Space Hubble Telescope News

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Hubble Explores the Formation and Evolution of Star Clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud



Like batches of cookies, stars are born together in groups. These star clusters, containing as many as 1 million members, evolve over time largely through a gravitational pinball where more massive stars are segregated from lower mass stars. Heavy stars tend to progressively sink toward the central region of the star cluster, while low-mass stars can escape from the system.

For the first time, the Hubble Space Telescope has been used to measure the effects of this dynamical aging on star clusters. They are all located 160,000 light-years from Earth in a satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The diminutive galaxy is an ideal target because it hosts a selection of easily observed star clusters covering a wide range of ages.

Francesco Ferraro of the University of Bologna in Italy and his team used Hubble to observe five aging LMC star clusters — all born at about the same time but with different sizes — and succeeded in ranking them in terms of the level of dynamical evolution, which affects their shape.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Finds Hidden Exoplanet in Archival Data



In 19 years of observations, the Hubble Space Telescope has amassed a huge archive of data. That archive may contain the telltale glow of undiscovered extrasolar planets, says David Lafrenière of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His team found the outermost of three massive planets known to orbit the young star HR 8799, which is 130 light-years away. The planetary trio was originally discovered in images taken with the Keck and Gemini North telescopes in 2007 and 2008. But using a new image processing technique that suppresses the glare of the parent star, Lafrenière found the telltale glow of the outermost planet in the system while studying Hubble archival data taken in 1998. The giant planet is young and hot, but still only 1/100,000th the brightness of its parent star (by comparison, cooler Jupiter is one-billionth the brightness of the sun).

Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) has looked at over 200 other stars in coronagraphic mode, where the light of the star is largely blocked out, to search for the feeble glow of planets. Lafrenière plans to look for undiscovered planets in the NICMOS archive dataset and do follow-up observations with ground-based telescopes on any candidates that pop up. As an added bonus, NICMOS made a near-infrared measurement that suggests water vapor is in the atmosphere of the planet. This could not be easily achieved with ground-based telescopes, because water vapor in Earth's atmosphere absorbs some infrared wavelengths. Measuring the water absorption properties on this exoplanet will tell astronomers a great deal about the temperatures and pressures in the atmosphere, and about the prevalence of dust clouds. But don't go looking for beachfront property; the planet is 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit -- too hot even for water vapor clouds.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Celebrates the International Year of Astronomy with the Galaxy Triplet Arp 274



On April 1-2, the Hubble Space Telescope photographed the winning target in the Space Telescope Science Institute's "You Decide" competition in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The winner is a group of galaxies called Arp 274. The striking object received 67,021 votes out of the nearly 140,000 votes cast for the six candidate targets.

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Hubble Witnesses Spectacular Flaring in Gas Jet from M87's Black Hole



In our violent, discordant, and effervescent universe, reality always seems to be stranger than fiction. Case in point: there is a galaxy 54 million light-years away that is shooting out a 5,000-light-year-long, narrow beam of radiation and plasma that is as opulent as a Star Wars light saber and as destructive as the film's Death Star. This extragalactic jet is being fueled and ejected from the vicinity of a monster black hole that is 3 billion times the mass of our Sun. The disk around a rapidly spinning black hole has magnetic field lines that entrap ionized gas falling toward the black hole. These particles, along with radiation, flow rapidly away from the black hole along the magnetic field lines. The rotational energy of the spinning accretion disk adds momentum to the outflowing jet.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been used to keep an eye on these million-degree fireworks for more than a decade. Hubble has caught the jet flickering. In particular, a glowing knot in the outflowing stream has gotten as bright as the galaxy's star-crowded nucleus, only to dim and then brighten again. Astronomers don't know why the black-hole torch is fluctuating, but it may be similar to the physics that causes flares to explode on the Sun. Plasma trapped in the Sun's magnetic field gets pinched and heated as the lines collapse and put the squeeze on it. Or, more simply, the jet may be plowing into an unseen clump of interstellar matter — at more than half the speed of light!

