hubble space telescope image

Celestial Fireworks : The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.


Resembling festive lights on a holiday wreath, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the nearby spiral galaxy M74 is an iconic reminder of the impending season. Bright knots of glowing gas light up the spiral arms, indicating a rich environment of star formation.

Messier 74, also called NGC 628, is a stunning example of a “grand-design” spiral galaxy that is viewed by Earth observers nearly face-on. Its perfectly symmetrical spiral arms emanate from the central nucleus and are dotted with clusters of young blue stars and glowing pink regions of ionized hydrogen (hydrogen atoms that have lost their electrons). These regions of star formation show an excess of light at ultraviolet wavelengths. Tracing along the spiral arms are winding dust lanes that also begin very near the galaxy’s nucleus and follow along the length of the spiral arms.

M74 is located roughly 32 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Pisces, the Fish. It is the dominant member of a small group of about half a dozen galaxies, the M74 galaxy group. In its entirety, it is estimated that M74 is home to about 100 billion stars, making it slightly smaller than our Milky Way.

The spiral galaxy was first discovered by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1780. Weeks later it was added to Charles Messier’s famous catalog of deep-sky objects.

This Hubble image of M74 is a composite of Advanced Camera for Surveys data taken in 2003 and 2005. The filters used to create the color image isolate light from blue, visible, and infrared portions of the spectrum, as well as emission from ionized hydrogen (known as HII regions).

A small segment of this image used data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the Gemini Observatory to fill in a region that Hubble did not image.

For additional information, contact:

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

Keith Noll
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

Lars Lindberg Christensen
ESA/Hubble, Garching, Germany

Object Names: M74, NGC 628

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Acknowledgment: R. Chandar (University of Toledo) and J. Miller (University of Michigan)

Time And Space

IC 5067 in the Pelican Nebula : The prominent ridge of emission featured in this sharp, colorful skyscape is cataloged as IC 5067. Part of a larger emission nebula with a distinctive shape, popularly called The Pelican Nebula, the ridge spans about 10 light-years following the curve of the cosmic pelicans head and neck. This false-color view also translates the pervasive glow of narrow emission lines from atoms in the nebula to a color palette made popular in Hubble Space Telescope images of star forming regions. Fantastic, dark shapes inhabiting the degree wide field are clouds of cool gas and dust sculpted by the winds and radiation from hot, massive stars. Close-ups of some of the sculpted clouds show clear signs of newly forming stars. The Pelican Nebula, itself cataloged as IC 5070, is about 2,000 light-years away. To find it, look northeast of bright star Deneb in the high flying constellation Cygnus. via NASA


Cosmic lighthouse known as the Egg Nebula, which lies around 3000 light-years from Earth. The image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, has captured a brief but dramatic phase in the life of a Sun-like star.


Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring telescopic mosaic. The scene is anchored below by bright star EtaGeminorum, at the foot of the celestial twin, while the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with tentacles dangling below and left of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the Jellyfish Nebula is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. An emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper right. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this narrowband composite image presented in the Hubble Palette would be about 300 light-years across.

Image Credit &Copyright: Eric Coles/NASA

Hubble Sees A Smiling Lens: In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 and it seems to be smiling.

You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this happy face, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing.

Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubbles discoveries, can be explained by Einsteins theory of general relativity.

In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring known as an Einstein Ring is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here.

Hubble has provided astronomers with the tools to probe these massive galaxies and model their lensing effects, allowing us to peer further into the early Universe than ever before. This object was studied by Hubbles Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 as part of a survey of strong lenses.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubbles Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA
Caption: ESA


NGC 6670 is a gorgeous pair of overlapping edge-on galaxies resembling a leaping dolphin. Scientists believe that NGC 6670 has already experienced at least one close encounter and is now in the early stages of a second. The nuclei of the two galaxies are approximately 50,000 light-years apart. NGC 6670 glows in the infrared with more than a hundred billion times the luminosity of our Sun and is thought to be entering a starburst phase. The pair is located some 400 million light-years away from Earth.

This image is part of a large collection of 59 images of merging galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on the occasion of its 18th anniversary on 24th April 2008.

