Space Hubble Telescope News

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Gruber Cosmology Prize Awarded to STScI Dark Energy Discoverers

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Four astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. are on two teams sharing the $500,000 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize for their discovery that the expanding universe is accelerating under a mysterious cosmic force called dark energy.

The astronomers are Andrew Fruchter (top left), Ron Gilliland (top right), Nino Panagia (bottom left), and Adam Riess (bottom right). Gilliland and Riess are on the High-z Supernova Search Team led by Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University. Fruchter and Panagia are on the Supernova Cosmology Project led by Saul Perlmutter of the University of California at Berkeley.

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Astronomers Find Highly Elliptical Disk Around Young Star

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Dust and debris parade in an extremely misshapen ring around the young star, HD 15115. The disk, seen edge-on with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, is the dense blue line extending from the star to the upper right and lower left of the image. The disk appears thicker at upper right than at lower left, evidence of its lopsided structure. Astronomers think the disk's needle-like look is caused by dust particles following a highly elliptical orbit around the star. The lopsidedness may have been caused by planets sweeping up debris in the disk or by the gravity of a nearby star. An occulting mask on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys was used to block out the bright starlight in order to see the dim disk. The occulting masks can be seen in the image as the dark circle in the center and the dark bar on the left. The star is behind the central mask. The Hubble image was taken on July 17, 2006. Follow-up observations in 2006 and 2007 with the W.M. Keck Observatory investigated the odd disk further.

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Hubble Traces Subtle Signals of Water on Hazy Worlds

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Astronomers continue to tally up how many planets are orbiting other stars. But finding out what their atmospheres are made of is another story. Two teams of scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant exoplanets. The planets are not the size of Earth, but rather massive worlds known as hot Jupiters because they orbit so close to their stars. Hubble's instruments can deduce the types of gases in the atmospheres of these monsters by determining which colors of a star's light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed as the planet passes in front of its star. The observations demonstrate Hubble's continuing exemplary performance in exoplanet research.

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Hubble Finds That Monster 'El Gordo' Galaxy Cluster Is Bigger Than Thought

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If someone told you there was an object in space called "El Gordo" (Spanish for "the fat one") you might imagine some kind of planet-eating monster straight out of a science fiction movie. The nickname refers to a monstrous cluster of galaxies that is being viewed at a time when the universe was just half of its current age of 13.8 billion years. This is an object of superlatives. It contains several hundred galaxies swarming around under a collective gravitational pull. The total mass of the cluster, and refined in new Hubble measurements, is estimated to be as much as 3 million billion stars like our Sun (about 3,000 times more massive than our own Milky Way galaxy) – though most of the mass is hidden away as dark matter. The cluster may be so huge because it is the result of a titanic collision and merger between two separate galaxy clusters. Thankfully, our Milky Way galaxy grew up in an uncluttered backwater region of the universe.

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Dark Matter Goes Missing in Oddball Galaxy

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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.

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Hubble Finds Cloudy, Cold Weather Conditions for Mars-Bound Spacecraft

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As two NASA spacecraft speed toward a mid-year rendezvous with Mars, astronomers using the Hubble telescope are providing updated planetary weather reports to help plan the missions.

Hubble's new images show that the "Martian invasion" of spacecraft will experience considerably different weather conditions than seen by the last U.S. spacecraft to land on Mars 21 years ago. Martian atmospheric conditions will affect the operation of both the Mars Pathfinder landing on July 4, 1997 and the September 11 arrival of the Mars Global Surveyor, which will map the planet from orbit. These two Hubble snapshots were taken barely three weeks after another Hubble observations of the Red Planet. The differences in the two sets of images are striking, revealing dramatic changes in some local conditions and show overall cloudier and colder conditions than the Viking orbiter encountered two decades ago.

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Hubble Provides Multiple Views of How to Feed a Black Hole

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Astronomers have obtained an unprecedented look at the nearest example of galactic cannibalism – a massive black hole hidden at the center of a nearby giant galaxy that is feeding on a smaller galaxy in a spectacular collision. Such fireworks were common in the early universe, as galaxies formed and evolved, but are rare today.

