Hubble Telescope, back on the air!

By Phil Plait | October 30, 2008 10:02 am

The Hubble Space Telescope is up and kickin’ once again, and just to prove it, check this puppy out:

Hubble image of Arp 147


That’s Arp 147, a pair of interacting galaxies. Halton Arp, an astronomer, made an extensive catalog of funny-looking galaxies, most of which are due to near or direct collisions between galaxies. It looks like the one on the left glided right through the one on the right. Ring shapes are common after such encounters, though I must admit I’m a little baffled by the smooth ring with the off-kilter core of the left-hand galaxy. The odd angle of the galaxy to us — it’s almost edge-on — may be contributing to this particularly peculiar view.

The bigger galaxy is blue because the collision triggered huge amounts of star formation. That means massive stars get born, and they’re blue. They are also much, much brighter than other stars being born, so they dominate the light we see, making the whole galaxy look blue. Interesting that the smaller galaxy is not really blue as well, indicating that it had a milder star-formation burst if any. I don’t know why. I may have to dig through the literature when I have time. This is a pretty interesting pair of galaxies!

The Hubble folks are billing this picture as a "Perfect 10", because the galaxies kinda sorta look like a "10". A little. Maybe.

But the good news is that this is from the Wide Field/Planetary Camera 2, which was shut down until a few days ago. It went offline when engineers were trying to restore Hubble back to speed after a major piece of hardware failed. They were able to get a backup piece working, but other problems delayed the operation. Now, however, things are looking good, and it looks like we have a working telescope.

Sometime early next year NASA will launch a Space Shuttle mission to perform a final manned upgrade to the observatory, installing two new cameras and a bunch of hardware that will extend its life another few years.

Let me add that this has been pretty amazing. Hubble is an extremely complicated piece of machinery, and it can be really fickle. The fact that it works at all is a testament to human accomplishment, and that it runs so well even after the number and scale of problems it’s had is really an incredible achievement for the engineers and scientists who have worked on it.

My sincere and hearty congratulations go to NASA. Well done!

And let me add that the image above was taken just two days ago, so my astonishment and amazement are directed at the HST imaging team, who must have drained all the coffee in Baltimore to get this done so quickly.

Edited to add: I just heard from my friend Lisa Frattare at Hubble: she worked on the image, along with Zolt Levay and Max Mutchler. I was right; they put in major hours to get this image cleaned up, prettified, and published. Nice work everyone!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (40)

  1. Seems you’ve missed the new bad news for Hubble, namely trouble with the ground spare that is to go up with the shuttle – this mission is now in danger. Todays NASA telecon (at 21:00 UTC) will be interesting …

  2. When I first saw the photo above I thought, yeah, ok so that must be a stock filler until we get new images. My next question was going to be what is the turn around for images? ie. from click to wow? But two days! And the image above was taken two days ago? Magnificent. Truly. Inspirational.

    The ring in the centre looks a bit like this one…

  3. paineroo

    > The Hubble folks are billing this picture as a “Perfect 10”, because the
    > galaxies kinda sorta look like a “10”.

    Thanks to that foreground star, it looks more like a “.10” to me.

  4. Maybe it’s 00 buckshot! Con-grat-shew-layshunz to the STScI folks! Good on ya!

  5. kuhnigget

    ……… !!!!!!!! ………..



  6. Joe Gorndt

    A Perfect 10 – Paredolia, or a sign from God that 10 is the new three which was the new 40?

    You decide.

    Very cool picture, though. Glad Hubble is back up, my computer’s wallpaper was getting a little stale.

  7. Shane P. Brady

    Awesome…what else can you say?

  8. Donnie B.

    Obviously, a Death Star blew up in the left-hand galaxy. Go rebels!

  9. Daniel

    Pop the Champagne….nothin’ more to say ūüėÄ

  10. M

    Phil mentions that the shuttle mission will extend the life of Hubble “another few years”. I thought we would get another dozen or so years from it. Does anyone here know what the actual time frame until Hubble’s demise is? Of course I am assuming the shuttle mission happens with this question.

  11. And Mr. Post Man brought me Death From The Skies! yesterday.

    Yay, Hubble! Yay, DEATH! Woo hoo!

  12. Cheyenne

    Even if the ground spare is bad (which it sounds like it is), surely they can work a little overtime and build a new one before the shuttle is retired right? They have the design literally in their hands. I really don’t understand how they might not be able to make a copy of the thing before 2010 (but again, maybe what I’m reading are just rumors on the intertoobs- I won’t trust it until I hear word from a certain Bad Astronomer).

    Well, at least it’s working now :)! Way to go NASA!

  13. TMB

    So how about ACS?

  14. Sir Eccles

    Clearly photoshopped

  15. madge

    Way to go NASA and a hearty HURRAH for Hubble. AWESOME just abso-blooming-lutely AWESOME!

  16. JohnW

    Holy Halea.. Holy Kakahal…

    Holy CRAP! That’s a terrific picture. Kinda spooky, actually.

