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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 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 [...]

Galaxies Come Together after Billions of Years

Imagine finding a living dinosaur in your backyard. Astronomers have found the astronomical equivalent of prehistoric life in our intergalactic back yard: a group of small, ancient galaxies that has waited 10 billion years to come together. These “late bloomers” are on their way to building a large elliptical galaxy.

Such encounters between dwarf galaxies are normally seen billions of light-years away and therefore occurred billions of years ago. But these galaxies, members of Hickson Compact Group 31, are relatively nearby, only 166 million light-years away.

New images of these galaxies by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope offer a window into what commonly happened in the universe’s formative years when large galaxies were created from smaller building blocks. The Hubble observations have added important clues to the story of this interacting foursome, allowing astronomers to determine when the encounter began and to predict a future merger.

Astronomers know the system has been around for a while because the oldest stars in a few of its ancient globular clusters are about 10 billion years old. The encounter, though, has been going on for about a few hundred million years, the blink of an eye in cosmic history. Everywhere the astronomers [...]

Hubble highlights two galaxies that are losing it

Hubble highlights two galaxies that are losing it

Copyright ESA

Newly released images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope before the recent Servicing Mission, highlight the ongoing drama in two galaxies in the Virgo Cluster affected by a process known as ‘ram pressure stripping’, which can result in peculiar-looking galaxies.

An extremely hot X-ray-emitting gas known as the intra-cluster medium lurks between galaxies within clusters. As galaxies move through this intra-cluster medium, strong winds rip through galaxies distorting their shape and even halting star formation.

Ram pressure is the drag force that results when something moves through a fluid – much like the wind you feel in your face when bicycling, even on a still day – and occurs in this context as galaxies orbiting about the centre of the cluster move through the intra-cluster medium, which then sweeps out gas from within the galaxies.

The spiral galaxy NGC 4522 is located some 60 million light-years from Earth and it is a spectacular example of a spiral galaxy currently being stripped of its gas content.

Part of the Virgo galaxy cluster, its rapid motion within the cluster results in strong winds across the galaxy as the gas within is left behind. Scientists estimate that the galaxy is [...]

Hubble captures rare Jupiter collision

Hubble captures rare Jupiter collision

Copyright ESA

The checkout and calibration of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been interrupted to aim the recently refurbished observatory at a new expanding spot on the giant planet Jupiter. The spot, caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, is changing from day to day in the planet’s cloud tops.

For the past several days the world’s largest telescopes have been trained on Jupiter. Not to miss the potentially new science in the unfolding drama 580 million kilometres away, Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, allocated discretionary time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Hubble picture, taken on 23 July, is the sharpest visible-light picture taken of the feature and is Hubble’s first science observation following its repair and upgrade in May. Observations were taken with Hubble’s new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

“This is just one example of what Hubble’s new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the hard work of the astronauts and the entire Hubble team”, said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Fortunately, the best is yet to [...]

Stars forced to relocate near the Southern Fish

stars-forced-to-relocate-near-the-southern-fish

Copyright ESA

A new Hubble image shows three galaxies locked in a gravitational tug-of-war that may result in the eventual demise of one of them.

About 100 million light-years away, in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish), three galaxies are playing a game of gravitational give-and-take that might ultimately lead to their merger into one enormous entity.

A new image from the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope allows astronomers to view the movement of gases from galaxy to galaxy, revealing the intricate interplay among them.

The three pictured galaxies — NGC 7173 (middle left), NCG 7174 (middle right) and NGC 7176 (lower right) — are part of the Hickson Compact Group 90, named after astronomer Paul Hickson, who first catalogued these small clusters of galaxies in the 1980s. NGC 7173 and NGC 7176 appear to be smooth, normal elliptical galaxies without much gas and dust.

In stark contrast, NGC 7174 is a mangled spiral galaxy, barely clinging to independent existence as it is ripped apart by its close neighbours. The strong tidal interaction surging through the galaxies has dragged a significant number of stars away from their home galaxies. These stars are now [...]

Hubble finds carbon dioxide on an extrasolar planet

hubble-finds-carbon-dioxide-on-an-extrasolar-planet

hubble-finds-carbon-dioxide-on-an-extrasolar-planet

Copyright ESA

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. This is an important step in finding the chemical biotracers of life as we know it on other worlds.

The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But new Hubble observations prove that the basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other stars. Organic compounds can also be a by-product of life processes and their detection on an Earth-like planet may someday provide the first evidence for life beyond Earth.

Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope found water vapour. Earlier this year Hubble found methane in the planet’s atmosphere.

“This is exciting because Hubble is allowing us to see molecules and to probe the conditions, chemistry, and composition of atmospheres on other planets,” says researcher Mark Swain of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, USA. “Thanks to Hubble, we’re entering an era where we are rapidly going to expand the number of molecules we know about on other planets.”

An international team of astronomers used Hubble’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) to study infrared [...]