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Galaxy Cluster MACS J0717



The most crowded collision of galaxy clusters has been identified by combining information from three different telescopes. This result gives scientists a chance to learn what happens when some of the largest objects in the universe go at each other in a cosmic free-for-all. Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, astronomers were able to determine the three-dimensional geometry and motion in the system MACS J0717.5+3745 (or MACS J0717, for short), located about 5.4 billion light-years from Earth.

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Hubble Celebrates Its 19th Anniversary with a "Fountain of Youth"



Over the past 19 years Hubble has taken dozens of exotic pictures of galaxies going "bump in the night" as they collide with each other and have a variety of close encounters of the galactic kind. Just when you thought these interactions couldn't look any stranger, this image of a trio of galaxies, called Arp 194, looks like one of the galaxies has sprung a leak. The bright blue streamer is really a stretched spiral arm full of newborn blue stars. This typically happens when two galaxies interact and gravitationally tug at each other.

Resembling a pair of owl eyes, the two nuclei of the colliding galaxies can be seen in the process of merging at the upper left. The blue bridge looks like it connects to a third galaxy. In reality the galaxy is in the background and not connected at all. Hubble's sharp view allows astronomers to try and visually sort out what are foreground and background objects when galaxies, superficially, appear to overlap. This picture was issued to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. During the past 19 years Hubble has made more than 880,000 observations and snapped over 570,000 images of 29,000 celestial objects.

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Starbursts in Dwarf Galaxies are a Global Affair



Bursts of star making in a galaxy have been compared to a Fourth of July fireworks display: They occur at a fast and furious pace, lighting up a region for a short time before winking out. But these fleeting starbursts are only pieces of the story, astronomers say. An analysis of archival images of small, or dwarf, galaxies taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggests that starbursts, intense regions of star formation, sweep across the whole galaxy and last 100 times longer than astronomers thought. The longer duration may affect how dwarf galaxies change over time, and therefore may shed light on galaxy evolution.

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Refined Hubble Constant Narrows Possible Explanations for Dark Energy



Less than 100 years ago scientists didn't know if the universe was coming or going, literally. It even fooled the great mind of Albert Einstein. He assumed the universe must be static. But to keep the universe from collapsing under gravity like a house of cards, Einstein hypothesized there was a repulsive force at work, called the cosmological constant, that counterbalanced gravity's tug. Along came Edwin Hubble in 1923 who found that galaxies were receding from us at a proportional rate, called the Hubble constant, which meant the universe was uniformly expanding, so there was no need to shore it up with any mysterious force from deep space. In measuring how this expansion was expected to slow down over time, 11 years ago, two studies, one led by Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University and Brian Schmidt of Mount Stromlo Observatory, and the other by Saul Perlmutter of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, independently discovered dark energy, which seems to behave like Einstein's cosmological constant.

To better characterize dark energy, Riess used Hubble Space Telescope's crisp view (combined with 2003 data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, WMAP) to refine the value of the universe's expansion rate to a precision of three percent. That's a big step from 20 years ago when astronomers' estimates for the Hubble constant disagreed by a factor of two. This new value implies that dark energy really is a steady push on the universe as Einstein imagined, rather than something more effervescent (like the early inflationary universe) that changes markedly over time.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Photographs a Planetary Nebula to Commemorate Decommissioning of Super Camera



The Hubble community bids farewell to the soon-to-be decommissioned Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. In tribute to Hubble's longest-running optical camera, planetary nebula K 4-55 has been imaged as WFPC2's final "pretty picture."

