It’s Time for Saturn’s “Spokes” to Return

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope photo of Saturn reveals the planet's cloud bands and a phenomenon called ring spokes. NASA, ESA, STScI, Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)

Astronomers have been observing Saturn with the Hubble Space Telescope and several other spacecraft for decades and have noticed something unusual. During seasonal changes, transient spoke-like features appear in the rings. These dark, ghostly blobs orbit around the planet 2-3 times, and then disappear.

As Saturn is approaching its equinox, this is prime spoke activity time. Once again, Hubble has been called to gaze at Saturn, tracking the behavior of the spokes and hopefully giving astronomers more clues as to why they occur.

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Compare Images of a Galaxy Seen by Both Hubble and JWST

NGC 5068 is a barred spiral galaxy about 20 million light-years away. The Hubble captured this image of NGC 5068 in ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, R. Chandar (University of Toledo), and J. Lee (Space Telescope Science Institute); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

The James Webb Space Telescope is widely considered to be better than the Hubble Space Telescope. But the JWST doesn’t replace its elder sibling; it’s the Hubble’s successor. The Hubble is nowhere near ready to retire. It’s still a powerful science instrument with lots to contribute. Comparing images of the same object, NGC 5068, from both telescopes illustrates each one’s value and how they can work together.

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M87's Jet is Triggering Novae

The jet emerging from the galactic core of M87. NASA/STScI/AURA.

Everyone loves a good mystery, and astronomers have just uncovered a new one in a nearby supermassive galaxy called M87. Like most galaxies, M87 regularly plays host to a smattering of stellar explosions called novae, each the result of a star stealing material from a neighbour. M87 also features a massive jet of plasma blasting out into deep space from the galactic core. These phenomena: the jet and the novae, are unrelated astronomical occurrences, or so scientists believed. But astronomers recently discovered that the novae in M87 seem to be uncharacteristically aligned along the jet, instead of scattered randomly throughout the galaxy. Is the jet somehow triggering nova explosions?

It might be, but the mystery is: how?

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A Collection of New Images Reveal X-Rays Across the Universe


One of the miracles of modern astronomy is the ability to ‘see’ wavelengths of light that human eyes can’t. Last week, astronomers put that superpower to good use and released five new images showcasing the universe in every wavelength from X-ray to infrared.

Combining data from both Earth- and ground-based telescopes, the five images reveal a diverse set of astronomical phenomena, including the galactic centre, the death throes of stars, and distant galaxies traversing the cosmos.

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A Black Hole Switched On in the Blink of an Eye

This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. This thin disc of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a Sun-like star which was ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole. Shocks in the colliding debris as well as heat generated in accretion led to a burst of light, resembling a supernova explosion. Credit: ESO, ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

In 2019, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Samantha Oates of the University of Birmingham discovered one of the most powerful transients ever seen – where astronomical objects change their brightness over a short period. Oates and her colleagues found this object, known as J221951-484240 (or J221951), using the Ultra-Violet and Optical Telescope (UVOT) on NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory while searching for the source of a gravitational wave (GW) that was thought to be caused by two massive objects merging in our galaxy.

Multiple follow-up observations were made using the UVOT and Swift’s other instruments – the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) and X-Ray Telescope (XRT), the Hubble Space Telescope, the South African Large Telescope (SALT), the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), and more. The combined observations and spectra revealed that the source was a supermassive black hole (SMBH) in a distant galaxy that mysteriously “switched on,” becoming one of the most dramatic bursts of brightness ever seen with a black hole.

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Hubble Sees Two Quasars Side by Side in the Early Universe

When it comes to the brightest, most powerful objects in the Universe, not much can beat a Quasar. A Gamma Ray Burst from a supernova might be more energetic, but doesn’t last very long. Quasars, by comparison, can churn out 1000 times the radiation of the Milky Way, and keep doing it for hundreds of millions of years.

They get all this energy from the supermassive black holes that live at the center of galaxies. As material falls towards the black hole, an accretion disk forms around it: a swirling cloud of energetic material which heats up through friction and releases electromagnetic radiation. The resulting Quasar can be so bright it drowns out the light from the rest of its galaxy from our perspective.

On April 5th, researchers announced the discovery of a rare double quasar in the early Universe. The two quasars are gravitationally bound, spiraling in towards each other. Their host galaxies are in the process of merging, and the supermassive black holes generating the quasars will also eventually collide and merge.

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A new Hubble Image Reveals a Shredded Star in a Nearby Galaxy

The latest composite image of supernova remnant DEM L 190, released in November 2022. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Kulkarni, Y. Chu

The Hubble Space Telescope, to which we owe our current estimates for the age of the universe and the first detection of organic matter on an exoplanet, is very much doing science and still alive. It’s latest masterpiece remixes an old hit – apparently a growing trend in space science as well as space music.

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By Looking Back Through Hubble Data, Astronomers Have Identified six Massive Stars Before They Exploded as Core-Collapse Supernovae

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

The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has given us so much during the history of its service (32 years, 7 months, 6 days, and counting!) Even after all these years, the versatile and sophisticated observatory is still pulling its weight alongside more recent addition, like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and other members of NASA’s Great Observatories family. In addition to how it is still conducting observation campaigns, astronomers and astrophysicists are combing through the volumes of data Hubble accumulated over the years to find even more hidden gems.

A team led by Caltech’s recently made some very interesting finds in the Hubble archives, where they observed the sites of six supernovae to learn more about their progenitor stars. Their observations were part of the Hubble Space Telescope Snapshot program, where astronomers use HST images to chart the life cycle and evolution of stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects. From this, they were able to place constraints on the size, mass, and other key characteristics of the progenitor stars and what they experienced before experiencing core collapse.

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Hubble saw Multiple Light Echoes Reflecting off Rings of Dust From a Supernova Explosion

Artist view of a supernova explosion. Credit: NASA

When stars reach the end of their life cycle, they experience gravitational collapse at their centers and explode in a fiery burst (a supernova). This causes them to shed their outer layers and sends an intense burst of light and high-energy short-wavelength radiation (like X-rays and gamma-rays) out in all directions. This process also creates cosmic rays, which consist of protons and atomic nuclei that are accelerated to close to the speed of light. And on rare occasions, supernovae can also create “light echoes,” rings of light that spread out from the site of the original explosion.

These echoes will appear months to years after the supernova occurs as light from the explosion interacts with the layers of dust in the vicinity. Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), an international team of astronomers was able to document the emergence and evolution of multiple light echoes (LEs). The team traced these echoes to a stripped-envelope supernova (SN 2016adj) located in the central dust lane of Centaurus A, a galaxy located 10 to 16 million light-years away in the constellation of Centaurus.

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Hubble Checks the Weather on Hot Jupiters. Forecast: 100% Chance of Hellish Conditions

While the Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 32 years in orbit, like a fine wine, it has only gotten better with age as it continues to study the Universe and teach us more about our place in the cosmos. Hubble doesn’t just take breathtaking images of our Universe, but it also studies our own solar system, galaxies, and exoplanets, as well. It is this last subject where Hubble has recently been hard at work, though.

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