Space Hubble Telescope News

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First Use of Cosmic Lens to Probe Dark Energy

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An international team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has devised a new method for measuring perhaps the greatest puzzle of our universe – dark energy. This mysterious phenomenon, discovered in 1998, is pushing our universe apart at ever-increasing speeds. The team's results appear in the August 20, 2010 issue of the journal Science.

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Astrophysicist Adam Riess Wins the 2011 Einstein Medal

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Adam Riess, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and a professor in physics and astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University, today was awarded the 2011 Einstein Medal by the Albert Einstein Society, located in Bern, Switzerland. The Society recognized him for leadership in the High-z Supernova Search Team's 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained "dark energy" filling the universe. Riess will receive the medal at a ceremony in Bern in May 2011.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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NASA's Hubble Discovers Another Moon Around Pluto

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These two images, taken about a week apart by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, show four moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto. The green circle in both snapshots marks the newly discovered moon, temporarily dubbed P4, found by Hubble in June. P4 is the smallest moon yet found around Pluto, with an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Pluto's largest moon Charon is 746 miles (1,200 km) across. Nix and Hydra are 20 to 70 miles (32 to 113 km) wide. The new moon lies between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, two satellites discovered by Hubble in 2005. P4 completes an orbit around Pluto roughly every 31 days.

The new moon was first seen in a photo taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 28, 2011. The sighting was confirmed in follow-up Hubble observations taken July 3 and July 18. P4, Nix, and Hydra are so small and so faint that scientists combined short and long exposures to create this image of Pluto and its entire moon system. The speckled background is camera "noise" produced during the long exposures. The linear features are imaging artifacts. The Hubble observations will help NASA's New Horizons mission, scheduled to fly through the Pluto system in 2015. Space Telescope Science Institute director's discretionary time was allocated to make the Hubble observations.

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Robby

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Astrophysicist Adam Riess Wins the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

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Adam Riess, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Krieger-Eisenhower Professor in Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, today was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The academy recognized him for leadership in the High-z Team's 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained "dark energy" filling the universe.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Reveals the Ring Nebula's True Shape

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The distinctive shape of the Ring Nebula, the glowing shroud around a dying Sun-like star, makes it a popular celestial object that appears in many astronomy books. New observations of the Ring Nebula by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, however, reveal a new twist on an iconic nebula.

The Hubble images offer the best view yet of the nebula, revealing a complex structure. The observations have allowed astronomers to construct the most precise three-dimensional model of the glowing gas shroud, called a planetary nebula. Based on the new observations, the Hubble research team suggests that the ring wraps around a blue football-shaped structure that protrudes out of opposite sides of the ring. The nebula is tilted toward Earth so that astronomers see the ring face-on.

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Robby

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Rare Stellar Alignment Offers Opportunity to Hunt for Planets

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The ancients thought that stars were fixed pinpoints of light on the sky. Today we know that they are all moving, like fish in a pond. This so-called proper motion is so small that it is not noticeable to the human eye over a single lifetime. But Hubble can precisely track stellar motions to razor-sharp precision. Not surprisingly the nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, is one of the fastest moving across the sky. Hubble astronomers have found that it will pass in front of two far-more distant background stars, once in 2014 and again in 2016. This will afford a very rare opportunity to see how Proxima's gravity warps the image of the background stars by bending their light. This effect, called gravitational lensing, can be used to estimate Proxima Centauri's mass and establish the presence of any planets orbiting the star.

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Robby

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NASA's Hubble to Begin Search Beyond Pluto for a New Horizons Mission Target

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The Kuiper Belt is the final frontier of our solar system, and also the vastest. Stretching from 3 to 5 billion miles from the Sun, it contains myriad primitive icy bodies left over from the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. After passing the dwarf planet Pluto in July 2015, NASA's New Horizons space probe will hurtle deep into the Kuiper Belt at nearly 35,000 miles per hour. The Hubble Space Telescope is being used to search for a suitable Kuiper Belt object that New Horizons could pay a visit to. It would be our first and perhaps last look at such a remote relic from the distant past. The search is very challenging even for Hubble's sharp vision. It has to find something the size of Manhattan Island, as black as charcoal, and embedded against a snowstorm of background stars.

This artist's rendering shows the New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Kuiper Belt object.

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Robby

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NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exo-Neptune

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The weather forecast for a planet 120 light-years from Earth is clear skies and steamy water vapor. Finding clear skies on a gaseous world the size of Neptune is a good sign that even smaller, Earth-size planets might have similarly good visibility. This would allow earthbound astronomers to measure the underlying atmospheric composition of an exoplanet. Astronomers using the Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler space telescopes were able to determine that the planet, cataloged HAT-P-11b, has water vapor in its atmosphere. The world is definitely steamy with temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The planet is so hot because it orbits so close to its star, completing one orbit every five days.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Close Encounters: Comet Siding Spring Seen Next to Mars

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This is a photo composite of the encounter of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on October 19, 2014. Separate Hubble Space Telescope images of Mars and the comet have been combined together into a single picture. This is a composite image because a single exposure of the stellar background, Comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic because the objects are all moving with respect to each other and the background stars. Hubble can only track one planetary target at a time. Also, Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and the exposure here has been adjusted so that details on the Red Planet can be seen.

