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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

Hubble reopens celestial eye to Eskimo nebula, galactic zoom lens

Eskimo Nebula
The "Eskimo" Nebula  

January 24, 2000
Web posted at: 6:43 p.m. EST (2343 GMT)

In this story:

Nebula resembles face in furry parka

Cluster acts like giant zoom lens

$70 million upgrades working well


BALTIMORE (CNN) -- The Hubble Space Telescope reawakened following the longest hiatus in its nine-year life, snapping stunning images of a dying star known as the Eskimo nebula and a dense cluster of remote galaxies that acts like a celestial magnifying glass, NASA reported Monday.

Star gazing

The observatory had been out of service for two months until the space shuttle Discovery crew performed major repairs on the orbiting telescope in late December.

The images, released Monday, were among the first taken by the revived Hubble. Since early January the $3 billion space telescope has resumed probing the mysteries of the universe with unprecedented clarity.

"Thanks to the great work by the astronauts, Hubble is better than new," said Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. "I think there is no better proof than these pictures that NASA's capability to send humans into space to work on Hubble has had a vital role in space science and the renaissance in astronomy we're now seeing."

Nebula resembles face in furry parka

To verify the telescope's refurbishment, astronomers aimed it at two scientifically intriguing celestial targets. One object is an intricate structure of shells and streamers of gas around a dying sun-like star 5,000 light-years away.

It is dubbed the "Eskimo Nebula" because, as seen through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face inside a furry parka. In Hubble's sharp view, the "furry" features resemble giant comets all pointing away from the central star, like the spokes of a wheel.

"The clumps that form the comet heads all seem to be located at a similar distance from the star. This fact will be important in developing a theory of why the clumps formed in the first place," said planetary nebula expert J. Patrick Harrington of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Cluster acts like giant zoom lens

Abell 2218
A massive cluster of galaxies called Abell 2218  

A second target is a massive cluster of galaxies called Abell 2218, which acts like a giant zoom lens in space. The gravitational field of the cluster magnifies the light of more distant galaxies far behind it, providing a deep probe of the very distant universe.

The cluster is located in the constellation Draco, about 2 billion light-years from Earth. It was imaged in full color, providing astronomers with a spectacular and unique new view of the early universe.

"For the first time we can view the internal color structure of some very distant galaxies. This gives us new insight into details of what young galaxies are like," says Richard Ellis at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and University of Cambridge, England.

$70 million upgrades working well

The Discovery crew restored NASA's premier optical space observatory with nearly $70 million worth of critically needed replacement gyroscopes and upgraded electronic parts.

All the new equipment is working well, including the new computer, solid state recorder and fine guidance sensor, according to NASA. In particular the new gyroscopes are allowing Hubble to point precisely at celestial objects.

The Hubble science operations center is the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The institute is operated for NASA under contract with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency.

Technology - Hubble catches a cosmic 'bubble'
January 18, 2000
Fireworks of star birth light up nearby galaxy
January 11, 2000
Hubble reveals galactic collisions more common than expected
November 22, 1999
Hubble snaps clues about origin of spiral galaxies
October 6, 1999
Stellar nursery in nearby galaxy teems with activity
September 29, 1999
Galaxies dance before merger
September 6, 1999

Hubble Space Telescope

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