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Jupiter: Are you ready for your close-up? A collection of images of the gargantuan planet, taken by Hubble, have been amalgamated into a planetary portrait, the first in a series of annual portraits of the gas giant members of the Solar System. Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, its dramatic cloud cover, and even a new elusive wave-like structure comprised of gas have been documented in incredible detail by NASA.
Collecting annual images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune will help both current and future scientists observe how these enormous worlds change over time in fine detail, including any alterations to their weather patterns and atmospheric chemistry. Using Hubbles high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3, two global maps of Jupiter have been produced.
Video credit: NASA
Unfortunately, theres some bad news: The famousGreat Red Spot, that vast anti-cyclone with wind speeds of up to 644 kilometers per hour (400 miles per hour), is shrinking. This isnt breaking news for planetary scientists this storm, which can fit three entire planet Earths within its boundaries has been shrinking for perhaps the last four centuries. In the last 200 years, it has shrunk by over 50%. An unusual wispy structure has also been observed spanning almost the entire width of the Great Red Spot, rotating and distorting itself throughout the 10-hour-long image sequence span taken by Hubble.
Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on, Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. This time is no exception.
This persistent hurricane which probably gets its orangey-red color from ammonium hydrosulfide chemically reacting with cosmic rays is still far older than any terrestrial superstorm, which normally last no longer than a week or so. Jupiters atmosphere is mostly comprised of hydrogen and helium, with a liquid ocean of hydrogen surrounding its relatively small rocky, icy core. As there is little solid ground to provide friction for the tumultuous atmosphere, storms and winds can continue unimpeded for centuries at the very least.
Simons research team think that the Great Red Spot is shrinking because smaller cyclones and anti-cyclones are feeding into the gigantic hurricane, distorting its vortex and causing a chaotic distribution of its internal energy. These parasitic storms could possibly one day sap enough momentum from the hurricane to cause its disintegration.
Up in Jupiters North Equatorial Belt, the existence of a second phenomenon, which was discovered only once decades earlier during the Voyager 2 mission, has been confirmed. This stealthy wave, found within the planets atmosphere at a latitude frequented by cyclones and anti-cyclones, appears similar in appearance to atmospheric waves on Earth. These terrestrial waves, so-called baroclinic waves,tend to appear when cyclones are beginning to form.
This elusive wave pattern on Jupiter has likely remained hidden for so long because it is often concealed beneath the clouds; when it emerges, wave crests are formed in the upper atmosphere, leaving a trace of its path.
A false-color image of the elusive wave pattern, with its wave crests indicated by the white arrows. Image credit: NASA
The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting, said co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, in the same statement. The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earths atmosphere and oceans, too.
Think of the annual planetary portraits as the yearly school photograph for our very own Solar System. Just like a schoolchild being asked to sit still, Jupiter simply refuses.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been used to take a 1.5 billion pixel image of the Andromeda Galaxy.
You can see an overview of the image below, but that doesn’t do the full image justice. Most monitors display less than two million pixels, so when you look at the whole image you are probably losing almost 99.9% of the resolution.
To take full advantage of the effort NASA and the European Space Agency have put into creating this image, you need to go to the Hubble site where it is possible to zoom into patches of the galaxy, seeing the extraordinary detail come to life every time you click. What may have seemed like a single star is revealed as a dense cluster or a giant surrounded by hundreds of others too faint to make out in the wider view.
Also known as Messier 31, or M31, the Andromeda Galaxy is the only member of the Local Group of galaxies that has more mass than our own Milky Way. More than 100 million of its estimated trillion stars are visible in this image, provided you go deep enough.
Most of Andromeda’s stars are simply too faint to be seen at this distance, even with a telescope as powerful as Hubble. However, the image also doesn’t take in the full width of this mighty galaxy. The part photographed is 40,000 light-years across, but represents only one side of the galaxy, since the left hand end only just captures the galactic center. The outermost regions have also been excluded with the galaxy’s full diameter estimated at 3-5 times this size.
