Space Hubble Telescope News

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Photo Release: On the Origin of Massive Stars

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This scene of stellar creation, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, sits near the outskirts of the famous Tarantula Nebula. This cloud of gas and dust, as well as the many young and massive stars surrounding it, is the perfect laboratory to study the origin of massive stars.

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Quasar Tsunamis Rip Across Galaxies

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The weather forecast for galaxies hosting monster, active black holes is blustery. Engorged by infalling material, a supermassive black hole heats so much gas that it can shine 1,000 times brighter than its host galaxy. But that’s not all.

Hubble astronomers found that the region around the black hole emits so much radiation that it pushes out material at a few percent the speed of light (a speed fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in a few minutes). This material slams into a host galaxy’s lanes of gas and dust, preventing the formation of new stars. The torrential winds are snowplowing the equivalent of hundreds of solar masses of material each year. And, the forecast is that this stormy weather will continue for at least ten million years.

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NASA Awards Prize Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2020

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NASA has selected 24 new Fellows for its prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP). The program enables outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA Astrophysics, using theory, observation, experimentation, or instrument development. Each fellowship provides the awardee up to three years of support at a university or research center of their choosing in the United States.

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NASA Awards Prize Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2020

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NASA has selected 24 new Fellows for its prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP). The program enables outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA Astrophysics, using theory, observation, experimentation, or instrument development. Each fellowship provides the awardee up to three years of support at a university or research center of their choosing in the United States.

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Science Release: Hubble Finds Best Evidence for Elusive Mid-Size Black Hole

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New data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have provided the strongest evidence yet for mid-sized black holes in the Universe. Hubble confirms that this “intermediate-mass” black hole dwells inside a dense star cluster.

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Hubble Finds Best Evidence for Elusive Mid-Sized Black Hole

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Like detectives carefully building a case, astronomers gathered evidence and eliminated suspects until they found the best evidence yet that the death of a star, first witnessed in X-rays, could be traced back to an elusive mid-sized black hole. The result is a long-sought win for astronomy, as the mid-sized "missing link" in the black hole family has thus far thwarted detection. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was used to follow up on multiple X-ray observations of a suspected tidal disruption event. This is caused when a wayward star comes too close to the gravity well of a black hole and gets shredded by its tidal forces. The intense heat from stellar cannibalism betrays the black hole's presence with a burst of X-rays. Hubble resolved the source region of this X-ray flare as a star cluster outside the Milky Way galaxy. Such clusters have been considered likely places to find an intermediate-mass black hole. The discovery eliminated the possibility that the X-rays came from another type of source within the Milky Way.

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Hubble Probes Alien Comet's Chemical Makeup

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Astronomers have uncovered more than 4,000 planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. But they have few details on the planets' chemical makeup and how they were assembled inside a swirling disk of rock and ice encircling their stars.

The stars are too far away for us ever to visit them and see the planet-making recipe close-up.

Now, a sample from a distant star system has landed in our solar system's back yard. Comet Borisov, the first vagabond comet ever to enter our solar system, offers chemical clues to the composition of an object born around another star. Comets are made of gas, ice, and dust that are part of a planet's building blocks.

Borisov's unusual abundance of carbon monoxide, as gleaned through Hubble ultraviolet spectroscopic observations, is largely unlike comets belonging to our solar system. Researchers say this abundance points to the comet originating from a circumstellar disk around a class of star called a cool red dwarf.

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Exoplanet Apparently Disappears in Latest Hubble Observations

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What do astronomers do when a planet they are studying suddenly seems to disappear from sight? In the legendary Star Wars galaxy (you know, "a long time ago and far, far away") the planet might have been the victim of the evil empire's planet-zapping Death Star. But this is pretty improbable in our own cosmic back yard. The missing-in-action planet was last seen orbiting the star Fomalhaut, just 25 light-years away. (In fact, Fomalhaut is so close to us that it's one of the brightest stars in the sky, in the constellation of Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish.)

A team of researchers from the University of Arizona believe a full-grown planet never existed in the first place. Instead, they concluded that the Hubble Space Telescope was looking at an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles from two icy bodies that smashed into each other. Hubble came along too late to witness the suspected collision, but may have captured its aftermath. This happened in 2008, when astronomers eagerly announced that Hubble took its first image of a planet orbiting another star. The diminutive-looking object appeared as a dot next to a vast ring of icy debris encircling Fomalhaut. In following years, they tracked the planet along its trajectory. But over time the dot, based on their analysis of Hubble data, got fainter until it simply dropped out of sight, say the researchers, as they pored through the Hubble archival data.

