Hubble Space Telescope
HST (Hubble Space Telescope) Mission
The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) of NASA is named in honor of the American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), Dr. Hubble confirmed an "expanding" universe, which provided the foundation for the big-bang theory. Hubble, the observatory, is the first major optical telescope to be placed in space, the ultimate mountaintop. Above the distortion of the atmosphere, far far above rain clouds and light pollution, Hubble has an unobstructed view of the universe. Scientists have used Hubble to observe the most distant stars and galaxies as well as the planets in our solar system. 1)
The planning for HST started in the early 1970s. The HST was launched into LEO (Low Earth Orbit) on April 24, 1990 on STS-31 (12:33:51 UTC, on Shuttle Discovery). Hubble is operational as of 2019, in its 30th year on orbit, and is one of NASA's Great Observatories. Hubble's launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo's telescope. Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same.
• Deployment of Hubble: April 25, 1990
• First Image: May 20, 1990: Star cluster NGC 3532
• Servicing Mission 1 (STS-61): December 1993
• Servicing Mission 2 (STS-82): February 1997
• Servicing Mission 3A (STS-103): December 1999
• Servicing Mission 3B (STS-109): February 2002
• Servicing Mission 4 (STS-125): May 2009
In 2020, the Hubble Space Telescope achieved its 30th year in orbit. Hubble’s unique design, allowing it to be repaired and upgraded with advanced technology by astronauts, has made it one of NASA’s longest-living and most valuable space-based observatories, beaming transformational astronomical images to Earth for decades.
Figure 1: Hubble has fundamentally changed our understanding of the cosmos, and its story — filled with challenges overcome by innovation, determination, and the human spirit — inspires us (video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Paul R. Morris (USRA): Lead Producer) 2)
Spacecraft: The spacecraft has a length of 13.2 m, a mass at launch of 10,886 kg, post SM (Servicing Mission) 4 of 12,247 kg, and a maximum diameter of 4.2 m.
Orbit: LEO with an altitude of 547 km an inclination of 28.5º, and a period of 95 minutes.
The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) of NASA features a ULE TM(Ultra-Low Expansion) primary mirror of 2.4 m diameter (f/24 Ritchey-Chretien) and a 0.3 m Zerodur secondary mirror. The HST primary mirror was a lightweighted monolithic design (824 kg) by Perkin-Elmer (now Goodrich Inc.), Danbury, CN, using a lightweight, thick egg crate core sandwiched between two plates and fused together.
The HST is the most precisely pointed instrument in spaceborne astronomy. The pointing requirements call for a continuous 24 hour target lock maintenance of 0.007 arcseconds (2 millionth degree).
Figure 2: IMAX Cargo Bay Camera view of the Hubble Space Telescope at the moment of release, mission STS-31 in April 1990 (image credit: NASA)
The telescope's original equipment package included the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC), Goddard High Resolution Spectograph (GHRS), Faint Object Camera (FOC), Faint Object Spectograph (FOS), and High Speed Photometer (HSP). 3) 4)
After a few weeks of operation, scientists noticed that images being sent back from Hubble were slightly blurred. While this distortion still allowed scientists to study the cosmos and make significant discoveries, it resulted in less spectacular images, and some of the original mission could not be fulfilled. An investigation finally revealed a spherical aberration in the primary mirror, due to a miscalibrated measuring instrument that caused the edges of the mirror to be ground slightly too flat. Engineers rushed to come up with a fix to the problem in time for Hubble's first scheduled servicing mission in 1993. The system designed to correct the error was designated COSTAR (Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement). COSTAR was a set of optics that compensated for the aberration and would allow all of Hubble's instruments to function normally.
In December, 1993, the crew of STS-61 embarked on a service mission to replace a number of Hubble's parts. Following intensive training on the use of new tools never used before in space, two teams of astronauts completed repairs during a record five back-to-back spacewalks. During the EVAs, COSTAR was installed and the Wide Field/Planetary Camera was replaced with the Wide Field/Planetary Camera 2, which was designed to compensate for the mirror problem. The team also performed basic maintenance on the craft, installed new solar arrays, and replaced four of Hubble's gyroscopes.
Shortly after the crew returned to Earth and the Hubble Space Telescope began returning sharp and spectacular images, NASA deemed the servicing mission a success. Astronomers could now take advantage of a fully functional space telescope, and the public was treated to breathtaking photos of stars, galaxies, nebulae, and other deep-space objects. Subsequent servicing missions improved Hubble's capabilities and performed routine repairs.
In February, 1997, the crew of STS-82 installed the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph (STIS) to detect infrared light from deep-space objects and take detailed photos of celestial objects. Servicing mission 3A in December, 1999 replaced all six of the telescope's aging gyroscopes, which accurately point the telescope at its target. STS-103 astronauts also replaced one of the telescope's three fine guidance sensors and installed a new computer, all in time to redeploy Hubble into orbit on Christmas Day. The most recent servicing mission to the spacecraft, servicing mission 3B, came aboard STS-109 in March, 2002. Columbia crewmembers installed the new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which had sharper vision, a wider field of view, and quicker data gathering than the Wide Field/Planetary Camera 2. Astronauts also replaced Hubble's solar panels with a more efficient array and conducted repairs on the NICMOS.
STS109-E-5700 (9 March 2002) — The Hubble Space Telescope, sporting new solar arrays and other important but less visible new hardware, begins its separation from the Space Shuttle Columbia. The STS-109 crew deployed the giant telescope at 4:04 a.m. CST (1004 GMT), March 9, 2002. Afterward, the seven crew members began to focus their attention to the trip home, scheduled for March 12. The STS-109 astronauts conducted five space walks to service and upgrade Hubble. 5)
The power for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's scientific discoveries comes from solar cells. Designing and constructing Hubble's first two sets of solar cell arrays, and the accompanying Solar Array Drive Mechanism (SADM) and Solar Array Drive Electronics (SADE), constituted a huge technological achievement for the European Space Agency (ESA) and European industry. After an in-orbit life of more than 10 years, the ESA-built solar arrays were replaced by new, more powerful arrays. However, ESA’s SADM and SADE, which control the telescope’s current solar arrays, are still on board and under ESA purview. They are among the telescope’s oldest subsystems. 6)
In December 2019, the accumulated slew angles of the SADM had reached 1,000,000 degrees of travel. This travel began accumulating on this day 18 years ago, 5 March 2002, when ESA’s solar arrays were replaced during the Space Shuttle Servicing Mission 3B.
“This milestone is a special occasion to recognize that after all of these years of operation, the SADM and SADE are still functioning perfectly without any sign of degradation. It's a fantastic achievement,” said Lothar Gerlach, former ESA project manager for the European hardware onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. “The SADM and SADE have greatly exceeded their design life, and we are very proud they are still a key part of Hubble scientific operations”.
Notes: The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international co-operation between ESA and NASA. The ESA Hubble Space Telescope solar arrays have been provided to the European Space Agency by Astrium (UK/Germany — formerly British Aerospace, United Kingdom, AEG/Telefunken and Dornier — now Airbus, Germany), and Oerlikon Contraves Space (Switzerland).
Europe & Hubble 7)
ESA’s contribution to the Hubble Project guarantees European scientists access to 15% of Hubble observing time. Hubble time is allocated on scientific merit by an international panel that includes European experts. Over Hubble’s lifetime, European astronomers have, in open competition, been allocated more than the guaranteed 15%, and in some years the proportion has been closer to 25%.
Scientists from most ESA Member States have had an opportunity to observe with Hubble. To date, almost 800 observing programs with European principal investigators (lead scientists) have been carried out or are scheduled to be in the next observing round, with many others involved as co-investigators.
Figure 3: An overview of the fraction of observing time that has been rewarded to ESA proposals. It is measured in two different ways: In number of proposals and in time (here measured in units of Hubble orbits, i.e. 96 minutes). By both metrics, European scientists have won comfortably more than 15% of observing time in the majority of years since launch (image credit: ESA)
The success of a scientific mission can be measured by the number and quality of scientific papers that are published in the specialized press. The number of papers based on Hubble observations published each year has been increasing continuously since the telescope’s launch. There is at least one European author or co-author on about 30% of these papers, indicating the importance of Hubble to European astronomy.
Figure 4: This photograph of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was taken on the fifth servicing mission to the observatory in May 2009 (image credit: NASA)
Figure 5: Artist's view of the HST in space along with the designation of the key element locations (image credit: NASA)
The Hubble Space Telescope is an international collaboration among NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA has overall responsibility for the Hubble mission and operations. ESA provided the original FOC (Faint Object Camera) and solar panels, and provides science operations support.
Figure 6: Photo of the Hubble mission operations team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as of Hubble’s 25th anniversary of flight in April 2015. Since Hubble’s official start in 1977, thousand of people from the United States and Europe have supported the mission through building and testing hardware and software, operating the vehicle, and performing science operations. More than 30 astronauts have flown to Hubble to deploy, upgrade and repair the observatory with the support of a human spaceflight and space shuttle staff. Thousands of astronomers from dozens of countries have used Hubble and analyzed its data to produce more than 15,000 peer reviewed papers to date (image credit: NASA/GSFC, Bill Hrybyk) 8)
Note: At this stage of the mission (2018), no attempt is being made to recover all facets of Hubble regarding the spacecraft, instrumentation and the past history (it would have required a constant accompaniment of the mission with all updates over its lifetime). Instead, some fairly recent images of the mission and the operational status of the mission are presented.
The Hubble Servicing Missions are shortly described in a separate chapter of this file.
HST sensor complement: (ACS, WFC3, STIS, COS, FGS, NICMOS)
The Hubble Space Telescope has three types of instruments that analyze light from the universe: cameras, spectrographs and interferometers. 9)
Figure 7: Hubble’s scientific instruments analyze different types of light ranging from ultraviolet (UV) to infrared (IR). This graphic shows which wavelengths each instrument studies (image credit: NASA)
Hubble has two primary camera systems to capture images of the cosmos. Called the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), these two systems work together to provide superb wide-field imaging over a broad range of wavelengths.
ACS (Advanced Camera for Surveys)
Installed on Hubble in 2002, ACS was designed primarily for wide-field imagery in visible wavelengths, although it can also detect ultraviolet and near-infrared light. ACS has three cameras, called channels, that capture different types of images. An electronics failure in January 2007 rendered the two most-used science channels inoperable. In 2009, astronauts were able to repair one of the channels and restored ACS’s capacity to capture high-resolution, wide-field views.
WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3)
Installed in 2009, WFC3 provides wide-field imagery in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. WFC3 was designed to complement ACS and expand the imaging capabilities of Hubble in general. While ACS is primarily used for visible-light imaging, WFC3 probes deeper into infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths, providing a more complete view of the cosmos.
Figure 8: Astronaut Andrew Feustel prepares to install WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3) on Hubble during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009 (image credit: NASA)
Spectrographs practice spectroscopy, the science of breaking light down to its component parts, similar to how a prism splits white light into a rainbow. Any object that absorbs or emits light can be studied with a spectrograph to determine characteristics such as temperature, density, chemical composition and velocity.
