During the 15 years NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has orbited the Earth, it has taken more than 700,000 photos of the cosmos; images that have awed, astounded and even confounded astronomers and the public.
NASA released new views today of two of the most well-known objects Hubble has ever observed: the Whirlpool Galaxy (spiral galaxy M51) [left] and the Eagle Nebula [right]. These new images are among the largest and sharpest Hubble has ever taken. They were made with Hubble's newest camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The images are so incredibly sharp, they could be enlarged to billboard size and still retain stunning details.
For the 15th anniversary, scientists used the ACS to record a new region of the eerie-looking Eagle Nebula. The Eagle Nebula image reveals a tall, dense tower of gas being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars. The new Whirlpool Galaxy image showcases the spiral galaxy's classic features, from its curving arms, where newborn stars reside, to its yellowish central core that serves as home for older stars. A feature of considerable interest is the companion galaxy located at the end of one of the spiral arms.
Some 27 million years ago a massive star in an outer spiral arm of a galaxy known as Messier 51 reached the end of its life. Within a matter of minutes the star’s core collapsed onto itself, then rebounded in a cataclysmic explosion known as a supernova. The "flash" of visible light from the dying star, billions of times brighter than the star’s normal light output, enabled Earth-based astronomers to detect the event on May 31, 2011. Supernovae are extremely rare events that occur infrequently in most galaxies. No supernova has been observed within our Milky Way galaxy since the one discovered by Johannes Kepler in 1604. While supernovae are discovered almost daily in very remote galaxies, the opportunity to study one in a nearby galaxy such as M51 comes along only a few times in a decade. Messier 51 is a favorite target of astronomers and may be seen with binoculars or small telescopes from dark locations on a Moonless night. It was nicknamed "The Whirlpool Nebula" by William Parsons, Third Earl of Rosse, who first detected the galaxy’s spiral structure with his 72-inch aperture reflecting telescope at Birr Castle in Ireland in 1845.
- Horobino Vidya Bhawan
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