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Tag archives: Hubble Space Telescope

Kepler – it’s not all doom and gloom just yet

By Tushna Commissariat

Illustration of Kepler

NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Courtesy: NASA)

To much general dismay, earlier this month NASA officials announced that their Kepler space telescope had gone into a self-imposed “safe mode”, something that the telescope is programmed to do if one of its primary systems is not fully functional. Although the telescope was then rebooted, it shut down again this week and it seems that all is definitely not well with our favourite exoplanet spotter: the mission collaboration announced that the instrument has suffered a critical failure and may never be fully operational again.

(more…)

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Atlantis lifts off into history

Last launch of Atlantis- Space Shuttle Program NASA-Bill Ingalls.jpg

By Tushna Commissariat

Despite gloomy weather conditions that threatened to cancel the launch altogether, NASA’s shuttle Atlantis has launched from the Kennedy Space Center. Marking the last and final flight of the Space Shuttle Programme – STS-135 – Atlantis and a four-person crew are on a 12-day mission to deliver more than 3.5 tonnes of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). This final stock should keep the station running for a year. Although the countdown stopped briefly at 31 s before the launch, the shuttle had a “flawless” lift-off, according to NASA. It has now settled down into its preliminary orbit ahead of its rendezvous with the ISS this Sunday morning.

The image above is of the shuttle, taken shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back yesterday at Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls). Below is an image of the mission patch for this final iconic flight (Credit: NASA).

STS-135 Mission Patch.jpg

“The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it commits to be bold and follow through,” said astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of the mission, from the cockpit of Atlantis minutes before the launch. “We’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. Let’s light this fire one more time, and witness this great nation at its best.”

Atlantis was the fourth orbiter built and had its maiden voyage on 3 October 1985. Atlantis had a number of firsts to its name – it was the first shuttle to deploy a probe to another planet, to dock to the ISS and the first with a glass cockpit! It conducted a final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in May 2009.

NASA has decided to retire its shuttle programme with this last flight because the vehicles are too costly to maintain. It now intends to contract out space transport to private companies. The hope is that this will free NASA resources to invest in a other programmes that will potentially send humans beyond the space station to the Moon, Mars and maybe even asteroids.

Atlantis is also carrying some rather unusual passengers – some simple yeast cells. The aim is to study the yeast cells as their genetic make up is remarkably similar to that of a human cell. This makes it an ideal system for studying genetic defects and understanding how these defects may manifest in human disease. In two separate experiments – conducted at the ISS – researchers will study the effect of microgravity on cell growth.

The video below has the crew of Atlantis talking about the “vibrancy of the ISS as a stepping stone for NASA’s plans for future human exploration beyond low Earth orbit”.

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Hubble – one million and going strong

hubble 2 .jpg

By Tushna Commissariat

I have already raved on about the awesomeness of the Hubble Space Telescope in my blog entry about its 21st anniversary in April this year. Now, the telescope has crossed yet another milestone – on Monday 4 July the Earth-orbiting observatory logged its one-millionth science observation! The image above is a composite of all the various celestial objects ranging through stars, clusters, galaxies, nebulae, planets, etc that Hubble has catalogued over the years. Click on the image for a hi-res version. [Credit: NASA, ESA and R Thompson (CSC/STScI)]

The telescope has had a significant impact on all fields of science from planetary science to cosmology and has provided generations with breathtaking images of our universe ever since it was launched on 24 April 1990 aboard Discovery’s STS-31 mission.

Hubble’s counter reading includes every observation of astronomical targets since its launch. The millionth observation made by Hubble was during a search for water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet almost 1000 light-years away from us. The telescope had trained its Wide Field Camera 3, a visible and infrared light imager with an on-board spectrometer on the planet HAT-P-7b, a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a star hotter than our Sun. HAT-P-7b has also been studied by NASA’s Kepler telescope after it was discovered by ground-based observations. Hubble now is being used to analyse the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

“For 21 years Hubble has been the premier space-science observatory, astounding us with deeply beautiful imagery and enabling ground-breaking science across a wide spectrum of astronomical disciplines,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. He piloted the space shuttle mission that carried Hubble to orbit. “The fact that Hubble met this milestone while studying a far away planet is a remarkable reminder of its strength and legacy.”

Hubble has now collected more than 50 terabytes – the archive of that data is available to scientists and the public at http://hla.stsci.edu/

And take a look at this Physics World article by astrophysicist Mark Voit where he looks at the most iconic images Hubble has produced over the years – Hubble’s greatest hits

The NASA video below was created last year for the 20th Hubble anniversary celebration and tells you how you could send a message to Hubble that will be stored in its archive.

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Through two mirrors, brightly

100 supercon.jpg
Hubble’s “Rose of Galaxies” anniversary image
(Courtesy: NASA, ESA, A Riess (STScI/JHU), L Macri (Texas A&M University) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

By Tushna Commissariat

Millions of people worldwide have exclaimed in awe and wonder at the images that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been producing for more than two decades. The satellite has had a significant impact on all fields of science from planetary science to cosmology ever since it was launched on 24 April 1990 aboard Discovery’s STS-31 mission. In a bid to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the HST, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, in the US pointed Hubble’s eye at a particularly magnificent cosmic phenomenon – a pair of interacting galaxies in the shape of a rose.

The newly released Hubble image shows two interacting galaxies known as Arp 273. The larger of the spiral galaxies – UGC 1810 – has a disc that is being distorted into a rose-like spiral thanks to the gravitational tidal pull of the companion galaxy below it, known as UGC 1813. The smaller companion shows signs of intense star formation at its nucleus, quite possibly triggered by the smaller galaxy actually passing through the disc of the larger galaxy. A veil of bright and hot young blue stars glows across the top of the dancing discs.

Arp 273 lies in the constellation Andromeda and is about 300 million light-years away from Earth. Though the galaxies are separated from each other by tens of thousands of light-years, they are connected by a tidal bridge of material between them that formed post interaction.

Take a look at the gorgeous image (above) and a video (below) zooming into the region of the galaxies.

In other space-related news, the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour will take place tomorrow, 29 April, from Florida’s Space Coast in the US. So while Britons and many others all over the world will be watching the royal wedding, Kennedy Space Center is anticipating the arrival of an estimated half a million onlookers, eager to watch the space shuttle lift off one more time. Endeavour, first launched in May 1992, is expected to carry six astronauts, a cargo bay full of spare supplies and a $2bn astrophysics experiment to the International Space Station.

To look at some interesting images in the follow-up to the launch, look here: http://www.space.com/11221-photos-space-shuttle-endeavour-final-mission-sts134.html

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