Hubble currently utilizes two spectrographs: COS (Cosmic Origins Spectrograph) and the STIS (Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph). COS and STIS are complementary instruments that provide scientists with detailed spectral data for a variety of celestial objects. While STIS is a versatile, “all purpose” spectrograph that handles bright objects well, COS measures exceedingly faint levels of ultraviolet light emanating from distant cosmic sources, such as quasars in remote galaxies. Working together, the two spectrographs provide a full set of spectroscopic tools for astrophysical research.
Figure 9: Hubble's STIS captured a spectrum (right) of material ejected by a pair of massive stars called Eta Carinae, while the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 took an image of the billowing clouds of gas enveloping the stellar pair (left). The spectrum reveals that one of the lobes contains the elements helium (He), argon (Ar), iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni), image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Figure 10: Hubble's 2.4 m diameter primary mirror collects light from its astronomical target and reflex it to a 0.3 m diameter secondary mirror located in the optical tube. This secondary mirror then reflects the light through a hole in the primary mirror to form an image at the telescope’s focal plane. There it is intercepted by pick-off mirrors that pass it into the scientific instruments (image credit: Hubblesite) 10)
Hubble’s interferometers serve a dual purpose — they help the telescope maintain a steady aim and also serve as a scientific instrument. The three interferometers aboard Hubble are called the FGS (Fine Guidance Sensors). The Fine Guidance Sensors measure the relative positions and brightnesses of stars.
When Hubble is pointing at a target, two of the three Fine Guidance Sensors are used to lock the telescope onto the target. For certain observations, the third Fine Guidance Sensor can be used to gather scientific information about a target, such as a celestial object’s angular diameter or star positions that are ten times more accurate than those obtained by ground-based telescopes.
The Fine Guidance Sensors are very sensitive instruments. They seek out stable point sources of light (known as “guide stars”) and then lock onto them to keep the telescope pointing steadily. When a light in the sky is not a point source, the Fine Guidance Sensor cannot lock on and so it rejects the guide star. Often, a rejected guide star is actually a faraway galaxy or a double-star system. Since Hubble was launched in 1990, the Fine Guidance Sensors have detected hundreds of double-star systems that were previously thought to be single stars.
Only one of the instruments remaining on Hubble — the third Fine Guidance Sensor — was launched with the observatory in 1990. The rest of the instruments were installed during Hubble’s five servicing missions. In addition to installing new instruments, astronauts also repaired two instruments (ACS and STIS) while visiting Hubble on Servicing Mission 4 in 2009. The NICMOS (Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer) on Hubble is in hibernation following a cryocooler anomaly, but most of its infrared duties have since been taken over by WFC3.
Hubble’s past instruments include:
• High Speed Photometer
• Faint Object Camera (FOC), provided by ESA
• Faint Object Spectrograph
• Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph
• Wide Field and Planetary Camera
• Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2
• Fine Guidance Sensors (three).
ACS (Advanced Camera for Surveys) - ACS is a third-generation imaging camera. This camera is optimized to perform surveys or broad imaging campaigns. ACS replaced Hubble's Faint Object Camera (FOC) during Servicing Mission 3B. Its wavelength range extends from the ultraviolet, through the visible and out to the near-infrared (115-1050 nm). ACS has increased Hubble's potential for new discoveries by a factor of ten.
COS (Cosmic Origins Spectrograph) - COS focuses exclusively on ultraviolet (UV) light and is the most sensitive ultraviolet spectrograph ever, increasing the sensitivity at least 10 times in the UV spectrum and up to 70 times when looking at extremely faint objects. It is best at observing points of light, like stars and quasars. COS was installed during during Servicing Mission 4 in May 2009.
STIS (Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph) - STIS is a second-generation imager/spectrograph. STIS is used to obtain high resolution spectra of resolved objects. STIS has the special ability to simultaneously obtain spectra from many different points along a target. The STIS instrument has a mass of 318 kg and a wavelength range of 115-1000 nm.
STIS spreads out the light gathered by a telescope so that it can be analyzed to determine such properties of celestial objects as chemical composition and abundances, temperature, radial velocity, rotational velocity, and magnetic fields. Its spectrograph can be switched between two different modes of usage:
C So-called "long slit spectroscopy" where spectra of many different points across an object are obtained simultaneously.
1) So-called "echelle spectroscopy" where the spectrum of one object is spread over the detector giving better wavelength resolution in a single exposure.
STIS also has a so-called coronagraph which can block light from bright objects, and in this way enables investigations of nearby fainter objects.
WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3) - Wide Field Camera 3 is the main imager on the telescope. It has a camera that records visible and ultraviolet (UVIS, 200-1000 nm) wavelengths of light and is 35 times more sensitive in the UV wavelengths than its predecessor. A second camera that is built to view infrared (NIR, 850-1700 nm) light increases Hubble's IR resolution from 65,000 to 1 million pixels. Its combination of field-of-view, sensitivity, and low detector noise results in a 15-20 time improvement over Hubble’s previous IR camera. WFC3 was jointly developed at GSFC, STScI (Space Telescope Science Institute) in Baltimore and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, CO. 11)
FGS (Fine Guidance Sensor) – The FGS provides pointing information for the spacecraft by locking onto guide stars. The FGS can also function as a scientific instrument by precisely measuring the relative positions of stars, detecting rapid changes in a star’s brightness, and resolving double-star systems that appear as point sources even to Hubble’s cameras. Hubble has three FGSs onboard the observatory.
NICMOS (Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer) – NICMOS has the ability to obtain images and spectroscopic observations of astronomical targets at near-infrared wavelengths. Although NICMOS is currently inactive, most of its functionality is replaced by Hubble’s other science instruments.
Note: As of 25 April 2020, the previously large Hubble file has been split into three files, to make the file handling manageable for all parties concerned, in particular for the user community.
• This article covers the Hubble mission and its imagery in the period 2021, in addition to some of the mission milestones.
HST (Hubble Space Telescope) - Status and some observation imagery in the period 2021
• July 26, 2021: Astronomers have used archival datasets from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to reveal the first evidence for water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, the result of the thermal escape of water vapor from the moon’s icy surface. 12) 13)
- Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest moon — and the ninth-largest object — in the Solar System. It may hold more water than all of Earth's oceans, but temperatures there are so cold that water on the surface freezes and the ocean lies roughly 160 kilometers below the crust. Nevertheless, where there is water there could be life as we know it. Identifying liquid water on other worlds is crucial in the search for habitable planets beyond Earth. And now, for the first time, evidence has been found for a sublimated water atmosphere on the icy moon Ganymede.
- In 1998, Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) took the first ultraviolet (UV) pictures of Ganymede, which revealed a particular pattern in the observed emissions from the moon’s atmosphere. The moon displays auroral bands that are somewhat similar to the auroral ovals observed on Earth and other planets with magnetic fields. These images were therefore illustrative evidence that Ganymede has a permanent magnetic field. The similarities between the two ultraviolet observations were explained by the presence of molecular oxygen, O2. The differences were explained at the time by the presence of atomic oxygen, O, which produces a signal that affects one UV color more than the other.
- As part of a large observing programme to support NASA’s Juno mission in 2018, Lorenz Roth, of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, led a team that set out to capture UV spectra of Ganymede with Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) instrument to measure the amount of atomic oxygen. They carried out a combined analysis of new spectra taken in 2018 with the COS and archival images from the STIS instrument from 1998 and 2010. To their surprise, and in contrast to the original interpretations of the data from 1998, they discovered there was hardly any atomic oxygen in Ganymede's atmosphere. This means there must be another explanation for the apparent differences between the UV aurora images.
- The explanation was then uncovered by Roth and his team in the relative distribution of the aurorae in the two images. Ganymede's surface temperature varies strongly throughout the day, and around noon near the equator it may become sufficiently warm that the icy surface releases some small amounts of water molecules. In fact, the perceived differences between the UV images are directly correlated with where water would be expected in the moon’s atmosphere.
- “Initially only the O2 had been observed,” explained Roth. “This is produced when charged particles erode the ice surface. The water vapor that we have now measured originates from ice sublimation caused by the thermal escape of H2O vapor from warm icy regions.”
- This finding adds anticipation to ESA’s upcoming JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission — the first large-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision 2015–2025 programme. Planned for launch in 2022 and arrival at Jupiter in 2029, it will spend at least three years making detailed observations of Jupiter and three of its largest moons, with particular emphasis on Ganymede as a planetary body and potential habitable world. Ganymede was identified for detailed investigation because it provides a natural laboratory for the analysis of the nature, evolution and potential habitability of icy worlds in general and the role it plays within the system of Galilean satellites, and its unique magnetic and plasma interactions with Jupiter and its environment (known as the Jovian system).
Figure 11: This image presents Jupiter’s moon Ganymede as seen by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in 1996. Located over 600 million kilometers away, Hubble can follow changes on the moon and reveal other characteristics at ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths. - Astronomers have now used archival datasets from Hubble to reveal the first evidence for water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, the result of the thermal escape of water vapor from the moon’s icy surface (image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, J. Spencer)
- “Our results can provide the JUICE instrument teams with valuable information that may be used to refine their observation plans to optimize the use of the spacecraft,” added Roth.
- Understanding the Jovian system and unravelling its history, from its origin to the possible emergence of habitable environments, will provide us with a better understanding of how gas giant planets and their satellites form and evolve. In addition, new insights will hopefully be found into the potential for the emergence of life in Jupiter-like exoplanetary systems.
- A paper is published in the journal Nature Astronomy. 14)
Figure 12: Astronomers have used new and archival datasets from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to uncover evidence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. The vapor is present due to the thermal excitation of water molecules from the moon’s icy surface. Previous research has offered circumstantial evidence for the moon containing more water than all of Earth's oceans. However, temperatures there are so cold that water on the surface freezes and the ocean lies roughly 100 miles below the crust (video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center) 15)
• July 23, 2021: The center of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is framed by the tell-tale arcs that result from strong gravitational lensing, a striking astronomical phenomenon which can warp, magnify, or even duplicate the appearance of distant galaxies. 16)
- Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant galaxy is subtly distorted by the gravitational pull of an intervening astronomical object. In this case, the relatively nearby galaxy cluster MACSJ0138.0-2155 has lensed a significantly more distant quiescent galaxy — a slumbering giant known as MRG-M0138 which has run out of the gas required to form new stars and is located 10 billion light years away. Astronomers can use gravitational lensing as a natural magnifying glass, allowing them to inspect objects like distant quiescent galaxies which would usually be too difficult for even Hubble to resolve.
