Space Hubble Telescope News

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Black Hole in Search of a Home



A team of European astronomers has used two of the most powerful astronomical facilities available, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal, to find a bright quasar without a massive host galaxy. Quasars are powerful and typically very distant sources of prodigious amounts of radiation. They are commonly associated with galaxies containing an active central black hole. The team confidently concludes that the quasar on the left, HE0450-2958 (in the center, distance about 5 billion light-years) does not have a massive host galaxy. The quasar HE1239-2426 to the right (at a distance of 1.5 billion light-years), has a normal host galaxy which displays large spiral arms.

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Astronomers Measure Precise Mass of a Binary Brown Dwarf



This is an artist's concept of a pair of eclipsing brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are mysterious celestial objects that fall somewhere between the smallest stars and the largest planets. They have always been viewed by astronomers as a critical link in the understanding of how both stars and planets form. One problem has been that brown dwarfs are hard to find and so have defied nearly all attempts to accurately assess their size. But now astronomers, have discovered a pair of young brown dwarfs in mutual orbit. This has enabled scientists to weigh and measure the diameters of brown dwarfs for the first time. The new observations confirm the theoretical prediction that brown dwarfs start out as star-sized objects, but shrink and cool and become increasingly planet sized as they age. Before now, the only brown dwarf whose mass had been directly measured was much older and dimmer.

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Hubble Catches Heavyweight Runaway Star Speeding from 30 Doradus



A blue-hot star, 90 times more massive than our Sun, is hurtling across space fast enough to make a round trip from Earth to the Moon in merely two hours. Though the speed is not a record-breaker, it is unique to find a homeless star that has traveled so far from its nest. The only way the star could have been ejected from the star cluster where it was born is through a tussle with a rogue star that entered the binary system where the star lived, which ejected the star through a dynamical game of stellar pinball. This is strong circumstantial evidence for stars as massive as 150 times our Sun's mass living in the cluster. Only a very massive star would have the gravitational energy to eject something weighing 90 solar masses. The runaway star is on the outskirts of the 30 Doradus nebula, a raucous stellar breeding ground in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The finding bolsters evidence that the most massive stars in the local universe reside in 30 Doradus, making it a unique laboratory for studying heavyweight stars. 30 Doradus, also called the Tarantula Nebula, is roughly 170,000 light-years from Earth.

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Fastest Rotating Star Found in Neighboring Galaxy



An international team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope have found the fastest spinning star ever discovered. VFTS 102 rotates at a dizzying 1 million miles per hour and is very close to the point at which it would be torn apart due to centrifugal forces. The star lies in a neighboring dwarf galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 160,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomers think that it may have had a violent past and has been ejected from a double star system by its exploding companion. The team will use NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to make precise measurements of the star's proper motion across space.

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Astronomers Watch Delayed Broadcast of a Powerful Stellar Eruption



Astronomers are watching a delayed broadcast of a spectacular outburst from the unstable, behemoth double-star system Eta Carinae, an event initially seen on Earth nearly 170 years ago. Dubbed the "Great Eruption," the outburst first caught the attention of sky watchers in 1837 and was observed through 1858. But astronomers didn't have sophisticated science instruments to accurately record the star system's petulant activity. Luckily for today's astronomers, some of the light from the eruption took an indirect path to Earth and is just arriving now, providing an opportunity to analyze the outburst in detail. The wayward light was heading in a different direction, away from our planet, when it bounced off dust clouds lingering far from the turbulent stars and was rerouted to Earth, an effect called a "light echo." Because of its longer path, the light reached Earth 170 years later than the light that arrived directly.

The astronomers' study involved a mix of visible-light and spectroscopic observations from ground-based telescopes. The team's paper will appear Feb. 16 in a letter to the journal Nature.

