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Archive for March 17, 2014

Hubble Revisits The Monkey Head Nebula For 24th Birthday Snap


Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

To celebrate its 24th year in orbit, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has released a beautiful new image of part of NGC 2174, also known as the Monkey Head Nebula. This colourful region is filled with young stars embedded within bright wisps of cosmic gas and dust.

NGC 2174 lies about 6400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter). Hubble previously viewed this part of the sky back in 2001, creating a stunning image released in 2011, and the space telescope has now revisited the region to celebrate its 24th year of operation.

Nebulae are a favourite target for Hubble. Their colourful plumes of gas and fiery bright stars create ethereally beautiful pictures. Some of the most famous of Hubble’s images have been of nebulae — for example, the telescope’s 22nd and 23rd anniversary images of the Tarantula and Horsehead nebulae, and its festive 2012 image of planetary nebula NGC 5189.

The detail shown in this image lies within NGC 2174, a nebula which gets its more common name, the Monkey Head Nebula, from its curiously familiar shape when viewed in wide-field images.

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First Direct Evidence Of Inflation And Primordial Gravitational Waves


Credit: The BICEP2 Collaboration

Credit: The BICEP2 Collaboration

Astronomers announced today that they have acquired the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during an explosive period of growth called inflation. This is the strongest confirmation yet of cosmic inflation theories, which say the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times in less than the blink of an eye.

“The implications for this detection stagger the mind,” says Jamie Bock, professor of physics at Caltech, laboratory senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and project co-leader. “We are measuring a signal that comes from the dawn of time.”

Our universe burst into existence in an event known as the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Fractions of a second later, space itself ripped apart, expanding exponentially in an episode known as inflation. Telltale signs of this early chapter in our universe’s history are imprinted in the skies in a relic glow called the cosmic microwave background. Tiny fluctuations in this afterglow provide clues to conditions in the early universe.

Small, quantum fluctuations were amplified to enormous sizes by the inflationary expansion of the universe. This process created density waves that make small differences in temperature across the sky where the universe was denser, eventually condensing into galaxies and clusters of galaxies. But as theorized, inflation should also produce gravitational waves, ripples in space-time propagating throughout the universe. Observations from the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole now demonstrate that gravitational waves were created in abundance during the early inflation of the universe.

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