Posts Tagged ‘hst’

Space Astronomy Archive & Supernova Named for Sen. Mikulski

One of the world’s largest astronomy archives, containing a treasure trove of information about myriad stars, planets, and galaxies, has been named in honor of the United States Senator from Maryland Barbara Mikulski.

Called MAST, for the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, the huge database contains astronomical observations from 16 NASA space astronomy missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

“In celebration of Sen. Mikulski’s career-long achievements, and particularly this year, becoming the longest-serving woman in U.S. Congressional history, we sought NASA’s permission to establish the Senator’s permanent legacy to science by naming the optical and ultraviolet data archive housed here at the Institute in her honor,” said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md.

STScI is the science operations center for Hubble and its upcoming successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Join the 2012 Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Competition

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Over two decades in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope has made a huge number of observations. Every week, we publish new images on the ESA/Hubble website.

But hidden in Hubble’s huge data archives are still some truly breathtaking images that have never been seen in public. We call them Hubble’s Hidden Treasures — and we’re looking for your help to bring them to light.

We’re inviting the public into Hubble’s vast science archive to dig out the best unseen Hubble images. Find a great dataset in the Hubble Legacy Archive, adjust the contrast and colours using the simple online tools and submit to our Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Contest Flickr group, and you could win an iPod Touch in our Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Competition.

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Glittering Jewels of Messier 9

March 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA & ESA

Image Credit: NASA & ESA

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most detailed image so far of Messier 9, a globular star cluster located close to the centre of the galaxy. This ball of stars is too faint to see with the naked eye, yet Hubble can see over 250 000 individual stars shining in it.

Messier 9, pictured here, is a globular cluster, a roughly spherical swarm of stars that lies around 25 000 light-years from Earth, near the centre of the Milky Way, so close that the gravitational forces from the galactic centre pull it slightly out of shape.

Globular clusters are thought to harbour some of the oldest stars in our galaxy, born when the Universe was just a small fraction of its current age. As well as being far older than the Sun — around twice its age — the stars of Messier 9 also have a markedly different composition, and are enriched with far fewer heavier elements than the Sun.

In particular, the elements crucial to life on Earth, like oxygen and carbon, and the iron that makes up our planet’s core, are very scarce in Messier 9 and clusters like it. This is because the Universe’s heavier elements were gradually formed in the cores of stars, and in supernova explosions. When the stars of Messier 9 formed, there were far smaller quantities of these elements in existence.

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Quasars Discovered Acting As Gravitational Lenses

March 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found several examples of galaxies containing quasars, which act as gravitational lenses, amplifying and distorting images of galaxies aligned behind them.

Quasars are among the brightest objects in the universe, far outshining the total starlight of their host galaxies. Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes.

To find these rare cases of galaxy-quasar combinations acting as lenses, a team of astronomers led by Frederic Courbin at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland) selected 23,000 quasar spectra in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). They looked for the spectral imprint of galaxies at much greater distances that happened to align with foreground galaxies. Once candidates were identified, Hubble’s sharp view was used to look for gravitational arcs and rings (which are indicated by the arrows in these three Hubble photos) that would be produced by gravitational lensing.

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Hubble Reveals a New Class of Extrasolar Planet

February 21, 2012 2 comments

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Observations by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have come up with a new class of planet, a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. It’s smaller than Uranus but larger than Earth.

An international team of astronomers led by Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) made the observations of the planet GJ 1214b.

GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of,” Berta said. “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.

The ground-based MEarth Project, led by CfA’s David Charbonneau, discovered GJ 1214b in 2009. This super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs almost seven times as much. It orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 2 million kilometres, giving it an estimated temperature of 230 degrees Celsius.

In 2010, CfA scientist Jacob Bean and colleagues reported that they had measured the atmosphere of GJ 1214b, finding it likely that it was composed mainly of water. However, their observations could also be explained by the presence of a planet-enshrouding haze in GJ 1214b’s atmosphere.

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Black Hole Came from Shredded Galaxy

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Farrell (Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney)

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Farrell (Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney)

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found a cluster of young, blue stars encircling the first intermediate-mass black hole ever discovered. The presence of the star cluster suggests that the black hole was once at the core of a now-disintegrated dwarf galaxy. The discovery of the black hole and the star cluster has important implications for understanding the evolution of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

“For the first time, we have evidence on the environment, and thus the origin, of this middle-weight black hole,” said Mathieu Servillat, who worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics when this research was conducted.

