O_o When we peer deep into space, we don’t expect to find something staring back at us…
This galactic ghoul, captured by our Hubble Space Telescope, is actually a titanic head-on collision between two galaxies. Each “eye” is the bright core of a galaxy, one of which slammed into another. The outline of the face is a ring of young blue stars. Other clumps of new stars form a nose and mouth.
Although galaxy collisions are common most of them are not head-on smashups like this Arp-Madore system. Get spooked & find out what lies inside this ghostly apparition, here.
Space is a global frontier. That’s why we partner with nations all around the world to further the advancement of science and to push the boundaries of human exploration. With international collaboration, we have sent space telescopes to observe distant galaxies, established a sustainable, orbiting laboratory 254 miles above our planet’s surface and more! As we look forward to the next giant leaps in space exploration with our Artemis lunar exploration program, we will continue to go forth with international partnerships!
Teamwork makes the dream work. Here are a few of our notable collaborations:
Our Artemis lunar exploration program will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024. Using innovative technologies and international partnerships, we will explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and establish sustainable missions by 2028.
During these missions, the Orion spacecraft will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The European Service Module, provided by the European Space Agency, will serve as the spacecraft’s powerhouse and supply it with electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air and water in space.
The Gateway, a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon, will be a home base for astronauts to maintain frequent and sustainable crewed missions to the lunar surface. With the help of a coalition of nations, this new spaceship will be assembled in space and built within the next decade.
Gateway already has far-reaching international support, with 14 space agencies agreeing on its importance in expanding humanity’s presence on the Moon, Mars and deeper into the solar system.
International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most ambitious international collaborations ever attempted. Launched in 1998 and involving the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and the participating countries of the European Space Agency — the ISS has been the epitome of global cooperation for the benefit of humankind. The largest space station ever constructed, the orbital laboratory continues to bring together international flight crews, globally distributed launches, operations, training, engineering and the world’s scientific research community.
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope, one of our greatest windows into worlds light-years away, was built with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA).
ESA provided the original Faint Object Camera and solar panels, and continues to provide science operations support for the telescope.
The Deep Space Network (DSN) is an international array of giant radio antennas that span the world, with stations in the United States, Australia and Spain. The three facilities are equidistant approximately one-third of the way around the world from one another – to permit constant communication with spacecraft as our planet rotates. The network supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and a few that orbit Earth. It also provides radar and radio astronomy observations that improve our understanding of the solar system and the larger universe!
Information gathered today by robots on Mars will help get humans to the Red Planet in the not-too-distant future. Many of our Martian rovers – both past, present and future – are the products of a coalition of science teams distributed around the globe. Here are a few notable ones:
We partner with space agencies around the globe on space-analog missions. Analog missions are field tests in locations that have physical similarities to the extreme space environments. They take astronauts to space-like environments to prepare as international teams for near-term and future exploration to asteroids, Mars and the Moon.
So, whether we’re collaborating as a science team around the globe, or shoulder-to-shoulder on a spacewalk, we are committed to working together with international partners for the benefit of all humanity!
If you’re interested in learning more about how the global space industry works together, check out our coverage of the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) happening this week in Washington, D.C. IAC is a yearly gathering in which all space players meet to talk about the advancements and progress in exploration.
Garden-variety stars like the Sun live fairly placid lives in their galactic neighborhoods, casually churning out heat and light for billions of years. When these stars reach retirement age, however, they transform into unique and often psychedelic works of art. This Hubble Space Telescope image of the Saturn Nebula shows the result, called a planetary nebula. While it looks like a piece of wrapped cosmic candy, what we see is actually the outer layers of a dying star.
Stars are powered by nuclear fusion, but each one comes with a limited supply of fuel. When a medium-mass star exhausts its nuclear fuel, it will swell up and shrug off its outer layers until only a small, hot core remains. The leftover core, called a white dwarf, is a lot like a hot coal that glows after a barbecue — eventually it will fade out. Until then, the gaseous debris fluoresces as it expands out into the cosmos, possibly destined to be recycled into later generations of stars and planets.