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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 Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution



Astronomers combined the power of a “natural lens” in space with the capability of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to make a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang. Researchers say that finding such a galaxy so early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve. Astronomers expected to see a chaotic ball of stars formed through galaxies merging together. Instead, they saw evidence that the stars were born in a pancake-shaped disk. The galaxy, called MACS 2129-1, is considered “dead” because it is no longer making stars. This new insight is forcing astronomers to rethink their theories of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies. “Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early ‘dead’ galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven’t been able to resolve them,” said study leader Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

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Stellar Thief Is the Surviving Companion to a Supernova



In the fading afterglow of a supernova explosion, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have photographed the first image of a surviving companion to a supernova. This is the most compelling evidence that some supernovas originate in double-star systems. The companion to supernova 2001ig’s progenitor star was no innocent bystander to the explosion—it siphoned off almost all of the hydrogen from the doomed star’s stellar envelope. SN 2001ig is categorized as a Type IIb stripped-envelope supernova, which is a relatively rare type of supernova in which most, but not all, of the hydrogen is gone prior to the explosion. Perhaps as many as half of all stripped-envelope supernovas have companions—the other half lose their outer envelopes via stellar winds.

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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.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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A Pair of Fledgling Planets Directly Seen Growing Around a Young Star



In order to grow to Jupiter size or larger, a gas giant planet must slurp large quantities of hydrogen and other gases from the disk in which it forms. Astronomers have looked for evidence of this process, but direct observations are challenging because planets become lost in the glare of their star. A team has succeeded in making ground-based observations of two planets accreting matter from a disk. It represents only the second multi-planet system to be directly imaged.

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Table Salt Compound Spotted on Europa



Finding common table salt — sodium chloride — on the surface of a moon is more than just a scientific curiosity when that moon is Europa, a potential abode of life.

If the salt came from the briny subsurface ocean of Europa, a satellite of Jupiter, that ocean may chemically resemble Earth's oceans more than previously thought. Because Europa's solid, icy crust is geologically young it has been suspected that whatever salts exist on the surface may come from the ocean below, which might host microorganisms.

Using visible-light spectral analysis, planetary scientists at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that the yellow color visible on portions of the surface of Europa is sodium chloride. They reached this conclusion with spectroscopic data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Researchers were able to identify a distinct absorption in the visible spectrum which matches how salt would look when irradiated by the Sun.

Tara Regio is the yellowish area to left of center, in this NASA Galileo image of Europa’s surface. This region of geologic chaos is the area researchers identified an abundance of sodium chloride.

The finding was published in Science Advances on June 12.

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Photo Release: Hubble Observes Tiny Galaxy with Big Heart


A tiny galaxy with a big heart
Nestled within this field of bright foreground stars lies ESO 495-21, a tiny galaxy with a big heart. ESO 495-21 may be just 3000 light-years across, but that is not stopping the galaxy from furiously forming huge numbers of stars. It may also host a supermassive black hole; this is unusual for a galaxy of its size, and may provide intriguing hints as to how galaxies form and evolve.

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New Instrument Package to Expand Space Telescope's Vision



NASA's Servicing Mission 3B for the Hubble Space Telescope will give the orbiting observatory a new camera that will significantly increase Hubble's abilities and enable a broad array of new astronomical discoveries. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) covers twice the area, has twice the sharpness, and is up to five times more sensitive to light than Hubble's workhorse camera, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. The servicing mission will begin on Feb. 28 with the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. The simulated image [above, right] depicts how the cosmos will look through the "eyes" of the ACS.

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A Bow Shock Near a Young Star



The Hubble Space Telescope continues to reveal various stunning and intricate treasures that reside within the nearby, intense star-forming region known as the Great Nebula in Orion. One such jewel is the bow shock around the very young star, LL Ori, featured in this Hubble Heritage image.

