Space Hubble Telescope News

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Science Release: Faint starlight in Hubble images reveals distribution of dark matter


Astronomers using data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have employed a revolutionary method to detect dark matter in galaxy clusters. The method allows astronomers to “see” the distribution of dark matter more accurately than any other method used to date and it could possibly be used to explore the ultimate nature of dark matter. The results were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Faint Glow Within Galaxy Clusters Illuminates Dark Matter



Utilizing the powerful Hubble Frontier Fields observations of galaxy clusters, a study demonstrates that intracluster light — the light of stars orphaned in galaxy cluster mergers — aligns with dark matter, tracing its distribution more accurately than other methods. With broader use, astronomers think the technique could be a first step in exploring the nature of the unobservable, elusive dark matter that makes up the majority of the universe.

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Hubble Takes a Close Look at the Brightest Comet of the Year



On December 13th, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed comet 46P/Wirtanen, a periodic comet that orbits the Sun once every 5.4 years. These observations were taken days before the comet’s closest approach to Earth on December 16th, when it passed just over 7 million miles from our planet. Astronomers took advantage of this unusually close approach to study the comet’s inner cloud of gas and dust, or coma, in detail. Their goal was to study how gases are released from ices in the nucleus, what the comet’s ices are composed of, and how gas in the coma is chemically altered by sunlight and solar radiation. In this image, the comet’s nucleus is hidden in the center of a fuzzy glow from the comet’s coma.

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Cosmic Collisions Galore!

Astronomy textbooks typically present galaxies as staid, solitary, and majestic island worlds of glittering stars. But galaxies have a dynamical side. They have close encounters that sometimes end in grand mergers and overflowing sites of new star birth as the colliding galaxies morph into wondrous new shapes. Today, in celebration of the Hubble Space Telescope's 18th launch anniversary, 59 views of colliding galaxies constitute the largest collection of Hubble images ever released to the public. This new Hubble atlas dramatically illustrates how galaxy collisions produce a remarkable variety of intricate structures in never-before-seen detail.

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Triangulum Galaxy Shows Stunning Face in Detailed Hubble Portrait



NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has produced this stunningly detailed portrait of the Triangulum galaxy (M33), displaying a full spiral face aglow with the light of nearly 25 million individually resolved stars. It is the largest high-resolution mosaic image of Triangulum ever assembled, composed of 54 Hubble fields of view spanning an area more than 19,000 light-years across.

The Local Group of galaxies is dominated by the Milky Way, Andromeda, and Triangulum. As the junior member of this trio of spiral galaxies, Triangulum provides the valuable comparisons and contrasts that only a close companion can. Most notably, Triangulum's star formation is 10 times more intense than in the comparable Hubble panorama of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Astronomers have only begun to mine the enormous amount of data generated by these new Hubble observations, and expect they will yield important insights into the effects of such vigorous star formation.

The orderly nature of Triangulum's spiral, with dust distributed throughout, is another distinctive feature. Astronomers think that in the Local Group, Triangulum has been something of an introvert, isolated from frequent interactions with other galaxies while keeping busy producing stars along organized spiral arms. Uncovering the Triangulum galaxy’s story will provide an important point of reference in understanding how galaxies develop over time, and the diverse paths that shape what we see today.

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Photo Release: Hubble takes gigantic image of the Triangulum Galaxy


The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the most detailed image yet of a close neighbour of the Milky Way — the Triangulum Galaxy, a spiral galaxy located at a distance of only three million light-years. This panoramic survey of the third-largest galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies provides a mesmerising view of the 40 billion stars that make up one of the most distant objects visible to the naked eye.

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Young Planets Orbiting Red Dwarfs May Lack Ingredients for Life



Our Sun is not one of the most abundant types of star in our Milky Way galaxy. That award goes to red dwarfs, stars that are smaller and cooler than our Sun. In fact, red dwarfs presumably contain the bulk of our galaxy's planet population, which could number tens of billions of worlds. Surveys by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and other observatories have shown that rocky planets are common around these diminutive stars. Some of these rocky worlds are orbiting within the habitable zones of several nearby red dwarfs. The temperate climates on such worlds could allow for oceans to exist on their surface, possibly nurturing life.

That's the good news. The bad news is that many of these rocky planets may not harbor water and organic material, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it. Earth, which formed as a "dry" planet, was seeded over hundreds of millions of years with icy material from comets and asteroids arriving from the outer solar system.

If the same life-nurturing process is needed for planets around red dwarfs, then they may be in trouble. Researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have discovered a rapidly eroding dust-and-gas disk encircling the young, nearby red dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic). The disk is being excavated by fast-moving blobs of material, which are acting like a snowplow by pushing small particles — possibly containing water and other volatiles — out of the system. Astronomers don’t yet know how the blobs were launched. One theory is that powerful mass ejections from the turbulent star expelled them. Such energetic activity is common among young red dwarfs.

