Space Hubble Telescope News

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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.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Marks 30 Years in Space with Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth

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A colorful image resembling a cosmic version of an undersea world teeming with stars is being released to commemorate the Hubble Space Telescope's 30 years of viewing the wonders of space.

In the Hubble portrait, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away. The image is nicknamed the "Cosmic Reef," because NGC 2014 resembles part of a coral reef floating in a vast sea of stars.

Some of the stars in NGC 2014 are monsters. The nebula's sparkling centerpiece is a grouping of bright, hefty stars, each 10 to 20 times more massive than our Sun. The seemingly isolated blue nebula at lower left (NGC 2020) has been created by a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Watches Comet ATLAS Disintegrate Into More Than Two Dozen Pieces

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Comets are one of the most legendary and opulent denizens of deep space. Their long tails are so mysterious looking, their sudden appearance so unpredictable, and their journey across the sky so ephemeral that they were once feared as omens of evil, pestilence, and war.

These latest images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of the doomed comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 and 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet that the comet's solid icy nucleus is breaking apart into as many as 30 pieces that are each roughly the size of a house. So, despite the name, ATLAS doesn't look like anything to be afraid of.

The comet was discovered on December 29, 2019 by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) robotic astronomical survey system based in Hawaii. ATLAS' fragmentation was confirmed by amateur astronomer Jose de Queiroz, who was able to photograph around three pieces of the comet on April 11. Hubble has a front row seat, with its crisp resolution, to go looking for more pieces. And, astronomers weren't disappointed.

Planetary experts know that the solid comet nucleus – the fountainhead of the glamourous tail – is a fragile agglomeration of ices and dust. However, astronomers don't know why some comets break apart like exploding aerial fireworks shells. Could it be due to the warming influence of the Sun as a comet enters the inner solar system, causing it to become unglued? Or could the icy nucleus spin up as it shoots out jets of warming gasses? This could cause it to fly apart.

Though classified as "minor bodies" in our solar system family, comets and Earth's fate go back billions of years. A shower of comets may have irrigated the dry newborn Earth, contributing some of the water in the oceans. They may have seeded Earth with organic compounds, the precursors to life as we know it. A wayward comet may have struck the Earth 65 million years ago, creating such an environmental disaster that the dinosaurs became extinct. This was good news for small mammals, our earliest ancestors, to take over the blue planet.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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No Blue Skies for Super-Hot Planet WASP-79b

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The 1927 song, "Blue Skies,' by celebrated American composer Irving Berlin, was an instant hit, and even featured in the very first Hollywood "talking picture," the Jazz Singer.

But if Berlin lived on the planet WASP-79b, he would only have had yellow skies for inspiration. This has piqued the curiosity of astronomers because it is so peculiar. The gas giant planet was expected to show evidence for Rayleigh scattering, a phenomena where certain colors of light are dispersed by very fine dust particles in the upper atmosphere. Rayleigh scattering is what makes Earth's skies blue by dispersing the shorter (bluer) wavelengths of sunlight.

This is a moot point regarding lyricist Berlin, because WASP-79b is a hellish class of planet that is unlike anything found in our solar system, or frankly, ever imagined by most astronomers. For want of a better word, astronomers simply call these planets "hot Jupiters." They are the size of Jupiter, or larger, but are so close to their star they complete one full orbit in a matter of days – or even hours. (At a distance of about 500 million miles from the Sun, Jupiter, by comparison, takes 12 years to complete an orbit.)