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Robby

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Hubble Uncovers Fading Cinders of Some of Our Galaxy's Earliest Homesteaders

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About 13 billion years ago, long before our sun formed, the construction of our Milky Way galaxy was just beginning. Young, mostly sun-like stars in the core, or central bulge, provided the building blocks for the galaxy's foundation. Many of these building-block stars have long since burned out, and are now just dying embers. But contained within these dead stars, called white dwarfs, is the early history of our galaxy, providing clues on how it came to be.

Finding these stellar relics, however, is a daunting task. Astronomers have had a difficult time picking out these dim objects from among the crowd of bright stars that fill the space between us and the core. Using Hubble Space Telescope images, astronomers have now conducted a "cosmic archaeological dig" of our Milky Way's heart, uncovering the blueprints of our galaxy's early construction phase. Hubble researchers have uncovered for the first time a population of ancient white dwarfs. The Hubble analysis represents the deepest, most detailed study of our galaxy's central bulge of stars.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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NASA Space Telescopes Solve Missing Water Mystery in Comprehensive Survey of Exoplanets

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A survey of Jupiter-sized exoplanets conducted with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has solved a long-standing mystery – why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected. Astronomers have found that planets called hot Jupiters (which orbit very close to their stars) that are apparently cloud-free show strong signs of water. However, atmospheres of other planets with faint water signals also contained clouds and haze – both of which are known to hide water from view. The findings show that planetary atmospheres are much more diverse than expected. Also, the results offer insights into the wide range of planetary atmospheres in our galaxy and how planets are assembled.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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NASA's Spitzer, Hubble Find 'Twins' of Superstar Eta Carinae in Other Galaxies

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Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system located within 10,000 light-years of Earth, is best known for an enormous eruption seen in the mid-19th century that hurled an amount of material at least 10 times the sun's mass into space. Still shrouded by this expanding veil of gas and dust, Eta Carinae is the only object of its kind known in our galaxy. Now a study using archival data from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.

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Robby

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A Death Star's Ghostly Glow

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In writer Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," a killer confesses his crime after he thinks he hears the beating of his victim's heart. The heartbeat turns out to be an illusion. Astronomers, however, discovered a real "tell-tale heart" in space, 6,500 light-years from Earth. The "heart" is the crushed core of a long-dead star, called a neutron star, which exploded as a supernova and is now still beating with rhythmic precision. Evidence of its heartbeat are rapid-fire, lighthouse-like pulses of energy from the fast-spinning neutron star. The stellar relic is embedded in the center of the Crab Nebula, the expanding, tattered remains of the doomed star.

The nebula was first identified in 1731 and named in 1844. In 1928, Edwin Hubble linked the nebula to a supernova first witnessed in the spring of 1054 A.D. Now, the eerie glow of the burned-out star reveals itself in this new Hubble Space Telescope snapshot of the heart of the Crab Nebula. The green hue, representative of the broad color range of the camera filter used, gives the nebula a Halloween theme.

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Robby

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The 20th Anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS Instrument

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Twenty years ago, astronauts on the second servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope installed the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard Hubble. This pioneering instrument combines a camera with a spectrograph, which provides a "fingerprint" of a celestial object's temperature, chemical composition, density, and motion. STIS also reveals changes in the evolving universe and leads the way in the field of high-contrast imaging. The versatile instrument is sensitive to a wide range of wavelengths of light, from ultraviolet through the optical and into the near-infrared. From studying black holes, monster stars, and the intergalactic medium, to analyzing the atmospheres of worlds around other stars, STIS continues its epic mission to explore the universe.

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Robby

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Hubble Spots Moon Around Third Largest Dwarf Planet

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Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies a frigid, dark, vast frontier of countless icy bodies left over from the solar system's construction 4.6 billion years ago. This region, called the Kuiper Belt, was hypothesized by astronomer Gerard Kuiper in 1951. But it took another four decades for astronomers to confirm its existence. The largest bodies are called dwarf planets, with Pluto being the biggest member. Pluto is so big, in fact, that it was discovered 60 years before other Kuiper worlds were detected. Moons around dwarf planets are elusive, though. Pluto's moon Charon wasn't found until the mid-1970s.

Now, astronomers have uncovered a moon around another dwarf planet by using the combined power of three space observatories, including archival images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Called 2007 OR10, it is the third-largest dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt. With this moon's discovery, most of the known dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt larger than 600 miles across have companions. These bodies provide insight into how moons formed in the young solar system. In fact, there is an emerging view that collisions between planetary bodies can result in the formation of moons. Based on moon rock samples from NASA's Apollo mission, astronomers believe that Earth's only natural satellite was born out of a collision with a Mars-sized object 4.4 billion years ago.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Observes Exoplanet that Snows Sunscreen

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Travelers to the nightside of exoplanet Kepler-13Ab should pack an umbrella because they will be pelted with precipitation. But it's not the kind of watery precipitation that falls on Earth. On this alien world, the precipitation is in the form of sunscreen.