Object Names: NGC 6670, NGC 6670A/B, VII Zw 812

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

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Did our Sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago?

Almost certainly yes – though not an identical twin. And so did every other Sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from the University of California, Berkeley, and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University.

Many stars have companions, including our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, a triplet system. Astronomers have long sought an explanation. Are binary and triplet star systems born that way? Did one star capture another? Do binary stars sometimes split up and become single stars?

Astronomers have even searched for a companion to our Sun, a star dubbed Nemesis because it was supposed to have kicked an asteroid into Earth’s orbit that collided with our planet and exterminated the dinosaurs. It has never been found.

The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all Sun-like stars are born with a companion.

“We are saying, yes, there probably was a Nemesis, a long time ago,” said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer.

“We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years.”

In this study, “wide” means that the two stars are separated by more than 500 astronomical units, or AU, where one astronomical unit is the average distance between the Sun and Earth (93 million miles). A wide binary companion to our Sun would have been 17 times farther from the Sun than its most distant planet today, Neptune.

Based on this model, the Sun’s sibling most likely escaped and mixed with all the other stars in our region of the Milky Way galaxy, never to be seen again.

“The idea that many stars form with a companion has been suggested before, but the question is: how many?” said first author Sarah Sadavoy, a NASA Hubble fellow at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. “Based on our simple model, we say that nearly all stars form with a companion. The Perseus cloud is generally considered a typical low-mass star-forming region, but our model needs to be checked in other clouds.”

The idea that all stars are born in a litter has implications beyond star formation, including the very origins of galaxies, Stahler said.

Stahler and Sadavoy posted their findings in April on the arXiv server. Their paper has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Stars Birthed in ‘Dense Cores’

Astronomers have speculated about the origins of binary and multiple star systems for hundreds of years, and in recent years have created computer simulations of collapsing masses of gas to understand how they condense under gravity into stars. They have also simulated the interaction of many young stars recently freed from their gas clouds. Several years ago, one such computer simulation by Pavel Kroupa of the University of Bonn led him to conclude that all stars are born as binaries.

Yet direct evidence from observations has been scarce. As astronomers look at younger and younger stars, they find a greater proportion of binaries, but why is still a mystery.

“The key here is that no one looked before in a systematic way at the relation of real young stars to the clouds that spawn them,” Stahler said. “Our work is a step forward in understanding both how binaries form and also the role that binaries play in early stellar evolution. We now believe that most stars, which are quite similar to our own Sun, form as binaries. I think we have the strongest evidence to date for such an assertion.”

According to Stahler, astronomers have known for several decades that stars are born inside egg-shaped cocoons called dense cores, which are sprinkled throughout immense clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen that are the nurseries for young stars. Through an optical telescope, these clouds look like holes in the starry sky, because the dust accompanying the gas blocks light from both the stars forming inside and the stars behind. The clouds can, however, be probed by radio telescopes, since the cold dust grains in them emit at these radio wavelengths, and radio waves are not blocked by the dust.

The Perseus molecular cloud is one such stellar nursery, about 600 light-years from Earth and about 50 light-years long. Last year, a team of astronomers completed a survey that used the Very Large Array, a collection of radio dishes in New Mexico, to look at star formation inside the cloud. Called VANDAM, it was the first complete survey of all young stars in a molecular cloud, that is, stars less than about 4 million years old, including both single and multiple stars down to separations of about 15 astronomical units. This captured all multiple stars with a separation of more than about the radius of Uranus’ orbit – 19 AU – in our solar system.

Stahler heard about the survey after approaching Sadavoy, a member of the VANDAM team, and asking for her help in observing young stars inside dense cores. The VANDAM survey produced a census of all Class 0 stars – those less than about 500,000 years old – and Class I stars – those between about 500,000 and 1 million years old. Both types of stars are so young that they are not yet burning hydrogen to produce energy.

Sadavoy took the results from VANDAM and combined them with additional observations that reveal the egg-shaped cocoons around the young stars. These additional observations come from the Gould Belt Survey with SCUBA-2 on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. By combining these two data sets, Sadavoy was able to produce a robust census of the binary and single-star populations in Perseus, turning up 55 young stars in 24 multiple-star systems, all but five of them binary, and 45 single-star systems.