Figure 13: This image was made using observations from eight different infrared filters spread across two of Hubble’s most advanced astronomical instruments: the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3. These instruments were installed by astronauts during the final two servicing missions to Hubble, and provide astronomers with superbly detailed observations across a large area of sky and a wide range of wavelengths (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Newman, M. Akhshik, K. Whitaker; CC BY 4.0)
• July 21, 2021: According to the latest cosmological models, large spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way grew by absorbing smaller galaxies, by a sort of galactic cannibalism. Evidence for this is given by very large structures, the tidal stellar streams, which are observed around them, which are the remains of these satellite galaxies. But the full histories of the majority of these cases are hard to study, because these flows of stars are very faint, and only the remains of the most recent mergers have been detected. 17)
Figure 14: Hubble image of the Sombrero galaxy (M104), image credit: Manuel Jiménez/Giuseppe Donatiello
- A study led by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC), with the participation of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), has made detailed observations of a large tidal flow around the Sombrero galaxy, whose strange morphology has still not been definitively explained. The results are published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS). 18)
- The Sombrero galaxy (Messier 104) is a galaxy some thirty million light years away, which is part of the Local Supercluster (a group of galaxies which includes the Virgo cluster and the Local Group containing the Milky Way). It has roughly one third of the diameter of the Milky Way, and shows characteristics of both of the dominant types of galaxies in the Universe, the spirals and the ellipticals. It has spiral arms, and a very large bright central bulge, which makes it look like a hybrid of the two types.
- “Our motive for obtaining these very deep images of the Sombrero galaxy (Messier 104) was to look for the remains of its merger with a very massive galaxy. This possible collision was recently suggested on the basis of studies of the stellar population of its strange halo obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope”, says David Martínez-Delgado, a researcher at the IAA-CSIC and first author of the paper reporting the work.
- The observations with the Hubble, in 2020, showed that the halo, an extensive and faint region surrounding the Sombrero galaxy, shows many stars rich in metals, elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. This is a feature to typical of new generations of stars, which are normally found in the discs of galaxies, and are quite unusual in galactic halos, which are populated by old stars. To explain their presence astronomers suggested what is known as “a wet merger”, a scenario in which a large elliptical galaxy is rejuvenated by large quantities of gas and dust from another massive galaxy, which went into the formation of the disc which we now observe.
- “In our images we have not found any evidence to support this hypothesis, although we cannot rule out that it could have happened several thousand million years ago, and the debris is completely dissipated by now -explains David Martínez-Delgado-. In our search we have in fact been able to trace for the first time the complete tidal stream which surrounds the disc of this galaxy, and our theoretical simulations have let us reconstruct its formation in the last three thousand million years, by cannibalism of a satellite dwarf galaxy”.
- “Observational techniques in present day Astrophysics need advanced image processing. Our modelling of the bright stars around the Sombrero galaxy, and at the same time of the halo light of the galaxy itself has enabled us to unveil the nature of this tidal stream. It is remarkable that thanks to these advanced photometric techniques we have been able to do front line science with a Messier object using only an 18 cm (diameter) telescope”, explains Javier Román, a postdoctoral researcher at the IAC and a co-author of the study.
- The research team rejects the idea that the large stellar tidal stream, known for more than three decades, could be related to the event which produced the strange morphology of the Sombrero galaxy which, if it was caused by a wet merger, would need the interaction of two galaxies with large masses.
- The work has been possible thanks to the collaboration between professional and amateur astronomers. “We have collaborated with the Spanish astrophotographer Manuel Jiménez, who took the images with a robotic telescope of 18 cm diameter, and the well-known Australian astrophotographer David Malin, who discovered this tidal stream on photographic plates taken in the 90’s of the last century. This collaboration shows the potential of amateur telescopes to take deep images of nearby galaxies which give important clues about the process of their assembly which is continuing until the present epoch”, concludes Martínez-Delgado.
Figure 15: Simulation of the tidal stream in the Sombrero Galaxy (M104). An image of the galaxy is shown on the left and a simulation movie that matches the current location of the flow is shown on the right [video credit: Denis Erkal (University of Surrey, UK), David Martínez-Delgado (IAA-CSIC)]
Figure 16: Artist's conception of the tidal stream of the Sombrero galaxy (M104), image credit: Jon Lomberg for the Stellar Tidal Stream Survey.
• July 19, 2021: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, exploring the universe near and far. The science instruments have returned to full operation, following recovery from a computer anomaly that suspended the telescope’s observations for more than a month. 19)
Figure 17: These images, from a program led by Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington in Seattle, demonstrate Hubble's return to full science operations. Left: ARP-MADORE2115-273 is a rarely observed example of a pair of interacting galaxies in the southern hemisphere. Right: ARP-MADORE0002-503 is a large spiral galaxy with unusual, extended spiral arms. While most disk galaxies have an even number of spiral arms, this one has three [image credits: Science: NASA, ESA, STScI, Julianne Dalcanton (UW) Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)]
- “I’m thrilled to see that Hubble has its eye back on the universe, once again capturing the kind of images that have intrigued and inspired us for decades,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This is a moment to celebrate the success of a team truly dedicated to the mission. Through their efforts, Hubble will continue its 32nd year of discovery, and we will continue to learn from the observatory’s transformational vision.”
- Hubble’s payload computer, which controls and coordinates the observatory’s onboard science instruments, halted suddenly on June 13. When the main computer failed to receive a signal from the payload computer, it automatically placed Hubble’s science instruments into safe mode. That meant the telescope would no longer be doing science while mission specialists analyzed the situation.
- The Hubble team moved quickly to investigate what ailed the observatory, which orbits about 340 miles (547 kilometers) above Earth. Working from mission control at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as well as remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, engineers collaborated to figure out the cause of the problem.
- Complicating matters, Hubble was launched in 1990 and has been observing the universe for over 31 years. To fix a telescope built in the 1980s, the team had to draw on the knowledge of staff from across its lengthy history.
- Hubble alumni returned to support the current team in the recovery effort, lending decades of mission expertise. Retired staff who helped build the telescope, for example, knew the ins and outs of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, where the payload computer resides – critical expertise for determining next steps for recovery. Other former team members lent a hand by scouring Hubble’s original paperwork, surfacing 30- to 40-year-old documents that would help the team chart a path forward.
Figure 18: On June 13, 2021, the Hubble Space Telescope’s payload computer unexpectedly came to a halt. However, the Hubble team methodically identified the possible cause and how to compensate for it (video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
- “That’s one of the benefits of a program that’s been running for over 30 years: the incredible amount of experience and expertise,” said Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at Goddard. “It’s been humbling and inspiring to engage with both the current team and those who have moved on to other projects. There’s so much dedication to their fellow Hubble teammates, the observatory, and the science Hubble is famous for.”
- Together, team members new and old worked their way through the list of likely culprits, seeking to isolate the issue to ensure they have a full inventory for the future of which hardware is still working.
- The team then moved on to explore whether other hardware was at fault, including the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter and the Power Control Unit, which is designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. However, it would be more complicated to address either of these issues, and riskier for the telescope in general. Switching to these components’ backup units would require switching several other hardware boxes as well.
- “The switch required 15 hours of spacecraft commanding from the ground. The main computer had to be turned off, and a backup safe mode computer temporarily took over the spacecraft. Several boxes also had to be powered on that were never turned on before in space, and other hardware needed their interfaces switched,” said Jim Jeletic, Hubble deputy project manager at Goddard. “There was no reason to believe that all of this wouldn’t work, but it’s the team’s job to be nervous and think of everything that could go wrong and how we might compensate for it. The team meticulously planned and tested every small step on the ground to make sure they got it right.”
- The team proceeded carefully and systematically from there. Over the following two weeks, more than 50 people worked to review, update, and vet the procedures to switch to backup hardware, testing them on a high-fidelity simulator and holding a formal review of the proposed plan.
- Simultaneously, the team analyzed the data from their earlier tests, and their findings pointed to the Power Control Unit as the possible cause of the issue. On July 15, they made the planned switch to the backup side of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, which contains the backup Power Control Unit.
- Victory came around 11:30 p.m. EDT July 15, when the team determined the switch was successful. The science instruments were then brought to operational status, and Hubble began taking scientific data once again on July 17. Most observations missed while science operations were suspended will be rescheduled.
Figure 19: Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, works in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to full science operations (image credit: NASA/GSFC, Rebecca Roth)
- This is not the first time Hubble has had to rely on backup hardware. The team performed a similar switch in 2008, returning Hubble to normal operations after another part of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit failed. Hubble’s final servicing mission in 2009 – a much-needed tune-up championed by former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski – then replaced the entire SI C&DH unit, greatly extending Hubble’s operational lifetime.
- Since that servicing mission, Hubble has taken more than 600,000 observations, bringing its lifetime total to more than 1.5 million. Those observations continue to change our understanding of the universe.
Figure 20: Members of the Hubble operations team work in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to science operations (image credit: NASA/GSFC, Rebecca Roth)
- “Hubble is in good hands. The Hubble team has once again shown its resiliency and prowess in addressing the inevitable anomalies that arise from operating the world’s most famous telescope in the harshness of space,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, which conducts Hubble science operations. “I am impressed by the team’s dedication and common purpose over the past month to return Hubble to service. Now that Hubble is once again providing unprecedented views of the universe, I fully expect it will continue to astound us with many more scientific discoveries ahead.”
- Hubble has contributed to some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system. Its mission was to spend at least 15 years probing the farthest and faintest reaches of the cosmos, and it continues to far exceed this goal.
- “The sheer volume of record-breaking science Hubble has delivered is staggering,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We have so much to learn from this next chapter of Hubble's life – on its own, and together with the capabilities of other NASA observatories. I couldn’t be more excited about what the Hubble team has achieved over the past few weeks. They’ve met the challenges of this process head on, ensuring that Hubble's days of exploration are far from over."
• July 17, 2021: NASA has returned the science instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope to operational status, and the collection of science data will now resume. This will be the first science data collected since the payload computer experienced a problem on June 13, which placed the instruments in a safe configuration and suspended science operations. 20)
- Hubble is an icon, giving us incredible insight into the cosmos over the past three decades,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I’m proud of the Hubble team, from current members to Hubble alumni who stepped in to lend their support and expertise. Thanks to their dedication and thoughtful work, Hubble will continue to build on its 31-year legacy, broadening our horizons with its view of the universe.”
- The first observation is scheduled for Saturday afternoon after some instrument calibrations are completed. Most observations missed while science operations were suspended will be rescheduled for a later date.
- The Hubble team has been investigating the cause of the payload computer problem since it first occurred. On July 15, the team switched the spacecraft to backup hardware.
- NASA anticipates that Hubble will last for many more years and will continue making groundbreaking observations, working in tandem with other space observatories including the James Webb Space Telescope to further our knowledge of the cosmos.
- Launched in 1990, Hubble has been observing the universe for over 31 years. It has taken over 1.5 million observations of the universe, and over 18,000 scientific papers have been published with its data. It has contributed to some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system.
• July 16, 2021: NASA has successfully switched to backup hardware on the Hubble Space Telescope, including powering on the backup payload computer, on July 15. The switch was performed to compensate for a problem with the original payload computer that occurred on June 13 when the computer halted, suspending science data collection. 21)
- NASA has successfully switched to backup hardware on the Hubble Space Telescope, including powering on the backup payload computer, on July 15. The switch was performed to compensate for a problem with the original payload computer that occurred on June 13 when the computer halted, suspending science data collection.
