RSSAll Entries Tagged With: "Hubble Space Telescope"

Hubble to search for worlds beyond Pluto

NASA’S NEW HORIZONS spacecraft, launched in January 2006, is closing in on its primary target, the dwarf planet Pluto. Arrival at the icy outer world is on track for 14 July 2015.

But when it reaches Pluto, New Horizons won’t be able to stop and admire the scenery. By necessity (ie. orbital mechanics and the fact that it doesn’t have a rocket motor to slow itself down) it will go sailing straight past, after having given us our first-ever close up glimpse of what used to be called the ninth planet. (I still do call it the ninth planet. Ed.)

This was always the plan. And the plan also calls for a second stage for the mission – a visit to one or more other icy worlds that orbit the Sun far beyond Pluto.

Artist's impression of the New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto

Artist’s impression of the New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto.

They’re called Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs), as they belong to a family of small, ice bodies that live in that part of the Solar System, called the Kuiper Belt.

The aim is to redirect New Horizons – once it has passed Pluto – onto a course that will take it near one or more of these KBOs.

But even though astronomers have been hunting for candidate KBOs for some years, they’ve yet to find one that is in the right place for New Horizons to visit. Yet there are probably some there that they just can’t see at the moment. So they’ve put out a call for help from the telescope best suited to spot any hidden KBOs – the Hubble Space Telescope.

This week, the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee – the body that decides who gets to use the telescope – has recommended it be pressed into service.

The telescope will examine a small region of space to see if it can spot any KBOs. The first step will be doing a pilot study to see if Hubble can indeed spot KBOs in that region and at that distance – 8 billion kilometres from the Sun.

If it finds any, that will give the astronomers enough confidence to push ahead with a deeper, longer search to find the candidate KBOs for New Horizons to visit.

Image courtesy NASA.

2014 astronomy and space calendars

IT’S NOT TOO LATE to grab one of these beautiful 2014 astronomy and space exploration calendars. We’ve selected more than 20 of the best from around the world. From Hubble’s latest images, to planets, deep space nebulae, aurorae (northern and southern lights), and even one from astronauts aboard the space station (a crew that included the pop star of astronomers, Canadian Chris Hadfield). They’re all available right now through the SpaceInfo Shop at www.spaceinfo.com.au/astrocalendars.html

Montage of space calendars

All over these calendars are available now from the SpaceInfo Shop – www.SpaceInfo.com.au

The Crab Nebula

WHEN A MASSIVE STAR EXPLODES at the end of its life, the shattered remains become known as a supernova remnant. The one shown here is called the Crab Nebula.

This is a composite view produced with data from two telescopes: the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions, and Hubble is a NASA mission with important ESA contributions.

A wispy and filamentary cloud of gas and dust, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054.

The Crab Nebula

A new view of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, using data gathered by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The image combines Hubble’s view of the nebula at visible wavelengths, obtained using three different filters sensitive to the emission from oxygen and sulphur ions (both shown here in blue). Herschel’s far-infrared image (shown here in red) reveals the emission from dust in the nebula.

While studying the dust content of the Crab Nebula with Herschel, a team of astronomers have detected emission lines from argon hydride, a molecular ion containing the noble gas argon. This is the first detection of a noble-gas based compound in space.

At the heart of the nebula is the Crab Pulsar, a rapidly spinning neutron star that emits a beam of radio waves. As the pulsar spins, the beam sweeps across the field of view as seen from Earth (a pure fluke, as it could have been pointed in any other direction).

Download wallpaper versions of this image:

1920 x 1080

1600 x 1200

1366 x 768

1024 x 768

800 x 600

Words and image adapted from information issued by ESA / Herschel / PACS / MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant  Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll / Jeff Hester (Arizona State University).

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Cloudy weather on an alien world

WEATHER FORECASTERS on exoplanet GJ 1214b would have an easy job. Today’s forecast: cloudy. Tomorrow: overcast. Extended outlook: more clouds.

The planet, which is known as GJ 1214b, is classified as a super-Earth because its mass is intermediate between that of Earth and Neptune. Recent searches for planets orbiting other stars (‘exoplanets‘) have shown that super-Earths like GJ 1214b are among the most common type of planets in the Milky Way galaxy. Because no such planets exist in our Solar System, the physical nature of super-Earths is largely unknown.

Previous studies of GJ 1214b yielded two possible interpretations of the planet’s atmosphere: it could consist entirely of water vapour or some other type of heavy molecule, or it could contain high-altitude clouds that prevent the observation of what lies underneath.