While the effort may launch a thousand screensavers and wall posters, it is more than good PR for the space program. The Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) project imaged Andromeda from near-ultraviolet wavelengths to the near-infrared, with both red and blue filters. This level of detail across such a range will be used to test theories about the structure of spiral galaxies, and interpret results for more distant spirals.
A new photo from NASA’s Hubble space telescope captures a variety of celestial objects both near and far, providing a glimpse of many different stages of cosmic history all at once.
The Hubble image, released April 17, is a 14-hour exposure that shows objects about 1 billion times fainter than the naked eye can make out, researchers said. Most of the galaxies visible in the photo lie less than 5 billion light-years away, but some objects are much more distant.
For example, the photo shows a quasar located 9 billion light-years from Earth, meaning it has taken about two-thirds of the universe’s history for the object’s light to reach Hubble. (The Big Bang that created the universe occurred 13.8 billion years ago.)
The most luminous objects in the universe, quasars are incredibly bright galactic cores powered by supermassive black holes that contain millions of times more mass than the sun.
The light from the distant quasar in the Hubble photo is being bent and amplified by a galaxy cluster that lies closer to Earth along the line of sight from this planet — a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This cluster, known as CLASS B1608+656, is visible as a small loop near the center of the image.
CLASS B1608+656 isn’t the only lensing object in the new photo, which combines observations in visible and infrared light.
Two galaxies — dubbed Fred and Ginger, but more formally known as ACS J160919+6532 and ACS J160910+6532, respectively — are also warping spacetime enough to distort the light emitted by objects behind them, researchers said.
Both Fred and Ginger appear close to CLASS B1608+656 in the Hubble photo. But only Fred is actually close to the cluster, researchers said; Ginger is much nearer to Earth.
The Hubble image is new to the general public but not to scientists, who have studied it extensively over the years. It was spotted by Adam Kill during the 2012 Hubble’s Hidden Treasures competition, which invited contestants to identify the most interesting and beautiful Hubble photos that a wide audience has yet to see.
The iconic Hubble Space Telescope, a joint effort involving NASA and the European Space Agency, launched in April 1990. Astronauts repaired and upgraded the orbiting instrument five times over the years using the now-grounded space shuttle, sharpening Hubble’s vision considerably.
Officials have said they plan to operate Hubble through at least 2020. That would allow some scientific overlap with the telescope’s successor, NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently scheduled to launch in 2018.
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The Milky Way galaxy has changed a lot over the last 11 billion years – and now for the first time we can seeing images that show what it may have looked like at the beginning. Because we are part of the galaxy, we do not have the benefit of distance to see what it looked like in the past. Therefore, we have had to rely on the Hubble to look deep into space for answers. The results were described in two papers, the first of which came out over the summer and the second was made available online this week. They were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and The Astrophysical Journal, respectively.
The Hubble Space Telescope studied over 400 distant Milky Way-like galaxies in order to understand how they evolved to get clues about our own home. For the first time, astronomers have been able to estimate that an astonishing 90% of all the stars in the galaxy formed during the first 4 billion years. During those early years, stars were created 15 times more frequently than today.
While we currently know the Milky Way as a beautiful, glittery spiral, it’s beginnings probably looked more like a bulged disk that eventually flattened out and formed the arms of the spiral. We are located in what would have been the disk, while the oldest stars and our black hole came from the bulge in the center. It appears that the disk and bulge came about around the same time. Other galaxies appear to form the bulge first and the disk comes later, though these galaxies are usually much larger and elliptical, not spiraled. The team did not find any evidence that our galaxy was formed in two parts. Computer modeling was used to confirm that the Milky Way most likely formed all at once with the bulge and the disk appearing at the same time.