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Hubble Captures Rare Jupiter Collision



NASA scientists have interrupted the checkout and calibration of the Hubble Space Telescope to aim the recently refurbished observatory at a new expanding spot on the giant planet Jupiter. The spot, caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, is changing day to day in the planet's cloud tops. The Hubble picture, taken on July 23, is the sharpest visible-light picture taken of the impact feature. The observations were made with Hubble's new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). WFC3 is not yet fully calibrated, and while it is possible to obtain celestial images, the camera's full power cannot yet be realized for most observations. The WFC3 can still return meaningful science images that will complement the Jupiter pictures being taken with ground-based telescopes.

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Astronomers Find Hyperactive Galaxies in the Early Universe



Looking almost 11 billion years into the past, astronomers have measured the motions of stars for the first time in a very distant galaxy. They are whirling at a speed of one million miles per hour-about twice the speed of our Sun through the Milky Way. Even stranger, the galaxies are a fraction the size of our Milky Way, and so may have evolved over billions of years into the full-grown galaxies seen around us today. Astronomers are puzzled by how galaxies like these formed. They may be what will eventually become the dense central regions of very large galaxies.

The galaxies were found by using the combined power of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile. Hubble shows that the galaxies are a fraction the size of most galaxies we see today. The Gemini telescope clocks their speed by using spectroscopy. To witness the formation of these extreme galaxies astronomers plan to observe galaxies even farther back in time with Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3.

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Hubble Opens New Eyes on the Universe



NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, ready to uncover new worlds, peer ever deeper into space, and even map the invisible backbone of the universe. The first snapshots from the refurbished Hubble showcase the 19-year-old telescope's new vision. Topping the list of exciting new views are colorful multi-wavelength pictures of far-flung galaxies, a densely packed star cluster, an eerie "pillar of creation," and a "butterfly" nebula. With its new imaging camera, Hubble can view galaxies, star clusters, and other objects across a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum, from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. A new spectrograph slices across billions of light-years to map the filamentary structure of the universe and trace the distribution of elements that are fundamental to life. The telescope's new instruments also are more sensitive to light and can observe in ways that are significantly more efficient and require less observing time than previous generations of Hubble instruments. NASA astronauts installed the new instruments during the space shuttle servicing mission in May 2009. Besides adding the instruments, the astronauts also completed a dizzying list of other chores that included performing unprecedented repairs on two other science instruments.

Now that Hubble has reopened for business, it will tackle a whole range of observations. Looking closer to Earth, such observations will include taking a census of the population of Kuiper Belt objects residing at the fringe of our solar system, witnessing the birth of planets around other stars, and probing the composition and structure of the atmospheres of other worlds. Peering much farther away, astronomers have ambitious plans to use Hubble to make the deepest-ever portrait of the universe in near-infrared light. The resulting picture may reveal never-before-seen infant galaxies that existed when the universe was less than 500 million years old. Hubble also is now significantly more well-equipped to probe and further characterize the behavior of dark energy, a mysterious and little-understood repulsive force that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Quadruple Saturn Moon Transit Snapped by Hubble



Saturn's comparatively paper-thin rings are tilted edge on to Earth every 15 years. Because the orbits of Saturn's major satellites are in the ring plane, too, this alignment gives astronomers a rare opportunity to capture a truly spectacular parade of celestial bodies crossing the face of Saturn. Leading the parade is Saturn's giant moon Titan - larger than the planet Mercury. The frigid moon's thick nitrogen atmosphere is tinted orange with the smoggy byproducts of sunlight interacting with methane and nitrogen. Several of the much smaller icy moons that are closer in to the planet line up along the upper edge of the rings. Hubble's exquisite sharpness also reveals Saturn's banded cloud structure.

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Hubble Uncovers an Unusual Stellar Progenitor to a Supernova



Astronomers have detailed theories about what type of stars self-destruct in titanic supernova explosions. However, it would be useful to test stellar theory by actually seeing what a doomed star looked like before it blew apart. The problem is that a supernova blast pretty much eradicates all evidence of what the progenitor star was. Like a surveillance camera photographing the scene of a crime before it happened, the Hubble Space Telescope has a priceless archival photo of the galaxy that contains a picture of the supernova progenitor star as it appeared eight years before it exploded. The progenitor was comparatively easy to find because it was one of the brightest stars in the host galaxy. But the discovery has only further confounded supernova mysteries. The progenitor star belongs to a class of luminous blue variable stars that are not expected to explode at such an early stage of their existence.

