Images from the Hubble Space Telescope can bring New Year’s joy with science.
One such case is a new image of the 32-year-old observatory, released on December 1. Here the The Hubble Space Telescope sees the quintessential colors of the holiday season, as bright blue-white stars shine against dusty red-shaded swaths.
These stars are located outside the Milky Wayin a patch of sky located in a nearby galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud (CML). As its name suggests, it looks like a round spot in the southern sky. But in fact, this celestial smear is a small, irregularly shaped satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. It is located approximately 150,000 light years (opens in a new tab) far from Earth. But despite this distance, Hubble is able to distinguish fantastic details.
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Take for example the twinkling stars that Hubble can see there. They belong to a particular region within LMC, called BSDL 2757. It is an open cluster, a group of stars loosely held together by their mutual gravity. Astronomers like to study star cluster because they contain information about how stars – the most basic units of the cosmos – come into existence. Open clusters are particularly interesting because the hundreds of stars in a cluster probably share the same origin (opens in a new tab). That is, they evolved from the same molecular cloud of star stuff.
The blue, green and orange colors seen here are optical light, according to Hubble Space Telescope officials in the description of the image (opens in a new tab) published last week. Dozens of bright stars shine in these shades against what looks like a rust-colored canvas.
But the red regions are not optical light. Rather, they represent information that Hubble has gathered in the infrared wavelengths of light. These are just beyond what human eyes can see. Their value is that they highlight heat sources. In this case, the red represents the interstellar dust floating in the open cluster.
Astronomers study the open cluster BSDL 2757 to study stellar evolution.
“Researchers have studied early-stage growing stars that are still accumulating mass from the clouds surrounding them,” NASA officials write in the description of the Hubble image.
“As gas and dust travel toward a young, budding star, it releases ultraviolet light. By analyzing how this light interacts with dust, astronomers can better understand the properties of dust in different environments.”
Hubble’s successor is the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb). The observatory launched on Christmas Day last year and its team published its first official scientific data last summer. JWST is specifically designed to study the infrared wavelengths of the universe and can offer scientists more data on the material that appears here as a red background.