An unexpected and unexplained stellar flash echoes 20,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn), looking like a peering red eye. This is V838 Mon, a star that abruptly expanded in January 2002, temporarily becoming the brightest star in the Milky Way galaxy. The stellar flash faded just as quickly as it appeared, a phenomenon never observed before. The Hubble image above shows light from the flash moving outward from the star, reflected in the interstellar dust surrounding V838 Mon.
Down By the Bay
Baytown, Tex., home to the largest oil refinery in the United States, shows up in brilliant red in this image from NASA's Terra satellite. The instrument that snapped this image combines multiple wavelengths of light to represent water in blue, buildings and pavement in beige and gray and vegetation in red, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
The refinery covers 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) near the mouth of the San Jacinto River (it stands out in beige here and continues on the south shore of the river).
The Baby Universe
Awww, look at its little cheeks! Okay, the universe's baby photo isn't as cute as some, but it shows the seeds of today's stars and galaxies. This map of the universe, acquired by the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope, shows cosmic microwave background, the radiation left over from the Big Bang. In other words, this is a snapshot of the oldest light in the universe.
Temperature fluctuations in this cosmic microwave background reveal density differences that would eventually coalesce into galaxies and stars. The new look at the old universe also provides a more refined age estimate for the universe: 13.82 billion years. [See More: Best Telescopes for Beginners]
A graceful three-layered cloud structure develops over the Indian Ocean in this award-winning photo snapped in 2011. As part of a projected called DYNAMO, researchers are studying the dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a travelling atmospheric pattern over the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The pattern creates anomalous phases of tropical rain and then unusual dryness in patterns lasting a month or two. Understanding this pattern helps scientists build better models for climate and weather. [Read More: Best Digital Cameras for Stunning Shots]
Volvariella volvacea, the edible straw mushroom, is a major food source in Asia. Researchers writing in the journal PLOS ONE recently sequenced the genome of this mushroom in order to help improve cultivation techniques.
Know your minerals? Here's a hint: This one is far from rare, but typically overlooked. It's also used in ceramics and paints.
Made your guesses? This is rutile, a mineral made of titanium dioxide. It's named after the Latin rutilus, which means red. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden announced March 25, 2013 that they have a new method that can track the origin of rutile from even the tiniest grains. But most people will likely be more interested in where rutile ends up: It's the mineral responsible for turning regular sapphires, rubies and other precious stones into "star" gems. Rutile impurities in a stone create lined patterns that look like shining stars when cut. Star gems are rarer (and pricier) than their unstarry counterparts.
Colorado and the Southwest are known for beautiful views, but they look even more amazing from space. This astronaut snapshot from the International Space Station reveals the Colorado Plateau, made up of northern Arizona, southern Utah, northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Here, the Colorado River crosses from east to west, meeting the San Juan River. (East is to the left in this photo, as the view is toward the south.)
Solar Prominence March 16 2013
A solar prominence began to bow out and the broke apart in a graceful, floating style in a little less than four hours on March 16, 2013.
This shot may look like a far-off alien galaxy, but it's quite close to home. Using fluorescent dyes and a laser-scanning confocal microscope, researchers captured this image of an embryonic smooth muscle cell. Smooth muscle is the muscle not under voluntary control, such as the muscle lining the gut. Here, the structural underpinning, or cytoskeleton, of the cell glows in green.
Glittering Big Apple
New York, New York … The city that never sleeps shines into space at night in this snapshot taken by a member of the Expedition 35 crew on the International Space Station. Manhattan runs from left to right in the center of the frame, with Central Park visible as a dark rectangle in the center of the island.