Roving pandas, fairy circles and monster stars
It’s Friday, and you know what that means: time for our science images of the week. From cute cuddly pandas to megastars (in a cosmological, not Hollywood, sense), Cosmos art director Robyn Adderly picked a top five.
Look Mum, I’m taking pictures from space!
Not everyone can go to space, but we can all see Earth from an astronaut’s perspective, thanks to the Sally Ride EarthKAM.
The remote-controlled digital camera mounted on the International Space Station lets students take photographs of coastlines, mountain ranges and other interesting Earth features as it passes over.
It is the only program providing students with direct control of an instrument on a spacecraft orbiting Earth, teaching them about environmental science, geography and space communications.
The EarthKAM recently snapped this striking photograph during a flyover of South Africa.
Picturing the Sun’s magnetic field
NASA released this stunning magnetic map of the Sun this week. The image lays an illustrated computer model of the Sun's magnetic fields over a real image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on 12 March 2016.
The complex overlay of lines can tell scientists how the Sun's magnetism changes in response to the constant movement of gas on and inside the Sun. Note how the magnetic fields are densest near the bright spots and many of the field lines link one active region to another.
This magnetic map was created using the PFSS – Potential Field Source Surface – model, which traces the Sun’s atmospheric magnetic field based on magnetic measurements at its surface. The underlying image was taken in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of 171 angstroms. This type of light is invisible to us, but is colourised here in gold.
Mysterious African ‘fairy circles’ found in Australia
A natural phenomenon, fairy circles have been sighted for the first time outside Southern Africa in the town of Newman, Western Australia.
The barren circles edged with grass in Newman have the same patterns as those 10,000 kilometres away in Namibia.
There are various theories as to how these plant patterns arise, but none as yet have been proved.
Fairy circle expert Stephan Getzin from Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research wants to follow up the phenomenon even further. He believes it likely that there maybe more unknown fairy circles in other dry and sparsely inhabited regions of the world.
Hubble unveils monster stars
The largest sample of stars, 100 times more massive than the Sun, has been identified by an international team of astronomers using the ultraviolet capabilities of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The discovery of nine monster stars in the star cluster R136 was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and has raise many new questions about massive star formation.
R136 is only a few light-years across and is located in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 170,000 light-years from Earth. The young cluster hosts many extremely massive, hot and luminous stars whose energy is mostly radiated in the ultraviolet.
Adolescent female pandas not the demure homebodies once thought
In the furry animal world, it's the boys approaching adulthood who tend to start to wander to seek their fortune – which usually means a mate. Girls tend to stay closer to the home range.
But giant pandas, of all animals, buck this mammal trend.
Researchers have been tracking five pandas with GPS collars to better understand how these elusive bears behave in their remote environs in southwestern China.
A study published in Integrative Zoology showed tantalising insights into how the endangered pandas behave. Females seem to rival the males in distances moved from home during mating season, a behaviour overlooked in previous small studies that seemed to indicate the females waited around for male callers.
There is also evidence that adolescent females tend to disperse further than males, though they may return near their original home range to give birth and raise their cubs.