Artist's view of exoplanet GJ 1214b

An artist’s view of exoplanet GJ 1214b. The weather forecast is for cloudy skies.

But now a team of astronomers led by Laura Kreidberg and Jacob Bean of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, have detected clear evidence of clouds in the atmosphere of GJ 1214b from data collected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble observations used 96 hours of telescope time spread over 11 months. This was the largest Hubble programme ever devoted to studying a single exoplanet.

The researchers describe their work as an important milestone on the road to identifying potentially habitable, Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System. The results appear in the January 2 issue of the journal Nature.

Pushing the limits

“We really pushed the limits of what is possible with Hubble to make this measurement,” said Kreidberg, a third-year graduate student and first author of the new paper. “This advance lays the foundation for characterising other Earths with similar techniques.”

“I think it’s very exciting that we can use a telescope like Hubble that was never designed with this in mind, do these kinds of observations with such exquisite precision, and really nail down some property of a small planet orbiting a distant star,” explained Bean, an assistant professor and the project’s principal investigator.

GJ 1214b is located just 40 light-years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. Because of its proximity to our Solar System and the small size of its host star, GJ 1214b is the most easily observed of the known super-Earths. It transits, or passes in front of its parent star, every 38 hours, giving scientists an opportunity to study its atmosphere as starlight filters through it.

Kreidberg, Bean and their colleagues used Hubble to precisely measure the spectrum of GJ 1214b in near-infrared light, finding what they consider definitive evidence of high clouds blanketing the planet. These clouds hide any information about the composition and behaviour of the lower atmosphere and surface.

Four planets in a row

An artist’s rendering comparing the size of GJ 1214b, another, larger exoplanet, and Earth and Neptune.

Unearthly weather

The planet was discovered in 2009 by the MEarth Project, which monitors 2,000 red dwarf stars for transiting planets. The planet was next targeted for follow-up observations to characterise its atmosphere. The first spectra, which were obtained by Bean in 2010 using a ground-based telescope, suggested that the planet’s atmosphere either was predominantly water vapour or hydrogen-dominated with high-altitude clouds.

More precise Hubble observations made in 2012 and 2013 enabled the team to distinguish between these two scenarios. The news is about what they didn’t find. The Hubble spectra revealed no chemical fingerprints whatsoever in the planet’s atmosphere. This allowed the astronomers to rule out cloud-free atmospheres made of water vapour, methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide.

The best explanation for the new data is that there are high-altitude clouds in the atmosphere of the planet, though their composition is unknown. Models of super-Earth atmospheres predict clouds could be made out of potassium chloride or zinc sulphide at the scorching temperatures of 230 degrees Celsius found on GJ 1214b. “You would expect very different kinds of clouds to form than you would expect, say, on Earth,” Kreidberg said.

The launch of NASA’s next major space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), later this decade should reveal more about such worlds, Kreidberg said. “Looking forward, JWST will be transformative,” she said. “The new capabilities of this telescope will allow us to peer through the clouds on planets like GJ 1214b. But more than that, it may open the door to studies of Earth-like planets around nearby stars.”

Adapted from information issued by the University of Chicago. Images courtesy NASA, ESA and G. Bacon.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Close encounter could reveal planets

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will have two opportunities in the next few years to hunt for Earth-sized planets around the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. The opportunities will occur in October 2014 and February 2016 when Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our Solar System, passes in front of two other stars. Astronomers plotted Proxima Centauri’s precise path and predicted the two close encounters using data from Hubble.

Red dwarfs are the most common class of stars in our Milky Way galaxy; there are about 10 for every star like our Sun. Red dwarfs are less massive than other stars, and because lower-mass stars tend to have smaller planets, they are ideal places to go hunting for Earth-sized planets.

Previous attempts to detect planets circling Proxima Centauri have not been successful. But astronomers believe they may be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets, if they exist, by looking for ‘microlensing’ effects during the two rare stellar alignments.