The Hubble telescope offers a stunning unprecedented close-up view of a turbulent firestorm of star birth along a nearly edge-on dust disk girdling Centaurus A, the nearest active galaxy to Earth. The picture at upper left shows the entire galaxy. The blue outline represents Hubble's field of view. The larger, central picture is Hubble's close-up view of the galaxy. Brilliant clusters of young blue stars lie along the edge of the dark dust lane. Outside the rift the sky is filled with the soft hazy glow of the galaxy's much older resident population of red giant and red dwarf stars.

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The Universe "Down Under" is the Latest Target for Hubble's Latest Deep-View

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Turning its penetrating vision toward southern skies, the Hubble telescope has peered down a 12- billion-light-year-long corridor loaded with a dazzling assortment of thousands of never-before-seen galaxies. The observation, called the Hubble Deep Field South, doubles the number of far-flung galaxies available to astronomers for deciphering the history of the universe.

This new far-look complements the original Hubble "deep field" taken in late 1995, when Hubble was aimed at a small patch of space near the Big Dipper. Hubble's sharp vision allows astronomers to sort galaxy shapes. The image is dominated by beautiful pinwheel-shaped disk galaxies, which are like our Milky Way.

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Hubble Completes Eight-Year Effort to Measure Expanding Universe

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The Hubble Space Telescope Key Project team today announced that it has completed efforts to measure precise distances to far-flung galaxies, an essential ingredient needed to determine the age, size and fate of the universe.

The team used the Hubble telescope to observe 19 galaxies out to 108 million light-years. They discovered almost 800 Cepheid variable stars, a special class of pulsating star used for accurate distance measurements. Here is a picture of one of those galaxies. It is the spiral galaxy NGC 4603, the most distant galaxy in which Cepheid variables have been found. It is associated with the Centaurus cluster, one of the most massive assemblages of galaxies in the nearby universe.

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Starry Bulges Yield Secrets to Galaxy Growth

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The Hubble telescope is uncovering important new clues to a galaxy's birth and growth by peering into its heart - a bulge of millions of stars resembling a bulbous center yolk in the middle of a disk of egg white.

Astronomers have combined information from the Hubble telescope's visible- and infrared-light cameras to show the heart of four spiral galaxies peppered with ancient populations of stars. The top row of pictures, taken by a ground-based telescope, represents complete views of each galaxy. The blue boxes outline the regions observed by the Hubble telescope. The bottom row represents composite pictures from Hubble's visible- and infrared-light cameras. Astronomers combined views from both cameras to obtain the true ages of the stars surrounding each galaxy's bulge. The Hubble telescope's sharper resolution allows astronomers to study the intricate structure of a galaxy's central region.

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The Trifid Nebula: Stellar Sibling Rivalry

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This Hubble telescope image of the Trifid Nebula reveals a stellar nursery being torn apart by radiation from a nearby, massive star. The picture also provides a peek at embryonic stars forming within an ill-fated cloud of dust and gas, which is destined to be eaten away by the glare from the massive neighbor. This stellar activity is a beautiful example of how the life cycles of stars like our Sun are intimately connected with their more powerful siblings.

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April 24 Marks a Triumphant Ten Years in Space for Hubble Space Telescope

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In its first ten years, the 12.5-ton Earth-orbiting NASA's Hubble has studied 13,670 objects, has made 271,000 individual observations, and has returned 3.5 terabytes of data, which have been archived as a scientific treasure trove for future generations of astronomers. Its rapid-fire scientific achievements have resulted in over 2,651 scientific papers. Hubble's photographic hall of fame includes the deepest view ever of the Universe in visible light; a peek into the environs of supermassive galactic black holes; the majestic birth of stars in monstrous stellar clouds; planetary systems forming around other stars; extraordinary arcs, shells, and ribbons of glowing gas sculpted by the deaths of ordinary stars; mega-megaton blasts produced by the impact of a comet into the cloud tops of Jupiter; the surface of mysterious Pluto; and galaxies at the edge of space and time.