- The switch included bringing online the backup Power Control Unit (PCU) and the backup Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) on the other side of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit. The PCU distributes power to the SI C&DH components, and the CU/SDF sends and formats commands and data. In addition, other pieces of hardware onboard Hubble were switched to their alternate interfaces to connect to this backup side of the SI C&DH. Once these steps were completed, the backup payload computer on this same unit was turned on and loaded with flight software and brought up to normal operations mode.
- The Hubble team is now monitoring the hardware to ensure that everything is working properly. The team has also started the process for recovering the science instruments out of their safe mode configuration. This activity is expected to take more than a day as the team runs various procedures and ensures the instruments are at stable temperatures. The team will then conduct some initial calibration of the instruments before resuming normal science operations.
• July 16, 2021: This image shows the globular cluster NGC 6380, which lies around 35,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Scorpio (The Scorpion). The very bright star at the top of the image is HD 159073, which is only around 4000 light-years from Earth, making it a much nearer neighbor to Earth than NGC 6380.
- NGC 6380 is not a particularly exciting name, but it indicates that this cluster is catalogued in the New General Catalogue (NGC), which was originally compiled in 1888. This cluster has, however, been known by many other names. It was originally discovered by James Dunlop in 1826, and he rather immodestly named it Dun 538. Eight years later, in 1834, it was independently rediscovered by John Herschel and he (similarly immodestly) went on to name it H 3688. The cluster was re-rediscovered in 1959 in Paris by Pişmiş, who catalogued it as Tonantzintla 1 — and who, to continue the pattern, also referred to it as Pişmiş 25. In addition to its colorful history of rediscovery, up until the 1950s NGC 6380 was thought to be an open cluster. It was A. D. Thackeray who realized that it was in fact a globular cluster. Nowadays, this cluster is reliably recognized in widely available catalogues as a globular cluster, and referred to simply as NGC 6380.
Figure 21: This image of NGC6380 was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which, as its name suggests, has a wide field of view, meaning that it can image relatively large areas of the sky in enormous detail (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, E. Noyola; CC BY 4.0)
• July 14, 2021: Dr. Iair Arcavi, a Tel Aviv University researcher at the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, participated in a study that discovered a new type of stellar explosion - an electron-capture supernova. While they have been theorized for 40 years, real-world examples have been elusive. Such supernovas arise from the explosions of stars 8-9 times the mass of the sun. The discovery also sheds new light on the thousand-year mystery of the supernova from A.D. 1054 that was seen by ancient astronomers, before eventually becoming the Crab Nebula, that we know today. 22)
- A supernova is the explosion of a star following a sudden imbalance between two opposing forces that shaped the star throughout its life. Gravity tries to contract every star. Our sun, for example, counter balances this force through nuclear fusion in its core, which produces pressure that opposes the gravitational pull. As long as there is enough nuclear fusion, gravity will not be able to collapse the star. However, eventually, nuclear fusion will stop, just like gas runs out in a car, and the star will collapse. For stars like the sun, the collapsed core is called a white dwarf. This material in white dwarfs is so dense that quantum forces between electrons prevent further collapse.
- For stars 10 times more massive than our sun, however, electron quantum forces are not enough to stop the gravitational pull, and the core continues to collapse until it becomes a neutron star or a black hole, accompanied by a giant explosion. In the intermediate mass range, the electrons are squeezed (or more accurately, captured) onto atomic nuclei. This removes the electron quantum forces, and causes the star to collapse and then explode.
- Historically, there have been two main supernova types. One is a thermonuclear supernova — the explosion of a white dwarf star after it gains matter in a binary star system. These white dwarfs are the dense cores of ash that remain after a low-mass star (one up to about 8 times the mass of the sun) reaches the end of its life. Another main supernova type is a core-collapse supernova where a massive star — one more than about 10 times the mass of the sun — runs out of nuclear fuel and has its core collapsed, creating a black hole or a neutron star. Theoretical work suggested that electron-capture supernovae would occur on the borderline between these two types of supernovae.
- That's the theory that was developed in the 1980's by Ken'ichi Nomoto of the University of Tokyo, and others. Over the decades, theorists have formulated predictions of what to look for in an electron-capture supernova. The stars should lose a lot of mass of particular composition before exploding, and the supernova itself should be relatively weak, have little radioactive fallout, and produce neutron-rich elements.
- The new study, published in Nature Astronomy, focuses on the supernova SN2018zd, discovered in 2018 by Japanese amateur astronomer Koihchi Itagaki. Dr. Iair Arcavi, of the astrophysics department at Tel Aviv University, also took part in the study. This supernova, located in the galaxy NGC 2146, has all of the properties expected from an electron-capture supernova, which were not seen in any other supernova. In addition, because the supernova is relatively nearby - only 31 million light years away - the researchers were able to identify the star in pre-explosion archival images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Indeed, the star itself also fits the predictions of the type of star that should explode as an electron-capture supernovae, and is unlike stars that were seen to explode as the other types of supernovae. 23)
Figure 22: Hubble Space Telescope color composite of the electron-capture supernova 2018zd and the host starburst galaxy NGC 2146 (image credit: NASA/STScI/J. DePasquale; Las Cumbres Observatory)
- While some supernovae discovered in the past had a few of the indicators predicted for electron-capture supernovae, only SN2018zd had all six - a progenitor star that fits within the expected mass range, strong pre-supernova mass loss, an unusual chemical composition, a weak explosion, little radioactivity, and neutron-rich material. "We started by asking 'what's this weirdo?'" said Daichi Hiramatsu of the University of California Santa Barbara and Las Cumbres Observatory, who led the study. "Then we examined every aspect of SN 2018zd and realized that all of them can be explained in the electron-capture scenario."
- The new discoveries also illuminate some mysteries of one of the most famous supernovae of the past. In A.D. 1054 a supernova happened in our own Milky Way Galaxy, and according to Chinese and Japanese records, it was so bright that it could be seen in the daytime and cast shadows at night. The resulting remnant, the Crab Nebula, has been studied in great detail, and was found to have an unusual composition. It was previously the best candidate for an electron-capture supernova, but this was uncertain partly because the explosion happened nearly a thousand years ago. The new result increases the confidence that the historic 1054 supernova was an electron-capture supernova.
- "It's amazing that we can shed light on historical events in the Universe with modern instruments," says Dr. Arcavi. "Today, with robotic telescopes that scan the sky in unprecedented efficiency, we can discover more and more rare events which are critical for understanding the laws of nature, without having to wait 1000 years between one event and the next."
• July 9, 2021: Two things capture your attention in this spectacular Picture of the Week, which was taken using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3): the two enormous galaxies that flank the left and right sides of the image. The galaxy on the left is a lenticular galaxy, which rejoices in the name of 2MASX J03193743+4137580. The side-on spiral galaxy on the right is more simply named UGC 2665. Both galaxies lie approximately 350 million light-years from Earth, and they both form part of the enormous Perseus galaxy cluster. 24)
Figure 23: Perseus is an important figure in Greek mythology, renowned for slaying Medusa the Gorgon — who is herself famous for the unhappy reason that she was cursed to have living snakes for hair. Given Perseus’s impressive credentials, it seems appropriate that the eponymous galaxy cluster is one of the biggest objects in the known Universe, consisting of thousands of galaxies, only a few of which are visible in this image. The wonderful detail in the image is thanks to the WFC3’s powerful resolution and high sensitivity. The WFC3 is sensitive to both visible and infrared light, so those are the wavelengths that are captured in this image. The Perseus supercluster looks very different at other wavelengths. Whilst in this image the spaces between the galaxies appear dark and peaceful, when the X-ray emission is observed the Perseus cluster appears to be burning with bright intense light (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Harris; CC BY 4.0 Acknowledgement: L. Shatz)
• July 2, 2021: Pictures of the Week from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show us something new about the Universe. This image, however, also contains clues about the inner workings of Hubble itself. The crisscross patterns surrounding the stars in this image — known as diffraction spikes — were created when starlight interacted with the four thin vanes supporting Hubble’s secondary mirror. 25)
- As star clusters form from a single primordial cloud of gas and dust, all the stars they contain are roughly the same age. This makes them useful natural laboratories for astronomers to learn how stars form and evolve. This image uses observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, and incorporates data from two very different astronomical investigations. The first aimed to understand why stars in star clusters appear to evolve differently from stars elsewhere, a peculiarity first observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. The second aimed to determine how large stars can be before they become doomed to end their lives in cataclysmic supernova explosions.
Figure 24: This Picture of the Week depicts the open star cluster NGC 330, which lies around 180,000 light-years away inside the Small Magellanic Cloud. The cluster — which is in the constellation Tucana (The Toucan) — contains a multitude of stars, many of which are scattered across this striking image (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Kalirai, A. Milone; CC BY 4.0)
• June 30, 2021: NASA Preparing for Procedures to Turn On Backup Hardware on the Hubble Space Telescope. 26)
- NASA is taking additional steps to investigate the Hubble Space Telescope’s payload computer issue that began on June 13, suspending science observations. In parallel with the investigation, NASA is preparing and testing procedures to turn on backup hardware onboard the spacecraft. The telescope itself and science instruments remain healthy and in a safe configuration.
- The source of the computer problem lies in the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit, where the payload computer resides. A few hardware pieces on the SI C&DH could be the culprit(s).
- The team is currently scrutinizing the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF), which sends and formats commands and data. They are also looking at a power regulator within the Power Control Unit, which is designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. If one of these systems is determined to be the likely cause, the team must complete a more complicated operations procedure to switch to the backup units. This procedure would be more complex and riskier than those the team executed last week, which involved switching to the backup payload computer hardware and memory modules. To switch to the backup CU/SDF or power regulator, several other hardware boxes on the spacecraft must also be switched due to the way they are connected to the SI C&DH unit.
- Over the next week or so, the team will review and update all of the operations procedures, commands and other related items necessary to perform the switch to backup hardware. They will then test their execution against a high-fidelity simulator.
- The team performed a similar switch in 2008, which allowed Hubble to continue normal science operations after a CU/SDF module failed. A servicing mission in 2009 then replaced the entire SI C&DH unit, including the faulty CU/SDF module, with the SI C&DH unit currently in use.
- Since that servicing mission, Hubble has taken over 600,000 additional observations to exceed 1.5 million during its lifetime. Those observations continue to change our understanding of the universe.
- Launched in 1990, Hubble has been observing the universe for over 31 years. It has contributed to some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system. Read more about some of Hubble’s greatest scientific discoveries.
June 25, 2021 - NASA Completes Additional Tests to Diagnose Computer Problem on Hubble Space Telescope
- NASA is continuing to diagnose a problem with the payload computer on the Hubble Space Telescope after completing another set of tests on June 23 and 24. The payload computer halted on June 13 and the spacecraft stopped collecting science data. The telescope itself and its science instruments remain in good health and are currently in a safe configuration.
- The spacecraft has two payload computers, one of which serves as a backup, that are located on the Science Instrument and Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit. There are various pieces of hardware which make up both payload computers, including but not limited to:
a) a Central Processing Module (CPM), which processes the commands that coordinate and control the science instruments
b) a Standard Interface (STINT), which bridges communications between the computer’s CPM and other components
c) a communications bus, which contains lines that pass signals and data between hardware
d) and one active memory module, which stores operational commands to the instruments. There are three additional modules which serve as backups.