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Hubble's New Camera Delivers Breathtaking Views of the Universe



Jubilant astronomers unveiled humankind's most spectacular views of the universe, courtesy of the newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Among the suite of four ACS photographs to demonstrate the camera's capabilities is a stunning view of a colliding galaxy dubbed the "Tadpole" (UGC10214). Set against a rich tapestry of 6,000 galaxies, the Tadpole, with its long tail of stars, looks like a runaway pinwheel firework. Another picture depicts a spectacular collision between two spiral galaxies -- dubbed "The Mice" -- that presages what may happen to our own Milky Way several billion years from now when it collides with the neighboring galaxy in the constellation Andromeda. Looking closer to home, ACS imaged the "Cone Nebula," a craggy-looking mountaintop of cold gas and dust that is a cousin to Hubble's iconic "pillars of creation" in the Eagle Nebula, photographed in 1995. Peering into a celestial maternity ward called the Omega Nebula or M17, ACS revealed a watercolor fantasy-world of glowing gases, where stars and perhaps embryonic planetary systems are forming.

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Thompson and NICMOS Team Win Muhlmann Award



The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has awarded its 2003 Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award to Professor Rodger I. Thompson (University of Arizona) and the team that developed the Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS instrument, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer.

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NASA's Hubble Finds Rare Blue Straggler Stars in the Milky Way's Hub



Peering deep into the star-filled, ancient hub of our Milky Way (left), NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has found a rare class of oddball stars called blue stragglers. This is the first time such objects have been detected within our galaxy's bulge. Blue stragglers are so named because they seem to be lagging behind in their rate of aging compared with nearby older stars.

The discovery is a spin-off from a seven-day-long survey conducted in 2006 called the Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search (SWEEPS). Hubble peered at and obtained variability information for 180,000 stars in the crowded central bulge of our galaxy, 26,000 light-years away.

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NASA's Hubble Makes One Millionth Science Observation



NASA's Hubble Space Telescope crossed another milestone in its 21-year space odyssey of exploration and discovery. On Monday, July 4, the Earth-orbiting observatory logged its one millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet's atmosphere 1,000 light-years away. Although Hubble is best known for its stunning imagery of the cosmos, the millionth exposure is a spectroscopic measurement, where light is divided into its component colors. These color patterns can reveal the chemical composition of cosmic sources. This is an artist's concept of Hubble's millionth exposure, the extrasolar planet HAT-P-7b. It is a gas planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a star hotter than our Sun. HAT-P-7b, also known as Kepler 2b, has been studied by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler observatory after it was discovered by ground-based observations.

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Space Astronomy Archive and Distant Supernova Are Named in Honor Of U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski



One of the world's largest astronomy archives, containing a treasure trove of information about myriad stars, planets, and galaxies, has been named in honor of the United States Senator from Maryland Barbara Mikulski.

Called MAST, for the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, the huge database contains astronomical observations from 16 NASA space astronomy missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope. The archive is located at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

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Hubble Finds Birth Certificate of Oldest Known Star



You can't be older than your parents. But there is a nearby star that at first glance looks like it is older than the universe! Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are coming to grips with this paradox by improving the precision of the observations used to estimate the age of this "Methuselah star."

Around the year 2000, estimates for the star's age were about 16 billion years. But the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, based on a meticulous calibration of the expansion of space and analysis of the microwave afterglow from the big bang. Hubble data and improved theoretical calculations were used to recalculate the star's age and lower the estimate to 14.5 billion years, within a measurement uncertainty of plus or minus 800 million years. This places the star within a comfortable range to be younger than the universe. Astronomers have to collect a lot of information to deduce a star's age because it doesn't come with a birth certificate. They have to take into account where the star is in its life history, the detailed chemistry of the star, and its intrinsic brightness. Hubble's contribution was to reduce the uncertainty on the star's true distance. With that improved accuracy, the intrinsic brightness of the star is better known. The ancient star is still spry for its age. It is speeding past us at 800,000 miles per hour. Its orbit can be traced back to the halo of our galaxy, which is a "retirement home" for stars that were born long before the Milky Way was even fully assembled.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 
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