Category Archives: Space Telescope

New Hubble Image of Mars


A spectacular image of Mars from the Hubble taken on 12 May 2016 when Mars was reaching opposition.  Click the image for an annotated version.

The original caption:
This hemisphere of Mars contains landing sites for several NASA Mars surface robotic missions, including Viking 1 (1976), Mars Pathfinder (1997), and the still-operating Opportunity Mars rover. The landing sites of the Spirit and Curiosity Mars rovers are on the other side of the planet.

This observation was made just a few days before Mars opposition on May 22, when the sun and Mars will be on exact opposite sides of Earth, and when Mars will be at a distance of 47.4 million miles from Earth. On May 30, Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth in 11 years, at a distance of 46.8 million miles. Mars is especially photogenic during opposition because it can be seen fully illuminated by the sun as viewed from Earth.

The biennial close approaches between Mars and Earth are not all the same. Mars’ orbit around the sun is markedly elliptical; the close approaches to Earth can range from 35 million to 63 million miles.

They occur because about every two years Earth’s orbit catches up to Mars’ orbit, aligning the sun, Earth, and Mars in a straight line, so that Mars and the sun are on “opposing” sides of Earth. This phenomenon is a result of the difference in orbital periods between Earth’s orbit and Mars’ orbit. While Earth takes the familiar 365 days to travel once around the sun, Mars takes 687 Earth days to make its trip around our star. As a result, Earth makes almost two full orbits in the time it takes Mars to make just one, resulting in the occurrence of Martian oppositions about every 26 months.

Credits: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Hubble and Comet 252P


From Hubblesite:
This time-lapse movie, assembled from Hubble Space Telescope images, shows a narrow, well-defined jet of dust sweeping around with the rotation of Comet 252P/LINEAR like a spinning lawn sprinkler. The jet is illuminated by sunlight.

Researchers made the movie from Hubble images taken April 4, 2016, when the comet was 8.7 million miles from Earth. The time interval between each frame is approximately 30 to 50 minutes. The icy body made its closest approach to Earth on March 21, 2016, when it was 3.3 million miles away. It is now more than 25 million miles away from Earth.

The jet is composed of material from the comet’s icy nucleus that has been warmed by sunlight and ejected into space. The nucleus is too small for Hubble to resolve.

The jet’s changing direction is evidence that the comet’s nucleus is rotating, which makes the jet appear to spin like the water jet from a rotating lawn sprinkler. The movie underscores the dynamics and volatility of a comet’s fragile nucleus.

The movie is based on visible-light images taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

UGC 477


There are a few different catalogs listing space objects.   UGC stands for Uppsala General Catalogue of Galaxies and is a catalog of galaxies to a limiting diameter of 1.0 arcminute and/or to a limiting apparent magnitude of 14.5 on the blue prints of the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS). Coverage is limited to the sky north of declination -02.5 degrees.

From Hubble (via NASA)

This striking NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the galaxy UGC 477, located just over 110 million light-years away in the constellation of Pisces (The Fish).

UGC 477 is a low surface brightness (LSB) galaxy. First proposed in 1976 by Mike Disney, the existence of LSB galaxies was confirmed only in 1986 with the discovery of Malin 1. LSB galaxies like UGC 477 are more diffusely distributed than galaxies such as Andromeda and the Milky Way. With surface brightnesses up to 250 times fainter than the night sky, these galaxies can be incredibly difficult to detect.

Most of the matter present in LSB galaxies is in the form of hydrogen gas, rather than stars. Unlike the bulges of normal spiral galaxies, the centers of LSB galaxies do not contain large numbers of stars. Astronomers suspect that this is because LSB galaxies are mainly found in regions devoid of other galaxies, and have therefore experienced fewer galactic interactions and mergers capable of triggering high rates of star formation.

LSB galaxies such as UGC 477 instead appear to be dominated by dark matter, making them excellent objects to study to further our understanding of this elusive substance. However, due to an underrepresentation in galactic surveys — caused by their characteristic low brightness — their importance has only been realized relatively recently.

Text credit: European Space Agency
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Hubble Finds A Moon

Peering to the outskirts of our solar system, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a small, dark moon orbiting Makemake, the second brightest icy dwarf planet — after Pluto — in the Kuiper Belt.

The moon — provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1 and nicknamed MK 2 — is more than 1,300 times fainter than Makemake. MK 2 was seen approximately 13,000 miles from the dwarf planet, and its diameter is estimated to be 100 miles across. Makemake is 870 miles wide. The dwarf planet, discovered in 2005, is named for a creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. NASA

Discovered by: Michael E. Brown, Chad Trujillo, and David Rabinowitz on 31 March 2005, MakeMake was at opposition in March and the magnitude was around 16.1.  Probably about as bright as it gets. To get an idea of magnitudes have a look at this page from the International Comet Quarterly.

Hubble’s Bubble


The Bubble Nebula is a great imaging target, very difficult (IMHO) to get just just right. I’ve yet to do it. This is an incredible image from Hubble is a composite of separate exposures acquired by the WFC3/UVIS instrument.

