You can help point Hubble

By Phil Plait | January 28, 2009 12:01 am

Have you ever dreamed of being able to grab hold of the Hubble Space Telescope and point it anywhere you want?

Well, you probably can’t. But what you can do is still very cool: the folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute are letting people vote on six objects for Hubble to observe!

The six objects are: a star-forming nebula, two planetary nebulae, and three galaxies (one spiral, one edge-on spiral, and a pair of interacting spirals). None of them has been observed by Hubble before. Here are some low-res images of the candidates, stolen right off their website:

The blurred part is how the voting for each object is going, and that’ll change as word gets out. I won’t tell you what I think they should observe, so as not to skew the results. Feel free to discuss what you voted for and why in the comments below.

The pictures they use are pretty low-res, so here are better ones, not at all presented in the order I think they should place in the voting:

Planetary nebula NGC 40
Planetary nebula NGC 6072
Emission nebula NGC 6634 (part of the Cat’s Paw nebula)
Edge-on spiral NGC 4289 (and here too)
Spiral galaxy NGC 5172
Interacting galaxies Arp 274

This is being done as part of the International Year of Astronomy’s 100 Hours of Observing project, and the images will be released between April 3 and 5. That’s a pretty fast turnaround time for Hubble. They must have already coded up the commands to observe each of thee six objects, and they’ll upload them to Hubble as soon as the votes are tallied. Either that, or they’re cheating and have already picked the one they like best. Sneaky astronomers.

Once you vote, you can enter a contest to receive one of 100 pictures of the winning object. Voting closes on March 1, so get in there and point Hubble!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (56)


    I’m voting for Emission nebula NGC 6634 because of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…… KHAAAAAANN!!

  2. IAmMarauder

    I voted for the Interacting galaxies. Partially because of the lack of detail in the high res picture and I would like to see it better.

    Then again, I am not too concerned because no matter which one wins it should be a good picture. Although I am not too sure about the edge-on spiral – to me it seems a bit boring compared to the other options.

  3. MadScientist

    They all look so pretty. I vote for the sparkliest one! I’m not an astronomer so I have no idea what could be learned from each of these objects.

  4. I voted for the interacting galaxies – that one seems like something that could be interesting for further study (and by that, I mean, me staring at it).

  5. linus

    I voted for the starforming region. We can always use more data on those and they are quite nice to look at too.

  6. turtlerex

    I also voted for the interacting galaxies, but the edge-on spiral galaxy was a very close second for me. Although they can be pretty tame compared to the other choices, I have a special fondness for their unusual perspective and surprising detail.
    This Hubble shot (reprocessed) of the Sombrero Galaxy is one of my favorites:

  7. Bramblyspam

    As much as I enjoy the pretty pictures, the purpose of Hubble is to learn stuff. Like MadScientist above, I have no idea what could be learned from these objects. Chances are the object most worth studying isn’t the same as the object that gives the prettiest picture.

    I do have a question, though: why isn’t it possible for Hubble to look at all six of these? How long does it really take Hubble to switch viewing targets and take a picture?

  8. Case Western Reserve University used to allow photograph sessions to be scheduled from the web on their refractor. Does anyone know if they still do that?

  9. fred edison

    I’ve always had a soft spot for colliding galaxies. Black hole jets? Starbursts? Who knows? Whatever you vote for, it’s a win for everyone. Go Hubble!

  10. Interacting Galaxies, hands down.

  11. unnuagedecole

    Have you ever dreamed of being able to grab hold of the Hubble Space Telescope and point it anywhere you want?

    Well …pretty much what I was into precisely yesterday looking for a solution …eventually ending up on Youtube with some guys working on installing webcams on their scopes :)

    non desperatly waiting for the idea to burst somewhere with some generous astroguy opening access to the totally-no-telecope-at-hand rest of us.

    voila :)

  12. Yeah, but who wants another WFPC2 photo, when you can just wait until June and get an ACS photo! 16 million pixels, 4 electrons of noise (or maybe less!), plus the whole thing with Grunsfeld and Feustel going all Mission: Impossible (only in space) to make the fix.

    I know, I should shut up about ACS Repair already. Sorry, it’s all I know…

  13. Jack Mitcham

    I voted for the star forming region. As pretty as interacting galaxies are, I’d like to see more information on how stars form, especially if we can get some data on proplyds. It may have information on how our own solar system was formed.

  14. Apt that this post follows the science and democracy one -here’s science being democratic and lettingus vote to decide what Hubble views! How superb is that! 8) 😀

    Hmmm … Tough choice, theyeach have alot of appeal & Ihope the HST views them all one day.

    I’m going to have to sleep on it & decide in the morning! 😉

  15. Asimov Fan

    Here’s a question to bear in mind before choosing :

    Which of these objects has been most and least viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope before?

    Does anyone know what the relative percentages are eg. HST has viewed planetary nebulae X % of thetime, spiral galaxies Y % of thetime and so forth?

