This is the official account for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, managed and operated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Website: nasa.gov/hubble
At first glance, it may seem as though this image was taken through a faulty lens, but the mind-bending distortions visible in this impressive image taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 are actually caused by a cosmic phenomenon.
The bright galaxies at the center of the frame belong to the galaxy cluster SDSS J1336-0331. The enormous gravitational influence of the cluster warps the very shape and fabric of its environment (the space-time around it), creating an effect known as strong gravitational lensing. Through this effect the light from background galaxies in the line of sight to the observer is bent into fantastic arcs. This effect is very useful for studying distant background galaxies.
Moreover, SDSS J1336-0331 is interesting in itself: the cluster was part of a study of star formation within Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs — the brightest galaxies within their host clusters). Typically located in the centers of their clusters, BCGs are among the most massive and luminous galaxies in the universe. They are generally huge elliptical galaxies and are likely to host active galactic nuclei in their cores. The study found evidence to suggest that BCGs are fueled by cold gas from the galaxy. It also showed that star formation in older BCGs no longer significantly contributes to the galaxy’s growth; instead, the stellar growth occurs through mergers, the collision of two galaxies. Violent, gas-rich major mergers can trigger intense bursts of star formation in their aftermath.
Five years ago this week, astronomers reported that they discovered a new moon around Neptune. The discovery raised the number of known moons orbiting Neptune to 14.
This diagram shows the orbits of several moons located close to the planet Neptune. All of them were discovered in 1989 by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, with the exception of S/2004 N 1, which was discovered in archival Hubble images taken from 2004 to 2009. The moons all follow prograde orbits and are nestled among Neptune's rings (not shown). The outer moon Triton was discovered in 1846 – the same year the planet itself was discovered. Triton's orbit is retrograde, suggesting it is a captured Kuiper Belt object and therefore a distant cousin of Pluto. The inner moons may have formed after Triton's capture several billion years ago.
For more information on Hubble, head to nasa.gov/hubble
An irregular galaxy called UGC 12682 glows warmly against the dark backdrop of the universe in this image from Hubble. Located approximately 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse), UGC 12682 is distorted and oddly structured, with bright pockets of star formation.
In November 2008, 14-year-old Caroline Moore from New York discovered a supernova in UGC 12682. This made her the youngest person at the time to have discovered a supernova. Follow-up observations by professional astronomers of the so-called SN 2008ha showed that it was peculiarly interesting in many different ways. First, its host galaxy, UGC 12682, rarely produces supernovae. It is also one of the faintest supernovae ever observed and after the explosion it expanded very slowly, suggesting that the explosion did not release copious amounts of energy as usually expected.
Astronomers have now classified SN 2008ha as a subclass of a Type Ia supernova, which is the explosion of a white dwarf that hungrily accretes matter from a companion star. SN 2008ha may have been the result of a partially failed supernova, explaining why the explosion failed to decimate the whole star.
Using two of the world’s most powerful space telescopes — NASA’s Hubble and ESA’s Gaia — astronomers have made the most precise measurements to date of the universe’s expansion rate. This is calculated by gauging the distances between nearby galaxies using special types of stars called Cepheid variables as cosmic yardsticks. By comparing their intrinsic brightness as measured by Hubble, with their apparent brightness as seen from Earth, scientists can calculate their distances. Gaia further refines this yardstick by geometrically measuring the distances to Cepheid variables within our Milky Way galaxy. This allowed astronomers to more precisely calibrate the distances to Cepheids that are seen in outside galaxies.
#OTD In 2003, Hubble helped reveal that an object orbiting a pulsar in the globular star cluster M4 is the oldest known planet in our galaxy found to date. At an estimated age of over 12 billion years, the planet is more than twice as old as Earth's 4.5 billion years. It formed around a young, sun-like star barely 1 billion years after our universe's birth in the Big Bang. The ancient planet has had a remarkable history because it resides in an unlikely, rough neighborhood. It orbits a peculiar pair of burned-out stars in the crowded core of a cluster of more than 100,000 stars.
For more information about Hubble, head to nasa.gov/hubble
#HubbleClassic In early July of 2012, it was announced that Hubble had found a 5th moon orbiting Pluto. This tiny, oddly shaped moon would go on to be named "Styx." Pluto's largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 in observations made at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Hubble observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra. In 2011 another moon, P4, was found in Hubble data.
For more information on Hubble, head to nasa.gov/hubble
This busy image is a treasure trove of wonders. Bright stars from the Milky Way sparkle in the foreground, the magnificent swirls of several spiral galaxies are visible across the frame, and a glowing assortment of objects at the center makes up a massive galaxy cluster. Such clusters are the biggest objects in the universe that are held together by gravity and can contain thousands of galaxies of all shapes and sizes. Typically, they have a mass of about one million billion times the mass of the Sun — unimaginably huge!