The projected motion of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri

The projected motion of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (green line) over the next decade, as plotted from Hubble Space Telescope observations (the path appears looped due to Earth’s motion around the Sun. In 2014 and 2016 Proxima Centauri will pass almost in front of two background stars, affording astronomers a rare opportunity to study the warping of space by Proxima’s gravity. The amount of warping will be used to calculate a precise mass for Proxima Centauri and look for the gravitational footprint and any planets orbiting the star. Credit: NASA, ESA, K. Sahu and J. Anderson (STScI), H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University), M. Dominik (University of St. Andrews), and Digitized Sky Survey (STScI/AURA/UKSTU/AAO)

Microlensing occurs when a foreground star (the ‘lens’) passes close to our line of sight to a more distant background star (the ‘source’). The appearance of the background star may be distorted, brightened and multiplied depending on the alignment between the foreground lens and the background source.

These microlensing events, which range in duration from a few hours to a few days, will enable astronomers to precisely measure the mass of Proxima Centauri. Getting a precise determination of mass is critical to understanding a star’s temperature, diameter, intrinsic brightness and longevity.

Astronomers will measure the mass by examining images of each of the background stars to see how far the stars appear to be shifted from their real positions in the sky. The shifts will be the result of Proxima Centauri’s gravitational field warping space. The degree of shift can be used to measure Proxima Centauri’s mass; the greater the shift, the greater the mass. If the red dwarf has any planets, their gravitational fields will produce a second small position shift.

Diagram explaining microlensing as Proxima Centauri appears to pass close to a background star

The upcoming conjunction between the nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, and a distant background star. Proxima’s gravitational field distorts space like a funhouse mirror and bends the path of light from the background star. The result is that the apparent position of the star will shift slightly during Proxima Centauri’s passage, as seen in the upper right diagram. If an unseen planet is orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star’s apparent position will be further offset, as seen at lower right. Credit: A. Feild (STScI)

At a distance of 4.2 light-years from Earth, Proxima Centauri is just 0.2 light-year from the more distant binary star Alpha and Beta Centauri. These three stars are considered part of the triple-star system, though Proxima Centauri evolved in isolation from the two Sun-like companion stars.

Because Proxima Centauri is so close to Earth, the area of sky warped by its gravitation field is larger than for more distant stars. This makes it easier to look for shifts in apparent stellar position caused by this effect. However, the position shifts will be too small to be perceived by any but the most sensitive telescopes in space and on the ground. The European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope (due for launch later this year) and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile might be able to make measurements comparable to Hubble’s.

Adapted from information issued by NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

New view of the Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula in infrared light

The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

ASTRONOMERS HAVE USED NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory have produced stunning new photographs of the iconic Horsehead Nebula at infrared wavelengths.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. It is about 1,300 light-years from Earth.

The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.

Horsehead Nebula in infrared light

A new view from ESA’s Herschel space observatory of the iconic Horsehead Nebula (right) and two other prominent sites where massive stars are forming, NGC 2068 and NGC 2071 (left). Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme.

It appears to be riding towards another favorite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.

Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes.

The panoramic view also covers two prominent sites of massive star formation to the northeast (left-hand side of this image), known as NGC 2068 (or M78) and NGC 2071. These take on the appearance of beautifully patterned butterfly wings, with long tails of colder gas and dust streaming away.

A wide-angle view of the Horsehead Nebula

A wide-angle view of the Horsehead Nebula, seen at normal visible wavelengths. Image Credit: NASA

Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming lightweight stars.

The new Hubble view, taken at near-infrared wavelengths with its Wide Field Camera 3 to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the launch of the observatory, zooms in on the Horsehead to reveal fine details of its structure.

Nearby stars illuminate the backlit wisps along the upper ridge of the nebula in an ethereal glow. The harsh ultraviolet glare from these bright stars is slowly evaporating the dusty stellar nursery. Two fledgling stars have already been exposed from their protective cocoons, and can just be seen peeking out from the upper ridge.

The nebula is a favourite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light, but appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths.

Detailed, visible wavelength image of the Horsehead

This detailed, visible wavelength image of the Horsehead was released by the European Southern Observatory in 2002. Image credit: ESO

Adapted from information issued by NASA and ESA.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Hubble spots a hidden treasure

Josh Lake's image of LHA 120-N11

Josh Lake’s image of LHA 120-N11, which comprises several adjacent pockets of gas and star formation. It is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, roughly 200,000 light-years from Earth.

NEARLY 200,000 LIGHT-YEARS from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy.

Vast clouds of gas within it slowly collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a riot of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is ablaze with star-forming regions. From the Tarantula Nebula, the brightest stellar nursery in our cosmic neighbourhood, to LHA 120-N 11, part of which is featured in this Hubble image, the small and irregular galaxy is scattered with glowing nebulae, the most noticeable sign that new stars are being born.

