Hubble celebrates its 34th anniversary with a look at the Little Dumbbell Nebula

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April 23, 2024

To celebrate the 34th anniversary of the launch of NASA and the European Space Agency's legendary Hubble Space Telescope on April 24, astronomers captured a snapshot of the Small Dumbbell Nebula (also known as Messier 76, M76, or NGC 650/651) located 3,400 lightpoints away. Years in the arctic constellation Gaul. The photonic nebula is a favorite target of amateur astronomers.

Classified as a planetary nebula, M76 is an expanding shell of glowing gas ejected from a dying red giant star. The star eventually collapses into an extremely dense, hot white dwarf. Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets, but they have this name because 18th-century astronomers, using low-powered telescopes, thought this type of object looked like a planet.

The M76 consists of a ring, viewed from the edge as the central band structure, and two lobes on either opening of the ring. Before the star burns up, it spews out a ring of gas and dust. The ring was likely sculpted by the effects of a star that previously had an accompanying binary star. This falling material created a thick disk of dust and gas along the plane of the companion's orbit. The hypothetical companion star was not seen in the Hubble image, so it is possible that the central star was later swallowed up. The disc would be forensic evidence of astral cannibalism.

The primary star collapses to form a white dwarf. It is one of the hottest stellar remnants known, with a temperature of up to 120,000 degrees Celsius, 24 times the surface temperature of our Sun. The whizzing white dwarf can be seen as a tiny dot in the center of the nebula. The star visible in the projection below it is not part of the nebula.

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Two lobes of hot gas escape from the top and bottom of the belt, confined to the disk, along the star's rotation axis perpendicular to the disk. They are propelled by a tornado-like stream of material from the dying star, tearing through space at two million miles per hour. That's fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in just over seven minutes! These abundant “stellar winds” flow into cooler, slower-moving gas, which was expelled early in the star's life, when it was a red giant. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the extremely hot star causes the gases to glow. Red is from nitrogen, blue is from oxygen.

Considering that our solar system is 4.6 billion years old, the entire nebula is a flash in the pan with cosmic timekeeping. It will disappear in about 15,000 years.

34 years of lore and photos

Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has made 1.6 million observations of more than 53,000 astronomical objects. Until now, Mikulski Archive of Space Telescopes The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland contains 184 terabytes of processed data ready for scientific use by astronomers around the world for use in research and analysis. The European Public Data Mirror is hosted at the European Space Agency's European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC), in European Hubble Space Telescope (eHST) Scientific Archive..

Since 1990, 44,000 scientific papers have been published from Hubble observations. This includes a record 1,056 papers published in 2023, of which 409 were led by authors in ESA member states. Demand for Hubble's use is so high, it is currently exceeded by a factor of six.

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Throughout the past year of science operations, new discoveries made with Hubble include finding water in the atmosphere of the smallest exoplanet yet, discovering a strange cosmic explosion far beyond any host galaxy, tracking spokes on Saturn's rings, and finding the home Unexpected for Saturn. The farthest and most powerful fast radio burst seen to date. Hubble's studies of the asteroid Demorphos, which was the target of a deliberate collision by a NASA spacecraft in September 2022 to change its trajectory, have continued, with the discovery of rocks released by the impact.

Hubble also continues to provide stunning images of celestial targets including spiral galaxies, globular clusters and star-forming nebulae. The newly formed star was the source of the cosmic light show. The Hubble images are also combined with infrared observations from NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope To create one of the most comprehensive views of the universe ever, an image of the galaxy cluster MACS 0416.

Most of Hubble's discoveries were not expected before launch, such as supermassive black holes, exoplanetary atmospheres, dark matter gravitational lensing, the presence of dark energy, and the frequent formation of interstellar planets. Hubble will continue research in these areas, as well as take advantage of its unique ultraviolet power to study things like solar system phenomena, supernova explosions, the composition of exoplanetary atmospheres, and dynamic emission from galaxies. Hubble's investigations continue to benefit from a long baseline of observations of solar system objects, variable star phenomena, and other exotic astrophysics of the universe.

Performance characteristics of James Webb Space Telescope It is designed to uniquely complement, not replace, Hubble. Future Hubble research will also benefit from the opportunity to synergize with Webb, which observes the universe in infrared light. Combined, the complementary wavelength coverage of the two space telescopes expands groundbreaking research in areas such as protostellar disks, exoplanet formation, unusual supernovae, galactic nuclei, and the chemistry of the distant universe.

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The Hubble Space Telescope has been in operation for more than three decades and continues to make groundbreaking discoveries that shape our fundamental understanding of the universe.

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The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between the European Space Agency and NASA.

Image source: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Pagan (STScI)



Bethany Downer
ESA/Hubble Chief Science Communications Officer
Email: [email protected]

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