    Add that to the questions raised earlier of which image will provide the most useful info. to science and the best most breath-takingly beautiful image …

    Thankyou NASA & HST team for giving us this opportunity & thanks Dr Phil Plait for letting us know about this & other astronomy and science news so well. :-)

  16. Trebuchet

    I voted for the interacting galaxies, which are currently in first place. Like others have noted, I’ve no idea what might be learned but they look very cool and we’ve seen lots of Hubble pictures of star-forming regions. Or at least one, the “Pillars of Creation” seems to be the most popular Hubble picture ever.

  17. bill ringo

    Cool beans. Star formers rock.

  18. SteveT

    I picked the edge-on galaxy. I assume there are relatively fewer galaxies that appear so exactly edge-on (as opposed to some other orientation), so perhaps there is more to be learned from such an image?

    My “pretty” vote would have been for NGC40.

  19. SeanH

    Like others I don’t know the scientific value of any candidate, but just to be a contrarian I picked the smaller-looking planetary nebula which was in last place. Well, contrarianism and because nebulae have purdy colors. (that the correct plural? nebulas? nebula?)

  20. Would the star at the centre of NGC40 be a Pulsar by any chance?

    Gets my vote anyways..!

  21. Eric H.

    Star forming region for the win! Looks like it is in 2nd place right now, I hope that it comes out on top. I simply love Hubble images of star forming regions.

  22. Cheyenne

    I’ll abstain from voting on which of the six to pick and take the time instead to send another small letter to my congressman and Senator stating why I support additional gov’t funding for astronomical projects. I’d send one to my governor as well but he’s, um, busy being the largest num-dolt on the planet this month.

  23. Cheyenne

    OK I lied – had to vote as well – One more for Planetary Nebula NGC 6072.

    Galaxies are great but puhlease!- planetary nebula is the new black. Or pink. Whatever the kids think is cool really.

    Planets, chemistry analysis, pre-cursors for life maybe – big stuff happening in the nebula.

  24. I voted for NGC 5172, as it’s similar to the Milky Way and so would tell us a lot about ourselves. Sort of like studying yourself in the mirror. I’m vain, I admit it.

    Of course, any of them would be cool because hay, Hubble images!

  25. @SeanH: Yes, it’s nebulæ. 😉

    I voted for the edge-on because the interlockers were already first and I want the edge-on to come in second. 😀

  26. CR

    That was a tough decision, but I voted for the edge-on galaxy, due to the relative rarity of such a viewing angle.
    I have to echo the previous question, though: is there some way that all six objects can get viewed? (Perhaps this is just a way of prioritizing which gets done first…)

  27. Sili

    I won’t tell you what I think they should observe, so as not to skew the results.

    I don’t think you quite understand how this works. Perhaps you should ask PeeZed for pointers.

    (I’ll prolly go with the interacting ones – even though I like the edge-on.

  28. The Mutt

    I voted for Salma Hayek’s swimming pool.

  29. Alan French

    From grumblings I am hearing via my wife, the object in the photo is not NGC 6634. They probably meant NGC 6334, which is part of the Cat’s Paw, but not the part in the photo. According to the NG/IC Project, the portion shown in the photo is just west of NGC 6334.

    Clear skies, Alan

  30. Alan French

    It looks like the NGC 6334 designation is correct, so it was just a typo.

    Clear skies, Alan

  31. «bønez_brigade»

    I chose NGC 6072; although, NGC 4289 was my next choice.
    Why? Because it appears amazingly awesome and astoundingly awe-inspiring.

  32. I voted for the Arp pair too, but I really wanted NGC891. :-(

  33. Sundance

    Rather a shame that all the folks running Hubble couldn’t come up with a better voting system than ‘first past the post’. Having multiple galaxy candidates, and multiple planetary nebula candidates, is a classic recipe for vote-splitting. Have they never heard of the ‘single transferable vote’? :-)

  34. StevoR

    Odd – I can’t see what I think I’ve just posted even after refreshing the page but when I went back and tried to post it again, it said I’d already said that & detected a duplicate comment. Sorry y’all. Not sure what the wretched machine thinks its doing … :-(


    To err is human to really foul things up requires a computer.

  35. StevoR-Correcting

    Still not there. Okay I’m trying to try & repost it via cut & paste … Sorryif itdoe scome through twice – moderators feel free tofdlete later ones if original does work.

    (Great as this blog is it has its exasperating limitations too. :-(

    *edit* cough, *Preview* cough * delete option* cough* ..


  36. StevoR

    Now its *still* saying duplicate comment – & its still not appearing . :-(


    For pity’s sake computer can * you* NOT * just_ ******_ WORK!!

    Sigh. :-(

  37. IVAN3MAN

    @ StevoR,

    Confucius say: Only bad workman blames tools.

    I would suggest that you use Microsoft Works Word Processor for writing your comments, which will automatically underline in red any spelling/spacing errors that you make, and then, once you have corrected the errors, you just simply copy & paste your comment into the comment box. It will save you a lot of frustration!

