space telescope science institute

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FAINTEST EARLY GALAXIES YET,
PROBE HOW EARLY UNIVERSE LIT UP WITH HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

Astronomers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new technique to discover the faintest galaxies yet seen in the early universe – 10 times fainter than any previously seen. These galaxies will help astronomers probe a little-understood, but important period in cosmic history. Their new technique helps probe the time a billion years after the Big Bang, when the early, dark universe was flooded with light from the first galaxies.

Rachael Livermore and Steven Finkelstein of UT Austin, along with Jennifer Lotz of the Space Telescope Science Institute, went looking for these faint galaxies in images from Hubble Space Telescope’s Frontier Fields survey.

“These galaxies are actually extremely common,” Livermore said. “It’s very satisfying being able to find them.”

These faint, early galaxies gave rise to the epoch of reionization, when the energetic radiation they gave off bombarded the gas between all galaxies in the universe. This caused the atoms in this diffuse gas to lose their electrons (that is, become ionized).

Finkelstein explained why finding these faint galaxies is so important. “We knew ahead of time that for our idea of galaxy-powered reionization to work, there had to be galaxies a hundred times fainter than we could see with Hubble,” he said, “and they had to be really, really common.” This was why the Hubble Frontier Fields program was created, he said.

Lotz leads the Hubble Frontier Fields project, one of the telescope’s largest to date. In it, Hubble photographed several large galaxy clusters. These were selected to take advantage of their enormous mass which causes a useful optical effect, predicted by Albert Einstein. A galaxy cluster’s immense gravity bends space, which magnifies light from more-distant galaxies behind it as that light travels toward the telescope. Thus the galaxy cluster acts as a magnifying glass, or a “gravitational lens,” allowing astronomers to see those more-distant galaxies – ones they would not normally be able to detect, even with Hubble.

Even then, though, the lensed galaxies were still just at the cusp of what Hubble could detect.

“The main motivation for the Frontier Fields project was to search for these extremely faint galaxies during this critical period in the universe’s history,” Lotz said. “However, the primary difficulty with using the Frontier Field clusters as an extra magnifying glass is how to correct for the contamination from the light of the cluster galaxies.”

Livermore elaborates: “The problem is, you’re trying to find these really faint things, but you’re looking behind these really bright things. The brightest galaxies in the universe are in clusters, and those cluster galaxies are blocking the background galaxies we’re trying to observe. So what I did was come up with a method of removing the cluster galaxies” from the images.

Her method uses modeling to identify and separate light from the foreground galaxies (the cluster galaxies) from the light coming from the background galaxies (the more-distant, lensed galaxies).

According to Lotz, “This work is unique in its approach to removing this light. This has allowed us to detect more and fainter galaxies than seen in previous studies, and to achieve the primary goal for the Frontier Fields survey.”

Livermore and Finkelstein have used the new method on two of the galaxy clusters in the Frontier Fields project: Abell 2744 and MACS 0416. It enabled them to identify faint galaxies seen when the universe was about a billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age – galaxies 100 times fainter than those found in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, for instance, which is the deepest image of the night sky yet obtained.

Their observations showed that these faint galaxies are extremely numerous, consistent with the idea that large numbers of extremely faint galaxies were the main power source behind reionization.

There are four Frontier Fields clusters left, and the team plans to study them all with Livermore’s method. In future, she said, they would like to use the James Webb Space Telescope to study even fainter galaxies.

TOP IMAGE….Galaxy Cluster MACS 0416

LOWER IMAGE….Galaxy Cluster Abell 2744

Researchers have found 10 faint galaxies that kick-started the whole universe!

A new technology has been devised that helps astronomers have peek directly into a galaxy, and thanks to it they’ve now discovered the galaxies that first brought light to the universe, taking it out of a literal dark age!

Also Read: Algae kept outside ISS in extreme conditions for almost 2 years are still alive!

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin spotted galaxies that are 10 times fainter than any of those seen so far. Studying these galaxies will help scientists learn more about the ancient universe, and how it went from dark to radiant. It will also enable them to better comprehend the cosmic history, a billion years after the Big Bang.

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Rachael Livermore and Steven Finkelstein of the UT Austin Astronomy Department, along with Jennifer Lotz of the Space Telescope Science Institute analysed these faint galaxies using images taken by Hubble Space Telescope’s Frontier Fields survey.

“These galaxies are actually extremely common, It’s very satisfying being able to find them,” Livermore said, as per a statement by University of Texas at Austin.