If the disk around AU Mic continues to dissipate at the current pace, it will be gone in about 1.5 million years, which is the blink of an eye in cosmic time. Smaller bodies, such as comets and asteroids, could be cleared out of the disk within that short time span. Planets, however, would be too massive to be displaced. Without enrichment from comet and asteroid material, the planets may end up dry, dusty, and lifeless.

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Chance Alignment Between Galaxies Mimics a Cosmic Collision



NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a rare view of a pair of overlapping galaxies, called NGC 3314. The two galaxies look as if they are colliding, but they are actually separated by tens of millions of light-years, or about ten times the distance between our Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The chance alignment of the two galaxies, as seen from Earth, gives a unique look at the silhouetted spiral arms in the closer face-on spiral, NGC 3314A. The motion of the two galaxies indicates that they are both relatively undisturbed and that they are moving in markedly different directions.

The color composite was produced from exposures taken in blue and red light with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The pair of galaxies lie roughly 140 million light-years from Earth, in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Hydra.

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Hubble Unmasks Ghost Galaxies



Astronomers have puzzled over why some puny, extremely faint dwarf galaxies spotted in our Milky Way galaxy's back yard contain so few stars. These ghost-like galaxies are thought to be some of the tiniest, oldest, and most pristine galaxies in the universe. They have been discovered over the past decade by astronomers using automated computer techniques to search through the images of the Sloan Sky Survey. But astronomers needed NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to help solve the mystery of these star-starved galaxies.

Hubble views of Leo IV and two other small-fry galaxies in this study reveal that their stars share the same birth date. The galaxies all started forming stars more than 13 billion years ago – and then abruptly stopped – all in the first billion years after the universe was born in the big bang. Because the stars in these galaxies are so ancient and share the same age, astronomers suggest that a global event, such as reionization, shut down star formation in them. Reionization is a transitional phase in the early universe when the first stars burned off a fog of cold hydrogen.

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Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto



A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system. Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 26, 27, and 29, 2012 and July 7 and 9, 2012. This discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

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Why Is Earth So Dry?



With large swaths of oceans, rivers that snake for hundreds of miles, and behemoth glaciers near the north and south poles, Earth doesn't seem to have a water shortage. And yet, less than one percent of our planet's mass is locked up in water, and even that may have been delivered by comets and asteroids after Earth's initial formation. Astronomers have been puzzled by Earth's water deficiency. The standard model explaining how the solar system formed from a protoplanetary disk, a swirling disk of gas and dust surrounding our Sun, billions of years ago, suggests that our planet should be a water world. Earth should have formed from icy material in a zone around the Sun where temperatures were cold enough for ices to condense out of the disk. Therefore, Earth should have formed from material rich in water. So why is our planet comparatively dry?

A new analysis of the common accretion-disk model explaining how planets form in a debris disk around our Sun uncovered a possible reason for Earth's comparative dryness. In this study astrophysicists Rebecca Martin and Mario Livio found that our planet formed from rocky debris in a dry, hotter region, inside of the so-called "snow line." The snow line in our solar system currently lies in the middle of the asteroid belt, a reservoir of rubble between Mars and Jupiter; beyond this point, the Sun's light is too weak to melt the icy debris left over from the protoplanetary disk. Previous accretion-disk models suggested that the snow line was much closer to the Sun 4.5 billion years ago, when Earth formed.

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ESO Telescopes Find Most Stellar Heavyweights Don't Live Alone



A new study using European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes, including the Very Large Telescope, has shown that most very bright high-mass stars, which drive the evolution of galaxies, do not live alone. Almost three-quarters of the stars studied are found to have a close companion star, far more than previously thought. Surprisingly most of these pairs are also experiencing disruptive interactions, such as mass transfer from one star to the other, and about one-third are even expected to ultimately merge to form a single star. The results are published in the July 27 issue of the journal Science.

The science team is composed of H. Sana (Amsterdam University, The Netherlands), S.E. de Mink (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.), A. de Koter (Amsterdam University; Utrecht University, The Netherlands), N. Langer (University of Bonn, Germany), C.J. Evans (UK Astronomy Technology Center, Edinburgh, UK), M. Gieles (University of Cambridge, UK), E. Gosset (Liege University, Belgium), R.G. Izzard (University of Bonn, Germany), J.-B. Le Bouquin (Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France) and F.R.N. Schneider (University of Bonn, Germany).

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Hubble Watches Star Clusters on a Collision Course



Astronomers using data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have caught two clusters full of massive stars that may be in the early stages of merging. The 30 Doradus Nebula is 170,000 light-years from Earth. What at first was thought to be only one cluster in the core of the massive star-forming region 30 Doradus has been found to be a composite of two clusters that differ in age by about one million years.

