(Inside Science) -- Astronomers spent February uncovering ordinary things in unexpected places. They found X-ray sources strewn across the Whirlpool galaxy, observed a salty stellar atmosphere light years away, and even snapped pictures of clay as close as Mars. This month's variety of illustrations and photos show that discoveries in astronomy, like the universe, are ever-expanding.
This artist's impression shows protostar MMS5/OMC-3 emitting its stellar birth cry in the form of jets of gas. Two different gas streams eject to the east and the west, with a slow outflow shown in orange and a fast jet in blue. Interestingly, the axes of these streams are misaligned. Observing this ejected mass will help astronomers to better understand how stars accrue mass as they grow larger. (NAOJ)
This month, astronomers have shed light on the origins of Hippocamp -- Neptune's smallest moon. New data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, along with data from the older Voyager 2 probe, revealed the satellite object to possibly be a fragment of its larger neighbor moon Proteus. In this illustration, the icy Hippocamp overlooks the blue gas planet. (ESA/Hubble, NASA, L. Calçada)
Dotting the Whirlpool galaxy in this composite photo are bright green high-energy X-ray light sources. As expected, the black hole at the Whirlpool's center, as well as the one at the center of its companion galaxy M51b (top), show high amounts of energy. Unexpectedly however, NASA's NuSTAR mission captured high energy sources in other regions of the galaxy that radiate more X-rays than the black holes. Astronomers believe these to be neutron stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech, IPAC)
Since 2014, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has been climbing the red planet's Mount Sharp and gathering data. This month, it reached a region nicknamed "Glen Torridon" which is rich in clay minerals. This area may offer up new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential to support life. The rover snapped this picture just before a technical hiccup that forced astronomers to reset its computer -- now it's up and running normally again. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
1,500 light-years away from Earth, there lies a young massive star surrounded unexpectedly in ordinary table salt, plus a few other closely related compounds. This is an artist's impression of Orion Source I, the first young star to be found dusted with salts -- such a circumstance would normally be found in the atmospheres of old, dying stars. The blue ring illustrated here approximates the "glow" that the salts emit. (NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. Dagnello)