Across the Universe, every ending is a new beginning. When a massive star dies, exploding as a spectacular supernova, huge amounts of matter and energy are ejected into surrounding space, and the remnant of the explosion itself remains a hub of fierce activity for thousands of years.
One of the most iconic supernova remnants is the Crab Nebula. A wispy and filamentary cloud of gas and dust, it originated with a supernova explosion that was seen by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054. A spinning neutron star – or pulsar – remains at its centre, releasing streams of highly energetic particles into the nebula.
This composite image combines a new infrared view of the Crab Nebula, obtained with ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, with an optical image from the archives of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Herschel’s observations are shown in red and reveal the glow from cosmic dust present in the nebula. Hubble’s view, in blue, traces oxygen and sulphur gas in the nebula.
A team of astronomers studying the nebula with Herschel has revealed that this supernova remnant contains much more dust than they had expected – about a quarter of the mass of the Sun.
The new observations also revealed the presence of molecules containing argon, the first time a noble gas-based molecule has been found in space.
Argon is produced in the nuclear reactions that take place during supernova explosions, and astronomers had already detected this element in the Crab Nebula. However, it is surprising that argon bonded with other elements, forming molecules that survived in the hostile environment of a supernova remnant, with hot gas still expanding at high speeds after the explosion.
Read more about this discovery: Herschel spies active argon in Crab Nebula
Enjoy views of the martian north pole from all angles in this new animation from ESA’s Mars Express.
The ice cap has a diameter of about 1000 km and consists of many thin layers of ice mixed with dust that extend to a depth of around 2 km below the cap. The prominent gap in the ice cap is a 318 km-long, 2 km-deep chasm called Chasma Boreale.
The layers result from variations in the orbit and rotation of Mars that affect the amount of sunlight received at the poles, and thus the amount of melting and deposition of materials over time. Meanwhile, strong prevailing winds are thought to be responsible for shaping the spiral troughs.
The polar ice cap in this movie was constructed using data provided by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding instrument, MARSIS.
Low-frequency radio waves beamed towards the surface are reflected back to Mars Express from the planet’s surface and from interfaces between layers of different materials underground.
The strength and timing of the radar echoes are a gauge of the depths of different types of interfaces, such as between rock, water or ice. This information can then be translated into 3D views, as seen in this movie.
ESA’s Rosetta is en route to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, where it will make the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. It will follow the comet on its journey through the inner Solar System, measuring the increase in activity as the icy surface is warmed up by the Sun. It will deposit a lander, Philae, on to the surface to study the composition and structure of the comet nucleus. It will also drill more than 20 cm into the surface to collect samples for inspection by the lander’s laboratory.
The spacecraft has been in deep-space hibernation for over 30 months and is set to wake up on 20 January 2014.
This image shows the Rosetta Engineering Qualification Model in a cleanroom at ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. It is a faithful replica of the actual spacecraft, and is being used to test and validate procedures and software prior to upload to the real Rosetta.
In preparation for the wake-up next month, teams at ESOC have been working intensely to recommission the ground systems used to control Rosetta and test the board connections between Rosetta and the lander.
Watch the replay of the Rosetta media briefing held at ESOC 10 December 2013.
More about Rosetta: www.esa.int/rosetta
A composite of space- and ground-based observations in different wavelengths gathered on the day of the solar eclipse of 3 November 2013. The result is an overall view of the Sun and its surrounding corona, extending far out into space.
Close-in views of the solar disc and its surroundings in extreme-ultraviolet light are covered by the Royal Observatory of Belgium’s SWAP instrument aboard ESA’s Proba-2 minisatellite and the AIA and HMI instruments aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mission. The surrounding inner corona is depicted through a combination of white-light images acquired from the ground along the path of totality, from Port Gentil in Gabon and Pokwero in Uganda. The outer corona is depicted through the white-light LASCO-C2 and C3 coronagraph instruments aboard the ESA/NASA SOHO satellite.
The planet Saturn is visible at the top left of the picture as a bright saturated object, coincidentally giving an impression of rings. To see more of the eclipse in multiple wavelengths, check this video.
This image from Japan’s ALOS satellite shows part of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, about 500 km north of Adelaide.
The area pictured is between Flinders Ranges National Park to the south, Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park to the north and Lake Frome due east (none of which is pictured).
The curving structures that dominate this image are part of a larger geosyncline – a subsiding linear trough in Earth’s crust – that includes the Flinders Ranges. The geosyncline consists of sedimentary rocks in a basin that were folded about 500 million years ago and have been eroded to the current landscape. In this image, the different colours show the different layers of rock.
