In this column, staff writer Andrea Alfano rounds up the most important and fascinating space news of the past week in bite-sized summaries to keep you up to date on what's happening way up above us.
From our solar system's center to its furthest reaches and beyond, exciting news abounded this week in space. Unfortunately, some of it was grossly misleading. Find out if you've been duped, enjoy incredible images of our sun and of Pluto, and be amazed by the power of tiny stars in this week's space news summary.
Three telescopes joined forces to show us the sun in a new light.
The glorious image above is a mosaic of observations of our sun by three different telescopes. The blue represents high-energy X-rays observed using NASA's NuSTAR, green depicts low-energy X-rays seen by Japan's Hinode spacecraft, and the yellow and red show patterns of extreme ultraviolet light captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Obervatory. NuSTAR usually spends its time looking far out in the cosmos, but NASA scientists plan to keep using it to study solar flares in fine detail.
We <3 Pluto and Pluto <3's us as the New Horizons flyby begins.
As the world showed Pluto tons of love this week, it showed us a little love in return. After much anticipation - plus a nine-year, 3-billion-mile trip - the New Horizons Flyby is finally happening. And from the looks of this 1,200-mile-wide heart, Pluto is welcoming the spacecraft.
"The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today," Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA's Ames Research Center, said in a statement. "It will be incredible!"
Reports from ESA's Rosetta comet orbiter showed signs of life ... according to fringe scientists.
We heard this week from numerous sources that scientists found evidence that the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko the Rosetta spacecraft is orbiting and that the robot explorer Philae is probing may harbor alien life. The short answer is, that evidence is far from convincing. Scientists not involved in the research have since spoken out against these claims, and explain that while they're not entirely untrue, they are quite overstated. Even in the original article from The Guardian, the author writes that the author's views "[the author's] views are regarded as several steps outside the scientific mainstream."
Astronomers figured out that tiny stars' powerful magnetic fields fuel huge explosions of gamma rays.
Neutron stars are pretty amazing. At just 18 miles or so across, they are the tiniest type of star, yet they also contain more mass than our sun. Add to that the strongest magnetic fields in the universe, and you get a magnetar. Just to make magnetars even more incredible, this week scientists found that these powerful little stars likely fuel some of biggest explosions in the universe - long-duration gamma-ray bursts.
Gamma-ray bursts release enormous amount of high energy radiation and usually last for mere seconds. But occasionally, they last for hours. And when they do, there's a good chance there's a magnetar behind them.