Friday, September 11, 2009

And Like the Phoenix, It is Reborn!

September 9th, 2009 9:46 AM by Phil Plait in Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

After a long and nervous wait for those of us stuck on Earth, the world’s most famous observatory is back on the job! Behold!


That’s NGC 6217, a spiral galaxy as seen by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, a workhorse detector on Hubble that went on the fritz in January 2007. But when the STS-125 brought the Space Shuttle Atlantis to Hubble, it also carried two new cameras and the tools to fix two older, busted ones, including ACS. After a daring series of repairs and upgrades, Hubble is now back up to speed.

This ACS image is gorgeous. NGC 6217 is relatively close by, at a distance of roughly 80 million light years (note that some early press said it was 6 million light years away, which is incorrect.

The gas and stars in the middle form an exquisite rectangular bar across the core due to complicated gravitational interactions, and you can easily pick out huge numbers of glowing pink star forming areas, where stars are being born in prodigious quantities. And even from this vast distance — 800 quintillion kilometers (500 quintillion miles) — Hubble can still pick out individual stars in the spiral arms. These are the biggest, baddest, and brightest ones, the stars that will someday explode as monstrous supernovae… and you can rest assured astronomers will be using Hubble or its successors to observe them when they do.

But there’s more! Click here to read full post.

Photo credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

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