Space Hubble Telescope News

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Hubble Sees Neptune's Mysterious Shrinking Storm



Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, stinky, dark storm is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Immense dark storms on Neptune were first discovered in the late 1980s by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Since then, only Hubble has tracked these elusive features that play a game of peek-a-boo over the years. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished. This latest storm was first seen in 2015, but is now shrinking away. The dark spot material may be hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent smell of rotten eggs.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to Reveal Secrets of the Red Planet



Mars rovers and orbiters have found signs that Mars once hosted liquid water on its surface. Much of that water escaped over time. How much water was lost, and how does the water that’s left move from ice to atmosphere to soil? During its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will seek answers. Webb also will study mysterious methane plumes that hint at possible geological or even biological activity.

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Arrested Development: Hubble Finds Relic Galaxy Close to Home



The adventuring cinema archeologist Indiana Jones would be delighted to find a long-sought relic in his own backyard. Astronomers have gotten lucky enough to achieve such a quest. They identified a very rare and odd assemblage of stars that has remained essentially unchanged for the past 10 billion years. The diffuse stellar island provides valuable new insights into the origin and evolution of galaxies billions of years ago.

As far as galaxy evolution goes, this object is clearly a case of “arrested development.” The galaxy, NGC 1277, started its life with a bang long ago, ferociously churning out stars 1,000 times faster than seen in our own Milky Way today. But it abruptly went quiescent as the baby boomer stars aged and grew ever redder. Though Hubble has seen such “red and dead” galaxies in the early universe, one has never been conclusively found nearby. Where the early galaxies are so distant, they are just red dots in Hubble deep-sky images. NGC 1277 offers a unique opportunity to see one up close and personal.

The telltale sign of the galaxy’s state lies in the ancient globular clusters that swarm around it. Massive galaxies tend to have both metal-poor (appearing blue) and metal-rich (appearing red) globular clusters. The red clusters are believed to form as the galaxy forms, while the blue clusters are later brought in as smaller satellites are swallowed by the central galaxy. However, NGC 1277 is almost entirely lacking in blue globular clusters. The red clusters are the strongest evidence that the galaxy went out of the star-making business long ago. However, the lack of blue clusters suggests that NGC 1277 never grew further by gobbling up surrounding galaxies.

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Dark Matter Goes Missing in Oddball Galaxy



Grand, majestic spiral galaxies like our Milky Way are hard to miss. Astronomers can spot these vast complexes because of their large, glowing centers and their signature winding arms of gas and dust, where thousands of glowing stars reside.

But some galaxies aren't so distinctive. They are big, but they have so few stars for their size that they appear very faint and diffuse. In fact, they are so diffuse that they look like giant cotton balls.

Observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of one such galaxy have turned up an oddity that sets it apart from most other galaxies, even the diffuse-looking ones. It contains little, if any, dark matter, the underlying scaffolding upon which galaxies are built. Dark matter is an invisible substance that makes up the bulk of our universe and the invisible glue that holds visible matter in galaxies — stars and gas — together.

Called NGC 1052-DF2, this "ghostly" galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that astronomers had expected. How it formed is a complete mystery. The galactic oddball is as large as our Milky Way, but the galaxy had escaped attention because it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy.

Based on the colors of its globular clusters, NGC 1052-DF2 is about 10 billion years old. It resides about 65 million light-years away.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Makes the First Precise Distance Measurement to an Ancient Globular Star Cluster



When you want to know the size of a room, you use a measuring tape to calculate its dimensions.

But you can’t use a tape measure to cover the inconceivably vast distances in space. And, until now, astronomers did not have an equally precise method to accurately measure distances to some of the oldest objects in our universe – ancient swarms of stars outside the disk of our galaxy called globular clusters.

Estimated distances to our Milky Way galaxy’s globular clusters were achieved by comparing the brightness and colors of stars to theoretical models and observations of local stars. But the accuracy of these estimates varies, with uncertainties hovering between 10 percent and 20 percent.

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers were able to use the same sort of trigonometry that surveyors use to precisely measure the distance to NGC 6397, one of the closest globular clusters to Earth. The only difference is that the angles measured in Hubble’s camera are infinitesimal by earthly surveyors’ standards.

The new measurement sets the cluster’s distance at 7,800 light-years away, with just a 3 percent margin of error, and provides an independent estimate for the age of the universe. The Hubble astronomers calculated NGC 6397 is 13.4 billion years old and so formed not long after the big bang. The new measurement also will help astronomers improve models of stellar evolution.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble 28th Anniversary Image Captures Roiling Heart of Vast Stellar Nursery



For 28 years, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has been delivering breathtaking views of the universe. Although the telescope has made more than 1.5 million observations of over 40,000 space objects, it is still uncovering stunning celestial gems.

