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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