NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary


  • newswise-fullscreen NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary

    Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

    This giant cluster of about 3,000 stars, called Westerlund 2, resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina. The 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image commemorates a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since the telescope's launch on April 24, 1990.

  • newswise-fullscreen NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary

    Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

    DETAILS OF WESTERLUND 2, HUBBLE'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY IMAGE. A glittering tapestry of young stars flares to life in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope observation. These detailed close-ups are sections of a stunning image that is being released in celebration of Hubble's 25 years of exploring the universe since its launch on April 24, 1990. [Top Left] The sparkling centerpiece of Hubble's silver anniversary tribute is Westerlund 2, a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. Hubble's near-infrared imaging camera pierces through the dusty veil enshrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The 2-million-year-old giant star cluster measures about 6 to 13 light-years across and contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, most massive stars. [Top Right] The cluster is surrounded by the star-forming region Gum 29. The heaviest cluster stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-force winds streaming with charged particles, etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud from where the cluster formed. The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, valleys, and reddish-brown filaments of dense gas and dust. The brightest stars in the image are Milky Way foreground stars not associated with Westerlund 2. [Bottom Left] The pillars in the star-forming region surrounding Westerlund 2, composed of dense gas, are a few light-years tall and point to the central cluster. They are thought to be incubators for new stars. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, intense radiation from the most brilliant of the cluster stars is creating a successive generation of baby stars. The bluish haze is an indicator of oxygen gas in the nebula. [Bottom Right] The red dots scattered throughout the landscape around Westerlund 2 are a rich population of newly forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old and have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. Hubble's near- infrared vision allows astronomers to identify these fledgling stars.

Newswise — The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.

“Hubble has completely transformed our view of the universe,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This vista of starry fireworks and glowing gas is a fitting image for our celebration of 25 years of amazing Hubble science.”

The sparkling centerpiece of Hubble's silver anniversary fireworks is a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2, named for Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund, who discovered the grouping in the 1960s. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina.

To capture this image, Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 pierced through the dusty veil shrouding the stellar nursery in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the nebula and the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The cluster measures between 6 to 13 light-years across.

The giant star cluster is only about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars. Some of its heftiest stars unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds of charged particles that etch at the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud.

The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys. The pillars, composed of dense gas and thought to be incubators for new stars, are a few light-years tall and point to the central star cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including reddish-brown filaments of gas and dust.

The brilliant stars sculpt the gaseous terrain of the nebula and help create a successive generation of baby stars. When the stellar winds hit dense walls of gas, the shockwaves may spark a new torrent of star birth along the wall of the cavity. The red dots scattered throughout the landscape are a rich population of newly forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old — relatively young stars — that have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. The brilliant blue stars seen throughout the image are mostly foreground stars.

Because the cluster is very young — in astronomical terms — it has not had time to disperse its stars deep into interstellar space, providing astronomers with an opportunity to gather information on how the cluster formed by studying it within its star-birthing environment.

The image's central region, which contains the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys with near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Shades of red represent hydrogen and bluish-green hues are predominantly oxygen.

The original observations of Westerlund 2 were obtained by the science team: Antonella Nota (ESA/STScI), Elena Sabbi and Carol Christian (STScI), Eva Grebel and Peter Zeidler (Astronomisches Rechen-Institut Heidelberg), Monica Tosi (INAF, Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna), Alceste Bonanos (National Observatory of Athens, Astronomical Institute), and Selma de Mink (University of Amsterdam). Follow-up observations were made by the Hubble Heritage team: Zolt Levay (STScI), Max Mutchler, Jennifer Mack, Lisa Frattare, Shelly Meyett, Mario Livio, Carol Christian (STScI/AURA), and Keith Noll (NASA/GSFC).

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

For image files, video, and more information about Westerlund 2, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2015/12

http://heritage.stsci.edu/2015/12

http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1509

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

http://hubble25th.org

For additional information, contact:

Donna Weaver / Ray VillardSpace Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.410-338-4493 / 410-338-4514dweaver@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

Felicia ChouNASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.202-358-0257felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Georgia BladonESA/Hubble-Europe, Garching, Germany011-44-78-1629-1261gbladon@partner.eso.org


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