Hubble Space Telescope: 22 Years Young

Doradus 30
Hubble Composite Image of the Star Forming Region in the Tarantula Nebula
Image 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)

Launched on 24 April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided many extraordinary images of the universe (Eagle Nebula, Antennae Galaxies, Asteroid Collision).

In celebration of the 22nd Anniversary, astronomers have released this image of the Tarantula Nebula (30 Doradus, or NGC 2070) in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This is an intense star forming region containing several million stars ranging in age from several thousand years to 25 million years old. The image is approximately 650 light-years across.


Eagle Nebula – Multi Spectra View

The Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier-16 or NGC 6611, is a nebula visible in the Southern Hemisphere. This three color image was taken by the Wide-Field Imager camera on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory. One easily sees the Eagle, and at the heart of the Eagle are the Pillars of Creation.

ISO Eagle
The Eagle Nebula – Messier-16 – European Southern Observatory
Image Credit: ESO

The Hubble Space Telescope imprinted the Eagle Nebula in the public’s mind in 1995 with the publication of the Pillars of Creation. The Pillars can be seen above in the middle of the lower third of the image. Hubble’s image (below) stands the pillars on end, whereas the ESO image shows them tilted over toward the right.

Pillars of Creation
The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula –
Image Credit: NASA / ESA / STScI, Hester & Scowen (Arizona State University)

In this composite image (above) of the Pillars’ star forming regions, the tallest pillar is about four (4) light years high. The images were observed using a combination of SII/H-alpha and OIII filters.

Other wavelengths allow us to see inside the gas clouds that surround these regions. Up to 1998, the ESA Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) was the most sensitive mid infrared telescope ever built. ISO observations (below) were performed at 7 microns and 15 microns, aiming to detect embedded sources in the pillars.

ISO Eagle
Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula – 1998
Image Credit: ESA / ISO / Pilbratt et al.

Near-Infrared imaging by The 8.2m-diameter Very Large Telescope’s (VLT) ANTU telescope (below), enabled astronomers to better penetrate the dust that obscures the interior of the pillars. This has allowed researchers to investigate the ‘evaporating gaseous globules’ (EGGs) first detected in the Hubble images. It looks like eleven (11) of these EEGs probably contained new stars. One can also see stars in the tips of the pillars.

ANTU Eagle
Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula visualized by the ANTU Telescope
Image Credit: Credits: VLT/ISAAC/McCaughrean & Andersen/AIP/ESO

Recently, new images of the Eagle Nebula (below) in the far-infrared and sub-millimeter part of the spectrum have been release by the Herschel Infrared Observatory.

The Eagle Nebula by the Herschel Observatory
Image Credit: ESA /Herschel / PACS / SPIRE / Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium

The image is color coded. 70 micron radiation is in blue and 160 microns in green from the Photodetector Array Camera (PACS). Red codes for 250 micron emissions using the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE). The image shows the temperature of the dust, which ranges from 10 degrees Kelvin (above absolute zero) to 40 degrees Kelvin.

Herschel operates from a Lissajous orbit around the second Lagrangian point of the Sun–Earth system (L2), a virtual point located 1.5 million km from Earth in the direction opposite to the Sun.

The X-Ray image below was taken by the XMM-Newton Observatory, which was launched in 1999. The image is color coded for the different energy levels observed: red: 0.3–1 keV, green: 1–2 keV and blue: 2–8 keV.

XMM-Newton Eagle
X-Ray Sources in the The Eagle Nebula – XMM-Newton Observatory
Image Credit: ESA / XMM-Newton / EPIC / XMM-Newton-SOC / Boulanger

Researchers are investigating a theory that the Eagle Nebula is being powered by a hidden supernova remnant. They are trying to detect a faint X-ray emission in the nebula. If no emission is found beyond what the Chandra and Spitzer Observatories have already detected, this would support the supernova remnant theory.

A composite image from Herschel and XMM-Newton is shown below:

Composite Eagle
Composite Far-Infrared and X-Ray Sources in the The Eagle Nebula
Credits: far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium; X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC/XMM-Newton-SOC/Boulanger

Black Hole in the Milky Way Galaxy Set to Devour Gas Cloud

Video Credit: ESO / MPE / M. Schartmann / L. Calçada

A cloud of gas is being pulled closer to the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of our galaxy, 27,000 light-years away. This unprecedented discovery is being monitored by an international team of scientists using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The cool cloud, composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with a mass three-times that of Earth, has been picking up speed, and by 2013, astronomers will hopefully see some fireworks. By then, the first wisps of gas should be sucked into the black hole’s event horizon causing the black hole to flare brightly.