Their incredible mass makes clusters very useful natural tools to test theories in astronomy, such as Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This tells us that objects with mass warp the fabric of space-time around them; the more massive the object, the greater the distortion. An enormous galaxy cluster like this one therefore has a huge influence on the space-time around it, even distorting the light from more distant galaxies to change a galaxy’s apparent shape, creating multiple images, and amplifying the galaxy’s light — a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
Happy #FourthofJuly from the cosmos! These "celestial fireworks" are actually the Antennae Galaxies.
The two spiral galaxies started to interact a few hundred million years ago, making the Antennae galaxies one of the nearest and youngest examples of a pair of colliding galaxies. Nearly half of the faint objects in the Antennae image are young clusters containing tens of thousands of stars. The orange blobs to the left and right of image center are the two cores of the original galaxies and consist mainly of old stars criss-crossed by filaments of dust, which appears brown in the image. The two galaxies are dotted with brilliant blue star-forming regions surrounded by glowing hydrogen gas, appearing in the image in pink.
The image allows astronomers to better distinguish between the stars and super star clusters created in the collision of two spiral galaxies. By age dating the clusters in the image, astronomers find that only about 10 percent of the newly formed super star clusters in the Antennae will survive beyond the first 10 million years. The vast majority of the super star clusters formed during this interaction will disperse, with the individual stars becoming part of the smooth background of the galaxy. It is however believed that about a hundred of the most massive clusters will survive to form regular globular clusters, similar to the globular clusters found in our own Milky Way galaxy.
The Antennae galaxies take their name from the long antenna-like "arms" extending far out from the nuclei of the two galaxies, best seen by ground-based telescopes. These "tidal tails" were formed during the initial encounter of the galaxies some 200 to 300 million years ago. They give us a preview of what may happen when our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in several billion years.
It's #NationalCameraDay! Hubble has many cameras that help it observe the universe, including the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). ACS was installed on Hubble in 2002 and has taken many of Hubble's iconic images.
This rich and dense smattering of stars is a massive globular cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of stars that orbits the Milky Way. Globular clusters are denser and more spherical than open star clusters like the famous Pleiades. They typically contain hundreds of thousands of stars that are thought to have formed at roughly the same time.
Studies have shown that this globular cluster, named NGC 6139, is home to an aging population of stars. Most globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way are estimated to be over 10 billion years old; as a result, they contain some of the oldest stars in our galaxy, formed very early in the galaxy’s history. However, their role in galactic evolution is still a matter of study.
This cluster is seen roughly in the direction of the center of the Milky Way, in the constellation of Scorpius (the Scorpion). This constellation is a goldmine of fascinating astronomical objects. Hubble has set its sights on Scorpius many times to observe objects such as the Butterfly Nebula, surprising binary star systems, and other dazzling globular clusters.
A mysterious interstellar interloper that made a fast detour through our solar system last October has defied labels. Astronomers can't figure out whether it's an icy comet or a rocky asteroid. Maybe the object, dubbed `Oumuamua (oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah), is a new class of object because it hails from another star system untold light-years away. `Oumuamua dove right towards the Sun and now is zipping out of the solar system and back into interstellar space. The wayward vagabond is blazing along so fast that telescopes, including Hubble, have captured only fleeting glances of it. But after analyzing data of `Oumuamua, astronomers now have evidence that the object is behaving more like a comet than an asteroid.
The observations show that the object is undergoing a slight acceleration since its discovery in October 2017. This mysterious and unexpected acceleration is not due to any gravitational pulling from solar system bodies, the researchers say.
One possibility is that the object is venting material off its surface — like a comet — which is causing the acceleration. This outgassing pushes `Oumuamua along as it barrels out of the solar system. Such hypothesized outgassing is not directly visible in any observations. It is likely that heat from the Sun is causing ices to sublimate away from the object, pushing it in the opposite direction.
This conclusion suggests that perhaps low-mass cometary bodies are ejected from other star systems and wander the Milky Way galaxy for millions or billions of years.
Today we remember French astronomer Charles Messier on his birthday by sharing 3 new Hubble images from his catalog of deep-sky objects.
•M76 is a planetary nebula, which is an expanding shell of gas around an aging or dying star, and it is one of only four planetary nebulas in Charles Messier’s catalog. M76 is located in the constellation Perseus and is approximately 2,500 light-years away from Earth.
•This colorful image features a small part of M78, a reflection nebula located in the constellation Orion. M78 is located approximately 1,600 light-years away from Earth and has an apparent magnitude of 8.
•M85 is either an elliptical or a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies have qualities of both elliptical and spiral galaxies and are sometimes called armless spirals.
For more on Hubble’s catalog of messier objects, head to nasa.gov/hubble