- Additional tests performed on June 23 and 24 included turning on the backup computer for the first time in space. The tests showed that numerous combinations of these hardware pieces from both the primary and backup payload computer all experienced the same error - commands to write into or read from memory were not successful.
- Since it is highly unlikely that all individual hardware elements have a problem, the team is now looking at other hardware as the possible culprit, including the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF), another module on the SI C&DH. The CU formats and sends commands and data to specific destinations, including the science instruments. The SDF formats the science data from the science instruments for transmission to the ground. The team is also looking at the power regulator to see if possibly the voltages being supplied to hardware are not what they should be. A power regulator ensures a steady constant voltage supply. If the voltage is out of limits, it could cause the problems observed.
- Over the next week, the team will continue to assess hardware on the SI C&DH unit to identify if something else may be causing the problem. If the team determines the CU/SDF or the power regulator is the likely cause, they will recommend switching to the backup CU/SDF module and the backup power regulator.
- Launched in 1990, Hubble has been observing the universe for over 31 years. It has contributed to some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system.
June 22, 2021 - Testing Underway to Identify Issue and Restore Payload Computer on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope
- NASA continues to work to resolve a problem with the Hubble Space Telescope payload computer that halted on June 13. After performing tests on several of the computer’s memory modules, the results indicate that a different piece of computer hardware may have caused the problem, with the memory errors being only a symptom. The operations team is investigating whether the Standard Interface (STINT) hardware, which bridges communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module (CPM) and other components, or the CPM itself is responsible for the issue. The team is currently designing tests that will be run in the next few days to attempt to further isolate the problem and identify a potential solution.
- This step is important for determining what hardware is still working properly for future reference. If the problem with the payload computer can’t be fixed, the operations team will be prepared to switch to the STINT and CPM hardware onboard the backup payload computer. The team has conducted ground tests and operations procedure reviews to verify all the commanding required to perform that switch on the spacecraft.
- If the backup payload computer’s CPM and STINT hardware is turned on, several days will be required to assess the computer performance and restore normal science operations. The backup computer has not been powered on since its installation in 2009; however, it was thoroughly tested on the ground prior to installation on the spacecraft.
- The payload computer is a NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) system built in the 1980s that is located on the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit. After 18 years on orbit, the original SI C&DH experienced a failure in 2008 that delayed the final servicing mission to Hubble while a replacement was prepared for flight. In May 2009, STS-125 was launched and the astronauts installed the existing unit. The replacement contains original hardware from the 1980s with four independent 64K memory modules of Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) memory. Only one memory module is used operationally, with the other three serving as backups. All four modules can be used and accessed from either of the redundant payload computers.
• June 25, 2021: A cataclysmic cosmic collision takes centre stage in this Picture of the Week. The image features the interacting galaxy pair IC 1623, which lies around 275 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus (The Whale). The two galaxies are in the final stages of merging, and astronomers expect a powerful inflow of gas to ignite a frenzied burst of star formation in the resulting compact starburst galaxy. 27)
Figure 25: This interacting pair of galaxies is a familiar sight; Hubble captured IC 1623 in 2008 using two filters at optical and infrared wavelengths using the Advanced Camera for Surveys. This new image incorporates new data from the Wide Field Camera 3, and combines observations taken in eight filters spanning infrared to ultraviolet wavelengths to reveal the finer details of IC 1623. Future observations of the galaxy pair with the NASA/ESA/CASA James Webb Space Telescope will shed more light on the processes powering extreme star formation in environments such as IC 1623 (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Chandar; CC BY 4.0)
• June 19, 2021: Spacecraft controllers are continuing to work on a faulty computer memory system on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that has stopped telescope operations for nearly a week. 28)
- A payload computer on Hubble stopped working June 13, the agency said in a June 16 statement. Engineers speculated that the computer, used to manage operations of Hubble’s science instruments, malfunctioned because of a degrading memory module, putting the instruments into a safe mode.
- The agency said at the time that it would switch of a backup memory module that day and, after about a day of testing, restart the instruments and resume science observations.
- However, in a June 18 statement, NASA said those efforts to switch to a backup memory module failed because “the command to initiate the backup module failed to complete.” An attempt to restore the computer with both the original memory module and the backup unit also failed.
- NASA didn’t elaborate on the next steps it will take to correct the problem stating only that the operations team “will be running tests and collecting more information on the system to further isolate the problem.” The instruments themselves, and the rest of the telescope, remain in good health.
- The payload computer is a 1980s-vintage system that can use any one of four memory modules, each containing 64 kilobytes of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor memory. A backup computer is also available.
- This is not the first technical glitch for Hubble, launched 31 years ago and last serviced by the space shuttle 12 years ago. In March, a problem linked to a software “enhancement” recently uploaded to the telescope put the telescope into a safe mode for several days. A faulty gyro took the telescope offline for three weeks in October 2018.
- “We do have anomalies. That happens when you have a decades-old observatory, but we have been able to resolve those anomalies,” Nancy Levenson, deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, said at a town hall session during the 238th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society June 8.
- She emphasized that the telescope, in general, was working well and remained in high demand among astronomers. The institute, which handles science operations of Hubble and, soon, the James Webb Space Telescope, is making plans for extended operations of Hubble.
- “We’re continuing to plan for the very long term,” she said. One example she gave was “COS 2030,” a program to extend the life of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, an instrument installed on Hubble on that final servicing mission in 2009, through the end of the decade.
• June 18, 2021: This image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 3254, observed using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). WFC3 has the capacity to observe ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light, and this image is a composite of observations taken in the visible and infrared. In this image, NGC 3254 looks like a typical spiral galaxy, viewed side-on. However, NGC 3254 has a fascinating secret that it is hiding in plain sight — it is a Seyfert galaxy, meaning that it has an extraordinarily active core, known as an active galactic nucleus, which releases as much energy as the rest of the galaxy put together. 29)
Figure 26: Seyfert galaxies are not rare — about 10% of all galaxies are thought to be Seyfert galaxies. They belong to the class of “active galaxies” — galaxies that have supermassive black holes at their centers that are actively accreting material, which releases vast amounts of radiation as it is accreted. There is a second, far more active, type of active galaxy that is known as a quasar. The active cores of Seyfert galaxies, such as NGC 3254, are brightest when observed in light outside the visible spectrum. At other wavelengths, this image would look very different, with the galaxy’s core shining extremely brightly. (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al.; CC BY 4.0)
• June 17, 2021: What if oceanographers found the "tip" of an iceberg and nothing else? Mysteriously missing was the iceberg's immense body, which extends far below the waves. 30)
- Astronomers faced this puzzle when they aimed Hubble at the spheroidal galaxy NGC 1052-DF2, or DF2. It looks like a denizen of intergalactic space that is the closest thing there is to nothing, but is still something. It's physically larger than our Milky Way, but its loose beehive swarm of stars is so thinly scattered that Hubble sees right through it, capturing myriad background galaxies.
- The missing "bottom of the iceberg" for DF2 is the lack of dark matter. Galaxies are partly made up of visible matter—stars and gas. But the bulk of a galaxy's makeup is in dark matter, the invisible glue that keeps a lid on stars, so they don't escape from the galaxy.
- Because this innocuous galaxy challenges conventional theories of how galaxies are put together, astronomers were naturally skeptical when it was first announced that the universe harbored such a rule breaker. After all, the entire cosmos is built on the invisible scaffolding of dark matter.
- To double-check their conclusion, the researchers used a lot more Hubble exposures to better nail down the distance to the stealthy galaxy. If DF2 were closer than they thought, the dark matter mystery goes away.
- They actually found that the galaxy is a little bit farther away than first measured. The researchers say the new milepost helps them confirm that dark matter is really missing in the galactic oddball. They say it's now up to theorists to figure out why.
- When astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope uncovered an oddball galaxy that looked like it didn't have much dark matter, some thought the finding was hard to believe and looked for a simpler explanation.
- Dark matter, after all, is the invisible glue that makes up the bulk of the universe's matter. All galaxies appear to be dominated by it; in fact, galaxies are thought to form inside immense halos of dark matter.
- So, finding a galaxy lacking the invisible stuff is an extraordinary claim that challenges conventional wisdom. It would have the potential to upset theories of galaxy formation and evolution.
- To bolster their original finding, first reported in 2018 (Dark Matter Goes Missing in Oddball Galaxy (hubblesite.org)), a team of scientists led by Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, followed up their initial study with a more robust Hubble look at the galaxy, named NGC 1052-DF2. Scientists refer to it simply as "DF2."
- "We went out on a limb with our initial Hubble observations of this galaxy in 2018," van Dokkum said. "I think people were right to question it because it's such an unusual result. It would be nice if there were a simple explanation, like a wrong distance. But I think it's more fun and more interesting if it actually is a weird galaxy."
- Determining the amount of the galaxy's dark matter hinges on accurate measurements of how far away it is from Earth.
- If DF2 is as far from Earth as van Dokkum's team asserts, the galaxy's dark-matter content may only be a few percent. The team's conclusion is based on the motions of the stars within the galaxy; their velocities are influenced by the pull of gravity. The researchers found that the observed number of stars accounts for the galaxy's total mass, and there's not much room left for dark matter.
- However, if DF2 were closer to Earth, as some astronomers claim, it would be intrinsically fainter and less massive. The galaxy, therefore, would need dark matter to account for the observed effects of the total mass.
Figure 27: This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot reveals an unusual "see-through" galaxy. The giant cosmic cotton ball is so diffuse and its ancient stars so spread out that distant galaxies in the background can be seen through it. Called an ultra-diffuse galaxy, this galactic oddball is almost as wide as the Milky Way, but it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy. The ghostly galaxy doesn't appear to have a noticeable central region, spiral arms, or a disk. Researchers calculated a more accurate distance to the galaxy, named NGC 1052-DF2, or DF2, by using Hubble to observe about 5,400 aging red giant stars. Red giant stars all reach the same peak brightness, so they are reliable yardsticks to measure distances to galaxies. - The research team estimates that DF2 is 72 million light-years from Earth. They say the distance measurement solidifies their claim that DF2 lacks dark matter, the invisible glue that makes up the bulk of the universe's contents. The galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that the astronomers had expected. - The observations were taken between December 2020 and March 2021 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys[image credits: Science: NASA, ESA, STScI, Zili Shen (Yale), Pieter van Dokkum (Yale), Shany Danieli (IAS), Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)]
Figure 28: This Hubble Space Telescope image offers a sampling of aging, red stars in the ultra-diffuse galaxy NGC 1052-DF2, or DF2. The galaxy continues to puzzle astronomers because it is lacking dark matter, an invisible form of matter that provides the gravitational glue to hold galaxies together. Precisely establishing the galaxy’s distance form Earth is a step toward solving the mystery. The close-up at right reveals the many aging red giant stars on the outskirts of the galaxy that are used as intergalactic milepost markers. Researchers calculated a more accurate distance to DF2 by using Hubble to observe about 5,400 red giants. These older stars all reach the same peak brightness, so they are reliable yardsticks to measure distances to galaxies. The research team estimates that DF2 is 72 million light-years from Earth. They say the distance measurement solidifies their claim that DF2 lacks dark matter. The galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that the astronomers had expected, based on theory and observations of many other galaxies. Called an ultra-diffuse galaxy, the galactic oddball is almost as wide as the Milky Way, but it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy. The ghostly galaxy doesn't appear to have a noticeable central region, spiral arms, or a disk. The observations were taken between December 2020 and March 2021 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys [image credits: SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, STScI, Zili Shen (Yale), Pieter van Dokkum (Yale), Shany Danieli (IAS) IMAGE PROCESSING: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)] 31)
A Better Yardstick
- Team member Zili Shen, from Yale University, says that the new Hubble observations help them confirm that DF2 is not only farther from Earth than some astronomers suggest, but also slightly more distant than the team's original estimates.
