View these celestial beauties taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released as a set of views in a modern day “Messier Catalog." 

Spotting comets was all the rage in the middle of the 18th century, and at the forefront of the comet hunt was a young French astronomer named Charles Messier. In 1774, in an effort to help fellow comet seekers steer clear of astronomical objects that were not comets (something that frustrated his own search for these elusive entities), Messier published the first version of his “Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters,” a collection of celestial objects that weren’t comets and should be avoided during comet hunting. Today, rather than avoiding these objects, many amateur astronomers actively seek them out as interesting targets to observe with backyard telescopes, binoculars or sometimes even with the naked eye.

Hubble’s version of the Messier catalog includes eight newly processed images never before released by NASA. The images were extracted from more than 1.3 million observations that now reside in the Hubble data archive. Some of these images represent the first Hubble views of the objects, while others include newer, higher resolution images taken with Hubble’s latest cameras.

Learn more: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-s-messier-catalog

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I am seriously going to have to send that toy - it’s a #Zanies shaggy duck toy, and unfortunately they don’t make them any more, I can’t find them ANYwhere, wahhh - home with #Hubble. He adores it! #Mercury #Aurora #Telstar #Phoenix #Hubble #MercuryAndHerMissions #10WeeksOld #FosterKittens #ForgottenFelinesHuntsville #FFHSV

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Ocean Worlds Beyond Earth

We’re incredibly lucky to live on a planet drenched in water, nestled in a perfect distance from our sun and wrapped with magnetic fields keeping our atmosphere intact against harsh radiation and space weather.

We know from recent research that life can persist in the cruelest of environments here on Earth, which gives us hope to finding life thriving on other worlds. While we have yet to find life outside of Earth, we are optimistic about the possibilities, especially on other ocean worlds right here in our solar system.  

So…What’s the News?!

Two of our veteran missions are providing tantalizing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further enhancing the scientific interest of these and other “ocean worlds” in our solar system and beyond!

Cassini scientists announce that a form of energy for life appears to exist in Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The Two Missions: Cassini and Hubble

Cassini

Our Cassini spacecraft has found that hydrothermal vents in the ocean of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus are producing hydrogen gas, which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life.

Cassini discovered that this little moon of Saturn was active in 2005. The discovery that Enceladus has jets of gas and icy particles coming out of its south polar region surprised the world. Later we determined that plumes of material are coming from a global ocean under the icy crust, through large cracks known as “tiger stripes.” 

We have more evidence now – this time sampled straight from the plume itself – of hydrothermal activity, and we now know the water is chemically interacting with the rock beneath the ocean and producing the kind of chemistry that could be used by microbes IF they happened to be there.

This is the culmination of 12 years of investigations by Cassini and a capstone finding for the mission. We now know Enceladus has nearly all the ingredients needed for life as we know it.

The Cassini spacecraft made its deepest dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. From previous flybys, Cassini determined that nearly 98% of the gas in the plume is water and the rest is a mixture of other molecules, including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. 

Cassini’s other instruments provided evidence of hydrothermal activity in the ocean. What we really wanted to know was…Is there hydrogen being produced that microbes could use to make energy? And that’s exactly what we found!

To be clear…we haven’t discovered microbes at Enceladus, but vents of this type at Earth host these kinds of life. We’re cautiously excited at the prospect that there might be something like this at Enceladus too!

Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope has also been studying another ocean world in our solar system: Europa!

Europa is one of the four major moons of Jupiter, about the size of our own moon but very different in appearance. It’s a cold, icy world with a relatively smooth, bright surface crisscrossed with dark cracks and patches of reddish material.

What makes Europa interesting is that it’s believed to have a global ocean, underneath a thick crust of ice. In fact, it’s got about twice as much ocean as planet Earth!

In 2014, we detected evidence of intermittent water plumes on the surface of Europa, which is interesting because they may provide us with easier access to subsurface liquid water without having to drill through miles of ice.

And now, in 2016, we’ve found one particular plume candidate that appears to be at the same location that it was seen in 2014. 