“The problem is, you’re trying to find these really faint things, but you’re looking behind these really bright things. The brightest galaxies in the universe are in clusters, and those cluster galaxies are blocking the background galaxies we’re trying to observe. So what I did was come up with a method of removing the cluster galaxies from the images,” Livermore explained.

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According to their hypothesis, these galaxies converted electrically neutral, dark galaxies into luminous plasma that isn’t easy to see.

“The main motivation for the Frontier Fields project was to search for these extremely faint galaxies during this critical period in the universe’s history,” Lotz said.

“However, the primary difficulty with using the Frontier Field clusters as an extra magnifying glass is how to correct for the contamination from the light of the cluster galaxies,” she added.

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Livermore and his colleagues, also used a new technique known as “wavelet decomposition”, which includes images taken by the deep-field Hubble Space Telescope that covers the light present in the foreground of the galaxy chunks.

“The wavelet transform allows us to decompose an image into its components on different physical scales. Thus, we can isolate structures on large scales… and remove them, allowing objects on smaller scales to be identified more easily,” the scientists wrote in a draft of their upcoming paper, arXiv.org reported.

The enormous gravity of these clusters warps space-time, turning it into a natural lens, boosting Hubble telescope’s resolving power by 100 times.

With the help of light-masking, the researchers spotted 167 galaxies that are 10 times less luminous than any galaxies discovered so far. Scientists believe these are the galaxies that re-ionized the universe and took it out of the Dark Age, after the Big Bang, according to space.com.

“This work is unique in its approach to removing this light. This has allowed us to detect more and fainter galaxies than seen in previous studies, and to achieve the primary goal for the Frontier Fields survey,” Lotz added.

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This dramatic image offers a peek inside a cavern of roiling dust and gas where thousands of stars are forming. The image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, represents the sharpest view ever taken of this region, called the Orion Nebula. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image.

The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light-years away, the nearest star-forming region to Earth. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colors, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill out the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

The Orion observations were taken between 2004 and 2005.

Object Names: Orion Nebula, M42, NGC 1976

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Time And Space

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is such a crazy, turbulent storm (the largest known storm in the universe) that it creates sound waves that travel hundreds of miles up and actually heat the planet’s upper atmosphere.

I repeat: sound waves are heating Jupiter’s atmosphere. The area above the Spot is a thousand degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding atmosphere.

Here’s the journal paper. Here’s our story.

Image credit: Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA

Happy 26th birthday to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope! 

In its more-than quarter century of operation, Hubble has broadened our understanding of the cosmos like no instrument before it. Last year, to mark the quarter century occasion, we spoke with Department of Astrophysics Curator Michael Shara, who worked with the Hubble mission during his time at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Dr. Shara and his collaborators have logged over 1,000 hours using the telescope for their work on star clusters, novae, and supernovae.

What did your work with the Hubble Space Telescope entail?
I joined the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI) in 1982, eight years before the launch of Hubble. I was the project manager for the Guide Star Catalog that is used to target and calibrate the Hubble, and a few years after the telescope was launched, I was responsible for overseeing the peer review committees, which looked over proposals from researchers who wanted to use the telescope.

What was that experience like?
It was amazing to be able to see things coming in astronomy years before they were published. Reading hundreds of proposals and sitting in on deliberations about them was spectacular to watch.

Read the full interview. 

Image: Hubble scientists released this image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 to celebrate the telescope’s anniversary. ©NASA/ESA

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is such a crazy, turbulent storm that it creates sound waves that travel hundreds of miles up and actually heat the planet’s upper atmosphere.

That’s the conclusion of scientists who found a striking hotspot right above the Great Red Spot. They describe their finding Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The Great Red Spot is a vast storm about 10,000 miles wide — around 1.5 times the size of Earth. “It’s the largest storm in the solar system,” says James O'Donoghue, a researcher at Boston University’s Center for Space Physics. “I guess, really, it’s the largest storm we know about anywhere, so far.”

This storm has screaming winds that blow up to 350 miles per hour, he says.

How Jupiter’s Red Spot Makes Things High Above It Hot, Hot, Hot

Photo: Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope Turns 25!

Hubble scientists released this image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 to celebrate the telescope’s anniversary. ©NASA/ESA

Friday, April 24 marks the 25thanniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In its quarter-century of operation, Hubble has broadened our understanding of the cosmos like no instrument before it. To mark the occasion, we spoke with Department of Astrophysics Curator Dr. Michael Shara  who worked with the Hubble mission during his time at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Dr. Shara and his collaborators have logged over 1000 hours using the telescope for their work on star clusters, novae and supernovae.

Department of Astrophysics Curator Dr. Michael Shara. AMNH/D.Finnin

What did your work with the Hubble Space Telescope entail?

