Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy 20th birthday to Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is 20 today! Happy Birthday. I still remember from grad school days the thrill from seeing some of its earliest images (after the 1993 repair). I don't know how much time we spent gawking over the Hubble Deep Field or the Eagle Nebula or the Cartwheel Galaxy - all of these were taken between 1995-1996. Just imagine, each image transforming the area of astronomy it represented (see a mini-documentary about HST's contributions here). We have now indeed grown accustomed to being amazed by Hubble images. Here is one more. The image at the top of the post is a new one released for the 20th anniversary - and shows a close-up of a stellar nursery located 7500 light years away.

Phenomenal!

Here is the press release associated with the image:
This craggy fantasy mountaintop enshrouded by wispy clouds looks like a bizarre landscape from Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" or a Dr. Seuss book, depending on your imagination. The NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, which is even more dramatic than fiction, captures the chaotic activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being assaulted from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks.

This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. The image celebrates the 20th anniversary of Hubble's launch and deployment into an orbit around Earth.

Scorching radiation and fast winds (streams of charged particles) from super-hot newborn stars in the nebula are shaping and compressing the pillar, causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of hot ionized gas can be seen flowing off the ridges of the structure, and wispy veils of gas and dust, illuminated by starlight, float around its towering peaks. The denser parts of the pillar are resisting being eroded by radiation much like a towering butte in Utah's Monument Valley withstands erosion by water and wind.

Nestled inside this dense mountain are fledgling stars. Long streamers of gas can be seen shooting in opposite directions off the pedestal at the top of the image. Another pair of jets is visible at another peak near the center of the image. These jets (known as HH 901 and HH 902, respectively) are the signpost for new star birth. The jets are launched by swirling disks around the young stars, which allow material to slowly accrete onto the stars' surfaces.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed the pillar on Feb. 1-2, 2010. The colors in this composite image correspond to the glow of oxygen (blue), hydrogen and nitrogen (green), and sulfur (red).

You want a wallpaper of this image? Download it from here.

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