- The new distance estimate is that DF2 is 72 million light-years as opposed to 42 million light-years, as reported by other independent teams. This places the galaxy farther than the original Hubble 2018 estimate of 65 light-years distance.
- The research team based its new result on long exposures with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, which provide a deeper view of the galaxy for finding a reliable yardstick to nail down the distance. They targeted aging red giant stars on the outskirts of the galaxy that all reach the same peak brightness in their evolution. Astronomers can use the stars' intrinsic brightness to calculate vast intergalactic distances. "Studying the brightest red giants is a well-established distance indicator for nearby galaxies," Shen explained.
- The more accurate Hubble measurements solidify the researchers' initial conclusion of a galaxy deficient in dark matter, team members say. So the mystery of why DF2 is missing most of its dark matter still persists.
- "For almost every galaxy we look at, we say that we can't see most of the mass because it's dark matter," van Dokkum explained. "What you see is only the tip of the iceberg with Hubble. But in this case, what you see is what you get. Hubble really shows the entire thing. That's it. It’s not just the tip of the iceberg, it's the whole iceberg."
- The team's science paper has appeared in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 32)
A Stealthy Galaxy
- DF2 is a giant cosmic cotton ball that van Dokkum calls a "see-through galaxy," where the stars are spread out. The galactic oddball is almost as wide as the Milky Way, but it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy.
- The ghostly galaxy doesn't appear to have a noticeable central region, spiral arms, or a disk. The team estimates that DF2 contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter than astronomers had expected. How the galaxy formed remains a complete mystery based on the team's latest measurements.
Figure 29: When astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope uncovered an oddball galaxy that looks like it doesn’t have much dark matter, some thought the finding was hard to believe and looked for a simpler explanation. Dark matter, after all, is the invisible glue that makes up the bulk of the universe’s contents. All galaxies are dominated by it; in fact, galaxies are thought to form inside immense halos of dark matter. So, finding a galaxy lacking the invisible stuff is an extraordinary claim that challenges conventional wisdom. It would have the potential to upset theories of galaxy formation and evolution (video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
- DF2 isn't the only galaxy devoid of dark matter. Shany Danieli of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, used Hubble in 2020 to obtain an accurate distance to another ghostly galaxy, called NGC 1052-DF4 (or simply DF4), which apparently lacks dark matter, too. In this case, however, some scientists suggest the dark matter may have been stripped out of the galaxy due to tidal forces from another galaxy.
- The researchers think both DF2 and DF4 were members of a collection of galaxies. However, the new Hubble observations show that the two galaxies are 6.5 million light-years away from each other, farther apart than they first thought. It also appears that DF2 has drifted away from the grouping and is isolated in space.
- Both galaxies were discovered with the Dragonfly Telephoto Array at the New Mexico Skies observatory.
- "Both of them probably were in the same group and formed at the same time," Danieli said. "So maybe there was something special in the environment where they were formed."
- The researchers are hunting for more of these oddball galaxies. Other teams of astronomers are searching, too. In 2020, a group of researchers uncovered 19 unusual dwarf galaxies they say are deficient in dark matter (Off the Baryonic Tully–Fisher Relation: A Population of Baryon-dominated Ultra-diffuse Galaxies – IOPscience). However, it will take uncovering many more dark matter-less galaxies to resolve the mystery.
- Nevertheless, van Dokkum thinks finding a galaxy lacking dark matter tells astronomers something about the invisible substance. "In our 2018 paper, we suggested that if you have a galaxy without dark matter, and other similar galaxies seem to have it, that means that dark matter is actually real and it exists," van Dokkum said. "It's not a mirage."
- The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.
• June 16, 2021: NASA is working to resolve an issue with the payload computer on the Hubble Space Telescope. The computer halted on Sunday, June 13, shortly after 4 p.m. EDT. After analyzing the data, the Hubble operations team is investigating whether a degrading memory module led to the computer halt. The team is preparing to switch to one of several backup modules on Wednesday, June 16. The computer will then be allowed to run for approximately one day to verify that the problem has been solved. The team would then restart all science instruments and return the telescope to normal science operations. 33)
- The purpose of the payload computer is to control and coordinate the science instruments onboard the spacecraft. After the halt occurred on Sunday, the main computer stopped receiving a “keep-alive” signal, which is a standard handshake between the payload and main spacecraft computers to indicate all is well. The main computer then automatically placed all science instruments in a safe mode configuration. Control center personnel at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland restarted the payload computer on Monday, June 14, but it soon experienced the same problem.
- The payload computer is a NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) system built in the 1980s. It is part of the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling module, which was replaced during the last astronaut servicing mission in 2009. The module has various levels of redundancy which can be switched on to serve as the primary system when necessary.
• June 11, 2021: The image of Figure 30, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), features the spiral galaxy NGC 4680. At 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock two other galaxies can be seen flanking NGC 4680. NGC 4680 enjoyed a wave of attention in 1997, as it played host to a supernova explosion known as SN 1997bp. Amazingly, the supernova was identified by an Australian amateur astronomer named Robert Evans, who has identified an extraordinary 42 supernova explosions. 34)
Figure 30: NGC 4680 is actually a rather tricky galaxy to classify. It is sometimes referred to as a spiral galaxy, but it is also sometimes classified as a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies fall somewhere in between spiral galaxies and elliptical galaxies. Whilst NGC 4680 does have distinguishable spiral arms, they are not clearly defined, and the tip of one arm appears very diffuse. Galaxies are not static, and their morphologies (and therefore their classifications) vary throughout their lifetimes. Spiral galaxies are thought to evolve into elliptical galaxies, most likely by merging with one another, causing them to lose their distinctive spiral structures (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al.; CC BY 4.0)
• June 9, 2021: Brown dwarfs are the cosmic equivalent of tweeners. They're too massive to be planets and too small to sustain nuclear fusion in their cores, which powers stars. Many brown dwarfs are nomadic. They do not orbit stars but drift among them as loners. 35)
- Astronomers would like to know how these wayward objects are put together. Do they share any kind of kinship with bloated gas-giant planets like Jupiter? Studying brown dwarfs is much more difficult than studying nearby Jupiter for making comparisons. We can send spacecraft to Jupiter. But astronomers need to look across many light-years to peer down into a brown dwarf's atmosphere.
- Researchers used the giant W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to observe a nearby brown dwarf in infrared light. Unlike Jupiter, the young brown dwarf is still so hot it glows from the inside out, and looks like a carved Halloween pumpkin. Because the brown dwarf has scattered clouds, light shining up from deep down in the dwarf's atmosphere fluctuates, which the researchers measured. They found that the dwarf's atmosphere has a layer-cake structure with clouds having different composition at different altitudes.
- Jupiter may be the bully planet of our solar system because it's the most massive planet. But it's actually a runt compared to many of the giant planets found around other stars.
- These alien worlds, called super-Jupiters, weigh up to 13 times Jupiter's mass. Astronomers have analyzed the composition of some of these monsters. But it has been difficult to study their atmospheres in detail because these gas giants get lost in the glare of their parent stars.
- Researchers, however, have a substitute: the atmospheres of brown dwarfs, so-called failed stars that are up to 80 times Jupiter's mass. These hefty objects form out of a collapsing cloud of gas, as stars do, but lack the mass to become hot enough to sustain nuclear fusion in their cores, which powers stars.
- Instead, brown dwarfs share a kinship with super-Jupiters. Both types of objects have similar temperatures and are extremely massive. They also have complex, varied atmospheres. The only difference, astronomers think, is their pedigree. Super-Jupiters form around stars; brown dwarfs often form in isolation.
- A team of astronomers, led by Elena Manjavacas of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, has tested a new way to peer through the cloud layers of these nomadic objects. The researchers used an instrument at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to study in near-infrared light the colors and brightness variations of the layer-cake cloud structure in the nearby, free-floating brown dwarf known as 2MASS J22081363+2921215.
- The Keck Observatory instrument, called the Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration (MOSFIRE), also analyzed the spectral fingerprints of various chemical elements contained in the clouds and how they change with time. This is the first time astronomers have used the MOSFIRE instrument in this type of study.
- These measurements offered Manjavacas a holistic view of the brown dwarf's atmospheric clouds, providing more detail than previous observations of this object. Pioneered by Hubble observations, this technique is difficult for ground-based telescopes to do because of contamination from Earth's atmosphere, which absorbs certain infrared wavelengths. This absorption rate changes due to the weather.
Figure 31: Observations of a nearby brown dwarf suggest that it has a mottled atmosphere with scattered clouds and mysterious dark spots reminiscent of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, as shown in this artist's concept. The nomadic object, called 2MASS J22081363+2921215, resembles a carved Halloween pumpkin, with light escaping from its hot interior. Brown dwarfs are more massive than planets but too small to sustain nuclear fusion, which powers stars. - Though only roughly 115 light-years away, the brown dwarf is too distant for any features to be photographed. Instead, researchers used the Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration (MOSFIRE) at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to study the colors and brightness variations of the brown dwarf's layer-cake cloud structure, as seen in near-infrared light. MOSFIRE also collected the spectral fingerprints of various chemical elements contained in the clouds and how they change with time [image credit: Artwork: NASA, ESA, STScI, Leah Hustak (STScI)]
Figure 32: This graphic shows successive layers of clouds in the atmosphere of a nearby, free-floating brown dwarf. Breaks in the upper cloud layers allowed astronomers to probe deeper into the atmosphere of the brown dwarf called 2MASS J22081363+2921215. Brown dwarfs are more massive than planets but too small to sustain nuclear fusion, which powers stars. - This illustration is based on infrared observations of the clouds' colors and brightness variations, as well as the spectral fingerprints of various chemical elements contained in the clouds and atmospheric modeling [Illustration: NASA, ESA, STScI, Andi James (STScI)]
- "The only way to do this from the ground is using the high-resolution MOSFIRE instrument because it allows us to observe multiple stars simultaneously with our brown dwarf," Manjavacas explained. "This allows us to correct for the contamination introduced by the Earth's atmosphere and measure the true signal from the brown dwarf with good precision. So, these observations are a proof-of-concept that MOSFIRE can do these types of studies of brown-dwarf atmospheres."
