X-rays are detected. (See a previous Chandra image of this object here.)
“We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion,” said Hongjun An of McGill University in Montreal. “With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues.”
The bubbling orange cloud the hand seems to be reaching for is the nearby gas cloud RCW 89, which is also being energized by beams from the pulsar, as well as the faster wind within the “fingers.”
NuSTAR launched into space on June 13, 2012, on a mission to explore the high-energy X-ray universe. It is observing black holes, dead and exploded stars and other extreme objects in our own Milky Way galaxy and beyond.