Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people

— Carl Sagan

Hubblesite Newscenter

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This news collection compiles news releases and supporting materials published by the Officeof Public Outreach of the Space Telescope Science Institute, to further your knowledge of astronomy. The different news releases are organized by space telecope (Hubble, James Webb, WFIRST, etc.), and different categories (like galaxies, nebulae, planets, stars, etc.).
Updated: 5 hours 23 min ago

Hubble Catches Possible 'Shadow Play' of the Disk Around a Black Hole

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 10:00am

Black holes are the universe's monsters: voracious eating machines that swallow anything that ventures near them.

These compact behemoths pull stars and gas into a disk that swirls around them. The feeding generates a prodigious amount of energy, producing a powerful gusher of light from superheated infalling gas.

These disks are so far away that it's nearly impossible to discern any detail about them. But by a quirk of alignment, astronomers may be getting a glimpse of the structure of the disk around the black hole in nearby galaxy IC 5063. The Hubble Space Telescope has observed a collection of narrow bright rays and dark shadows beaming out of the blazingly bright center of the active galaxy.

One possible explanation for the effect is that the dusty disk of material surrounding the black hole is casting its shadow into space. Some light penetrates gaps in the dust ring, creating the bright rays that resemble the floodlights accompanying a Hollywood movie premier. These telltale beams offer clues to the distribution of material near the black hole that is causing the shadow play.

What is fascinating is that we can see the same interplay of light and shadow in our sky at sunset, when the setting Sun casts streaks of bright rays and dark shadows through scattered clouds.

Categories: NASA

NASA's Hubble Sees Unexplained Brightness from Colossal Explosion

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 10:00am

In our infinite universe, stars can go bump in the night. When this happens between a pair of burned-out, crushed stars called neutron stars, the resulting fireworks show, called a kilonova, is beyond comprehension. The energy unleashed by the collision briefly glows 100 million times brighter than our Sun.

What's left from the smashup? Typically an even more crushed object called a black hole. But in this case Hubble found forensic clues to something even stranger happening after the head-on collision.

The intense flood of gamma-rays signaling astronomers to this event has been seen before in other stellar smashups. But something unexpected popped up in Hubble's near-infrared vision. Though a gusher of radiation from the aftermath of the explosion—stretching from X-rays to radio waves—seemed typical, the outpouring of infrared radiation was not. It was 10 times brighter than predicted for kilonovae. Without Hubble, the gamma-ray burst would have appeared like many others, and scientists would not have known about the bizarre infrared component.

The most plausible explanation is that the colliding neutron stars merged to form a more massive neutron star. It's like smashing two Volkswagen Beetles together and getting a limousine. This new beast sprouted a powerful magnetic field, making it a unique class of object called a magnetar. The magnetar deposited energy into the ejected material, causing it to glow even more brightly in infrared light than predicted. (If a magnetar flew within 100,000 miles of Earth, its intense magnetic field would erase the data on every credit card on our planet!)

Categories: NASA

NASA's Hubble Sees Unexplained Brightness from Colossal Explosion

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 10:00am

In our infinite universe, stars can go bump in the night. When this happens between a pair of burned-out, crushed stars called neutron stars, the resulting fireworks show, called a kilonova, is beyond comprehension. The energy unleashed by the collision briefly glows 100 million times brighter than our Sun.

What's left from the smashup? Typically an even more crushed object called a black hole. But in this case Hubble found forensic clues to something even stranger happening after the head-on collision.

The intense flood of gamma-rays signaling astronomers to this event has been seen before in other stellar smashups. But something unexpected popped up in Hubble's near-infrared vision. Though a gusher of radiation from the aftermath of the explosion—stretching from X-rays to radio waves—seemed typical, the outpouring of infrared radiation was not. It was 10 times brighter than predicted for kilonovae. Without Hubble, the gamma-ray burst would have appeared like many others, and scientists would not have known about the bizarre infrared component.

The most plausible explanation is that the colliding neutron stars merged to form a more massive neutron star. It's like smashing two Volkswagen Beetles together and getting a limousine. This new beast sprouted a powerful magnetic field, making it a unique class of object called a magnetar. The magnetar deposited energy into the ejected material, causing it to glow even more brightly in infrared light than predicted. (If a magnetar flew within 100,000 miles of Earth, its intense magnetic field would erase the data on every credit card on our planet!)

Categories: NASA