Ironically, the sunscreen (titanium dioxide) is not needed on this side of the planet because it never receives any sunlight. But bottling up some sunlight protection is a good idea if travelers plan on visiting the sizzling hot, permanent dayside, which always faces its star. Visitors won't find any desperately needed sunscreen on this part of the planet.

Astronomers didn't detect the titanium dioxide directly. They used Hubble to find that the atmospheric temperature grows increasingly colder with altitude on the dayside of Kepler-13Ab, which was contrary to what they had expected. On this super-hot dayside, titanium dioxide should exist as a gas, called titanium oxide. If titanium oxide were present in the daytime atmosphere, it would absorb light and heat the upper atmosphere. Instead, high winds carry the titanium oxide around to the permanently dark side of the planet where it condenses to form clouds and precipitation, and rains down as titanium dioxide. The planet's crushing gravity pulls all the titanium dioxide so far down it can't be recycled back into the upper atmosphere on the daytime side.

The Hubble observations represent the first time astronomers have detected this precipitation process, called a "cold trap," on an exoplanet.

Kepler-13Ab is one of the hottest known planets, with a dayside temperature of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Kepler-13 system resides 1,730 light-years from Earth.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Hubble Movie Shows Movement of Light Echo Around Exploded Star

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Voices reverberating off mountains and the sound of footsteps bouncing off walls are examples of an echo. Echoes happen when sound waves ricochet off surfaces and return to the listener.

Space has its own version of an echo. It’s not made with sound but with light, and occurs when light bounces off dust clouds.

The Hubble telescope has just captured one of these cosmic echoes, called a “light echo,” in the nearby starburst galaxy M82, located 11.4 million light-years away. A movie assembled from more than two years’ worth of Hubble images reveals an expanding shell of light from a supernova explosion sweeping through interstellar space three years after the stellar blast was discovered. The “echoing” light looks like a ripple expanding on a pond. The supernova, called SN 2014J, was discovered on Jan. 21, 2014.

A light echo occurs because light from the stellar blast travels different distances to arrive at Earth. Some light comes to Earth directly from the supernova blast. Other light is delayed because it travels indirectly. In this case, the light is bouncing off a huge dust cloud that extends 300 to 1,600 light-years around the supernova and is being reflected toward Earth.

So far, astronomers have spotted only 15 light echoes around supernovae outside our Milky Way galaxy. Light echo detections from supernovae are rarely seen because they must be nearby for a telescope to resolve them.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Roman Space Telescope Could Image 100 Hubble Ultra Deep Fields at Once

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In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope stared at a blank patch of the sky for 10 straight days. The resulting Deep Field image captured thousands of previously unseen, distant galaxies. Similar observations have followed since then, including the longest and deepest exposure, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Now, astronomers are looking ahead to the future, and the possibilities enabled by NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.

The Roman Space Telescope will be able to photograph an area of sky 100 times larger than Hubble with the same exquisite sharpness. As a result, a Roman Ultra Deep Field would collect millions of galaxies, including hundreds that date back to just a few hundred million years after the big bang. Such an observation would fuel new investigations into multiple science areas, from the structure and evolution of the universe to star formation over cosmic time.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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New Horizons Spacecraft Answers Question: How Dark Is Space?

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How dark is the sky, and what does that tell us about the number of galaxies in the visible universe? Astronomers can estimate the total number of galaxies by counting everything visible in a Hubble deep field and then multiplying them by the total area of the sky. But other galaxies are too faint and distant to directly detect. Yet while we can’t count them, their light suffuses space with a feeble glow.

To measure that glow, astronomical satellites have to escape the inner solar system and its light pollution, caused by sunlight reflecting off dust. A team of scientists has used observations by NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt to determine the brightness of this cosmic optical background. Their result sets an upper limit to the abundance of faint, unresolved galaxies, showing that they only number in the hundreds of billions, not 2 trillion galaxies as previously believed.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 

Robby

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Researchers Rewind the Clock to Calculate Age and Site of Supernova Blast

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Sometime during the third century, a brilliant burst of light from the explosion of a massive star was visible from Earth.

If the supernova blast had flashed over the northern hemisphere, it might have been considered an evil omen. At that time, Western Civilization was in upheaval. The Roman Empire was beginning to crumble. An emperor was assassinated, followed by political upheavals, civil wars, and barbarian attacks.

But the violent supernova death could only be seen in the southern skies. The blast occurred in the nearby satellite galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. No record exists of the titanic event. However, like the smoke and ash drifting across the sky after an aerial fireworks blast, the supernova left behind a cloud of debris that is still rapidly expanding today. This cloud provides forensic evidence for astronomical detectives to retrace the explosion.

Astronomers sifting through Hubble observations of the supernova remnant, taken 10 years apart, have calculated the cloud's expansion rate. Analyzing the data was like rewinding a movie. The researchers traced the path of all the debris flung from the explosion back to the point in space where the doomed star blew apart. Their analysis reveals that the light from the exploded star reached Earth 1,700 years ago.

(More at HubbleSite.com)
 
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