The telescopes get bigger and more sophisticated, the light we can see comes in from deeper in the cosmos, and the most-distant visible objects keep getting further away. Last October astronomers using Hubble Space Telescope data reported sighting a possible galaxy some 13.2 billion light years away.
It almost sounds too good to be true. Twin Hubble-quality space telescopes currently collecting dust in upstate New York are getting a second chance at flight, and they could be the best thing to happen to NASA since the real Hubble’s mirrors were fixed. The unused scopes are even the same size as the beloved space telescope, and nary a civilian knew they existed until yesterday.
Today in pretty space pics: Hubble snaps the northern half of spiral galaxy NGC 981 in profile. The central galactic bulge is just out of frame to the lower left, leaving us with a close-up spanning roughly 100,000 light years that lets us look right through its plane of gas and dust.
Today in pretty space pics: Hubble captures the brightest star-forming region in the neighborhood, a particularly prolific segment of the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud that is home to the most massive stars ever observed from Earth. The image above, hemming in some 650 light-years of space (horizontally), contains one of the fastest rotating stars ever seen as well as the fastest runaway star. In other words, there is no lack of action here in 30 Doradus, at the center of the Tarantula Nebula.
The James Webb Space Telescope may someday put Hubble out of business, but until then NASA’s old standby is still making new discoveries. Today, that comes to us in the form of the first exoplanet “waterworld”--a water-covered planet shrouded by a dense, steamy atmosphere, the first confirmed planet of its kind.
It's been a busy week, what with the Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit Auto Show showering geeks and gearheads alike with enough conceptual eye-candy to keep us all salivating for the next big thing all year.
But for those of us whose eyes are on the heavens more than on little screens, the 219th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society was the thing to watch this week.
We may never see the surface of a planet in another solar system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine it with great accuracy. Equipped with careful observations, it’s possible to visualize the sunset as it would look from a distant exoplanet. This is what it looks like.
The Hubble Space Telescope has sniffed out evidence of complex carbon molecules, the building blocks of life in this corner of the cosmos, lying on the frozen surface of Pluto. The distant dwarf world is known to harbor methane ice and other frigid compounds, but this is the first time scientists have suggested there could be other complex carbon chemicals, too.
Behold, your galactic center. This Hubble image, captured with the space telescope’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), is the highest-resolution pic of the Milky Way’s galactic center taken to date, taking in a newly discovered group of massive stars, lots of super-hot gas, and roughly 35,000 square light years of space in one sweeping mosaic.