Asteroid families in our own solar system are considered fossil relics of such collisions which happened here billions of years ago, in the solar system's rambunctious youth. But no such cataclysm has ever been seen happening around another star. Why? In the case of Fomalhaut, such smashups are estimated to happen once every 200,000 years. Therefore, Hubble astronomers may have been lucky enough to be looking at the right place at the right time.

Follow-up observations will likely be needed to test this startling conclusion.

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Science Release: Hubble Observes Aftermath of Massive Collision

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What astronomers thought was a planet beyond our solar system, has now seemingly vanished from sight. Astronomers now suggest that a full-grown planet never existed in the first place. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope had instead observed an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles caused by a titanic collision between two icy asteroid-sized bodies orbiting the bright star Fomalhaut, about 25 light-years from Earth.

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New Hubble Constant Measurement Adds to Mystery of Universe's Expansion Rate

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In 1924, American astronomer Edwin Hubble announced that he discovered galaxies outside of our Milky Way by using the powerful new Hooker telescope perched above Los Angeles. By measuring the distances to these galaxies, he realized the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it appears to be receding from us. This was incontrovertible evidence the universe is uniformly expanding in all directions. For nearly a decade Albert Einstein refused to accept the observational evidence. His theory of general relativity described a static universe. But this could only be accomplished by invoking a "cosmological constant," which he described as repulsive property of space that would counterbalance the pull of gravity and prevent the universe from imploding. The expansion rate is the basis of the Hubble constant. It is a sought-after value because it yields clues to the origin, age, evolution, and future fate of our universe.

For nearly the past century astronomers have worked meticulously to precisely measure the Hubble constant. Before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, the universe's age was thought to lie between 10 and 20 billion years, based on different estimates of the Hubble constant. Improving this value was one of the biggest justifications for building the Hubble telescope. This paid off in the early 1990s when a team led by Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago greatly refined the Hubble constant value to a precision of 10%. This was possible because the Hubble telescope is so sharp at finding and measuring Cepheid variable stars as milepost markers — just as Edwin Hubble did 70 years earlier.

But astronomers strive for ever greater precision, and this requires further refining yardsticks for measuring vast intergalactic distances of billions of light-years. Freedman's latest research looks at aging red giant stars in nearby galaxies. They are also milepost markers because they all reach the same peak brightness at a critical stage of their late evolution. This can be used to calculate distances.

Freedman's research is one of several recent studies that point to a nagging discrepancy between the universe's modern expansion rate and predictions based on the universe as it was more than 13 billion years ago, as measured by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite. This latest measurement offers new evidence suggesting that there may be something fundamentally flawed in the current model of the universe.

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Hubble Uncovers a 'Heavy Metal' Exoplanet Shaped Like a Football

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The scorching hot exoplanet WASP-121b represents a new twist on the phrase "heavy metal."

There are no loud electric guitar riffs, characteristic of heavy metal music, streaming into space. What is escaping the planet is iron and magnesium gas, dubbed heavy metals, because they are heavier than lightweight hydrogen and helium. The observations by the Hubble Space Telescope represent the first time heavy metal gas has been detected floating away from an exoplanet.

A scorching planet, WASP-121b orbits precariously close to a star that is even hotter than our Sun. The intense radiation heats the planet's upper atmosphere to a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently, the lower atmosphere is still so hot that iron and magnesium remain in gaseous form and stream to the upper atmosphere, where they escape into space on the coattails of hydrogen and helium gas.

The sizzling planet is also so close to its star that it is on the cusp of being ripped apart by the star's intense pull. This hugging distance means that the planet is stretched into a football shape due to gravitational tidal forces.

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Hubble's New Portrait of Jupiter

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Jupiter is the king of the solar system, more massive than all of the other solar-system planets combined. Although astronomers have been observing the gas-giant planet for hundreds of years, it still remains a mysterious world.

Astronomers don't have definitive answers, for example, of why cloud bands and storms change colors, or why storms shrink in size. The most prominent long-lasting feature, the Great Red Spot, has been downsizing since the 1800s. However, the giant storm is still large enough to swallow Earth.

