Hubble Powers Up to Capture Jupiter Impact Site


The Hubble Space Telescope was undergoing a thorough checkout of all its systems following the recent servicing mission, but scientists decided to drop everything and interrupt the observatory’s checkout and calibration to take an image of what every other telescope has by trying to view: the impact site on Jupiter. But Hubble does it better than anyone. This image, taken just yesterday (July 23) shows the black spot on the giant planet — created a small comet or asteroid — is expanding.

“Because we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble,” said Amy Simon-Miller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Details seen in the Hubble view shows a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

The new Hubble images also confirm that the May servicing visit by space shuttle astronauts was a big success.

The Jupiter impact has been a sensation ever since Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley imaged a black spot on the planet on July 19. , The only other time such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was 15 years ago after the collision of fragments from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

For the past several days, Earth-based telescopes have been trained on Jupiter. To capture the unfolding drama 360 million miles away, Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, gave observation time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

“Hubble’s truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the impact site,” Hammel said. “By combining these images with our ground-based data at other wavelengths, our Hubble data will allow a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening to the impact debris.”

Simon-Miller estimated the diameter of the impacting object was the size of several football fields. The force of the explosion on Jupiter was thousands of times more powerful than the suspected comet or asteroid that exploded over the Siberian Tunguska River Valley in June 1908.

The image was taken with the Wide Field Camera 3. The new camera, installed by the astronauts aboard space shuttle Atlantis in May, is not yet fully calibrated. While it is possible to obtain celestial images, the camera’s full power has yet to be seen.

“This is just one example of what Hubble’s new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the STS-125 astronauts and the entire Hubble team,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “However, the best is yet to come.”

Source: NASA

Hubble Image of the Colliding Antennae Galaxies (with Video)

It’s time for another beautiful image from the Hubble Space Telescope. And this time, there’s an added bonus… video. The latest images released by Hubble are based on research of the Antennae Galaxies, known as NGC 4038 and NGC 4039. Astronomers used to think that they were 65 million light-years away, but the new research puts them much closer; probably 45 million light-years away.

This image was captured by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, to observe individual stars spawned by the cosmic collision.

Here’s the Hubble video to help you get a sense of the scales involved (with pretty music too).

The astronomers targeted the object’s southern tidal tail, which was thrown away from the active central regions. This tail contains material hurled away from the main galaxies as they came together. Astronomers looked for older red giants to make the estimate for their distance. These red giants are known to always shine with the same brightness, and by knowing this brightness, they were able to calculate the galaxies as being 45 million light-years away.

Since this galactic merger is happening relatively close, it’s one of the best examples astronomers have to study this process. And now that the galaxies are closer than astronomers previously believed, it changes the size of many objects the astronomers are studying. For example, the size of the star clusters being formed by the collision match the size of other galaxy mergers, instead of being 1.5 times larger than they should be.

The Antennae Galaxies are named for the two long tails of stars, gas and dust thrown out of the collision that resemble the antennae of insects. They can be found in the constellation of Corvus, the Crow.

Original Source: Hubble News Release