This is exciting because if we can establish that a particular feature does repeat, then it is much more likely to be real and we can attempt to study and understand the processes that cause it to turn on or off. 

This plume also happens to coincide with an area where Europa is unusually warm as compared to the surrounding terrain. The plume candidates are about 30 to 60 miles (50 to 100 kilometers) in height and are well-positioned for observation, being in a relatively equatorial and well-determined location.

What Does All This Mean and What’s Next?

Hubble and Cassini are inherently different missions, but their complementary scientific discoveries, along with the synergy between our current and planned missions, will help us in finding out whether we are alone in the universe. 

Hubble will continue to observe Europa. If you’re wondering how we might be able to get more information on the Europa plume, the upcoming Europa Clipper mission will be carrying a suite of 9 instruments to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions favorable for life. Europa Clipper is slated to launch in the 2020s.

This future mission will be able to study the surface of Europa in great detail and assess the habitability of this moon. Whether there’s life there or not is a question for this future mission to discover!

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Black Hole Sculpts an Hourglass Galaxy

When it comes to galaxies, our home, the Milky Way, is rather neat and orderly. Other galaxies can be much more chaotic. For example, the Markarian 573 galaxy has a black hole at its center which is spewing beams of light in opposite directions, giving its inner regions more of an hourglass shape. 

Our scientists have long been fascinated by this unusual structure, seen above in optical light from the Hubble Space Telescope. Now their search has taken them deeper than ever — all the way into the super-sized black hole at the center of one galaxy.

So, what do we think is going on? When the black hole gobbles up matter, it releases a form of high-energy light called radiation (particularly in the form of X-rays), causing abnormal patterns in the flow of gas. 

Let’s take a closer look.

Meet Markarian 573, the galaxy at the center of this image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, located about 240 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cetus. It’s the galaxy’s odd structure and the unusual motions of its components that inspire our scientists to study it.

As is the case with other so-called active galaxies, the ginormous black hole at the center of Markarian 573 likes to eat stuff. A thick ring of dust and gas accumulates around it, forming a doughnut. This ring only permits light to escape the black hole in two cone-shaped regions within the flat plane of the galaxy — and that’s what creates the hourglass, as shown in the illustration above.

Zooming out, we can see the two cones of emission (shown in gold in the animation above) spill into the galaxy’s spiral arms (blue). As the galaxy rotates, gas clouds in the arms sweep through this radiation, which makes them light up so our scientists can track their movements from Earth.

What happens next depends on how close the gas is to the black hole. Gas that’s about 2,500 light-years from the black hole picks up speed and streams outward (shown as darker red and blue arrows). Gas that’s farther from the black hole also becomes ionized, but is not driven away and continues its motion around the galaxy as before.

Here is an actual snapshot of the inner region of Markarian 573, combining X-ray data (blue) from our Chandra X-ray Observatory and radio observations (purple) from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico with a visible light image (gold) from our Hubble Space Telescope. Given its strange appearance, we’re left to wonder: what other funky shapes might far-off galaxies take?

For more information about the bizarre structure of Markarian 573, visit http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/12657  

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Centaurus A or NGC 5128 is a galaxy in the constellation of Centaurus.

The center of the galaxy contains a supermassive black hole with a mass equivalent to 55 million solar masses, which ejects a relativistic jet that is responsible for emissions in the X-ray and radio wavelengths. By taking radio observations of the jet separated by a decade, astronomers have determined that the inner parts of the jet are moving at about half of the speed of light. X-rays are produced farther out as the jet collides with surrounding gases resulting in the creation of highly energetic particles. The X-ray jets of Centaurus A are thousands of light-years long, while the radio jets are over a million light-years long

Image credit: ESO/ESA/NASA & Hubble   

What caused this outburst of this star named V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, this star’s outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it faded. A stellar flash like this had never been seen before – supernovas and novas expel matter out into space.

Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the above GIF from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the bright flash.

In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.

Credit: NASA, ESA

To discover more, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2472.html