Space has never been more beautiful. 

The nebula Gum 29 is a star-forming region about 20,00 light-years away in the constellation Carina. At the core of the nebula is a cluster of several thousand stars called Westerlund 2. These newborn stars are about 2 million years old, and their light illuminates and heats the surrounding gas. The Hubble Space Telescope image, utilizing both visible and infrared light observations, was released in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

credit: Jay Anderson, Greg Bacon, Lisa Frattare, Zolt Levay, and Frank Summers (STScI)

For The First Time, Visible Light From An Exoplanet Detected

One does not simply look at an exoplanet. In order to learn more about these space rocks lurking many light years away, researchers have various indirect methods for deciphering their features. Astronomers can examine how the planet’s host star wobbles in relation to the globe, to pinpoint the planet’s position and mass. Or they can examine the dimming of the star as the planet passes in front, a method known as transit photometry that helps to determine the planet’s radius.

But we can’t ever just see an exoplanet in action. Because these rocks are so small and so far away, the light from their host stars completely drown them out. “Imagine you have a lamppost down the road a few 100 meters away, and you have a small moth flying around it,” Jorge Martins, a PhD student at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences in Chile, tells Popular Science. “It’s like trying to see the moth.”

Despite this trickiness, Martins and his research team have come pretty close to getting a good view of these exoplanets. In a study published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, the researchers were able to measure the visible starlight reflecting off of an exoplanet’s surface for the first time.

Continue Reading,

Looking back…25 years of Hubble.

In 1996, astronomers conducted an experiment with the Hubble telescope which was deemed risky at the time. They pointed the orbiting space telescope toward the constellation of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). The patch of sky Hubble was directed to observe was no bigger than a grain of sand held out at arm’s length from an observer. Over 10 consecutive days, Hubble collected photons from an area seemingly devoid of anything interesting. For all we knew, the images returned could’ve been as dark and empty as it appeared from our terrestrial vantage point.

However, the device we were using to collect this 13.8 billion-year-distant light was humanity’s most sophisticated window to the universe. And when the lens was closed and the images were processed, history - literally and figuratively - was well, not made, but – rediscovered. Every single pixel of light that fell onto Hubble’s detector were the celestial fingerprints of 3,000+ galaxies, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars.

So, in 2004, the experiment was performed again - this time, toward the constellation Orion - for 11 days and 400 complete orbits around the Earth. The upgraded detectors allowed even more photons to be captured than ever before, revealing to us again, the immensity of the undeniably expanding universe. 

As if the Hubble Space Telescope couldn’t have personified our human curiosity ever greater, NASA measured the redshifts of all the galaxies in the 1996 “Hubble Deep Field” image and applied them to a 3D model. You can experience this cosmic journey through time (and space) HERE.

Curiosity-driven approaches to scientific research embody what it means to be human, embolden us to take risks, and encourage us to fearlessly confront the unknown. In an attempt to simply peer beyond our limited cosmic horizon, our inquisitiveness about the universe created a device capable of reaching into a perceived patch of “nothing” and revealed how quaint of a position our planet and our species occupy in the cosmos.

At Endeavorist, these are the types of paradigm-shifting discoveries we’re dedicated to enabling through the democratization of #freescience.