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Hubble Captures First Images of Aftermath of Possible Asteroid Collision

Copyright NASA

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured the first snapshots of a suspected asteroid collision. The images show a bizarre X-shaped object at the head of a comet-like trail of material.

In January, astronomers began using Hubble to track the object for five months. They thought they had witnessed a fresh asteroid collision, but were surprised to learn the collision occurred in early 2009.

“We expected the debris field to expand dramatically, like shrapnel flying from a hand grenade,” said astronomer David Jewitt of the University of California in Los Angeles, who is a leader of the Hubble observations. “But what happened was quite the opposite. We found that the object is expanding very, very slowly.”

The peculiar object, dubbed P/2010 A2, was found cruising around the asteroid belt, a reservoir of millions of rocky bodies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is estimated modest-sized asteroids smash into each other about once a year. When the objects collide, they inject dust into interplanetary space. But until now, astronomers have relied on models to make predictions about the frequency of these collisions and the amount of dust produced.

Catching colliding asteroids is difficult because large impacts are [...]

Hubble 3D Blasts Off Again

Copyright NASA

Hubble 3D will open in additional IMAX theaters on Aug. 20, and will play for a special limited time engagement. The film, which debuted on March 19, initially launched in 55 domestic and 15 international IMAX locations to rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Narrated by award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the film documents the STS-125 shuttle mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The film is a joint venture between NASA, the IMAX Corporation and Warner Bros. Pictures.

“Thanks to our wonderful partners at Warner Bros. and NASA, Hubble 3D offered us the opportunity to take audiences on an astounding, immersive journey — from the thundering launch into space to witness first-hand the astronauts’ mastery at performing ‘brain surgery’ on Hubble, all the way to the outer edges of our universe in groundbreaking flythroughs,” said producer/director Toni Myers. “We are gratified that the film was so well received during its initial launch, and we are very excited that more people will have the opportunity to learn about Hubble’s amazing discoveries.”

The IMAX 3-D cameras launched aboard space shuttle Atlantis on May 11, 2009, during the STS-125 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts documented the [...]

Hubble captures bubbles and baby stars

Copyright ESA The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures a complex network of gas clouds and star clusters within our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. This region of energetic star birth is one of the most active in the nearby Universe.

The Large Magellanic Cloud contains many bright bubbles of glowing gas. One of the largest and most spectacular is LHA 120-N 11, from the catalogue compiled in 1956 by the late astronomer and astronaut Karl Henize. It is informally known as N11.

Close up, N11’s billowing pink clouds of glowing gas resemble a puffy swirl of fairground candyfloss. From further away, its distinctive overall shape led some observers to nickname it the Bean Nebula. The dramatic and colourful features in the nebula are the telltale signs of star birth.

N11 is a well-studied region that extends across 1000 light-years. It is the second largest star-forming region within the Large Magellanic Cloud and has produced some of the most massive stars known.

It is the process of star birth that gives N11 its distinctive look. Three successive generations of stars, each of which formed further away from the centre of the nebula than the last, have [...]

Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter

Copyright NASA

Without warning, a mystery object struck Jupiter on July 19, 2009, leaving a dark bruise the size of the Pacific Ocean. The spot first caught the eye of an amateur astronomer in Australia, and soon, observatories around the world, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, were zeroing in on the unexpected blemish.

Astronomers had witnessed this kind of cosmic event before. Similar scars had been left behind during the course of a week in July 1994, when more than 20 pieces of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The 2009 impact occurred during the same week, 15 years later.

Astronomers who compared Hubble images of both collisions say the culprit may have been an asteroid about 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide. The images, therefore, may show for the first time the immediate aftermath of an asteroid, rather than a comet, striking another planet.

The Jupiter bombardments reveal that the solar system is a rambunctious place, where unpredictable events may occur more frequently than first thought.

“This solitary event caught us by surprise, and we can only see the aftermath of the impact, but fortunately we do have the 1994 Hubble observations that [...]

Hubble Catches Heavyweight Runaway Star Speeding from 30 Doradus

Copyright NASA

A heavy runaway star is rushing away from a nearby stellar nursery at more than 250,000 miles an hour, a speed that will get you to the Moon and back in two hours. The runaway is the most extreme case of a very massive star that has been kicked out of its home by a group of even heftier siblings.

The homeless star is on the outskirts of the 30 Doradus nebula, a raucous stellar breeding ground in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The finding bolsters evidence that the most massive stars in the local universe reside in 30 Doradus, making it a unique laboratory for studying heavyweight stars. Also called the Tarantula Nebula, 30 Doradus is roughly 170,000 light-years from Earth.

Tantalizing clues from three observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope’s newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), and some old- fashioned detective work, suggest that the star may have traveled about 375 light-years from its suspected home, a giant star cluster called R136. Nestled in the core of 30 Doradus, R136 contains several stars topping 100 solar masses each.

The observations offer insights into how massive star clusters behave.

“These results are [...]

Hubble Finds a Star Eating a Planet

Copyright NASA

The hottest known planet in the Milky Way galaxy may also be its shortest-lived world. The doomed planet is being eaten by its parent star, according to observations made by a new instrument on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). The planet may only have another 10 million years left before it is completely devoured.