The results were obtained from a colossal collaboration of Hubble programs. Spectroscopy, visible light, and near-infrared images were combined to generate the Milky Way’s early pictures. Although the Hubble has documented over 10,000 galaxies, the 400 were chosen based on factors like distance and mass. This approach allowed the team to measure the rate at which Milky Way homologs expand and change.
More information about how galaxies are born will come from the James Webb Space Telescope, named after the NASA official who championed the Apollo program. It is currently set to launch in 2018 and will use infrared imaging to collect information about some of the earliest stages of galaxy formation.
Thanks to the data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have put together the most comprehensive, and strikingly colorful, image yet of the Universe. The composite picture, called Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014, combines separate images taken over a period of almost a decade using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3.
Scientists have learnt a lot about star formation over the years using data collected from powerful instruments such as Hubble, but pieces were missing from the puzzle. Information had been gathered from nearby galaxies using facilities such as NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer observatory and also the most distant galaxies using Hubble’s near-infrared and visible capability. Due to the significant amount of time that it takes light to travel to us from these distant galaxies, we observe them in their early, primitive stages.
But what about the period in between? This information is pivotal to comprehending star formation, yet scientists were lacking this data. In particular, there was somewhat of a black box between 5 and 10 billion light-years away from Earth, which is actually when the majority of the stars in the Universe were formed.
This gap in information was due to the fact that the youngest, biggest stars emit UV light and Hubble was only gathering data using near-infrared and visible light. In order to fill in the blanks, UV data was added to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.
“The lack of information from ultraviolet light made studying galaxies in the HUDF like trying to understand the history of families without knowing about the grade-school children,” said principal investigator Harry Teplitz of Caltech.
This addition of wavelengths allowed scientists to deduce which galaxies were forming stars and where these events were occurring in primitive galaxies. This data can then be used to extrapolate information on how other galaxies, including our own Milky Way, might evolve from small, primitive gatherings of stars to the large, complex systems we see now.
The impressive composite image produced from the information contains around 10,000 galaxies and extends back to just a few million years after the Big Bang. And isn’t it beautiful?
Image credit: NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst Arizona State University and Z. Levay (STScI)?
It’s the time of year when even the scientists at NASA get into the holiday spirit. Last year, the space agency’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer snapped an image of a cosmic Christmas wreath for the holiday season.
Not be outdone, the venerable Hubble Space Telescope delivered holiday cheer in the form of this image of NGC 5189, a nebula that — if you’re brimming over with holiday cheer or just squinting a little — resembles a very merry Christmas ornament wrapped in a festive ribbon.
You can take a trip through the cosmos to zoom in on the nebula just like the Hubble did in the short video below.
Is the “ornament” interpretation meeting astronomers — and we suspect NASA’s PR wonks — more than halfway? Yeah, probably a little more than half, but come on — ’tis the season. You can afford to be that generous, right?
Either way, we can all agree that the beauty of the image on its own is enough to make you smile.
Image courtesy of NASA
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Hubble has been an unmatchable resource for interstellar and intergalactic astronomy, but its skills can also be incredible fornearby objects.
In this latest case, astronomers from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI)used the space telescope to obtain high-resolution images of Comet 252P/LINEAR, a periodic comet thatorbits between the orbits of Earth and Jupiter.
The comet’s closest approach to the Sun was on March21 this year, and astronomers took this chance to observe it. The images reached a resolution of 1.6kilometers (1 mile) per pixel, 10 times sharper than any previous ground-based observation of this comet.
Comet 252P is one of the smallest comets we know of.Our main goal is to determine its size and study how comets become smaller and smaller as they pass around the Sun, said PSI Senior Scientist Jian-Yang Li, who led theproject, in a statement.
From this we will infer the properties of building blocks of planets at the start of the Solar System. In addition, we will also study other dynamic properties of the comet, such as its rotation and how it releases dust under the heating of the Sun.
The narrow jet is clearly visible in in these three images ofComet 252P/LINEAR. NASA / ESA / J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute).