The entire 30 Doradus complex has been an active star-forming region for 25 million years, and it is currently unknown how much longer this region can continue creating new stars. Smaller systems that merge into larger ones could help to explain the origin of some of the largest known star clusters. The Hubble observations, made with the Wide Field Camera 3, were taken Oct. 20-27, 2009. The blue color is light from the hottest, most massive stars; the green from the glow of oxygen; and the red from fluorescing hydrogen.

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Hubble's Photo Contest Selects Winners



Congratulations to the winners of the European Space Agency's Hubble's Hidden Treasures Competition! The Hubble's Hidden Treasures contest asked amateur image processors to select and process a never-before-publicized image from Hubble's archives. Almost 3,000 submissions were received, with over a thousand of these images fully processed, revealing some stunning Hubble imagery.

Ten winners were selected from both the Basic Image Category and the Advanced Image Processing Category, along with a People's Choice winner from each.

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Odd Galaxy Couple on Space Voyage



Two very different galaxies drift through space together in this image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The peculiar galaxy pair is called Arp 116. Arp 116 is composed of a giant elliptical galaxy known as Messier 60 (or M60) and a much smaller spiral galaxy, NGC 4647. The faint bluish spiral galaxy NGC 4647 is about two-thirds of M60 in size and much lower in mass – roughly the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

M60 lies roughly 54 million light-years away from Earth; NGC 4647 is about 63 million light-years away. This image combines exposures from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

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Hubble Goes to the eXtreme to Assemble Farthest Ever View of the Universe



Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of mankind's deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is an image of a small area of space in the constellation Fornax, created using Hubble Space Telescope data from 2003 and 2004. By collecting faint light over many hours of observation, it revealed thousands of galaxies, both nearby and very distant, making it the deepest image of the universe ever taken at that time. The new full-color XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies and includes very deep exposures in red light from Hubble's new infrared camera, enabling new studies of the earliest galaxies in the universe. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.

Astronomers continue studying this area of sky with Hubble. Extensive ongoing observing programs, led by Harry Teplitz and Richard Ellis at the California Institute of Technology, will allow astronomers to study the deep-field galaxies with Hubble to even greater depths in ultraviolet and infrared light prior to the launch of JWST. These new results will provide even more extraordinary views of this region of the sky and will be shared with the public in the coming months.

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Hubble Breaks Record in Search for Farthest Supernova



A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a star detonated with enough energy to briefly shine with an intrinsic brightness of one billion of our suns. The beacon of radiation arrived at Earth 10 billion years later and was captured in a Hubble Space Telescope deep survey of the universe. It is the farthest, and earliest, supernova of its type detected to date. More than simply an example of the ancient fireworks in the young and effervescent universe, the supernova belongs to a special class of stellar detonations that are so reliably bright, they can be used as intergalactic milepost markers.

Supernovae like this one provided the first observational evidence that the universe is expanding at an ever-faster rate. Our understanding of the accelerating universe, however, is only as solid as the reliability of supernovae as solid yardsticks for measuring cosmic distances. This record-breaker is so ancient it can be used to test competing theories about how such supernovae exploded in the universe's early days and compare them with nearby supernovae seen today. Its discovery is part of an ongoing program, where different teams of astronomers are using Hubble to push ever farther back into the early epoch of star formation.

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Hubble Surveys Debris-Strewn Exoplanetary Construction Yards



Over the past few years, astronomers have found an incredible diversity in the architecture of exoplanetary systems, as well as the planets themselves. A survey using the sharp view of the Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a similar diversity in the debris systems that coincide with the formation of exoplanets. These circumstellar dusty disks are likely generated by collisions between objects left over from planet formation around stars. The survey's results suggest that there is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris system.

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NASA Introduces New, Wider Set of Eyes on the Universe: Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute to Partner on New NASA 'Wide-View' Space Telescope



After years of preparatory studies, NASA is formally starting an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). WFIRST will image large regions of the sky in near-infrared light to answer fundamental questions about dark energy and the structure and evolution of the universe. It will also find and characterize planets beyond our solar system, and as a general-purpose observatory, revolutionize many other astrophysical topics. WFIRST will have a mirror the same size as Hubble's, but it will have a 100 times wider view of space. Slated for launch in the mid-2020s, it will complement the capabilities of NASA's other major astrophysical observatories.

WFIRST is managed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with participation by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California; the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland; the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), also in Pasadena; and a science team comprised of members from U.S. research institutions across the country. STScI will be a partner on the WFIRST science operations and will focus during the mission formulation phase on the observation scheduling system, wide-field imaging data processing system, and the data archive.

To learn more about the WFIRST mission and STScI, join a live Hubble Hangout discussion with scientists at 3:00 p.m. EST on Thurs., Feb. 18, at WFIRST: Uncovering Cosmic Mysteries | Hubble Hangout.

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Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope



The Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations on January 8 due to a hardware problem. Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated. Wide Field Camera 3, installed during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, is equipped with redundant electronics should they be needed to recover the instrument.

For more information about Hubble and further updates about the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly, visit Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope.

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