- Manjavacas will present her results June 9 in a press conference at the virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
- The researcher decided to study this particular brown dwarf because it is very young and therefore extremely bright and has not cooled off yet. Its mass and temperature are similar to those of the nearby giant exoplanet Beta Pictoris b, discovered in 2008 near-infrared images taken by the European Southern Observatory's VLT (Very Large Telescope) in northern Chile.
- "We don't have the ability yet with current technology to analyze in detail the atmosphere of Beta Pictoris b," Manjavacas said. "So, we’re using our study of this brown dwarf's atmosphere as a proxy to get an idea of what the exoplanet's clouds might look like at different heights of its atmosphere."
- Both the brown dwarf and Beta Pictoris b are young, so they radiate heat strongly in the near-infrared. They are both members of a flock of stars and sub-stellar objects called the Beta Pictoris moving group, which shares the same origin and a common motion through space. The group, which is about 33 million years old, is the closest grouping of young stars to Earth. It is located roughly 115 light-years away.
- While they're cooler than bona fide stars, brown dwarfs are still extremely hot. The brown dwarf in Manjavacas' study is a sizzling 2,780º Fahrenheit (1,527º Celsius).
- The giant object is about 12 times heavier than Jupiter. As a young body, it is spinning incredibly fast, completing a rotation every 3.5 hours, compared to Jupiter's 10-hour rotation period. So, clouds are whipping it, creating a dynamic, turbulent atmosphere.
- Keck Observatory's MOSFIRE instrument stared at the brown dwarf for 2.5 hours, watching how the light filtering up through the atmosphere from the dwarf's hot interior brightens and dims over time. Bright spots that appear on the rotating object indicate regions where researchers can see deeper into the atmosphere, where it is hotter. Infrared wavelengths allow astronomers to peer deeper into the atmosphere. The observations suggest the brown dwarf has a mottled atmosphere with scattered clouds. If viewed close-up, it might resemble a carved Halloween pumpkin, with light escaping from its hot interior.
- Its spectrum reveals clouds of hot sand grains and other exotic elements. Potassium iodide traces the object's upper atmosphere, which also includes magnesium silicate clouds. Moving down in the atmosphere is a layer of sodium iodide and magnesium silicate clouds. The final layer consists of aluminum oxide clouds. The atmosphere's total depth is 446 miles (718 km). The elements detected represent a typical part of the composition of brown dwarf atmospheres, Manjavacas said.
- The researcher and her team used computer models of brown dwarf atmospheres to determine the location of the chemical compounds in each cloud layer.
- Manjavacas' plan is to use Keck Observatory's MOSFIRE to study other atmospheres of brown dwarfs and compare them to those of gas giants. Future telescopes such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, an infrared observatory scheduled to launch later this year, will provide even more information about a brown dwarf's atmosphere. "JWST will give us the structure of the entire atmosphere, providing more coverage than any other telescope," Manjavacas said.
- The researcher hopes that MOSFIRE can be used in tandem with JWST to sample a wide range of brown dwarfs. The goal is a better understanding of brown dwarfs and giant planets.
• June 4, 2021: Objects such as NGC 691 are observed by Hubble using a range of filters. Each filter only allows certain wavelengths of light to reach Hubble’s WFC3. The images collected using different filters are then colored by specialized visual artists who can make informed choices about which color best corresponds to which filter. By combining the colored images from individual filters, a full-color image of the astronomical object can be recreated. In this way, we can get remarkably good insight into the nature and appearance of these objects. 36)
Figure 33: This image features the spiral galaxy NGC 691, imaged in fantastic detail by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). This galaxy is the eponymous member of the NGC 691 galaxy group, a group of gravitationally bound galaxies that lie about 120 million light-years from Earth (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess; CC BY 4.0 Acknowledgement: M. Zamani)
• May 28, 2021: WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3) is a very versatile camera, as it can collect ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light, thereby providing a wealth of information about the objects it observes. WFC3 was installed on Hubble by astronauts in 2009, during Servicing Mission 4 (SM4). SM4 was Hubble’s final Space Shuttle servicing mission, expected to prolong Hubble’s life for at least another five years. Twelve years later, both Hubble and WFC3 remain very active and scientifically productive. 37) 38)
Figure 34: This image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 5037, in the constellation of Virgo. First documented by William Herschel in 1785, the galaxy lies about 150 million light-years away from Earth. Despite this distance, we can see the delicate structures of gas and dust within the galaxy in extraordinary detail. This detail is possible using Hubble’s WFC3, whose combined exposures created this image (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Rosario; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz)
• May 27, 2021: The myriad spiral galaxies in our universe almost all look like fried eggs. A central bulge of aging stars is like the egg yolk, surrounded by a disk of stars that are the egg white. The galaxy in this Hubble photo looks like it is sliding off the frying pan. The central bulge is off in one corner relative to the surrounding disk of bright young blue stars. In reality, the stars on the right side of the galaxy are being pulled like taffy by the gravitational tug of a neighboring galaxy, not seen in this close-up view. Galaxies are not solid objects but tenuous agglomerations of tens of billions of stars. When two galaxies come close to each other they feel each other's gravity and are distorted, like pulling on cotton candy. It's the universe's equivalent of the 19th century children's poem about two stuffed animals – the gingham dog and calico cat — who got into a spat and ate each other. It's not so dramatic in this case. The galaxies are only getting a little chewed up because of their close proximity. 39) 40)
What's going on?
- In reality, a neighboring galaxy to the right of NGC 2276 (NGC 2300, not seen here) is gravitationally tugging on its disk of blue stars, pulling the stars on one side of the galaxy outward to distort the galaxy's normal fried-egg appearance.
- This sort of "tug of war" between galaxies that pass close enough to feel each other's gravitational pull is not uncommon in the universe. But, like snowflakes, no two close encounters look exactly alike.
- In addition, newborn and short-lived massive stars form a bright, blue arm along the upper left edge of NGC 2276. They trace out a lane of intense star formation. This may have been triggered by a prior collision with a dwarf galaxy. It could also be due to NGC 2276 plowing into the superheated gas that lies among galaxies in galaxy clusters. This would compress the gas to precipitate into stars, and trigger a firestorm of starbirth.
- The spiral galaxy lies 120 million light-years away, in the northern constellation Cepheus.
Figure 35: The magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 2276 looks a bit lopsided in this Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. A bright hub of older yellowish stars normally lies directly in the center of most spiral galaxies. But the bulge in NGC 2276 looks offset to the upper left. This image was taken as part of the Hubble observation program #15615 (PI: P. Sell), a collaboration between the University of Florida (USA), the University of Crete/FORTH (Greece), INAF-Brera (Italy), and the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (USA) [image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Paul Sell (University of Florida), acknowledgement: Leo Shatz]
• May 21, 2021: Hubble image of the week. 41)
- The galaxy cluster dominates the center of this image, both visually and physically. The cluster’s huge mass has gravitationally lensed the light from background galaxies, distorting and smearing their shapes. In addition to providing astronomers with a natural magnifying glass with which to study distant galaxies, gravitational lensing has subtly framed the center of this image, producing a visually striking scene.
Figure 36: This packed ESA/Hubble Picture of the Week showcases the galaxy cluster ACO S 295, as well as a jostling crowd of background galaxies and foreground stars. Galaxies of all shapes and sizes populate this image, ranging from stately spirals to fuzzy ellipticals. As well as a range of sizes, this galactic menagerie boasts a range of orientations, with spiral galaxies such as the one at the centre of this image appearing almost face on, and some edge-on spiral galaxies visible only as thin slivers of light (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, F. Pacaud, D. Coe; CC BY 4.0)
• May 20, 2021: Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have traced the locations of five brief, powerful radio blasts to the spiral arms of five distant galaxies. 42)
- Called fast radio bursts (FRBs), these extraordinary events generate as much energy in a thousandth of a second as the Sun does in a year. Because these transient radio pulses disappear in much less than the blink of an eye, researchers have had a hard time tracking down where they come from, much less determining what kind of object or objects is causing them. Therefore, most of the time, astronomers don't know exactly where to look.
- Locating where these blasts are coming from, and in particular, what galaxies they originate from, is important in determining what kinds of astronomical events trigger such intense flashes of energy. The new Hubble survey of eight FRBs helps researchers narrow the list of possible FRB sources.
Table 1: Summary: These brilliant flares originate from young, massive galaxies
Flash in the Night
- The first FRB was discovered in archived data recorded by the Parkes radio observatory (New South Wales, Australia) on July 24, 2001. Since then astronomers have uncovered up to 1,000 FRBs, but they have only been able to associate roughly 15 of them to particular galaxies.
- "Our results are new and exciting. This is the first high-resolution view of a population of FRBs, and Hubble reveals that five of them are localized near or on a galaxy's spiral arms," said Alexandra Mannings of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study's lead author. "Most of the galaxies are massive, relatively young, and still forming stars. The imaging allows us to get a better idea of the overall host-galaxy properties, such as its mass and star-formation rate, as well as probe what's happening right at the FRB position because Hubble has such great resolution."
Figure 37: Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have tracked down two brief, powerful radio bursts to the spiral arms of the two galaxies shown at top and bottom of this image. The catalogue names of the bursts are FRB 190714, top row, and FRB 180924, bottom row. The galaxies are far from Earth, appearing as they looked billions of years ago. The dotted oval lines in each of the four images mark the location of the brilliant radio flares. The two images at left show the full Hubble snapshots of each galaxy. - To study each galaxy’s spiral structure in more detail, the researchers overlaid a computer model of the galaxies' starlight onto the images at left. They then subtracted the smoother, more diffuse starlight from each of those images. The resulting two images at right reveal each galaxy's spiral arms more clearly, which were harder to see in the original images. Because these radio pulses disappear in much less than the blink of an eye, researchers have had a hard time tracking down where they come from. These galaxies are part of a survey to determine the origin of fast radio bursts, which can release as much energy in a thousandth of a second as the Sun does in a year. - Identifying the radio bursts' location helped researchers narrow the list of possible FRB sources that can generate such prodigious tsunamis of energy. One of the leading possible explanations is a torrential blast from a young magnetar. Magnetars are a type of neutron star with extraordinarily powerful magnetic fields. The observations were made in ultraviolet and near-infrared light with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. The images were taken between November 2019 and April 2020 [Credits: Science: NASA, ESA, Alexandra Mannings (UC Santa Cruz), Wen-fai Fong (Northwestern); Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)]
- In the Hubble study, astronomers not only pinned all of them to host galaxies, but they also identified the kinds of locations they originated from. Hubble observed one of the FRB locations in 2017 and the other seven in 2019 and 2020.
- "We don't know what causes FRBs, so it's really important to use context when we have it," said team member Wen-fai Fong of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. "This technique has worked very well for identifying the progenitors of other types of transients, such as supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. Hubble played a big role in those studies, too."
- The galaxies in the Hubble study existed billions of years ago. Astronomers, therefore, are seeing the galaxies as they appeared when the universe was about half its current age.