The Red Spot is anchored in a roiling atmosphere that is powered by heat welling up from the monster planet's deep interior, which drives a turbulent atmosphere. In contrast, sunlight powers Earth's atmosphere. From Jupiter, however, the Sun is much fainter because the planet is much farther away from it. Jupiter's upper atmosphere is a riot of colorful clouds, contained in bands that whisk along at different wind speeds and in alternating directions. Dynamic features such as cyclones and anticyclones (high-pressure storms that rotate counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere) abound.

Attempting to understand the forces driving Jupiter's atmosphere is like trying to predict the pattern cream will make when it is poured into a hot cup of coffee. Researchers are hoping that Hubble's yearly monitoring of the planet—as an interplanetary weatherman—will reveal the shifting behavior of Jupiter's clouds. Hubble images should help unravel many of the planet's outstanding puzzles. This new Hubble image is part of that yearly study, called the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL.

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

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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.

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Saturn's Rings Shine in New Hubble Portrait

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Saturn is so beautiful that astronomers cannot resist using the Hubble Space Telescope to take yearly snapshots of the ringed world when it is near its closest distance to Earth.

These images, however, are more than just beauty shots. They reveal a planet with a turbulent, dynamic atmosphere. This year's Hubble offering, for example, shows that a large storm visible in the 2018 Hubble image in the north polar region has vanished. Smaller storms pop into view like popcorn kernels popping in a microwave oven before disappearing just as quickly. Even the planet's banded structure reveals subtle changes in color.

But the latest image shows plenty that hasn't changed. The mysterious six-sided pattern, called the "hexagon," still exists on the north pole. Caused by a high-speed jet stream, the hexagon was first discovered in 1981 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Saturn's signature rings are still as stunning as ever. The image reveals that the ring system is tilted toward Earth, giving viewers a magnificent look at the bright, icy structure. Hubble resolves numerous ringlets and the fainter inner rings.

This image reveals an unprecedented clarity only seen previously in snapshots taken by NASA spacecraft visiting the distant planet. Astronomers will continue their yearly monitoring of the planet to track shifting weather patterns and identify other changes. The second in the yearly series, this image is part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our solar system's gas giant planets.

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NASA's Hubble Finds Water Vapor on Habitable-Zone Exoplanet for the First Time

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To date, approximately 4,000 planets have been found orbiting other stars. The majority are extremely hostile to any chances for life: with exotic atmospheres, wide temperature extremes, and oddball orbits. Astronomers have now made an important step toward the ultimate goal of finding an exoplanet with an atmosphere more like Earth's, and having moderate temperatures. Water vapor has been identified in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b, located 110 light-years away. And, where there's water there could be clouds and rain. The planet is also at the right distance from its star to have a temperate climate where the water doesn't evaporate or freeze. But don't go looking for real estate yet. The planet is in a category not found in our solar system. It is larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. It might have a rocky surface, but it is more likely a giant ball of liquid and gas, like Neptune. Hundreds of known exoplanets fall into this mass range. So, it's important for astronomers to characterize the worlds and assess the chances for supporting life as we know it.

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Milky Way Raids Intergalactic 'Bank Accounts,' Hubble Study Finds

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Astronomers have discovered an unexplained surplus of gas flowing into our Milky Way after conducting a galaxy-wide audit of outflowing and inflowing gas. Rather than a gas equilibrium and "balanced books," 10 years of data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show there is more gas coming in than going out.

It is no secret that the Milky Way is frugal with its gas. The valuable raw material is recycled over billions of years—thrown out into the galactic halo via supernovas and violent stellar winds, and then used to form new generations of stars once it falls back to the galactic plane. The surplus of inflowing gas, however, was a surprise.

Hubble distinguished between outflowing and inflowing clouds using its sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which detects the movement of the invisible gas. As the gas moves away it appears redder, while gas falling back toward the Milky Way is bluer.

The source of the excess gas inflow remains a mystery. Astronomers theorize that the gas could be coming from the intergalactic medium, as well as the Milky Way raiding the gas "bank accounts" of its small satellite galaxies using its considerably greater gravitational pull.

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Hubble Observes First Confirmed Interstellar Comet

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No one knows where it came from. No one knows how long it has been drifting through the empty, cold abyss of interstellar space. But this year an object called comet 2I/Borisov came in from the cold. It was detected falling past our Sun by a Crimean amateur astronomer. This emissary from the black unknown captured the attention of worldwide astronomers who aimed all kinds of telescopes at it to watch the comet sprout a dust tail. The far visitor is only the second known object to enter our solar system coming from elsewhere in the galaxy, based on its speed and trajectory. Like a racetrack photographer trying to capture a speeding derby horse, Hubble took a series of snapshots as the comet streaked along at 110,000 miles per hour. Hubble provided the sharpest image to date of the fleeting comet, revealing a central concentration of dust around an unseen nucleus. The comet was 260 million miles from Earth when Hubble took the photo.