The LMC is in an ideal position for astronomers to study the phenomena surrounding star formation. It lies in a fortuitous location in the sky, far enough from the plane of the Milky Way that it is neither outshone by too many nearby stars, nor obscured by the dust in the Milky Way’s centre.

It is also close enough to study in detail (less than a tenth of the distance of the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest spiral galaxy), and lies almost face-on to us, giving us a bird’s eye view.

Smokey remains of dead stars

LHA 120-N 11 (known as N11 for short) is a particularly bright region of the LMC, consisting of several adjacent pockets of gas and star formation. NGC 1769 (in the centre of this image) and NGC 1763 (to the right) are among the brightest parts.

In the centre of this image, a dark finger of dust blots out much of the light. While nebulae are mostly made of hydrogen, the simplest and most plentiful element in the universe, dust clouds are home to heavier and more complex elements, which go on to form rocky planets like the Earth.

Much finer than household dust (it is more like smoke), this interstellar dust consists of material expelled from previous generations of stars as they died.

The data in this image were identified by Josh Lake, an astronomy teacher at Pomfret School in Connecticut, USA, in the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition. The competition invited members of the public to dig out unreleased scientific data from Hubble’s vast archive, and to process them into stunning images.

Josh Lake won first prize in the competition with an image (below) contrasting the light from glowing hydrogen and nitrogen in N 11. The image at the top of the page combines the data he identified with additional exposures taken in blue, green and near infrared light.

Josh Lake's image of NGC 1763

Josh Lake’s image of the NGC 1763 region of nebulosity and stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. The image won him first prize in Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Image Processing Competition

More information: Hidden Treasures

Adapted from information issued by ESA / Hubble Information Centre. Images: NASA, ESA and J. Lake.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Resources and web links

HELLO FOLKS. My apologies for the lack of updates on SpaceInfo.com.au in recent weeks, but your editor has been away conducting astronomy lectures aboard a cruise ship (the wonderful m/s Oosterdam, of the Holland America Line) on a journey to various tropical paradises scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. Having now reluctantly returned to reality, it’ll be back to normal with SpaceInfo.

Lots of people aboard the Oosterdam asked me where I got all the incredible images of space that I showed during my lectures, and I promised to post some links. So here we go.

NASA has plenty of great web sites, for adults and children, including these favourites of mine:

NASA home page

NASA Planetary Photojournal

NASA Human Space Flight Gallery

NASA Quest

NASA Kids’ Club

There are lots of amazing images from the Hubble Space Telescope at these sites:

Hubble Space Telescope

European Space Agency Hubble site

There are other telescopes up in space too – here are a few:

Spitzer Space Telescope

Kepler Observatory

Herschel Space Telescope

And then there are all the wonderful ground-based observatories — here’s a small selection:

Australian Astronomical Observatory

Australia Telescope

Square Kilometre Array

Keck Observatory

Gemini Observatory

For keeping an eye on the Sun and solar activity, try these sites:

SOHO spacecraft

Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft

Here are links to some of the spacecraft missions that are exploring the planets of our Solar System:

MESSENGER (Mercury)

LRO (the Moon)

Cassini (Saturn)

Juno (Jupiter)

New Horizons (Pluto)

Curiosity rover (Mars)

Mars Express (Mars)

Mars Odyssey (Mars)

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Mars)

Opportunity rover (Mars)

My thanks to everyone aboard the m/s Oosterdam, both crew and passengers, for making the journey so enjoyable and fulfilling.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Hubble’s deepest view of the cosmos

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made.

ASTRONOMERS HAVE ASSEMBLED a new, improved portrait of our deepest-ever view of the Universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the image was assembled by combining ten years of NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations taken of a patch of sky within the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UDF) is an image of a small area of space in the constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), created using Hubble data from 2003 and 2004. By collecting faint light over one million seconds of observation, the resulting image revealed thousands of galaxies, both nearby and very distant, making it the deepest image of the Universe ever taken at that time.

The new full-colour XDF image is even more sensitive than the original UDF image, thanks to the additional observations, and contains about 5,500 galaxies, even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness that the unaided human eye can see.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field with interesting objects labelled

This view of the XDF image contains shows of the most distant objects ever identified. Among these are: UDFj-39546284, at a redshift of 10.3, is a candidate for the most distant galaxy yet discovered (awaiting confirmation); Supernova Primo, at a redshift of 1.55, the most distant type Ia supernova ever observed; UDFy-38135539, at a redshift of 8.6, is the most distant galaxy to have had its distance independently corroborated; UDFy-33436598, at a redshift of 8.6.