The term "hot" is an understatement. The planet WASP-79b has an atmospheric temperature of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of molten glass. By combing observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the ground-based Magellan observatory, astronomers found that the seething atmosphere is quirky. It is so hot that its scattered manganese sulfide or silicate clouds might rain molten iron. That is not the big surprise. But rather, the lack of Rayleigh scattering is just "weird," say researchers. It could be indicative of unknown atmospheric processes that aren't currently understood, and may yield clues to the planet's atmospheric evolution.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Astronomers Find Jupiter-like Cloud Bands on Closest Brown Dwarf

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Brown dwarfs, often called “failed stars,” weigh up to 80 times as much as Jupiter, yet their gravity compacts them to about the size of Jupiter in diameter. And like Jupiter, brown dwarfs can have clouds and weather. Astronomers have found evidence that the closest known brown dwarf, Luhman 16A, has Jupiter-like cloud bands. In contrast its companion brown dwarf, Luhman 16B, shows signs of patchy clouds.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Opens Doorway to Systematic Search for Black Holes

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Hubble Space Telescope's ongoing black hole hunt has bagged yet another supermassive black hole in the universe. The compact object - equal to the mass of two billion suns - lies at the heart of the edge-on galaxy NGC 3115, located 30 million light-years away in the constellation Sextans.

This result promises to open the way to systematic demographic studies of very massive black holes that might once have powered quasars - objects that are incredibly small, yet release a gusher of light and other radiation.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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In Planet Formation, It's Location, Location, Location

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One of the top priorities for new home buyers is location. Finding a home in the right neighborhood is a key ingredient for a happy, prosperous family.

Like families hunting for a house, fledgling planets also need the proper location to grow and thrive. Astronomers using Hubble to probe the giant, young star cluster Westerlund 2 are finding that stars residing in the system's crowded central city face a rough-and-tumble neighborhood that suppresses planet formation. The Hubble observations show that lower-mass stars near the cluster's core do not have the large, dense clouds of dust that eventually could become planets in just a few million years.

But life is a lot easier for stars and would-be planets in the cluster suburbs, farther away from the dense center. Hubble detected those planet-forming clouds embedded in disks encircling stars in these neighborhoods.

The absence of planet-forming clouds around stars near the center is mainly due to their bully neighbors: bright, giant stars, some of which weigh up to 80 times the Sun's mass. Their blistering ultraviolet light and hurricane-like stellar winds of charged particles blowtorch disks around neighboring lower-mass stars, dispersing the giant dust clouds.

Understanding the importance of location and environment in nurturing planet formation is crucial for building models of planet formation and stellar evolution. Located 20,000 light-years away, Westerlund 2 is a unique laboratory to study stellar evolutionary processes because it's relatively nearby, quite young, and contains a large stellar population.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Hubble Provides Holistic View of Stars Gone Haywire

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For stars nearing the end of their lives, the forecast is clear: It's time for the fireworks!

Planetary nebulas, whose stars shed their layers over thousands of years, can turn into crazy whirligigs while puffing off shells and jets of hot gas. New images from the Hubble Space Telescope have helped researchers identify rapid changes in material blasting off stars at the centers of two nebulas — causing them to reconsider what is happening at their cores.

In the case of NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, two S-shaped streams indicate its most recent ejections and may be the result of two stars interacting at the nebula's core. In NGC 7027, a new cloverleaf pattern — with bullets of material shooting out in specific directions — may also point to the interactions of two central stars. Both nebulas are splitting themselves apart on extremely short timescales, allowing researchers to measure changes in their structures over only a few decades.

This is the first time both nebulas have been studied from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light, a complex, multi-wavelength view only possible with Hubble.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Photo Release: Stunning New Hubble Images Reveal Stars Gone Haywire

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The NASA/Hubble Space Telescope demonstrates its full range of imaging capabilities with two new images of planetary nebulae. The images depict two nearby young planetary nebulae, NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, and NGC 7027. Both are among the dustiest planetary nebulae known and both contain unusually large masses of gas, which made them an interesting pair for study in parallel by a team of researchers.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

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Telescopes and Spacecraft Join Forces to Probe Deep into Jupiter's Atmosphere

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With thunderheads that tower forty miles high and stretch half the width of a continent, hurricane-force winds in enormous storms that rage for centuries, and lightning three times as powerful as Earth's strongest superbolts, Jupiter—king of the planets—has proven itself a more-than-worthy namesake to the supreme Roman god of sky and thunder.