Some of the oldest fossilised animal life have been found in parts of the Flinders Ranges.
Running up the middle of this image is a long, narrow gorge – typical of the ranges.
Along the right side of the image, the terrain is flat with a long, straight road running north–south. Numerous creeks appear like veins across the entire image.
The Flinders Ranges is one of Australia’s most seismically active regions, with numerous small earthquakes recorded every year.
Japan’s Advanced Land Observation Satellite captured this image on 3 January 2009. ALOS was supported as a Third Party Mission, which means that ESA used its multi-mission ground systems to acquire, process, distribute and archive data from the satellite to its user community.
This image is featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Filling of the Gaia spacecraft fuel tanks at the Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. A global space astrometry mission, Gaia will make the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy by surveying more than a thousand million stars. Gaia is scheduled for launch on 19 December 2013.
More on the countdown to Gaia's launch in the blog: blogs.esa.int/gaia/
A global space astrometry mission, Gaia will make the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy by surveying more than a thousand million stars. Gaia is scheduled for launch on 19 December 2013.
Intriguing mounds of light-toned layered deposits sit inside Juventae Chasma, surrounded by a bed of soft sand and dust.
The origin of the chasma is linked to faulting associated with volcanic activity more than 3 billion years ago, causing the chasma walls to collapse and slump inwards, as seen in the blocky terrain in the right-hand side of this image.
At the same time, fracturing and faulting allowed subsurface water to spill out and pool in the newly formed chasm. Observations by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the large mounds inside the chasma consist of sulphate-rich materials, an indication that the rocks were indeed altered by water.
The mounds contain numerous layers that were most likely built up as lake-deposits during the Chasma’s wet epoch. But ice-laden dust raining out from the atmosphere – a phenomenon observed at the poles of Mars – may also have contributed to the formation of the layers.
While the water has long gone, wind erosion prevails, etching grooves into the exposed surfaces of the mounds and whipping up the surrounding dust into ripples.
The image was taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express on 4 November 2013 (orbit 12 508), with a ground resolution of 16 m per pixel. The image centre is at about 4°S / 298°E.
This new Hubble image shows a handful of galaxies in the constellation of Eridanus (The River). NGC 1190, shown here on the right of the frame, stands apart from the rest; it belong to an exclusive club known as Hickson Compact Group 22 (HCG 22).
There are four other members of this group, all of which lie out of frame: NGC 1189, NGC 1191, NGC 1192, and NGC 1199. The other galaxies shown here are nearby galaxies 2MASS J03032308-1539079 (centre), and dCAZ94 HCG 22-21 (left), both of which are not part of HCG 22.
Hickson Compact Groups are incredibly tightly bound groups of galaxies. Their discoverer Paul Hickson observed only 100 of these objects, which he described in his HCG catalogue in the 1980s. To earn the Hickson Compact Group label, there must be at least four members — each one fairly bright and compact. These short-lived groups are thought to end their lives as giant elliptical galaxies, but despite knowing much about their form and destiny, the role of compact galaxy groups in galactic formation and evolution is still unclear.
These groups are interesting partly for their self-destructive tendencies. The group members interact, circling and pulling at one another until they eventually merge together, signalling the death of the group, and the birth of a large galaxy.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
This image taken from the International Space Station shows the metropolis of London and its surroundings. The area is characterised by the M25 orbital motorway that encircles the city and the Thames river winding its way to the Eastern coast. As no streetlamps or other sources of light illuminate the Thames it appears as a black curving line leaving the intense white light of the inner city towards the right. Other areas without light include parks and other bodies of water, notably the large Hyde Park and Regent’s Park to the left of the City Centre and the William Girling and King George’s Reservoirs that supply London with drinking water.
Heading due South from London, down and slightly to the left on this image, is the M23 road to Gatwick international airport and the town of Crawley. The lights of Gatwick airport shine brighter than the 100 000-inhabitant town. Airports are brightly-lit and easily recognisable from above so pilots can safely direct their aircraft to land. London’s Heathrow airport including the two main runways can be seen at the left of London City Centre.
Continuing south past Crawley to the English Channel, the seaside town of Brighton can be seen merging with Worthing to the left as one continuous stream of light.
ESA’s Nightpod camera aid helps astronauts track objects on Earth from the International Space Station. Following Earth’s motion automatically, the tripod creates clear images in low lights with off-the-shelf professional cameras – 400 km above our planet.
Week in Images
09-13 December 2013