In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object formally named 'Oumuamua, swung within 24 million miles of the Sun before racing out of the solar system. Unlike comet 2I/Borisov, 'Oumuamua still defies any simple categorization. It did not behave like a comet, and it has a variety of unusual characteristics. Comet 2I/Borisov looks a lot like the traditional comets found inside our solar system, which sublimate ices, and cast off dust as they are warmed by the Sun. The wandering comet provides invaluable clues to the chemical composition, structure, and dust characteristics of planetary building blocks presumably forged in an alien star system.

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Super Spirals Spin Super Fast

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You’ve probably never noticed it, but our solar system is moving along at quite a clip. Stars in the outer reaches of the Milky Way, including our Sun, orbit at an average speed of 130 miles per second. But that’s nothing compared to the most massive spiral galaxies. “Super spirals,” which are larger, brighter, and more massive than the Milky Way, spin even faster than expected for their mass, at speeds up to 350 miles per second.

Their rapid spin is a result of sitting within an extraordinarily massive cloud, or halo, of dark matter – invisible matter detectable only through its gravity. The largest “super spiral” studied here resides in a dark matter halo weighing at least 40 trillion times the mass of our Sun. The existence of super spirals provides more evidence that an alternative theory of gravity known as Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND, is incorrect.

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Hubble Captures Galaxies' Ghostly Gaze

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The universe is a bubbling cauldron of matter and energy that have mixed together over billions of years to create a witches' brew of birth and destruction.

Firestorms of star birth sweeping across the heavens. Dying stars rattling the very fabric of space in titanic explosions. Death Star-like beams of energy blasting out of overfed black holes at nearly the speed of light. Large galaxies devouring smaller companions, like cosmic Pac-Men. Colossal collisions between galaxies flinging stars around like breaking pool balls. Hubble has seen them all.

This compulsive mayhem in space can produce weird-looking shapes that resemble creepy creatures seemingly conjured up in stories of the paranormal. Among them is the object in this new Hubble image.

The snapshot reveals what looks like an uncanny pair of glowing eyes glaring menacingly in our direction. The piercing "eyes" are the most prominent feature of what resembles the face of an otherworldly creature. This frightening object is actually the result of a titanic head-on collision between two galaxies.

Each "eye" is the bright core of a galaxy, the result of one galaxy slamming into another. The outline of the face is a ring of young blue stars. Other clumps of new stars form a nose and mouth.

The system is catalogued as Arp-Madore 2026-424, from the Arp-Madore "Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations."

Although galaxy collisions are common—especially back in the young universe—most of them are not head-on smashups, like the collision that likely created this Arp-Madore system. The violent encounter gives the system an arresting "ring" structure for only a short amount of time, about 100 million years. The two galaxies will merge completely in about 1 to 2 billion years, hiding their messy past.

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NASA's Hubble Captures a Dozen Galaxy Doppelgangers

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The “funhouse mirror” has delighted carnival-goers for more than a century by twisting peoples’ images into wildly distorted shapes. Its prolific inventor, Charles Frances Ritchel, called it the "Ritchel's Laugh-O-Graphs.” However, there was nothing funny – but instead practical – about warped images as far as Albert Einstein was concerned. In developing his general theory of relativity, Einstein imagined the universe as a grand funhouse mirror caused by wrinkles in the very fabric of space.

This recent picture from Hubble shows a galaxy nicknamed the "Sunburst Arc" that has been split into a kaleidoscope illusion of no fewer than 12 images formed by a massive foreground cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light-years away.

This beautifully demonstrates Einstein's prediction that gravity from massive objects in space should bend light in a manner analogous to a funhouse mirror. His idea of space warping was at last proven in 1919 by observations of a solar eclipse where the sun’s bending of space could be measured. A further prediction was that the warping would create a so-called “gravitational lens” that, besides distortion, would increase the apparent size and brightness of distant background objects.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the first such gravitational lens was confirmed. An otherwise obscure galaxy split and amplified the light of a distant quasar located far behind it into a pair of images. Far more than a space-carnival novelty, gravitational lensing observations today are commonly used to find planets around other stars, zoom in on very distant galaxies, and map the distribution of otherwise invisible “dark matter” in the universe.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 
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