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Atmosphere of Mid-Size Planet Revealed by Hubble and Spitzer



Our solar system contains two major classes of planets. Earth is a rocky terrestrial planet, as are Mercury, Venus, and Mars. At about the distance of the asteroid belt, there is a "frost line" where space is so cold more volatile material, like water, can remain frozen. Out here live the gas giants–Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune–which have bulked up on hydrogen and helium and other volatiles.

Astronomers are curious about a new class of planet not found in the Solar System. Weighing in at 12.6 Earth masses the planet is more massive than Earth, but less massive than Neptune (hence, intermediate between the rocky and gaseous planets in the Solar System). What's more, the planet, GJ 3470 b, is so close to its red dwarf star that it completes one orbit in just three days! As odd as it seems, planets in this mass range are likely the most abundant throughout the galaxy, based on surveys by NASA's Kepler space telescope. But they are not found in our own solar system.

Astronomers enlisted the combined multi-wavelength capabilities of NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to assemble for the first time a "fingerprint" of the chemical composition of GJ 3470 b's atmosphere, which turns out to be mostly hydrogen and helium, and surprisingly, largely lacking heavier elements. One possible explanation is that the planet formed as a 10-Earth-mass rocky core that then accumulated hydrogen very close to its star, rather than migrated in which is the conventional wisdom for star-hugging planets.

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Science Release: First Water Detected on Planet in the Habitable Zone

heic1916a.jpg
heic1916a.jpg With data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, water vapour has been detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth within the habitable zone by University College London (UCL) researchers in a world first. K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System, or exoplanet, known to have both water and temperatures that could support life.

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Hubble Fellowship Program Selects Talented Young Astronomers for Studying Hubble Space Telescope Discoveries



The Space Telescope Science Institute (ST ScI) has selected 13 new scientists for the Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. The awardees were selected from a pool of 115 highly-qualified candidates from 28 countries.

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For First Time Ever, K-12 Students Get Hands on the Hubble Space Telescope as Part of Innovative "Passport to Knowledge" Project



The planets Neptune and Pluto have been selected as targets for original observations by students who will soon be serving as Hubble Space Telescope (HST) "Co-Investigators", working alongside some of America's foremost astronomers.

In Spring 1996, for the first time ever, students in grades K-12 will have a chance to help do real science using the HST. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which oversees Hubble's science program for NASA and the European Space Agency, contributed three HST orbits to the PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE educational project for this purpose.

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The Original National Geographic Society - Palomar Observatory Sky Survey to be Available on 8 CD-ROMs



The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) are pleased to announce the availability of RealSky CD, the digitized Palomar Observatory Sky Survey compressed by a factor of 100x, available on 8 CD-ROMs.

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Hubble Finds that Earth is Safe from One Class of Gamma-ray Burst



Homeowners may have to worry about floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes destroying their homes, but at least they can remove long-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) from their list of potential natural disasters, according to recent findings by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Long-duration gamma-ray bursts are powerful flashes of high-energy radiation that are sometimes seen coming from certain types of supernovae (the explosions of extremely massive stars). If Earth were flashed by a nearby long-duration burst, the devastation could range from destroying the ozone in our atmosphere to triggering climate change and altering life's evolution. Astronomers analyzing long-duration bursts in several Hubble telescope surveys have concluded that the Milky Way Galaxy is an unlikely place for them to pop off. These images are a sampling of the host galaxies of long-duration bursts taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The green crosshairs pinpoint the location of the gamma-ray bursts, now long faded away.

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