In spite of more than 400 years of scientific observations, many details of the gas giant's turbulent and ever-changing atmosphere have remained elusive. Now, thanks to the teamwork of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gemini Observatory, and the Juno spacecraft, scientists are able to probe deep into storm systems, investigating sources of lightning outbursts, mapping cyclonic vortices, and unravelling the nature of enigmatic features within the Great Red Spot.

This unique collaboration is allowing researchers to monitor Jupiter's weather and estimate the amount of water in the atmosphere, providing insight into how Jupiter operates today as well as how it and the other planets in our solar system formed more than four-and-a-half billion years ago.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Provides Holistic View of Stars Gone Haywire

low_STScI-H-p2031a-k-1340x520.png


For stars nearing the end of their lives, the forecast is clear: It's time for the fireworks!

Planetary nebulas, whose stars shed their layers over thousands of years, can turn into crazy whirligigs while puffing off shells and jets of hot gas. New images from the Hubble Space Telescope have helped researchers identify rapid changes in material blasting off stars at the centers of two nebulas — causing them to reconsider what is happening at their cores.

In the case of NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, two S-shaped streams indicate its most recent ejections and may be the result of two stars interacting at the nebula's core. In NGC 7027, a new cloverleaf pattern — with bullets of material shooting out in specific directions — may also point to the interactions of two central stars. Both nebulas are splitting themselves apart on extremely short timescales, allowing researchers to measure changes in their structures over only a few decades.

This is the first time both nebulas have been studied from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light, a complex, multi-wavelength view only possible with Hubble.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Space Telescope Probes a Galaxy with an Active Nucleus

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has provided an unprecedented, detailed view of highly energetic events in the core of a galaxy 30 million light-years away. The observations are a first step in HST's search for super-massive black holes at the nuclei of active galaxies.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Explores the Volcanic Moon Io

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is allowing several teams of astronomers to explore Io [EYE-oh] at a level of detail not possible since a pair of Voyager spacecraft flew by the small moon 13 years ago.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Sees a Cosmic Flapping 'Bat Shadow'

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The "Bat Shadow" is the nickname Hubble astronomers gave to a huge shadow cast by a young star's planet-forming disk in 2018. Resembling a pair of wings, the striking image is actually a shadow on a more distant cloud—like a fly wandering into the beam of a flashlight shining on a wall. Now, the nickname turns out to be even more appropriate, because the team reports that those "wings" are flapping! The phenomenon may be caused by a planet pulling on the disk and warping it.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Photo Release: Hubble Watches the “Flapping” of Cosmic Bat Shadow

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The young star HBC 672 is known by its nickname of Bat Shadow because of its wing-like shadow feature. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has now observed a curious “flapping” motion in the shadow of the star’s disc for the first time. The star resides in a stellar nursery called the Serpens Nebula, about 1300 light-years away.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Sees a Cosmic Flapping 'Bat Shadow'

low_STSCI-H-p2022a-k-1340x520.png


The "Bat Shadow" is the nickname Hubble astronomers gave to a huge shadow cast by a young star's planet-forming disk in 2018. Resembling a pair of wings, the striking image is actually a shadow on a more distant cloud—like a fly wandering into the beam of a flashlight shining on a wall. Now, the nickname turns out to be even more appropriate, because the team reports that those "wings" are flapping! The phenomenon may be caused by a planet pulling on the disk and warping it.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

The News Robot
Joined
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Location
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Hubble Sees a Cosmic Flapping 'Bat Shadow'

low_STSCI-H-p2022a-k-1340x520.png


The "Bat Shadow" is the nickname Hubble astronomers gave to a huge shadow cast by a young star's planet-forming disk in 2018. Resembling a pair of wings, the striking image is actually a shadow on a more distant cloud—like a fly wandering into the beam of a flashlight shining on a wall. Now, the nickname turns out to be even more appropriate, because the team reports that those "wings" are flapping! The phenomenon may be caused by a planet pulling on the disk and warping it.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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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.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 
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