NASA and SpaceX Will Study Low-Cost Plan to Give Hubble a Boost

Hubble Space Telescope
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope flies with Earth in the background after a 2002 servicing mission. (NASA Photo)

NASA and SpaceX say they’ll conduct a feasibility study into a plan to reboost the 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope to a more sustainable orbit, potentially at little or no cost to NASA.

The plan could follow the model set by last year’s Inspiration4 mission, an orbital trip that was facilitated by SpaceX and paid for by tech billionaire Jared Isaacman as a philanthropic venture. Isaacman, who is now spearheading a privately funded space program called Polaris in cooperation with SpaceX, says he’ll participate in the feasibility study.

“We could be taking advantage of everything that’s been developed within the commercial space industry to execute on a mission, should the study warrant it, with little or no potential cost to the government,” Isaacman said at a news briefing.

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Another Ghostly Spiral Galaxy Revealed by JWST

JWST and IC 5332
This image of the spiral galaxy IC 5332, taken by the NASA/ESA/CSA JWST observatory, with its MIRI instrument. Courtesy ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST Teams

The famous American baseball player once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” That’s certainly true of the JWST, which just released its latest “spider-web” image of a distant galaxy. It “watched” IC 5332 using the onboard Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). In the process it observed spectacular details not easily seen in visible light.

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Hubble Sees a Spiral Galaxy With a Supermassive Black Hole Feasting at its Center

The galaxy NGC 1961 unfurls its gorgeous spiral arms in this newly released image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Dalcanton/R. Foley/G. Kober

Even after thirty years, and with next-generation telescopes (like the James Webb) hogging all the attention, the Hubble Space Telescope still manages to inspire. Recently, Hubble acquired a breathtaking image of NGC 1961, an intermediate spiral galaxy measuring 220,000 light years in diameter and located about 180 million light-years away in the constellation Camelopardalis. Intermediate spiral galaxies are so-named because they are between “barred” and “unbarred” spiral galaxies, which means they don’t have a well-defined bar of stars at their centers.

The data used to create this image came from two sources, the first being a study of previously-unobserved objects belonging to the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies (or “Arp galaxies,” named after astronomer Halton Arp). The second source consisted of observations made of the progenitors and explosions of a variety of supernovae. Between 1998 and 2021, four supernovae were observed in NGC 1961 (SN 1998eb, SN 2001is, SN 2013cc, and SN 2021vaz), making it a high-value target for study.

The resulting image captures the dusty spiral arms, bright, hot star-forming regions of NGC 1961 and the galaxy’s glowing center that manages to outshine all the stars in its disk. This is an example of an active galactic nucleus (AGN), where the central region emits tremendous amounts of energy because it contains a supermassive black hole (SMBH) that feeds on the surrounding dust, gas, and stars in the core region.

Many AGNs have been observed emitting bright jets of hot dust and gas that are accelerated to relativistic speeds (a fraction of the speed of light). These jets can be seen millions of light-years away and play an important role in a galaxy’s evolution. NGC 1961 is a fairly common type of AGN that shines brightly but emits low-energy-charged particles. It just goes to show that the old workhorses never lose their mojo! They just keep on delivering well into their later years!

Further Reading: NASA

Galactic Photobombing

These two spiral galaxies appear to be colliding, but are only overlapping from our vantage point at Earth. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel/Galaxy Zoo.

This image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, appears to show two spiral galaxies colliding. In fact, they are just overlapping from our vantage point and are likely quite distant from each other. The galaxies are named SDSS J115331 and LEDA 2073461, and they lie more than a billion light-years from Earth. This ‘photobombing’ of one galaxy getting in the same picture as another was originally found by volunteers from the Galaxy Zoo project, which uses the power of crowdsourcing to find unusual galaxies in our Universe.

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Brand New Stars in the Orion Nebula, Seen by Hubble

New stars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in the Orion Nebula. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Bally; Acknowledgment: M. H. Özsaraç.