Magnificent spiral galaxies similar in shape to the Milky Way and its neighbour the Andromeda galaxy appear in this image, as do large, fuzzy red galaxies in which the formation of new stars has ceased. These red galaxies are the remnants of dramatic collisions between galaxies and are in their declining years as the stars within them age.

Peppered across the field are tiny, faint, and yet more distant galaxies that are like the seedlings from which today’s magnificent galaxies grew. The history of galaxies — from soon after the first galaxies were born to the great galaxies of today, like the Milky Way — is laid out in this one remarkable image.Diagram showing distances of galaxies in the XDF

Hubble pointed at a tiny patch of southern sky in repeat visits made over the past decade with a total exposure time of two million seconds. More than 2,000 images of the same field were taken with Hubble’s two primary cameras: the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3, which extends Hubble’s vision into near-infrared light. These were then combined to form the XDF.

The Universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the XDF reveals galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years in time. Most of the galaxies in the XDF are seen when they were young, small, and growing, often violently as they collided and merged together.

Graphic comparing the size of the XDF compared to the full Moon

This image from the Digitsed Sky Survey shows the area of the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), with the full Moon shown to scale for comparison.

The early Universe was a time of dramatic birth for galaxies containing brilliant blue stars far brighter than our Sun. The light from those past events is just arriving at Earth now, and so the XDF is a time tunnel into the distant past when the Universe was just a fraction of its current age.

The youngest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the Universe’s birth in the Big Bang.

Download wallpapers of the eXtreme Deep Field:

1024 x 768 (436.0 KB)

1280 x 1024 (722.2 KB)

1600 x 1200 (1.1 MB)

1920 x 1200 (1.3 MB)

2048 x 1536 (1.8 MB)

Adapted from information issued by NASA/ESA. Images courtesy NASA, ESA, Z. Levay (STScI), T. Rector, I. Dell’Antonio/NOAO/AURA/NSF, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University) and the HUDF09 Team

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…

Hubble’s birthday view of starbirth nebula

Hubble image of 30 Doradus

The amazing twirls and swirls of 30 Doradus, a starbirth region of gas and stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy 170,000 light-years from Earth.

IT SEEMS HARD TO BELIEVE, but the Hubble Space Telescope has now been in orbit for 22 years. In that time it has advanced our understanding of the universe overall and of the stars, galaxies and nebulae within it.

To celebrate it’s birthday, Hubble scientists have released stunning new views of a “starbirth” region deep in the southern sky, known as 30 Doradus.

30 Doradus is part of the Tarantula Nebula, so-called for its resemblance to a spider, with tendrils of interstellar gas extending in many directions.

The Tarantula is located within the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, a close neighbour of the Milky Way about 170,000 light-years distant.

The main Hubble image is made up of many separate images “stitched” together. In fact, it is one of the largest Hubble images ever produced, and at the distance of the Tarantula covers a field 650 light-years across.

This starbirth region is home to numerous stars, young and old, big and small. Near the nebula’s heart is a star cluster called R136. It used to be thought that R136 contained the largest known star in the universe, R136a at 1,500 the mass of the Sun. It has since been determined, however, that R136a is itself a tight cluster of stars. Nevertheless, one of those stars, R136a1, is still the largest known at 265 times the mass of the Sun and 8,700,000 it’s brightness.

The radiance from all the stars has carved out intricate voids and valleys within the surrounding gas, and in some cases formed shockwaves or regions of increased gas density that could be triggering the inward collapse of gas clumps to form new stars.

See more and larger images of 30 Doradus at HubbleSite.

Close-up of part of 30 Doradus

This close-up of part of 30 Doradus shows a huge cavity in the gas, carved out by the stellar wind of young, powerful stars.

Hubble image of star cluster Hodge 301

This tight, bright cluster of stars within 30 Doradus is called Hodge 301. Unlike many of the youthful stars in 30 Doradus, many of those in Hodge 301 are ageing, red supergiants.

NGC 2070 with R136

At the heart of this portion of 30 Doradus lies the star cluster R136, which contains many of the heaviest known stars in the local universe.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images credit: NASA, ESA, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (University of Sheffield), A. de Koter (University of Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU), and H. Sana (University of Amsterdam), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

Like this story? Please share or recommend it…