The images show how active the small nucleus became with anarrow, well-defined jet of dust seen ejected by the comet. But it’s increased distance from the Sun means thecomet is now too small to produce a large tail.
252P/LINEAR was most likely an object that originated very near Jupiter, with the giant planet creatingsuch a great perturbation that for the last 400 years its orbit has stretched further and further towards the Sun. Nowthe comet comes around every 16 years, and this time it was only 5.5 million kilometers (3.3 million miles) from us, about 14 times the Earth-Moon distance.
Because comets are usually only a few kilometers in size, and probably less than 1 kilometer for this comet, reliable measurement of size is best done when they are close to us, said Li.Thats why the close approach to Earth of this comet offered us a great opportunity to study it.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers a rare look at an enormous stellar eruption, allowing them to map out the aftermath of such blasts in unprecedented detail.
Hubble photographed an April 2011 explosion in the double-star system T Pyxidis (T Pyx for short), which goes off every 12 to 50 years. The new images reveal that material ejected by previous T Pyx outbursts did not escape into space, instead sticking around to form a debris disk about 1 light-year wide around the system.
This information came as a surprise to the research team.
“We fully expected this to be a spherical shell,” study co-author Arlin Crotts of Columbia University said in a statement. “This observation shows it is a disk, and it is populated with fast-moving ejecta from previous outbursts.”
The erupting T Pyx star is a white dwarf, the burned-out core of a star much like our own sun. White dwarfs are small but incredibly dense, often packing the mass of the sun into a volume the size of Earth.
T Pyx’s white dwarf has a companion star, from which it siphons off hydrogen fuel. When enough of this hydrogen builds up on the white dwarf’s surface, it detonates like a gigantic hydrogen bomb, increasing the white dwarf’s brightness by a factor of 10,000 over a single day or so.
This happens again and again. T Pyx is known to have erupted in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944, and 1966, in addition to the 2011 event.
Such recurrent outbursts are known as nova explosions. (Nova is Latin for “new,” referring to how suddenly novas appear in the sky.) Novas are distinct from supernovas, even more dramatic blasts that involve the destruction of an entire star.
The new study clarifies just what happens to the material ejected by such outbursts.
“We’ve all seen how light from fireworks shells during the grand finale will light up the smoke and soot from shells earlier in the show,” co-author Stephen Lawrence of Hofstra University said in a statement. “In an analogous way, we’re using light from T Pyx’s latest outburst and its propagation at the speed of light to dissect its fireworks displays from decades past.”
The study represents the first time the area around an erupting star has been mapped in three dimensions, researchers said.
The new Hubble Space Telescope observations also help refine the distance to T Pyx, pegging it at 15,600 light-years from Earth. (Past estimates have ranged between 6,500 and 16,000 light-years.)
The team presented its results on June 4 at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis. The study will also be published in the June 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, A. Crotts, J. Sokoloski, and H. Uthas (Columbia University) and S. Lawrence (Hofstra University)
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NASA has released a celebratory portrait of Mars in anticipation of its close approach to us later this month.
TheHubble Space Telescope snapped this particularly cool image of the Martian marble just last week, on May 12. Mars has been one of the favorite subjects ofHubblesince it launched in 1990, but thisimage was captured at a particularlyinteresting time, when it was a mere 80 million kilometers (50 million miles) away from Earth.
Mars is going to make its closest approach to Earth in over a decade on May 30, when it will be 75.3 million kilometers (46.8 million miles) from Earth. Pretty amazing stuff, considering it canbe as distant as 401 million kilometers (249 million miles) away. Unfortunately though, it wont make the Red Planet much more visible to the naked eye.
As you can see (below), the image details Mars’clouds (seen in blue around its edges), its multiple craters and basins, along with its iconic rusty landscape. The imaging techniques, which pick up on multiple wavelengths of light, reveal details as small as 32 kilometers (20 miles) across.
Check out an annotated version of the image below and click here to read more about Mars’ ensuing closest approach.
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)