Heavens

NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer has spotted an amazingly long comet-like tail behind a star streaking through space at supersonic speeds. The star, named Mira after the Latin word for "wonderful," has been a favorite of astronomers for about 400 years. It is a fast-moving, older star called a red giant that sheds massive amounts of surface material.

Four galaxies are slamming into each other and kicking up billions of stars in one of the largest cosmic smash-ups ever observed.

The clashing galaxies, spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the WIYN Telescope, will eventually merge into a single, behemoth galaxy up to 10 times as massive as our own Milky Way. This rare sighting provides an unprecedented look at how the most massive galaxies in the universe form.

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, astronomers from France and Brazil have detected a huge cloud of dust around a star. This observation is further evidence for the theory that such stellar puffs are the cause of the repeated extreme dimming of the star.

ESA’s Venus Express and NASA’s MESSENGER looked at Venus in tandem for a few hours in June. Here is the first set of images.

A unique set of observations, obtained with ESO's VLT, has allowed astronomers to find direct evidence for the material that surrounded a star before it exploded as a Type Ia supernova. This strongly supports the scenario in which the explosion occurred in a system where a white dwarf is fed by a red giant.

Dr. Giovanna Tinetti ( read her interview with Scientific Blogging's Douglas Blane here ) of the European Space Agency and UCL’s Department of Physics & Astronomy has discovered that a planet passing in front of its ‘sun’ absorbs starlight in a way that can only be explained by the presence of water vapour in its atmosphere. This is the first time that astronomers have been able to confirm that water is present on an extra-solar planet.

One year after the beginning of its scientific operations, the high-capability infrared satellite AKARI continues to produce stunning views of the infrared Universe.

Launched in February 2006, AKARI is making a comprehensive, multi-wavelength study of the sky in infrared light, helping to gain a deeper understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems. The mission is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) project with ESA and international participation.

Computer graphics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed systems for editing or altering photographs using segments of the millions of images available on the Web.

Whether adding people or objects to a photo, or filling holes in an edited photo, the systems automatically find images that match the context of the original photo so they blend realistically. Unlike traditional photo editing, these results can be achieved rapidly by users with minimal skills.

Using natural ‘gravitational lenses’, an international team of astronomers claim to have found a hint of a population of the most distant galaxies yet seen - the light we see from them today left more than 13 thousand million years ago, when the Universe was just 500 million years old.

Looking at the chemical composition of stars that host planets, astronomers have found that while dwarf stars often show iron enrichment on their surface, giant stars do not. The astronomers think that the planetary debris falling onto the outer layer of the star produces a detectable effect in a dwarf star, but this pollution is diluted by the giant star and mixed into its interior.

"It is a little bit like a Tiramisu or a Capuccino," says Luca Pasquini from ESO, lead-author of the paper reporting the results. "There is cocoa powder only on the top!'