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Centaur's Bright Surface Spot Could be Crater of Fresh Ice

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The unexpectedly varied surface of a wayward piece of space debris has given astronomers new insights into the characteristics and behavior of a ghostly population of faintly observed comet-like bodies that lie just beyond Pluto's orbit. While observing an object called 8405 Asbolus, a 48-mile-wide (80-kilometer-wide) chunk of ice and dust that lies between Saturn and Uranus, astronomers using the Hubble telescope were surprised to find that one side of the object looks like it has a fresh crater less than 10 million years old, exposing underlying ice that is apparently unlike any yet seen. This shows that these mysterious objects, called Centaurs, do not have a simple homogenous surface. Hubble didn't directly see the crater - the object is too small and far away - but a measure of its surface composition with its near-infrared camera shows a complex chemistry.

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Ghostly Reflections in the Pleiades

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This ghostly apparition is actually an interstellar cloud caught in the process of destruction by strong radiation from a nearby hot star. This haunting picture, snapped by the Hubble telescope, shows a cloud illuminated by light from the bright star Merope. Located in the Pleiades star cluster, the cloud is called IC 349 or Barnard's Merope Nebula.

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NGC 4013: A Galaxy on the Edge

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The Hubble telescope has snapped this remarkable view of a perfectly "edge-on" galaxy, NGC 4013. This new Hubble picture reveals with exquisite detail huge clouds of dust and gas extending along, as well as far above, the galaxy's main disk. NGC 4013 is a spiral galaxy, similar to our Milky Way, lying some 55 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major. Viewed face-on, it would look like a nearly circular pinwheel, but NGC 4013 happens to be seen edge-on from our vantage point. Even at 55 million light-years, the galaxy is larger than Hubble's field of view, and the image shows only a little more than half of the object, albeit with unprecedented detail.

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Blast from the Past: Farthest Supernova Ever Seen Sheds Light on Dark Universe

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Gazing to the far reaches of space and time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope identified the farthest stellar explosion ever seen, a supernova that erupted 10 billion years ago. By examining the glow from this dying star, astronomers have amassed more evidence that a mysterious, repulsive force is at work in the cosmos, making galaxies rush ever faster away from each other.

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Hubble Reveals the Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy

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New pictures from the Hubble telescope are giving astronomers a detailed view of the Whirlpool galaxy's spiral arms and dust clouds, which are the birth sites of massive and luminous stars. This galaxy, also called M51 or NGC 5194, is having a close encounter with a nearby companion galaxy, NGC 5195, just off the upper edge of this image. The companion's gravitational influence is triggering star formation in the Whirlpool, as seen by the numerous clusters of bright, young stars [highlighted in red].

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By Popular Demand: Hubble Observes the Horsehead Nebula

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Rising from a sea of dust and gas like a giant seahorse, the Horsehead nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the sky. The Hubble telescope took a close-up look at this heavenly icon, revealing the cloud's intricate structure. This detailed view of the horse's head is being released to celebrate the orbiting observatory's eleventh anniversary. Hubble was launched by the Space Shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990 and deployed into a 360-mile-high Earth orbit on April 25. Produced by the Hubble Heritage Project, this picture is a testament to the Horsehead's popularity. Internet voters selected this object for the orbiting telescope to view.

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'Survivor' Planets: Astronomers Witness First Steps of Planet Growth - and Destruction

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Planet formation is a hazardous process. New pictures from the Hubble telescope are giving astronomers the first direct visual evidence for the growth of planetary "building blocks" inside the dusty disks of young stars in the Orion Nebula, a giant "star factory" near Earth. But these snapshots also reveal that the disks are being "blowtorched" by a blistering flood of ultraviolet radiation from the region's brightest star, making planet formation extremely difficult.

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Magnetic Fields Weave Rings Around Stars

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There are stars with planets. Stars with companion stars. Stars with pancake-shaped disks of rocky debris. But how about young, hot, hefty stars embedded in large inner tube-shaped clouds of shimmering gas? Astronomers had suspected that the thick rings are the signatures of stars with strong magnetic fields. Sometimes, the surfaces of those "magnetic stars" possess peculiar chemical compositions, namely low amounts of "heavy elements" like iron. Now a team of astronomers analyzing archival information on four stars provides convincing evidence of the link between rings and magnetic fields. The team also suggests that rings around massive stars are more common than scientists thought. The study shows that magnetic stars with normal chemical abundances can have rings, too.

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