The Orion Nebula is a giant cloud of gas and dust that spans more than 20,000 times the size of our own solar system. It one of the closest active star-forming regions to Earth, and is therefore one of the most observed and photographed objects in the night sky. The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has focused on the Orion Nebula many times, peering into giant cavities in the hazy gas, and at one point, Hubble took 520 images to create a giant mosaic of this spellbinding nebula.

Now, Hubble has captured new views of a wispy, colorful region in the Orion Nebula surrounding the Herbig-Haro object HH 505.

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Why Betelgeuse Dimmed

Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Wheatley (STScI)

Betelgeuse, the big reddish star that is the second brightest point in the constellation Orion (after Rigel), has been puzzling astronomers for years. Starting in October 2019, Belegeuse began to dim considerably, eventually reaching 1/3rd of its normal brightness a few months later. And then, just as mysteriously, it began to brighten again and (as of February 2022) has remained in a normal brightness range. The most likely reason appeared to be a circumstellar dust cloud rather than any changes in the star’s intrinsic brightness.

Using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that a Surface Mass Ejection (SME) was the culprit. This event occurred in 2019 when Betelgeuse released a substantial mass of material that cooled to form a circumsolar dust ring, obscuring the star. In contrast to what regularly happens with our Sun during a Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), Betelgeuse ejected roughly 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME. This is the first time something of this nature has been seen in a normal star’s behavior.

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Hubble can Still Impress and Inspire. Here's Globular Star Cluster NGC 6638

Globular cluster NGC 6638 in the constellation Sagittarius, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Cohen.

Wow, what a beauty! While we’ve all turned our attentions to the new James Webb Space Telescope, this image proves Hubble has still has got it where it counts.  

This new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the heart of the globular cluster NGC 6638 in the constellation Sagittarius. This star-studded cluster contains tens of thousands to millions of stars, all tightly bound together by gravity. Globular clusters have a higher concentration of stars towards their centers, and this observation highlights that density.

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Supernovae Were Discovered in all These Galaxies

The Hubble space telescope has provided some of the most spectacular astronomical pictures ever taken. Some of them have even been used to confirm the value of another Hubble – the constant that determines the speed of expansion of the Universe. Now, in what Nobel laureate Adam Reiss calls Hubble’s “magnum opus,” scientists have released a series of spectacular spiral galaxies that have helped pinpoint that expansion constant – and it’s not what they expected.

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Hubble Pins Down the Mass of a Potential Free-Floating Black Hole That’s 5,000 Light-Years Away

This is an artist’s impression of a black hole drifting through our Milky Way galaxy. The black hole is the crushed remnant of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. The surviving core is several times the mass of our Sun. The black hole traps light because of its intense gravitational field. The black hole distorts the space around it, which warps images of background stars lined up almost directly behind it. This gravitational "lensing" effect offers the only telltale evidence for the existence of lone black holes wandering our galaxy, of which there may be a population of 100 million. The Hubble Space Telescope goes hunting for these black holes by looking for distortion in starlight as the black holes drift in front of background stars. Credit: ESA

Earlier this year, astronomers used microlensing and the Hubble Space Telescope to detect, for the first time, a rogue black hole that is about 5,000 lightyears away from Earth. Now, with more precise measurements, they have been able to determine an approximate mass of this hard-to-detect object. However, the surprisingly low mass means there’s a chance this object may not actually be a black hole.

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Hubble Finds a Bunch of Galaxies That Webb Should Check out

Galaxies from the last 10 billion years witnessed in the 3D-DASH program, created using 3D-DASH/F160W and ACS-COSMOS/F814W imaging. Image Credit: Lamiya Mowla

The Universe is full of massive galaxies like ours, but astronomers don’t fully understand how they grew and evolved. They know that the first galaxies formed at least as early as 670 million years after the Big Bang. They know that mergers play a role in the growth of galaxies. Astronomers also know that supermassive black holes are involved in the growth of galaxies, but they don’t know precisely how.

A new Hubble survey of galaxies should help astronomers figure some of this out.

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