  38. StevoR

    Thanks IVAN3MAN Its not just typos though ..

    My post here just isn’t appearing & for the life of me I can’t work out why.

    My computer is old & slow &I’m hoping to getanew one but ..yegods it give sme the irrits.

    I could do the old “work in word then paste to web” technique you suggest but that’s a pain too.

    Being able to edit, preview, delete would be such a great improvemnet to this blog – & other blogs fromyeras ago can do it so I’m not sure why the BA blog can’t.

    Can anyone see my original post here? Is it jus tme that can’t? I cannot understand why it isn’t on screen here.

  39. StevoR

    Particularly when other posts like the above come through ok .. what is going on???

    I’ve tried refreshing thepage, tried cut_&-pasting, tried retyping (editing) and sending .. why is it taht this one post (quite innocuous just discusisngmy voteo &why) isn’t appearing here depsite somanyattempyts toget it to work??

    That’s what’s driving me nuts – or nuts-er. :-(

  40. Steven C. Raine

    Okay again a piece-by piece approach to getting the whole post to finally submit … (Btw. has now been spell-checked.)


    @ Sundance who said on January 29th, 2009 at 1:12 am :

    Rather a shame that all the folks running Hubble couldn’t come up with a better voting system than ‘first past the post’. Having multiple galaxy candidates, and multiple planetary nebula candidates, is a classic recipe for vote-splitting. Have they never heard of the ’single transferable vote’?

    Or preferential voting .. Ie. first choice is __ then second choice is __ third___ and so on .. That’s how Aussie political elections work & it seems to make most sense to me.


    Let’s see if this time it actually goes through …

  41. Steven C. Raine

    Okay having slept on this now – twice – I’m going to pick the edge-on galaxy NCG 4289 first as we don’t see too many like these and I’m guessing a really close look could tell us quite a lot we don’t know from looking closely from a different perspective. Could we do a better globular cluster count and examine how thick, twisted and composition of disk and bulge that way? I’m thinking so.

    Be funny to compare it with a meteor streak if one happens to cross the field at the time too! 😉

    BTW Asimov fan I’m guessing that this is the least commonly observed – & least common? – type of object. We see lots of Hubble shots of galaxies, planetaries, interacting galaxies and star-forming regions.

  42. IVAN3MAN

    @ Steven “StevoR” C. Raine,

    Particularly when other posts like the above come through ok .. what is going on???

    Phil Plait’s anti-spam filter tends to be rather twitchy with some words, because of “Electric Universe”/creationist trolls that often plague this blog.

  43. Steven C. Raine

    PART IV (part III will notseem towappear here for some unfathomable reason ..)


    Third place on my voting list would go to the interacting galaxies Arp 274, again beautiful and scientifically intriguing objects then the spiral galaxy NGC 5172 which like our own Milky Way and just gorgeous looking, probably the most visually stunning object there albeit we’ve already got lots of similar images of closer spirals to work with, followed by the planetary nebula NGC 40 which appears to have a Mira-tail like streak of nebulosity above it as well.

    Which leaves poor old planetary neb NGC 6072 in last place by default – not because I don’t like it though because *any* of these will be a good choice. I’d really like to see HST view them all – and more! 😀

    Hey you did ask which I’d vote for and why! 😉


    I just didn’t think it’d be this [expletives] hard! What on Earth is it about this post (last three sections) that meant I couldn’t post it all ok before?

  44. Steven C. Raine

    Okay <B.IVAN3MAN – but I’m not one of them & I’m can’t think of anything “twitchy” in the post I’m having so much trouble with.

    Besides if you’re discussing such topics doens’t that make it hard to avoid using the words / arguments even for dissection purposes?

    Anyway Ithink it’smycomputer playing up but I dunno really. I’m just very baffled and frustrated.

  45. Steven C. Raine

    … & that wasn’t meant to be in bold! What the ..!

  46. StevoR

    Although, Ivan3man’s name was meant to appear there in bold. :-(

    Plus I still can’t seem to get anything posted here on my no. 2 choice – the starforming nebula NGC 6634 to appear here – all quite harmless wordage I assure you!

  47. Nes

    Oh, this is hard. I can’t decide between the Star Forming Region and the Interacting Galaxies. Both seem like they would have lots of science in them, and both would probably make really pretty pictures.

  48. IVAN3MAN

    @ StevoR,

    Er… I’ve checked the source code and it appears that you made the error of typing “<b .” instead of “<b>” at the beginning.

  49. IVAN3MAN Said back on January 29th, 2009 at 8:44 pm :

    @ StevoR,

    Er… I’ve checked the source code and it appears that you made the error of typing “<b .” instead of “” at the beginning.

    Okay that explains part of the problem. I still just don’t understand why the bit explaining my second choice didn’t come through ..Or for that matter my whole original “what I’m voting for & why” post

    Nothing objectionable there .. its mystifying me. :-(

    Not that it really matters now..


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