Astronomers know how massive stars collapse to form stellar-mass black holes (which weigh about 10 times the mass of our sun), but it’s not clear how supermassive black holes (like the four million solar-mass monster at the center of the Milky Way) form in the cores of galaxies. One idea is that supermassive black holes may build up through the merger of smaller, intermediate-mass black holes weighing hundreds to thousands of suns.

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Classic Hubble Portrait of Barred Spiral Galaxy

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA & ESA

Image credit: NASA & ESA

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken a picture of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, which is found in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a similar barred spiral, and the study of galaxies such as NGC 1073 helps astronomers learn more about our celestial home.

Most spiral galaxies in the Universe have a bar structure in their centre, and Hubble’s image of NGC 1073 offers a particularly clear view of one of these. Galaxies’ star-filled bars are thought to emerge as gravitational density waves funnel gas toward the galactic centre, supplying the material to create new stars. The transport of gas can also feed the supermassive black holes that lurk in the centres of almost every galaxy.

Some astronomers have suggested that the formation of a central bar-like structure might signal a spiral galaxy’s passage from intense star-formation into adulthood, as the bars turn up more often in galaxies full of older, red stars than younger, blue stars. This storyline would also account for the observation that in the early Universe, only around a fifth of spiral galaxies contained bars, while more than two thirds do in the more modern cosmos.

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Hubble Zooms in on a Magnified Galaxy

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Rigby (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), K. Sharon (Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago), and M. Gladders and E. Wuyts (University of Chicago)

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Rigby (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), K. Sharon (Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago), and M. Gladders and E. Wuyts (University of Chicago)

Thanks to the presence of a natural “zoom lens” in space, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope got a uniquely close-up look at the brightest “magnified” galaxy yet discovered.

This observation provides a unique opportunity to study the physical properties of a galaxy vigorously forming stars when the universe was only one-third its present age.

A so-called gravitational lens is produced when space is warped by a massive foreground object, whether it is the Sun, a black hole, or an entire cluster of galaxies. The light from more-distant background objects is distorted, brightened, and magnified as it passes through this gravitationally disturbed region.

A team of astronomers led by Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., aimed Hubble at one of the most striking examples of gravitational lensing, a nearly 90-degree arc of light in the galaxy cluster RCS2 032727-132623. Hubble’s view of the distant background galaxy is significantly more detailed than could ever be achieved without the help of the gravitational lens.

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Vesta Likely Cold and Dark Enough for Ice

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Though generally thought to be quite dry, roughly half of the giant asteroid Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for billions of years, according to the first published models of Vesta’s average global temperatures and illumination by the sun.

“Near the north and south poles, the conditions appear to be favorable for water ice to exist beneath the surface,” says Timothy Stubbs of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Stubbs and Yongli Wang of the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute at the University of Maryland published the models in the January 2012 issue of the journal Icarus. The models are based on information from telescopes including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Vesta, the second-most massive object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, probably does not have any significant permanently shadowed craters where water ice could stay frozen on the surface all the time, not even in the roughly 300-mile-diameter (480-kilometer-diameter) crater near the south pole, the authors note. The asteroid isn’t a good candidate for permanent shadowing because it is tilted on its axis at about 27 degrees, which is even greater than Earth’s tilt of roughly 23 degrees. In contrast, the moon, which does have permanently shadowed craters, is tilted at only about 1.5 degrees. As a result of its large tilt, Vesta has seasons, and every part of the surface is expected to see the sun at some point during Vesta’s year.

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Hubble Discovers Distant Type Ia Supernova

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has looked deep into the distant universe and detected the feeble glow of a star that exploded more than 9 billion years ago. The sighting is the first finding of an ambitious survey that will help astronomers place better constraints on the nature of dark energy, the mysterious repulsive force that is causing the universe to fly apart ever faster.

“For decades, astronomers have harnessed the power of Hubble to unravel the mysteries of the universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This new observation builds upon the revolutionary research using Hubble that won astronomers the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, while bringing us a step closer to understanding the nature of dark energy which drives the cosmic acceleration.” As an astronaut, Grunsfeld visited Hubble three times, performing a total of eight spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory.

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