A new Balloon-Based Observatory Could Produce Images as Fine as Hubble

Launching satellites is an expensive business – at least for now.  But satellites are necessary in astronomy for one major reason – it gets telescopes above the atmosphere.  The Earth’s atmosphere and its associated weather patterns are a massive hindrance to collecting good images.  If a stray cloud passes in front of the observational target once over the course of a few days, it could ruin the entire image.  Which is why some of the most striking astronomical pictures come from space-based observatories like Hubble. But now, a team of researchers from Durham, Toronto, and Princeton Universities has come up with a new way to get above that atmosphere that doesn’t involve a launch into orbit. They want to use a balloon.

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Good News! NASA Announces that they have Fixed Hubble!

Will China's new space telescope out-perform the Hubble? Image:

Update: Hubble took its first picture since it went into safe mode on June 13th! More info here.

On Sunday, June 13th, the Hubble Space Telescope gave the astronomical community a fright when its payload computer suddenly stopped working. This prompted the main computer to put the telescope and its scientific instruments into safe mode. What followed was many tense weeks as the operations team for the HST tried to figure out what the source of the problem was and come up with a strategy for turning Hubble back on.

On Friday, July 17th, after more than a month of checking, re-checking, and attempted restarts, the operations team for Hubble identified the root of the problem and restored power to the telescope’s hardware and all of its instruments. Science operations can now resume, and the pioneering space telescope that gave us over thirty years of dedicated astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics, still has some life in her!

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NASA Continues to Try and Rescue Failing Hubble

Will China's new space telescope out-perform the Hubble? Image:

Things are not looking very good for the Hubble Space Telescope right now. On Sunday, June 13th, the telescope’s payload computer suddenly stopped working, prompting the main computer to put the telescope into safe mode. While the telescope itself and its science instruments remain in working order, science operations have been suspended until the operations team can figure out how to get the payload computer back online.

While attempting to restart the computer, the operations team has also tried to trace the issue to specific components in the payload computer and switch to their backup modules. As of June 30th, the team began looking into the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) and the Power Control Unit (PCU). Meanwhile, NASA is busy preparing and testing procedures to switch to backup hardware if either of these components are the culprit.

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There’s a Problem With Hubble, and NASA Hasn’t Been Able to fix it yet

The Hubble Space Telescope could be considered the first of the Super Telescopes. In this image it is being released from the carbo bay of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Image: By NASA/IMAX - http://mix.msfc.nasa.gov/abstracts.php?p=1711, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6061254

For over thirty years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been in continuous operation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and revealing never-before-seen aspects of the Universe. In addition to capturing breathtaking images of our Solar System and discovering extrasolar planets, Hubble also probed the deepest reaches of time and space, causing astrophysicists to revise many of their previously-held theories about the cosmos.

Unfortunately, Hubble may finally be reaching the end of its lifespan. In recent weeks, NASA identified a problem with the telescope’s payload computer which suddenly stopped working. This caused Hubble and all of its scientific instruments to go into safe mode and shut down. After many days of tests and checks, technicians at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have yet to identify the root of the problem and get Hubble back online.

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Astronomers are Watching a gas Giant Grow, Right in Front of Their Eyes

In the vastness of space, astronomers are likely to find instances of almost every astronomical phenomena if they look hard enough.  Many planetary phenomena are starting to come into sharper focus as the astronomy community continues to focus on finding exoplanets.  Now a team led by Yifan Zhou at UT Austin has directly imaged a gas giant still in formation.

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Instead of Betelgeuse, Keep Your eye on AG Carinae, Another Star That’s About to go Supernova

Astrophotography is one of the most gratifying parts of space exploration, and there’s nothing better at it than Hubble.  Recently, it celebrated the 31st anniversary of its launch by taking a spectacular image of one of the most impressive stars in the sky – AG Carinae.  In the not too distant future, Hubble, or a successor, might be able to capture an even more spectacular display from the star when it goes supernova.

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VY Canis Majoris is “Like Betelgeuse on Steroids”

The disappearance of a star can take many forms.  It could go supernova.  It could turn into a black hole.  Or it could just fade away quietly.  Sometimes, the last of these is actually the most interesting to observe.  That is the case for one of the largest stars ever found – VY Canis Majoris, a red supergiant approximately 3840 light years away in the Canis Major constellation.  

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The Universe in Formation. Hubble Sees 6 Examples of Merging Galaxies

Audio narration by the author is available above

10 billion years ago, galaxies of the Universe were ablaze with the light of newly forming stars. This epic phase of history is known as  “Cosmic Noon” – the height of all star creation. Galaxies like our Milky Way aren’t creating stars at nearly the rates they were in the ancient past. However, there is a time when galaxies in the present can explode with star formation – when they collide with each other. This recently published collage of merging galaxies by the Hubble HiPEEC survey (Hubble imaging Probe of Extreme Environments and Clusters) highlights six of these collisions which help us understand star formation in the early Universe.

Newly released collage of six galaxy mergers used in the HiPEEC survey.
Top Row Left to Right: NGC 3256, 1614, 4195 Bottom Row Left To Right: NGC 3690, 6052, 34
– Credit ESA/Hubble/NASA
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The Newest Picture of Jupiter and Europa Captured by Hubble

The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has given us another gorgeous picture of Jupiter and its moon Europa. The incredibly sharp image was captured on August 25th, and shows some of the stunning detail in Jupiter’s stormy atmosphere. Hidden in all that stormy activity is something new: a bright white storm plume travelling at about 560 km/h (350 mp/h).

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Hubble Shows the True Size of Andromeda

It’s possible that you’ve seen the Andromeda galaxy (M31) without even realizing it. The massive spiral galaxy appears as a grey, spindle-shaped blob in the night sky, visible with the naked eye in the right conditions. It’s the nearest major galaxy to ours, and astronomers have studied it a lot.

Now astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to map out Andromeda’s enormous halo of hot gas.

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