Using Hubble’s observations, scientists have characterized the nebula’s composition, structure, temperature and the way it interacts with surrounding material. Studying planetary nebulas is particularly interesting since our Sun will experience a similar fate around five billion years down the road.
In this Hubble image, you’ll find 50 spiral and dwarf galaxies hanging out in our cosmic neighborhood. The main focal point of stars is actually a dwarf galaxy. Dwarf galaxies often show a hazy structure, an ill-defined shape and an appearance somewhat akin to a swarm or cloud of stars — and UGC 685 is no exception to this.
These data were gathered under Hubble’s Legacy ExtraGalactic UV Survey (LEGUS) program, the sharpest and most comprehensive ultraviolet survey of star-forming galaxies in the nearby universe.
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; the LEGUS team, B. Tully, D. Calzetti
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky. 🌟
The final stages of a star’s life allow us a glimpse into the future of our own solar system. This image from our Hubble Space Telescope shows what’s left of a star 10,000 light-years from Earth.
A star like our Sun will, at the end of its life, transform into a red giant. The core of the star will eventually collapse in on itself, ejecting the surface layers outward. After that, all that remains of the star is what we see here: glowing outer layers surrounding a white dwarf star. In just a few thousand years they will have dissipated, and all that will be left to see is the dimly glowing white dwarf. More on this image, here.
We launched our Spitzer Space Telescope into orbit around the Sunday on Aug. 25, 2003. Since then, the observatory has been lifting the veil on the wonders of the cosmos, from our own solar system to faraway galaxies, using infrared light.
Thanks to Spitzer, scientists were able to confirm the presence of seven rocky, Earth-size planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. The telescope has also provided weather maps of hot, gaseous exoplanets and revealed a hidden ring around Saturn. It has illuminated hidden collections of dust in a wide variety of locations, including cosmic nebulas (clouds of gas and dust in space), where young stars form, and swirling galaxies. Spitzer has additionally investigated some of the universe’s oldest galaxies and stared at the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
In honor of Spitzer’s Sweet 16 in space, here are 16 amazing images from the mission.
Giant Star Makes Waves
This Spitzer image shows the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi and the bow shock, or shock wave, in front of it. Visible only in infrared light, the bow shock is created by winds that flow from the star, making ripples in the surrounding dust.
The Seven Sisters Pose for Spitzer
The Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, is a frequent target for night sky observers. This image from Spitzer zooms in on a few members of the sisterhood. The filaments surrounding the stars are dust, and the three colors represent different wavelengths of infrared light.
Young Stars in Their Baby Blanket of Dust
Newborn stars peek out from beneath their blanket of dust in this image of the Rho Ophiuchi nebula. Called “Rho Oph” by astronomers and located about 400 light-years from Earth, it’s one of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system.
The youngest stars in this image are surrounded by dusty disks of material from which the stars — and their potential planetary systems — are forming. More evolved stars, which have shed their natal material, are blue.
The Infrared Helix
Located about 700 light-years from Earth, the eye-like Helix nebula is a planetary nebula, or the remains of a Sun-like star. When these stars run out of their internal fuel supply, their outer layers puff up to create the nebula. Our Sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about 5 billion years.
The Tortured Clouds of Eta Carinae
The bright star at the center of this image is Eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars in the Milky Way galaxy. With around 100 times the mass of the Sun and at least 1 million times the brightness, Eta Carinae releases a tremendous outflow of energy that has eroded the surrounding nebula.
Spitzer Spies Spectacular Sombrero
Located 28 million light-years from Earth, Messier 104 — also called the Sombrero galaxy or M104 — is notable for its nearly edge-on orientation as seen from our planet. Spitzer observations were the first to reveal the smooth, bright ring of dust (seen in red) circling the galaxy.
