The hottest images of cool outer space

Black holes, hungry planets, weird orbits dominate space news

Wild ride: From solving black hole mysteries to watching a comet commit suicide and observing planets eating other stars , the news from the space world has been plain wild lately. Here we take a look at some the most important findings and images of the past couple weeks.

Big black hole: NASA's Swift satellite has helped astronomers solve a decades-long mystery about why a small percentage of black holes emit vast amounts of energy. According to NASA , only about 1% of supermassive black holes exhibit this energy behavior. The new findings confirm that black holes "light up" when galaxies collide, and the data may offer insight into the future behavior of the black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy. According to NASA, the intense emission from galaxy centers, or nuclei, arises near a supermassive black hole containing between a million and a billion times the sun's mass. Giving off as much as 10 billion times the sun's energy, some of these active galactic nuclei are the most luminous objects in the universe, including quasars and blazars.

A star is born: Astronomers recently said they discovered a large number of previously-unknown regions in space where massive stars are being formed. The astronomers then used the NSF's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, an extremely sensitive radio telescope to relate the locations of these star-forming sites to the overall structure of the Galaxy. Further studies will allow us to better understand the process of star formation and to compare the chemical composition of such sites at widely different distances from the Galaxy's center, researchers stated.

Weird orbit: One of the keys to life on Earth is its stable orbit. Astronomers looking for similar planets outside our solar system say that orbits of such exoplanets could determine if they are habitable or not because of the forces exerted by giant neighbors with what researchers called eccentric orbits. Adding a planet comparable to Jupiter to a stable orbital system, however, and giving it a highly elliptical orbit -- similar to most exoplanets discovered so far -- can cause strange things to happen to the smaller planets in that system, perhaps causing them to be super hot to glacially cold within say 1,000 years. "There is this crazy zoo of planets out there that probably are habitable," Barnes said, "but their properties are very different from Earth and they're different from Earth because of their eccentric neighbors," one researcher stated.

Dead lander: NASA officially ended its Phoenix Mars Lander operation today after a new image of the machine showed severe ice damage to its solar panels and repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft had failed. The space agency had flown its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) satellite over the lander at least 210 times since January listening for signs of life from the machine. The attempts were made in the off-chance that Phoenix survived a Martian arctic winter the spacecraft was never designed to withstand, NASA stated.

Shrapnel alert: An observation from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, shows evidence for a bullet-shaped object being blown out of a debris field left over from an exploded star at a speed of what researchers say is about 5 million miles an hour.

Out of whack: Astronomers recently reported the discovery of a planetary system they said was way out of tilt, where the orbits of two planets are at a steep angle to each other. The finding will impact theories of how multi-planet systems evolve, and it shows that some violent events can happen to disrupt planets' orbits after a planetary system forms, the researchers stated.

Incubator: Astronomers at the Gemini Observatory in Chile recently spotted the starburst galaxy known as NGC 1313 "delivering stars on a scale rarely seen in a single galaxy of its size." Located some 15 million light-years away, NGC 1313 is a relatively close galactic neighbor to the Milky Way and has a mysterious past. Generally, starburst galaxies show some signs of interaction with another galaxy, and a close galactic encounter is usually responsible for sparking increased levels of star-birth activity. However, NGC 1313 is a neighborless "drifter," far away from any other packs of galaxies. The cause of its deformed shape and high rate of star formation is not obvious, researchers stated.

Small is big: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite has onboard an instrument that is letting scientists see exactly how even minor solar events are never really minor. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) has observed a number of very small flares that have generated magnetic instabilities and waves with clearly-observed effects over a substantial portion of the Sun. The instrument is capturing full-disk images in eight temperature bands that span 10,000 to 36-million degrees Fahrenheit.

Comet death: For what scientists called a first-time event, the collision of a comet with the Sun has been captured by instruments onboard NASA's twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory satellites. Solar physicists at the University of California, Berkeley said the comet was probably one from what's known as the Kreutz family of comets, a swarm of comets ejected from their orbit in 2004 by Jupiter , that typically orbit close to the Sun. Astronomers said this one was making its first and only loop by the Sun.

What's for lunch?: An instrument on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope recently observed a planet that is slowly being eaten by its parent star. The doomed Jupiter-sized planet has moved so close to its sun-like parent star that it is spilling its atmosphere onto the star. This happens because the planet gets so hot that its atmosphere expands to the point where the star's gravity pulls it in. The planet will likely be completely devoured in 10 million years, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute . The planet, called WASP-12b , is the hottest known world ever discovered, with an atmosphere roiling at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the institute stated.

The express: NASA's Hubble's equipment spotted a huge star -- 90 times more massive than the Sun -- blasting across space at over than 250,000 miles an hour. The runaway star is the most extreme case of a very massive star that has been kicked out of its home by a group of even heftier siblings, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute. Runaway stars can be made by running into one or two heavier siblings in a massive, dense cluster and get booted out through what scientists called a stellar game of pinball.

Heart and Soul: NASA recently said it Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, captured a huge mosaic of two bubbling clouds in space, known as the Heart and Soul nebulae. The Heart nebula is named after its resemblance to a human heart; the nearby Soul nebula happens to resemble a heart too, but only the symbolic kind with two lobes. The nebulae, which lie about 6,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, are both massive star-making factories, marked by giant bubbles blown into surrounding dust by radiation and winds from the stars.

Wait a minute: Hard to imagine being able to figure this one out. But a team of astronomy researchers said that the supermassive black hole at the center of the most massive local galaxy (M87) is not where it was expected. The theoretical prediction is that when two black holes merge, the newly combined black hole receives a "kick" due to the emission of gravitational waves, which can displace it from the center of the galaxy, researchers stated. Researchers from Florida Institute of Technology and Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States and University of Sussex in the United Kingdom used the Hubble Space Telescope to spot the strangeness.

Flare up: A team of astronomers recently reported a pair of stars that erupt at each other every 25 minutes. The stars are separated by a distance equivalent to just half that between the Earth and Moon, close enough for the more massive partner to drag helium off its lighter companion. The resulting stream of helium travels from one white dwarf and eventually lands on the other at speeds of millions of kilometers per hour, researchers stated.

That's an OLD mp: Using a super-sensitive camera/spectrometer on the Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers said they have mapped the skies as they appeared 10 billion years ago. Astronomers said these glistening galaxies preferentially occupy regions of the universe containing more dark matter and that collisions probably caused the abundant star production.

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