Using these data, Sadavoy and Stahler discovered that all of the widely separated binary systems – those with stars separated by more than 500 AU – were very young systems, containing two Class 0 stars. These systems also tended to be aligned with the long axis of the egg-shaped dense core. The slightly older Class I binary stars were closer together, many separated by about 200 AU, and showed no tendency to align along the egg’s axis.

“This has not been seen before or tested, and is super interesting,” Sadavoy said. “We don’t yet know quite what it means, but it isn’t random and must say something about the way wide binaries form.”

Egg-Shaped Cores Collapse into Two Centers

Stahler and Sadavoy mathematically modeled various scenarios to explain this distribution of stars, assuming typical formation, breakup and orbital shrinking times. They concluded that the only way to explain the observations is to assume that all stars of masses around that of the Sun start off as wide Class 0 binaries in egg-shaped dense cores, after which some 60 percent split up over time. The rest shrink to form tight binaries.

“As the egg contracts, the densest part of the egg will be toward the middle, and that forms two concentrations of density along the middle axis,” he said. “These centers of higher density at some point collapse in on themselves because of their self-gravity to form Class 0 stars.”

“Within our picture, single low-mass, Sun-like stars are not primordial,” Stahler added. “They are the result of the breakup of binaries. “

Their theory implies that each dense core, which typically comprises a few solar masses, converts twice as much material into stars as was previously thought.

Stahler said that he has been asking radio astronomers to compare dense cores with their embedded young stars for more than 20 years, in order to test theories of binary star formation. The new data and model are a start, he says, but more work needs to be done to understand the physics behind the rule.

Such studies may come along soon, because the capabilities of a now-upgraded VLA and the ALMA telescope in Chile, plus the SCUBA-2 survey in Hawaii, “are finally giving us the data and statistics we need. This is going to change our understanding of dense cores and the embedded stars within them,” Sadavoy said.

TOP IMAGE….Radio image of a very young binary star system, less than about 1 million years old, that formed within a dense core (oval outline) in the Perseus molecular cloud. All stars likely form as binaries within dense cores. (SCUBA-2 survey image by Sarah Sadavoy, CfA)

CENTRE IMAGE….A radio image of a triple star system forming within a dusty disk in the Perseus molecular cloud obtained by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. (Image: Bill Saxton, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NRAO/AUI/NSF)

LOWER IMAGE….This infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope contains a bright, fan-shaped object (lower right quadrant) thought to be a binary star that emits light pulses as the two stars interact. The primitive binary system is located in the IC 348 region of the Perseus molecular cloud and was included in the study by the Berkeley/Harvard team. (Image: NASA, ESA and J. Muzerolle, STScI)

BOTTOM IMAGE….A dark molecular cloud, Barnard 68, is filled with gas and dust that block the light from stars forming inside as well as stars and galaxies located behind it. These and other stellar nurseries, like the Perseus molecular cloud, can only be probed by radio waves. Credit: FORS Team, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESO

To some, it may look like a cat’s eye. Thealluring Cat’s Eye nebula, however, lies three thousand light-years from Earth across interstellar space. A classic planetary nebula, the Cat’s Eye (NGC 6543) represents a final, brief yet glorious phase in the life of a sun-like star. This nebula’s dying central star may have produced the simple, outer pattern of dustyconcentric shells by shrugging off outer layersin a series of regular convulsions. But the formation of the beautiful, more complex inner structures is not well understood. Seen so clearly in this digitally reprocessed HubbleSpace Telescope image, the truly cosmic eye is over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into this Cat’s Eye, astronomers may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution … in about 5 billion years.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HLA;Reprocessing & Copyright: Raul Villaverde

Hubble Space Telescope

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Hubble Sees the Wings of a Butterfly: The Twin Jet Nebula

The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image show off the remarkable complexity of the Twin Jet Nebula. The new image highlights the nebula’s shells and its knots of expanding gas in striking detail. Two iridescent lobes of material stretch outwards from a central star system. Within these lobes two huge jets of gas are streaming from the star system at speeds in excess of one million kilometers (621,400 miles) per hour.