- Many of them are as massive as our Milky Way. The observations were made in ultraviolet and near-infrared light with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.
- Ultraviolet light traces the glow of young stars strung along a spiral galaxy's winding arms. The researchers used the near-infrared images to calculate the galaxies' mass and find where older populations of stars reside.
Location, Location, Location
- The images display a diversity of spiral-arm structure, from tightly wound to more diffuse, revealing how the stars are distributed along these prominent features. A galaxy's spiral arms trace the distribution of young, massive stars. However, the Hubble images reveal that the FRBs found near the spiral arms do not come from the very brightest regions, which blaze with the light from hefty stars. The images help support a picture that the FRBs likely do not originate from the youngest, most massive stars.
- These clues helped the researchers rule out some of the possible triggers of types of these brilliant flares, including the explosive deaths of the youngest, most massive stars, which generate gamma-ray bursts and some types of supernovae. Another unlikely source is the merger of neutron stars, the crushed cores of stars that end their lives in supernova explosions. These mergers take billions of years to occur and are usually found far from the spiral arms of older galaxies that are no longer forming stars.
- The team's Hubble results, however, are consistent with the leading model that FRBs originate from young magnetar outbursts. Magnetars are a type of neutron star with powerful magnetic fields. They’re called the strongest magnets in the universe, possessing a magnetic field that is 10 trillion times more powerful than a refrigerator door magnet. Astronomers last year linked observations of an FRB spotted in our Milky Way galaxy with a region where a known magnetar resides.
- "Owing to their strong magnetic fields, magnetars are quite unpredictable," Fong explained. "In this case, the FRBs are thought to come from flares from a young magnetar. Massive stars go through stellar evolution and becomes neutron stars, some of which can be strongly magnetized, leading to flares and magnetic processes on their surfaces, which can emit radio light. Our study fits in with that picture and rules out either very young or very old progenitors for FRBs."
- The observations also helped the researchers strengthen the association of FRBs with massive, star-forming galaxies. Previous ground-based observations of some possible FRB host galaxies did not as clearly detect underlying structure, such as spiral arms, in many of them. Astronomers, therefore, could not rule out the possibility that FRBs originate from a dwarf galaxy hiding underneath a massive one. In the new Hubble study, careful image processing and analysis of the images allowed researchers to rule out underlying dwarf galaxies, according to co-author Sunil Simha of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
- Although the Hubble results are exciting, the researchers say they need more observations to develop a more definitive picture of these enigmatic flashes and better pinpoint their source. "This is such a new and exciting field," Fong said. "Finding these localized events is a major piece to the puzzle, and a very unique puzzle piece compared to what's been done before. This is a unique contribution of Hubble."
- The team's results will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
• May 14, 2021: The language that astronomers use changes as we become better acquainted with the Universe, and astronomical history is littered with now-obsolete phrases to describe objects in the night sky, such as “spiral nebulae” for spiral galaxies or “inferior planets” for Mercury and Venus. 43)
- While modern astronomical terminology has become steadily more precise, the nature of objects in astronomical exposures can still occasionally puzzle astronomers. For example, if you look very closely, you can see a faint bluish streak across the center of this image to the bottom right of the blue region. This could be an asteroid, but seems to be travelling far too quickly for such an object — making this one of the remaining mysteries of the night sky.
Figure 38: This Picture of the Week showcases the emission nebula NGC 2313. The bright star V565 — surrounded by four prominent diffraction spikes — illuminates a silvery, fan-shaped veil of gas and dust, while the right half of this image is obscured by a dense cloud of dust. Nebulae with similar shapes — a star accompanied by a bright fan of gas — were once referred to as cometary nebulae, though the name is no longer used (image credit: ESA/Hubble, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)
• May 7, 2021: Looking at this cluster of hundreds of galaxies, it is amazing to recall that until less than 100 years ago, many astronomers believed that the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the Universe. The possibility of other galaxies had been debated previously, but the matter was not truly settled until Edwin Hubble confirmed that the Great Andromeda Nebula was in fact far too distant to be part of the Milky Way. The Great Andromeda Nebula became the Andromeda Galaxy, and astronomers recognized that our Universe was much, much bigger than humanity had imagined. We can only imagine how Edwin Hubble — after whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named — would have felt if he’d seen this spectacular image of Abell 3827. 44)
Figure 39: This detailed image features Abell 3827, a galaxy cluster that offers a wealth of exciting possibilities for study. It was observed by Hubble in order to study dark matter, which is one of the greatest puzzles cosmologists face today. The science team used Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to complete their observations. The two cameras have different specifications and can observe different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, so using them both allowed the astronomers to collect more complete information. Abell 3827 has also been observed previously by Hubble, because of the interesting gravitational lens at its core (image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Massey, CC BY 4.0)
• April 30, 2021: The Necklace Nebula — which also goes by the less glamorous name of PN G054.2-03.4 — was produced by a pair of tightly orbiting Sun-like stars. Roughly 10,000 years ago, one of the aging stars expanded and engulfed its smaller companion, creating something astronomers call a “common envelope”. The smaller star continued to orbit inside its larger companion, increasing the bloated giant’s rotation rate until large parts of it spun outwards into space. This escaping ring of debris formed the Necklace Nebula, with particularly dense clumps of gas forming the bright “diamonds” around the ring. 45)
- The pair of stars which created the Necklace Nebula remain so close together — separated by only a few million kilometers — that they appear as a single bright dot in the centre of this image. Despite their close encounter the stars are still furiously whirling around each other, completing an orbit in just over a day.
- The Necklace Nebula was featured in a previously released Hubble image, but now this new image has been created by applying advanced processing techniques, making for a new and improved view of this intriguing object. The composite image includes several exposures from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.
Figure 40: The interaction of two doomed stars has created this spectacular ring adorned with bright clumps of gas — a diamond necklace of cosmic proportions. Fittingly known as the Necklace Nebula, this planetary nebula is located 15,000 light-years away from Earth in the small, dim constellation of Sagitta (The Arrow), image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, K. Noll; CC BY 4.0)
• April 29, 2021: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is giving astronomers a rare look at a Jupiter-sized, still-forming planet that is feeding off material surrounding a young star. 46)
- “We just don’t know very much about how giant planets grow,” said Brendan Bowler of the University of Texas at Austin. “This planetary system gives us the first opportunity to witness material falling onto a planet. Our results open up a new area for this research.”
- Though over 4,000 exoplanets have been cataloged so far, only about 15 have been directly imaged to date by telescopes. And the planets are so far away and small, they are simply dots in the best photos. The team’s fresh technique for using Hubble to directly image this planet paves a new route for further exoplanet research, especially during a planet’s formative years.
- This huge exoplanet, designated PDS 70b, orbits the orange dwarf star PDS 70, which is already known to have two actively forming planets inside a huge disk of dust and gas encircling the star. The system is located 370 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
- “This system is so exciting because we can witness the formation of a planet,” said Yifan Zhou, also of the University of Texas at Austin. “This is the youngest bona fide planet Hubble has ever directly imaged.” At a youthful five million years, the planet is still gathering material and building up mass.
- Hubble’s ultraviolet light (UV) sensitivity offers a unique look at radiation from extremely hot gas falling onto the planet. “Hubble’s observations allowed us to estimate how fast the planet is gaining mass,” added Zhou.
Figure 41: This illustration of the newly forming exoplanet PDS 70b shows how material may be falling onto the giant world as it builds up mass. By employing Hubble’s ultraviolet light (UV) sensitivity, researchers got a unique look at radiation from extremely hot gas falling onto the planet, allowing them to directly measure the planet’s mass growth rate for the first time. The planet PDS 70b is encircled by its own gas-and-dust disk that’s siphoning material from the vastly larger circumstellar disk in this solar system. The researchers hypothesize that magnetic field lines extend from its circumplanetary disk down to the exoplanet’s atmosphere and are funneling material onto the planet’s surface. The illustration shows one possible magnetospheric accretion configuration, but the magnetic field’s detailed geometry requires future work to probe. The remote world has already bulked up to five times the mass of Jupiter over a period of about five million years, but is anticipated to be in the tail end of its formation process. PDS 70b orbits the orange dwarf star PDS 70 approximately 370 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus [image credits: NASA, ESA, STScI, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)]
- The UV observations, which add to the body of research about this planet, allowed the team to directly measure the planet’s mass growth rate for the first time. The remote world has already bulked up to five times the mass of Jupiter over a period of about five million years. The present measured accretion rate has dwindled to the point where, if the rate remained steady for another million years, the planet would only increase by approximately an additional 1/100th of a Jupiter-mass.
- Zhou and Bowler emphasize that these observations are a single snapshot in time – more data are required to determine if the rate at which the planet is adding mass is increasing or decreasing. “Our measurements suggest that the planet is in the tail end of its formation process.”
- The youthful PDS 70 system is filled with a primordial gas-and-dust disk that provides fuel to feed the growth of planets throughout the entire system. The planet PDS 70b is encircled by its own gas-and-dust disk that’s siphoning material from the vastly larger circumstellar disk. The researchers hypothesize that magnetic field lines extend from its circumplanetary disk down to the exoplanet’s atmosphere and are funneling material onto the planet’s surface.
Figure 42: ESO's (European Southern Observatory’s) VLT (Very Large Telescope) caught the first clear image of a forming planet, PDS 70b, around a dwarf star in 2018. The planet stands out as a bright point to the right of the center of the image, which is blacked out by the coronagraph mask used to block the light of the central star [image credits: ESO, VLT, André B. Müller (ESO)]
- “If this material follows columns from the disk onto the planet, it would cause local hot spots,” Zhou explained. “These hot spots could be at least 10 times hotter than the temperature of the planet.” These hot patches were found to glow fiercely in UV light.
Figure 43: Hubble observations pinpoint planet PDS 70b. A coronagraph on Hubble’s camera blocks out the glare of the central star for the planet to be directly observed. Though over 4,000 exoplanets have been cataloged so far, only about 15 have been directly imaged to date by telescopes. The team’s fresh technique for using Hubble to directly image this planet paves a new route for further exoplanet research, especially during a planet’s formative years ([image credits: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)]
- These observations offer insights into how gas giant planets formed around our Sun 4.6 billion years ago. Jupiter may have bulked up on a surrounding disk of infalling material. Its major moons would have also formed from leftovers in that disk.
- A challenge to the team was overcoming the glare of the parent star. PDS 70b orbits at approximately the same distance as Uranus does from the Sun, but its star is more than 3,000 times brighter than the planet at UV wavelengths. As Zhou processed the images, he very carefully removed the star’s glare to leave behind only light emitted by the planet. In doing so, he improved the limit of how close a planet can be to its star in Hubble observations by a factor of five.
- “Thirty-one years after launch, we’re still finding new ways to use Hubble,” Bowler added. “Yifan’s observing strategy and post-processing technique will open new windows into studying similar systems, or even the same system, repeatedly with Hubble. With future observations, we could potentially discover when the majority of the gas and dust falls onto their planets and if it does so at a constant rate.”
- The researchers' results were published in April 2021 in The Astronomical Journal. 47)