I joined the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI) in 1982, eight years before the launch of Hubble. I was the project manager for the Guide Star Catalog that is used to target and calibrate the Hubble, and a few years after the telescope was launched, I was responsible for overseeing the peer review committees, which looked over proposals from researchers who wanted to use the telescope.

What was that experience like?

It was amazing to be able to see things coming in astronomy years before they were published. Reading hundreds of proposals and sitting in on deliberations about them was spectacular to watch.

How does it feel to look back on the launch of Hubble, twenty-five years out?

This anniversary is a joyous thing. Watching the deployment of Hubble in 1990 was an amazing, heart-stopping experience.

The so-called Pillars of Creation are one of the most iconic images Hubble has captured. ©NASA/ESA

Hubble’s mission didn’t start out exactly as planned, though, did it?

The first three years were bumpy. When word came back that spherical aberration was preventing Hubble from focusing properly, I think everyone working on the project had the same terrible feeling in the pit of their stomachs. The mission to repair it in 1993 was even more tense than the initial launch, but it was wildly successful, and for the last 22 years, the story of Hubble has been one triumph after another.

What are some things that stand out in Hubble’s history?

It’s hard to pick one, because Hubble has just been a discovery machine. It’s the most productive telescope in history, with thousands of refereed papers published using Hubble data so far. One that stands out is the discovery of dark energy by groups using the Hubble. That was a totally unexpected discovery that essentially lobbed a hand grenade into the world of modern physics.

We also learned much  about our own solar system. For example, we saw a comet smash into Jupiter, which helped us understand how frequently these events occur, and what an important role they have played in the development of our solar system.

What makes Hubble such a “discovery machine?”

Part of it is the Hubble Archives. Every image, every spectrum, and every measurement that Hubble takes is stored by STSI. That data is proprietary to the researchers who first gathered it for one year. After that period, the information is free and open to other researchers, as well as the general public. That means there are many astronomers using data in ways the people who gathered it could not have foreseen, like using images that looked for a phenomenon known as microlensing in galaxies to find large populations of novae in those same galaxies.

Jupiter’s moon, Io, passes in front of the gas giant, casting a shadow on its surface. ©NASA/ESA

How has this telescope changed since it was first deployed?

Every few years, Hubble has been upgraded, so it is a much more capable instrument today than when it was launched. The cameras are much more sensitive now, and the infrared and ultraviolet capabilities are vastly better than those available just a few years ago.

After 25 years, how much life does Hubble have left?

Well, the instruments, computers, and gyroscopes on Hubble are doing really well. It’s conceivable that it will be useful until 2021 or 2022. After that, because we don’t have a shuttle program to boost it into a higher orbit, Hubble’s orbit will decay to the point where it finally falls to Earth. But the body of data that Hubble has collected is unmatched, and that information will be put to use for decades to come, and maybe even a century from now.

This computer-simulated image shows a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy. The cosmic monster’s powerful gravity distorts space around it like the mirror in a fun house, smearing the light from nearby stars.

Scientists just found one such black hole (weighing as much as 17 billion suns) in a sparsely populated section of the universe. The implication? These behemoths are much more common than we thought.

More here!

Image credit: NASA/ESA/D. Coe, J. Anderson and R. van der Marel (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Hubble spies a stellar mystery

Astronomers have discovered a mysterious stellar outburst that appears to defy classification.

The exploding star, which was seen in the constellation Eridanus, faded over two weeks — much too rapidly to qualify as a supernova. The outburst was also about ten times fainter than most supernovae, explosions that destroy some or all of a star. But it was about 100 times brighter than an ordinary nova, which is a type of surface explosion that leaves a star intact.

“The combination of properties is puzzling,” says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “I thought about a number of possibilities, but each of them fails” to account for all characteristics of the outburst, he adds.

Continue Reading.

NASA to share Evidence of Surprising Activity on Europa today

NASA will host a teleconference today, September 26, 2016, at 2pm EDT.  to present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.

Astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa. Participants in the teleconference will be:

  • Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
  • Britney Schmidt, assistant professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
  • Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
The universe is expanding even faster than expected

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the universe is expanding 5 percent to 9 percent faster than expected.

“This surprising finding may be an important clue to understanding those mysterious parts of the universe that make up 95 percent of everything and don’t emit light, such as dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation,” said study leader and Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and The Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland.

The results will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Keep reading

This glowing region reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds – streams of charged particles ejected by the Trapezium stars – collide with stellar material.

Object Names: Orion Nebula, M42, NGC 1976

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Time And Space