ALMA – Atacama Large Millimeter Array

Colliding Antennae Galaxies. ALMA Left, Hubble Right.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: ESO / Alberto Milani

Thousands of scientists from around the world have competed to be among the first few researchers to explore some of the darkest, coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the cosmos with this new astronomical tool.

Thus opens the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announcement that the ALMA observatory is open for business.

At present, only 12 of the eventual 66 millimeter wavelength radio antennas were used to produce the image above, left. Moreover, the antennas were at most 125 meters apart. When the observatory is running at full capacity, some of the radio antennas will be 16 kilometers apart.

Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, noted that:

Even in this very early phase ALMA already outperforms all other submillimetre arrays. Reaching this milestone is a tribute to the impressive efforts of the many scientists and engineers in the ALMA partner regions around the world who made it possible.

Initially, 900 proposals were received for this new telescope, which is nine times the usual submission for a new telescope. Three of the proposed observations are detailed below:

David Wilner at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was accepted and his team targets the star AU Microscopii, 33 light years away and only 1% the age of our Sun. The goal is to visualize the “birth ring” of planetismals around this young star. He is looking for clumps of material in the asteroid region that are markers of unseen planets.

Simon Casassus, from the University of Chile, is searching the debris disc of HD142527, a young star that is 400 light-years away. This distant solar systems contains dust, gas, and rocks surrounding the star. The hunt is on for frozen water and organic molecules. The disc contains enough material for a dozen Jupiters, but the most interesting feature is a very wide gap in which there may be one or more giant gas planets.

Heino Falcke, an astronomer at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands is looking at Sagittarius A* and the black hole four million times the mass of our Sun. The goal is to image the gas clouds caught up in the immense gravitational pull of the black hole. Falcke notes that, “This will let us study this monster’s messy feeding habits. We think that some of the gas may be escaping its grip, at close to the speed of light.”

Below, we see some of the radio antennas deployed on the desert floor at Atacama.

Antennas on the Atacama Desert.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA)

Russian Progress Resupply to ISS Fails

Soyuz M-12M
Launch of Progress M-12M aboard Soyuz Rocket.
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 325 seconds into the flight, the third stage sensed a low tank pressure condition and shut down the rocket. The Progress M-12M spacecraft and the attached third and fourth stages crashed in the Altai region of the Russian Federation. The region has had its share of falling debris over the decades, but the explosion created by the spacecraft and unused fuel and liquid oxygen was the largest ever reported.

The failure was the first Progress lost since 1978. There have been 43 successful resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) over the past 11 years.

Nearly three tons of supplies were lost, as well as the capability that the Progress had to re-boost the orbit of the ISS. The first of which was scheduled for 31 August. There are discussions underway as to whether the Progress M-11M, which undocked just prior to the launch. could be re-docked and used for re-boost. In addition, the ISS Service Module (SM) “Zvezda” has two engines capable of performing ISS re-boosts.

ISS program manager Mike Suffredini noted that “We are in a good position logistically to withstand this loss of supplies that were going to come to ISS. In fact, I can tell you we can go several months without a resupply vehicle if that becomes necessary.”

Russia has announced the suspension of all Soyuz launches pending an investigation. Russia has lost six spacecraft in the past nine months.

Lyman Alpha Blob

Alpha Lyman Blob by the European Southern Observatory
Image Credit: ESO / M. Hayes

The European Southern Observatory‘s Very Large Telescope has returned images and data from a vast cloud of glowing gas at the edge of the observable universe. The paper appears in Nature: “Central Powering of the Largest Lyman-alpha Nebula is Revealed by Polarized Radiation”. The object is a “Lyman-alpha-blob” and has entire galaxies embedded in it.

The Object in the paper is known as LAB-1 and was discovered in 2000. It has a diameter of 300,000 light years (our Milky Way is 100,000 light years across). LAB-1 has several primordial galaxies inside, including one with an active core (quasar).

There have been two competing theories about the light emitted by these distant (11-12 billion light years) objects. One idea is that the collapsing gas clouds making up a blob creates the energy that is radiated. A second theory is that the blob is large enough to contain one or more galaxies, which provide the energy needed to shine so brightly. The paper provides evidence for this latter theory.

The Black Hole in Centaurus A

Centaurus A
Jets Powered by the Black Hole in Centaurus A
Image Credit:
X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.
Submillimeter: MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.
Optical: ESO/WFI

Centaurus A (NGC 5128), is a radio galaxy about 10-16 million light years from Earth. The image above is a newly released composite view of the powerful jets created by the galaxy’s massive black hole.

The image combined three sets of observations. X-rays (colored blue) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, submillimeter data (colored orange) from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile and visible light data from the Wide Field Imager on the Max-Planck/ESO 2.2 m telescope.

The jet in the upper left extends about 13,000 light years away from the black hole.