The planet, called WASP-12b, is so close to its sunlike star that it is superheated to nearly 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit and stretched into a football shape by enormous tidal forces. The atmosphere has ballooned to nearly three times Jupiter’s radius and is spilling material onto the star. The planet is 40 percent more massive than Jupiter.

This effect of matter exchange between two stellar objects is commonly seen in close binary star systems, but this is the first time it has been seen so clearly for a planet.

“We see a huge cloud of material around the planet, which is escaping and will be captured by the star. We have identified chemical elements never before seen on planets outside our own solar system,” says team leader Carole Haswell of The Open University in Great Britain.

Haswell and her science [...]

Hubble Catches Heavyweight Runaway Star Speeding from 30 Doradus

Copyright NASA

This image of the 30 Doradus nebula, a rambunctious stellar nursery, and the enlarged inset photo show a heavyweight star that may have been kicked out of its home by a pair of heftier siblings. In the inset image at right, an arrow points to the stellar runaway and a dashed arrow to its presumed direction of motion. The image was taken by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The heavyweight star, called 30 Dor #016, is 90 times more massive than the Sun and is traveling at more than 250,000 miles an hour. In the wider view of 30 Doradus, the homeless star, located on the outskirts of the nebula, is centered within a white box. The box shows Hubble’s field of view. The image was taken by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Wide Field Imager at the 2.2-meter telescope on La Silla, Chile. The young star, only 1 million to 2 million years old, may have traveled about 375 light-years from its suspected home in R136, the bright star cluster marked by a circle. Credit for Hubble Image: NASA, ESA, J. Walsh (ST-ECF), and ESO Acknowledgment: Processing by [...]

Starry-eyed Hubble celebrates 20 years of awe and discovery

Starry-eyed Hubble celebrates 20 years of awe and discovery

Hubble captures view of ‘Mystic Mountain’

The most prolific space observatory will zoom past its 20-year milestone this weekend. On 24 April 1990, the Space Shuttle and its crew released the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope into Earth orbit. What followed is one of the most remarkable sagas of the space age.

Hubble’s unprecedented capabilities have made it one of the most powerful science instruments ever conceived, and certainly the one most embraced by the public. Hubble’s discoveries have revolutionised nearly all areas of astronomy, from planetary science to cosmology. And its pictures are unmistakably out of this world.

At times, Hubble’s starry odyssey has played out like a space soap opera: with broken equipment, a bleary-eyed primary mirror and even a Space Shuttle rescue/repair mission cancellation. But the ingenuity and dedication of Hubble scientists, engineers and NASA and ESA astronauts have allowed the observatory to rebound time and time again. Its crisp vision continues to challenge scientists with exciting new surprises and to enthral the public with ever-more evocative colour images.

NASA, ESA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) are celebrating Hubble’s journey of exploration with a stunning [...]

New Hubble Maps of Pluto Show Surface Changes

Copyright NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute).

NASA today released the most detailed set of images ever taken of the distant dwarf planet Pluto. The images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show an icy and dark molasses-colored, mottled world that is undergoing seasonal changes in its surface color and brightness. Pluto has become significantly redder, while its illuminated northern hemisphere is getting brighter. These changes are most likely consequences of surface ices sublimating on the sunlit pole and then refreezing on the other pole as the dwarf planet heads into the next phase of its 248-year-long seasonal cycle. The dramatic change in color apparently took place in a two-year period, from 2000 to 2002.

The Hubble images will remain our sharpest view of Pluto until NASA’s New Horizons probe is within six months of its Pluto flyby. The Hubble pictures are proving invaluable for picking out the planet’s most interesting-looking hemisphere for the New Horizons spacecraft to swoop over when it flies by Pluto in 2015.

Though Pluto is arguably one of the public’s favorite planetary objects, it is also the hardest of which to get a detailed portrait because the world is small and very far [...]

Hubble captures views of mammoth stars

hubble-captures-views-of-mammoth-stars

Copyright ESA

Two of our galaxy’s most massive stars, until recently shrouded in mystery, have been viewed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, unveiling greater detail than ever before.

The image shows a pair of colossal stars, WR 25 and Tr16-244, located within the open cluster Trumpler 16. This cluster is embedded within the Carina Nebula, an immense cauldron of gas and dust that lies approximately 7500 light-years from Earth. The Carina Nebula contains several ultra-hot stars, including these two star systems and the famous blue star Eta Carinae, which has the highest luminosity yet confirmed.

These stars are very bright and they produce incredible amounts of heat, emitting most of their radiation in the ultraviolet and appearing blue in colour. They are so powerful that they burn through their hydrogen fuel source faster than other types of stars, leading to a ‘live fast, die young’ stellar lifestyle.

WR 25 is the brightest, situated near the centre of the image. The neighbouring Tr16-244 is the third brightest, just to the upper left of WR 25. The second brightest, to the left of WR 25, is a low-mass star located much closer to Earth than the Carina Nebula. Stars like WR [...]