  17. BMurray

    Given that there are significant unknowns about why the left-hand galaxy is not showing the same sorts of features we expect after an encounter like this, I have to ask — how is it that we know that these two galaxies interacted? Clearly the one on the right interacted with something massive, but how do we know it’s the galaxy on the left? How are the positions and momentums of these galaxies determined with sufficient precision that we can conclusively say that at one time they were superimposed?

    Not trying to be difficult here — I’m sincerely interested in the science that hasn’t been talked about here wrt this photot.

  18. Awesome!

    Personally I think it looks more like a .10

  19. llewelly

    Obviously, the arrangement of the galaxies is a binary message from super-powerful aliens. And since the galaxies wouldn’t look like a ’10’ from a substantially different angle, the message must be directed at someone near US!

  20. Ed

    The center core of the “1” galaxy looks similar to the planet Jupiter.

  21. Steve A


    Mission managers are predicting the repair should prolong the Hubble until 2013. But because astronomers love to reuse data in ways the original planners never expected, you’ll be hearing Hubble news for years after that, if the telescope doesn’t last longer.

    However, I think they are going to purposely deorbit it at that time to make sure it doesn’t crash in someones back yard. On this upcoming service mission, they are going to be adding fixtures that will allow Orion to grab hold of it.

    For those interested, NASA is going to issue an update to the repair mission at 5 PM. EDT.

  22. akajsdk

    Big hole in space? Spacegoatse?

    I see…

  23. Another great image from Hubble, that’s really nice to see, especially after the uncertain future we were faced with… Great job, NASA!

  24. Dallas

    I certainly agree with BMurray. I don’t think it makes sense to assume that these two galaxies interacted. It’s possible they’ve had some small interactions from a far, but saying that the galaxy on the left plowed through the galaxy on the right with out a scratch is an extraordinary claim, and it seems not not have any extraordinary evidence to back it up. (Phil, I know this interaction scenario isn’t your claim, so that language isn’t directed at you).

    What would seem more likely is that a large dwarf or irregular that was a companion to the galaxies on the right made an incredibly close approach and was torn apart, leaving a large circular trail around the galaxy, much like we see happening here in the Milky Way with much smaller dwarves. I have no idea whether it’s anywhere near to being close to the truth, but it at least seems like a more reasonable guess.

    I’m really interested in seeing if anyone has gotten spectra from these two objects to see just how close these galaxies are.

  25. Matt

    Wow, that is probably one of my favourite Hubble images yet.

  26. I want to thank all of the people who shared this awesome information to inspire our children to continue to believe that there are many things left for them to discover as they continue their studies. My class of fifth graders now have the excitement that I felt the first time man landed on the moon. Amazing!!!
    Karen Wagner – Math and Science 5th grade teacher
    Forest Hill Elementary
    WPB, Fl

  27. John Phillips, FCD

    Way cool, I am so happy that Hubble is back, if only for the purely selfish pleasure and the numerous wallpapers I have got from the wealth of beautiful and awesome pictures the team has given us over the years. The science is just a bonus :)

  28. Oooooo new wallpaper!!

  29. Andrew

    Isn’t that just sensational. Pictures like this certainly captivate the mind and stimulate the imagination.

  30. Radwaste

    Geez, anthropomorphs are everywhere. A ten, for us? Humph!

    Say, Phil – about these really large images. What programs and hardware are used to manipulate them?

  31. RickJ

    Hey, no fair Hubble. I took that image the same time you did but without a backlog of images to process you got yours in all the major papers, mine is just on the baut forum. Mine is even more of “A Perfect .10” as one poster suggested as the star is more dominant after getting bloated by our atmosphere. But I picked up three galaxies over a billion light years away that are around it that Hubble missed!


  32. John

    Has gravitational lensing been ruled out? The galaxy on the left looks kind of like some photos of lensing I’ve seen…

  33. One word for this: Cool.

  34. Absolutely awesome. It’s incredible how we (the humankind in general, NASA and HST guys in particular) could manage in that way an instrument as the HST. Good job!

  35. RickJ

    No way this is due to gravitational lensing. These galaxies are only 400 million light years away. To have lensing you’d need a very massive galaxy between us that the lensed galaxy. Since the proposed lensed galaxy is a ring the lensing massive lensing galaxy would have to be within the ring. Such a galaxy would be very obvious even in a small amateur telescope and would dominate this image.

    Gravitational lensing distorts not just the galaxy that is lensed but also distorts the individual parts of the galaxy. Same as a fun house mirror would distort all parts of your image. The massive star clusters seen in this galaxy are not distorted at all. Without a collision they are very hard to explain as well. Such a number of these massive clusters is seen only in the case of a collision or near collision.

    Also the rings formed in both of these galaxies fits computer modeling of direct hit galaxy collisions very well.

    All lensed galaxies that I know of are at least magnitude 22 and dimmer. This makes them very difficult targets for amateur astronomers to image. I’ve only managed a couple. Arp 147 is literally hundreds times bigger in angular size in the sky and brighter, thus a rather easy target for amateurs. See my post above.

    So on four counts this is very certainly not a case of gravitational lensing. There are other arguments against lensing but this should be enough to dispel that idea.


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