For the 26th anniversary of Hubble’s launch on April 24, 1990, the telescope has photographed an enormous, balloon-like bubble being blown into space by a super-hot, massive star. Astronomers trained the iconic telescope on this colorful feature, called the Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635. The bubble is 7 light-years across — about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. The Bubble Nebula lies 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia. – Hubblesite

Image: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

NGC 2371 The One and Only


Hubble shows NGC 2371 and 2372 is actually just one object, one very large nebula.

From ESA:
Stars of different masses end their lives in different ways. While truly massive stars go out in a blaze of glory, intermediate-mass stars — those between roughly one and eight times the mass of the Sun — are somewhat quieter, forming cosmic objects known as planetary nebulas.

Named because of their vague resemblance to planets when seen through early, low-resolution telescopes, planetary nebulas are created when a dying star flings off its outer layers of gas into space. This cloud forms an expanding shell around the central star, while the star itself slowly cools to become a white dwarf. This is what has happened in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken in 2007, which shows a planetary nebula known as NGC 2371.

NGC 2371 resides 4300 light-years away from us, in the constellation of Gemini. It is one of the largest planetary nebulas known, measuring roughly three light-years across. Its progenitor star can be seen here as a pinprick of orange–-red light, surrounded by a green, blue and aqua-tinged puff of gas. This shell appears to have a regular, elliptical shape that is sliced in half by a dark lane running through the nebula, which also encompasses the central star.

This dark feature misled astronomers when NGC 2371 was initially catalogued because the two lobes visually resembled two objects, not one. As a result of this confusion, the nebula has two names in William Herschel’s New General Catalogue: NGC 2371 and 2372 (often combined as NGC 2371/2 or NGC 2371-2).

Two prominent pink patches are also visible on either side of the central star. These features are thought to be knots of gas, most likely jets, thrown off by the star at some point in the past. Their pink colour indicates that they are cooler and denser than their surroundings.

The nebula’s central star was once similar to the Sun, but is now only a shadow of its former self. It is slowly cooling after energetically shedding most of its gas, but has a long way to go yet. It currently boasts a scorching surface temperature of over 130 000ºC – some 25 times hotter than the surface of the Sun – and glows with the luminosity of at least 700 Suns.

The hot ultraviolet radiation streaming outwards into the nebula energises the gas it touches, causing NGC 2371 to glow in the beautiful aquamarine colours seen in this image.

This picture was taken in November 2007 by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. It is a false-colour image created with a combination of filters to detect light coming from sulphur and nitrogen (shown in red), hydrogen (green) and oxygen (blue). The observations were gathered as part of the Hubble Heritage project.

This image was originally published on the Hubble Space Telescope website on 4 March 2008.

Credit:  NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)


James Webb Telescope Milestone

A milestone of sorts for the James Webb Telescope in preparation for launch and deployment into space.


Engineers lift the James Webb Space Telescopes cameras and spectrographs out of the Space Environment Simulator at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. These vital parts of the Webb Space Telescope endured their last super-cold test at NASA Goddard before installation into the telescope. This produced video shows engineers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center lifting the Webb Telescopes instruments and their support structure out of the Space Environment Simulator after completing its last cryogenic test before installation into the telescope.


VY Canis Majoris

Massive Star VY Canis Majoris - Polarized Light

Hubble from 2007:

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, Kameula, Hawaii, astronomers have learned that the gaseous outflow from one of the brightest super-sized stars in the sky is more complex than originally thought.

The outbursts are from VY Canis Majoris, a red supergiant star that is also classified as a hypergiant because of its very high luminosity. The eruptions have formed loops, arcs, and knots of material moving at various speeds and in many different directions. The star has had many outbursts over the past 1,000 years as it nears the end of its life.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Humphreys (University of Minnesota)

Hubble and M13


Messier 13 or M 13 is a  Globular cluster you can find rather easily in northern skies. Located in the constellation Hercules at a magnitude 5.8 a pair of binoculars should do. If you have good eyes and dark skies you could even spot M 13 with out any visual aids at all. Just don’t expect to see it like the Hubble image, Check out the great info about Messier 13 at SEDS including some great ground based images.

About the Hubble image:
This image is a composite of archival Hubble data taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Observations from four separate science proposals taken in November 1999, April 2000, August 2005, and April 2006 were used.

Image: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: C. Bailyn (Yale University), W. Lewin (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), A. Sarajedini (University of Florida), and W. van Altena (Yale University)

Hubble Sets a New Distance Record

Distant Galaxy GN-z11 in GOODS North Survey

Hubble sets a new distance record in finding GN-z11, this galaxy has a redshift of 11.1, that’s amazing!

From Hubblesite:
ough space, astronomers actually look back through time. Now, by pushing Hubble to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by viewing the farthest galaxy ever seen. Named GN-z11, this surprisingly bright, infant galaxy is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past. The astronomers saw it as it existed just 400 million years after the big bang, when the universe was only three percent of its current age. At a spectroscopically confirmed redshift of 11.1, the galaxy is even farther away than originally thought. It existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the time when scientists believe the very first stars started to form. At a billion solar masses, it is producing stars surprisingly quickly for such an early time. This new record will most likely stand until the launch of Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look even deeper into the universe for early galaxies.

Check out the more detailed version at Hubblesite.

Here’s a video version:

Looking at that area of the sky, it would appear that not much is there, but look at it through even a small telescope reveal a completely different picture.