The latest offering is this image of the Lagoon Nebula to celebrate the telescope’s anniversary. Hubble shows this vast stellar nursery in stunning unprecedented detail.

At the center of the photo, a monster young star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun is blasting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, carving out a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust. This region epitomizes a typical, raucous stellar nursery full of birth and destruction.

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Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 25 Years of Unveiling the Universe



NASA and ESA are celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope's silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature's own fireworks – a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. The comparatively young, 2-million-year-old star cluster contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars. The largest stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds that etch away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. This creates a fantasy celestial landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys.

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Hubble Zooms in on Shrapnel from an Exploded Star



Not long before the dawn of recorded human history, our distant ancestors would have witnessed what appeared to be a bright new star briefly blazing in the northern sky, rivaling the glow of our moon. In fact, it was the titanic detonation of a bloated star much more massive than our sun. Now, thousands of years later, the expanding remnant of that blast can be seen as the Cygnus Loop, a donut-shaped nebula that is six times the apparent diameter of the full moon. The Hubble Space Telescope was used to zoom into a small portion of that remnant, called the Veil Nebula. Hubble resolves tangled rope-like filaments of glowing gases. Supernovae enrich space with heavier elements used in the formation of future stars and planets – and possibly life.

Learn even more about the Veil Nebula in a discussion with Hubble Heritage Team scientists during the live Hubble Hangout at 3pm EDT on Thurs., Sept. 24 at New Hubble 25th Anniversary Image Released .

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Hubble's Planetary Portrait Captures New Changes in Jupiter's Great Red Spot



Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have produced new global maps of Jupiter – the first in a series of annual portraits of the solar system's outer planets from the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program (OPAL). The two Jupiter maps, representing nearly back-to-back rotations of the planet on Jan. 19, 2015, show the movements of the clouds and make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter's winds. The Hubble observations confirm that the Great Red Spot continues to shrink and become more circular. In addition, an unusual wispy filament is seen, spanning almost the entire width of the vortex. These findings are described in a new paper published online in the October 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The collection of maps to be obtained over time from the OPAL program will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars. For more visuals and information about this study, visit: Hubble Space Telescope .

And to learn even more about Jupiter and Hubble, join the live Hubble Hangout discussion at 3:00 pm on Thurs., Oct. 15 at Hubble Captures New Maps of Jupiter .

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Hubble Sees the Force Awakening in a Newborn Star



Just about anything is possible in our remarkable universe, and it often competes with the imaginings of science fiction writers and filmmakers. Hubble's latest contribution is a striking photo of what looks like a double-bladed lightsaber straight out of the Star Wars films. In the center of the image, partially obscured by a dark, Jedi-like cloak of dust, a newborn star shoots twin jets out into space as a sort of birth announcement to the universe. Gas from a surrounding disk rains down onto the dust-obscured protostar and engorges it. The material is superheated and shoots outward from the star in opposite directions along an uncluttered escape route – the star's rotation axis. Much more energetic than a science fiction lightsaber, these narrow energetic beams are blasting across space at over 100,000 miles per hour. This celestial lightsaber does not lie in a galaxy far, far away but rather inside our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Team Breaks Cosmic Distance Record



NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is an amazing time machine; by looking back through space, astronomers actually look back through time. Now, by pushing Hubble to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by viewing the farthest galaxy ever seen. Named GN-z11, this surprisingly bright, infant galaxy is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past. The astronomers saw it as it existed just 400 million years after the big bang, when the universe was only three percent of its current age. At a spectroscopically confirmed redshift of 11.1, the galaxy is even farther away than originally thought. It existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the time when scientists believe the very first stars started to form. At a billion solar masses, it is producing stars surprisingly quickly for such an early time. This new record will most likely stand until the launch of Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look even deeper into the universe for early galaxies.

To learn even more about galaxy GN-z11, join a live Hubble Hangout discussion with astronomers and scientists at 3:00 p.m. EST on Thurs., March 3, at A Bright Galaxy Deep in the Universe | Hubble Hangout.

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Hubble's Journey to the Center of Our Galaxy



Hubble's infrared vision pierced the dusty heart of our Milky Way galaxy to reveal more than half a million stars at its core. Except for a few blue, foreground stars, the stars are part of the Milky Way's nuclear star cluster, the most massive and densest stellar cluster in our galaxy. Located 27,000 light-years away, this region is so packed with stars, it is equivalent to having a million suns crammed into the volume of space between us and our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light-years away. At the very hub of our galaxy, this star cluster surrounds the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole, which is about 4 million times the mass of our sun.

