This week was a milestone (well, kilometerstone) for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity -- after almost a year on the red planet, the six-wheeled rover has traversed one kilometer of terrain. That might not sound like a lot, but the mission had a several-month stopover in "Yellowknife Bay" to do some groundbreaking (literally) geology. Also, it covered half of that kilometer in the last two weeks. So who are you calling a slow-poke?
Zooming into the center of our galaxy, a black hole has been wreaking havoc. A huge stream of gas has been getting ever closer to the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* and this week, astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope reported seeing the gas cloud being stretched as the extreme tidal stresses warp the cloud. Although some of the gas will likely fall into the black hole, the remainder will orbit right past -- a maneuver that will likely take a year to complete.
The "snow line" is most familiar to us when we see snow-capped mountains. The line is located at the altitude where the atmosphere is cold enough for water to freeze and allows snow to settle. Star systems also have snow lines; the location where the star's energy is too weak and water (and other volatiles) freeze in interplanetary space. Shown here is the accumulation of carbon monoxide ice beyond the "snow line" (the inner circle) of the young sun-like star TW Hydrae. Astronomers were able to image this zone using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), perhaps unlocking some of the secrets behind how this carbon monoxide snow line affects planetary formation and possibly the creation of organic molecules.
Released this week was a full-globe map of the surface of Mercury mapped by the NASA satellite MESSENGER. These are false colors however, used to locate the different minerals found on the small planet's surface.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Expedition 36 flight engineer, uses a digital still camera during a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) outside the International Space Station. A little more than one hour into the spacewalk, however, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano reported water floating behind his head inside his helmet -- the spacewalk was soon aborted.
Close up of ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano working on the space station exterior shortly before he noticed water buildup in his helmet. After his ordeal, Parmitano likened his experience as like being inside a goldfish bowl.
From Discovery News' Nicole Gugliucci: "There is a world of telescopes out there and you may think that there’s not enough time to visit them all. But you can visit them, though, at least virtually. A new set of images and movies were released this week featuring the observatories on Mauna Kea, shot with lenses that allow for their use in planetaria around the world for free."
It's not just Pluto that hides undiscovered moons. One of the massive outer solar system planets, Neptune, has been hiding a 12-mile wide natural satellite for Hubble to discover.
From SPACE.com: "Corrosion removed from the base of a Saturn V engine thrust chamber recovered by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has exposed the serial number "Unit No 2044" stamped into the part's surface. The marking positively identifies the F-1 part as having launched on Apollo 11." Read more
Caltech scientists have uncovered what appears to be a river delta on Mars as seen by NASA's Mars Reconnaissaonce Orbiter. Also, that delta appears to be leading to the ancient basin of an ocean. However, "ocean" might be a little generous -- it's a little bigger than Lake Superior.