Credit: NASA / ESA & Hubble

Hubble spots a barred Lynx spiral

Discovered by British astronomer William Herschel over 200 years ago, NGC 2500 lies about 30 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Lynx.

As this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows, NGC 2500 is a particular kind of spiral galaxy known as a barred spiral, its wispy arms swirling out from a bright, elongated core.

Barred spirals are actually more common than was once thought.
Around two-thirds of all spiral galaxies – including the Milky Way – exhibit these straight bars cutting through their centers.

These cosmic structures act as glowing nurseries for newborn stars, and funnel material towards the active core of a galaxy.

NGC 2500 is still actively forming new stars, although this process appears to be occurring very unevenly.

The upper half of the galaxy – where the spiral arms are slightly better defined – hosts many more star-forming regions than the lower half, as indicated by the bright, dotted islands of light.

There is another similarity between NGC 2500 and our home galaxy.

Together with Andromeda, Triangulum, and many smaller natural satellites, the Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies, a gathering of over 50 galaxies all loosely held together by gravity.

NGC 2500 forms a similar group with some of its nearby neighbors, including NGC 2541, NGC 2552, NGC 2537, and the bright, Andromeda-like spiral NGC 2481 (known collectively as the NGC 2841 group).

The Keyhole in the Carina Nebula : The dark dusty Keyhole Nebula gets its name from its unusual shape. The looping Keyhole, in this featured classic image by the Hubble Space Telescope, is a smaller region inside the larger Carina Nebula. Dramatic dark dust knots and complex features are sculpted by the winds and radiation of the Carina Nebulas many massive and energetic stars. In particular, the shape of the dust cloud on the upper left of the Keyhole Nebula may stimulate the human imagination to appear similar to, for example, a superhero flying through a cloud, arm up, with a saved person in tow below. The region lies about 7,500 light-years away in planet Earths southern sky. The Keyhole Nebula was created by the dying star Eta Carina , out of the frame, which is prone to violent outbursts during its final centuries. via NASA


New images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are helping researchers view in unprecedented detail the spiral arms and dust clouds of a nearby galaxy, which are the birth sites of massive and luminous stars.

The Whirlpool galaxy, M51, has been one of the most photogenic galaxies in amateur and professional astronomy. Easily photographed and viewed by smaller telescopes, this celestial beauty is studied extensively in a range of wavelengths by large ground- and space-based observatories. This Hubble composite image shows visible starlight as well as light from the emission of glowing hydrogen, which is associated with the most luminous young stars in the spiral arms.

M51, also known as NGC 5194, is having a close encounter with a nearby companion galaxy, NGC 5195, just off the upper edge of this image. The companion’s gravitational pull is triggering star formation in the main galaxy, as seen in brilliant detail by numerous, luminous clusters of young and energetic stars. The bright clusters are highlighted in red by their associated emission from glowing hydrogen gas.

This Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 image enables a research group, led by Nick Scoville (Caltech), to clearly define the structure of both the cold dust clouds and the hot hydrogen and link individual clusters to their parent dust clouds. Team members include M. Polletta (U. Geneva); S. Ewald and S. Stolovy (Caltech); R. Thompson and M. Rieke (U. of Arizona).

Intricate structure is also seen for the first time in the dust clouds. Along the spiral arms, dust “spurs” are seen branching out almost perpendicular to the main spiral arms. The regularity and large number of these features suggests to astronomers that previous models of “two-arm” spiral galaxies may need to be revisited. The new images also reveal a dust disk in the nucleus, which may provide fuel for a nuclear black hole.

The team is also studying this galaxy at near-infrared wavelengths with the NICMOS instrument onboard Hubble. At these wavelengths, the dusty clouds are more transparent and the true distribution of stars is more easily seen. In addition, regions of star formation that are obscured in the optical images are newly revealed in the near-infrared images.

This image was composed by the Hubble Heritage Team from Hubble archival data of M51 and is superimposed onto ground-based data taken by Travis Rector (NOAO) at the 0.9-meter telescope at the National Science Foundation’s Kitt Peak National Observatory (NOAO/AURA) in Tucson, AZ.

Object Names: The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51

Image Type: Astronomical

Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Acknowledgment: N. Scoville (Caltech) and T. Rector (NOAO)

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