To learn even more about the Milky Way's nuclear star cluster and Hubble, join astronomers and scientists during a live Hubble Hangout discussion at 3pm EDT on Thurs., March 31 at Heart of the Milky Way Galaxy.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Captures Vivid Auroras in Jupiter's Atmosphere



Astronomers are using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras — stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere — on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. The auroras were photographed during a series of Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph far-ultraviolet-light observations taking place as NASA's Juno spacecraft approaches and enters into orbit around Jupiter. The aim of the program is to determine how Jupiter's auroras respond to changing conditions in the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted from the sun. Auroras are formed when charged particles in the space surrounding the planet are accelerated to high energies along the planet's magnetic field. When the particles hit the atmosphere near the magnetic poles, they cause it to glow like gases in a fluorescent light fixture. Jupiter's magnetosphere is 20,000 times stronger than Earth's. These observations will reveal how the solar system's largest and most powerful magnetosphere behaves.

The full-color disk of Jupiter in this image was separately photographed at a different time by Hubble's Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble project that annually captures global maps of the outer planets.

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NASA's Hubble Telescope Makes First Atmospheric Study of Earth-Sized Exoplanets



The possibility of life on other worlds has fueled humankind's imagination for centuries. Over the past 20 years, the explosion of discoveries of planets orbiting other stars has sparked the search for worlds like Earth that could sustain life. Most of those candidates were found with other telescopes, including NASA's Kepler space observatory. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has also made some unique contributions to the planet hunt. Astronomers used Hubble, for example, to make the first measurements of the atmospheric composition of extrasolar planets.

Now, astronomers have used Hubble to conduct the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system, uncovering clues that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets. They discovered that the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, approximately 40 light-years away, are unlikely to have puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres usually found on gaseous worlds. Those dense atmospheres act like a greenhouse, smothering any potential life. Observations from NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will help determine the full composition of these atmospheres and hunt for potential biosignatures, such as carbon dioxide and ozone, and methane.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Finds Planet Orbiting Pair of Stars



Two is company, but three might not always be a crowd, at least in space. When astronomers found an extrasolar planet orbiting a neighboring star, a detailed analysis of the data uncovered a third body. But astronomers couldn't definitively identify whether the object was another planet or another star in the system.

Now, nine years later, astronomers have used ultra-sharp images from the Hubble Space Telescope to determine that the system consists of a Saturn-mass planet circling two diminutive, faint stars in a tight orbit around each other. The system, called OGLE-2007-BLG-349, resides 8,000 light-years away. Astronomers teased the signature of the three objects using an observational technique called gravitational microlensing. This occurs when the gravity of a foreground star bends and amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. The particular character of the light magnification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and any associated planets.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa



New findings from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show suspected water plumes erupting from Jupiter's icy moon Europa. These observations bolster earlier Hubble work suggesting that Europa is venting water vapor. A team of astronomers, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa's limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. The team was inspired to use this observing method by studies of atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars.

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. This is exciting because Europa is a plausible place for life to have developed beyond the Earth. If the venting plumes originate in a subsurface ocean, they could act as an elevator to bring deep-sea life above Europa's surface, where it could be sampled by visiting spacecraft. This offers a convenient way to access the chemistry of that ocean without drilling through miles of ice. To view NASA's Europa plumes summary video, visit the YouTube link at
.

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Festive Nebulas Light Up Milky Way Galaxy Satellite



Two glowing nebulas in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy, have been observed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Young, brilliant stars at the center of each nebula are heating hydrogen, causing these clouds of gas and dust to glow red. The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE). Astronomers are using Hubble to probe the Milky Way satellite to understand how dust is different in galaxies that have a far lower supply of heavy elements needed to create dust.

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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.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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A Multi-Wavelength View of Radio Galaxy Hercules A



Spectacular jets powered by the gravitational energy of a supermassive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A illustrate the combined imaging power of two of astronomy's cutting-edge tools, the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3, and the recently upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Sees a Horsehead of a Different Color



Unlike other celestial objects there is no question how the Horsehead Nebula got its name. This iconic silhouette of a horse's head and neck pokes up mysteriously from what look like whitecaps of interstellar foam. The nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery over a century ago. But Hubble's infrared vision shows the horse in a new light. The nebula, shadowy in optical light, appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. This pillar of tenuous hydrogen gas laced with dust is resisting being eroded away by the radiation from a nearby star. The nebula is a small part of a vast star-forming complex in the constellation Orion. The Horsehead will disintegrate in about 5 million years.

As part of Hubble's 23rd anniversary Horsehead Nebula release, amateur astronomers around the world were invited to send in their Horsehead Nebula photos. Visit the Hubble Heritage Horsehead Image Release to view the contributions via Flickr and Tumblr and to send us your own image.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 
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