Astronomers have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory’s launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.
Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.
Hubble has been producing ground-breaking science for two decades. During that time, it has benefited from a slew of upgrades from space shuttle missions, including the 2009 addition of a new imaging workhorse, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3 that took the new portrait of the Horsehead.
On Jan. 12, 1986, the space shuttle Columbia launched at 6:55 a.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center on the STS-61C mission. It was the first spaceflight for NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, who was a Pilot on the STS-61C crew along with Mission Commander Robert L. Gibson, Mission Specialists Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, Steven A. Hawley and George D. Nelson and Payload Specialists Robert J. Cenker of RCA and U.S. Rep. (now Senator) Bill Nelson. During the six-day flight, crew members deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission was accomplished in 96 orbits of Earth, ending with a successful night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Jan. 18, 1986.
The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble Space Telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long stretch of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And there are lots of stars in this sweeping view — over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.
This ambitious photographic cartography of the Andromeda galaxy represents a new benchmark for precision studies of large spiral galaxies that dominate the universe’s population of over 100 billion galaxies. Never before have astronomers been able to see individual stars inside an external spiral galaxy over such a large contiguous area. Most of the stars in the universe live inside such majestic star cities, and this is the first data that reveal populations of stars in context to their home galaxy.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.
> More: Hubble’s High-Definition Panoramic View of the Andromeda Galaxy
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (U. of Washington), the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) team, and R. Gendler
In the story I’m working on, a character nicknamed Bugs gets to take her first trip into space in a bubble-ship. The occupants have the option to have the floor be transparent or solid. What would you choose?
Clouds can be observed from the International Space Station moving across Earth’s surface, as in this image of New Zealand taken by Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti. Other tiny solid and liquid particles called aerosols are also being transported around the atmosphere, but these are largely invisible to our eyes. To investigate the layers and composition of clouds and tiny airborne particles like dust, smoke and other atmospheric aerosols, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland have developed an Earth-observing instrument called the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS.
The CATS instrument, set to launch to the space station aboard the fifth SpaceX commercial resupply flight, will be the second NASA Earth-observing instrument to be mounted on the exterior of the station. CATS will provide data about aerosols at different levels of the atmosphere. The data are expected to improve scientists’ ability to track different cloud and aerosol types throughout the atmosphere. These datasets will be used to improve strategic and hazard-warning capabilities of events in near real-time, such as tracking plumes from dust storms, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires. The information could also feed into climate models to help understand the effects of clouds and aerosols on Earth’s energy balance.