Spiral Galaxy Messier 81
This infrared image of the galaxy Messier 81, or M81, reveals lanes of dust illuminated by active star formation throughout the galaxy’s spiral arms. Located in the northern constellation of Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper), M81 is also about 12 million light-years from Earth.
Spitzer Reveals Stellar Smoke
Messier 82 — also known as the Cigar galaxy or M82 — is a hotbed of young, massive stars. In visible light, it appears as a diffuse bar of blue light, but in this infrared image, scientists can see huge red clouds of dust blown out into space by winds and radiation from those stars.
A Pinwheel Galaxy Rainbow
This image of Messier 101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy or M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from Spitzer and three other NASA space telescopes: Hubble, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer’s Far Ultraviolet detector (GALEX) and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The galaxy is about 70% larger than our own Milky Way, with a diameter of about 170,000 light-years, and sits at a distance of 21 million light-years from Earth. Read more about its colors here.
The first ripple appears as a bright blue outer ring around the larger object, radiating ultraviolet light visible to GALEX. The clumps of pink along the outer blue ring are X-ray (observed by Chandra) and ultraviolet radiation.
Spitzer and Hubble Create Colorful Masterpiece
Located 1,500 light-years from Earth, the Orion nebula is the brightest spot in the sword of the constellation Orion. Four massive stars, collectively called the Trapezium, appear as a yellow smudge near the image center. Visible and ultraviolet data from Hubble appear as swirls of green that indicate the presence of gas heated by intense ultraviolet radiation from the Trapezium’s stars. Less-embedded stars appear as specks of green, and foreground stars as blue spots. Meanwhile, Spitzer’s infrared view exposes carbon-rich molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, shown here as wisps of red and orange. Orange-yellow dots are infant stars deeply embedded in cocoons of dust and gas.
A Space Spider Watches Over Young Stars
Located about 10,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga, the Spider nebula resides in the outer part of the Milky Way. Combining data from Spitzer and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), the image shows green clouds of dust illuminated by star formation in the region.
North America Nebula in Different Lights
This view of the North America nebula combines visible light collected by the Digitized Sky Survey with infrared light from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Blue hues represent visible light, while infrared is displayed as red and green. Clusters of young stars (about 1 million years old) can be found throughout the image.
Spitzer Captures Our Galaxy’s Bustling Center
This infrared mosaic offers a stunning view of the Milky Way galaxy’s busy center. The pictured region, located in the Sagittarius constellation, is 900 light-years agross and shows hundreds of thousands of mostly old stars amid clouds of glowing dust lit up by younger, more massive stars. Our Sun is located 26,000 light-years away in a more peaceful, spacious neighborhood, out in the galactic suburbs.
The Eternal Life of Stardust
The Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy located about 160,000 light-years from Earth, looks like a choppy sea of dust in this infrared portrait. The blue color, seen most prominently in the central bar, represents starlight from older stars. The chaotic, bright regions outside this bar are filled with hot, massive stars buried in thick blankets of dust.
A Stellar Family Portrait
In this large celestial mosaic from Spitzer, there’s a lot to see, including multiple clusters of stars born from the same dense clumps of gas and dust. The grand green-and-orange delta filling most of the image is a faraway nebula. The bright white region at its tip is illuminated by massive stars, and dust that has been heated by the stars’ radiation creates the surrounding red glow.
Managed by our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Spitzer’s primary mission lasted five-and-a-half years and ended when it ran out of the liquid helium coolant necessary to operate two of its three instruments. But, its passive-cooling design has allowed part of its third instrument to continue operating for more than 10 additional years. The mission is scheduled to end on Jan. 30, 2020.
Our Hubble Space Telescope spotted this planetary nebula in the constellation of Orion. It’s really a vast orb of gas in space, with its aging star in the center… but what does it look like to you? 🤔
When stars like the Sun grow advanced in age, they expand and glow red. These so-called red giants then begin to lose their outer layers of material into space. More than half of such a star’s mass can be shed in this manner, forming a shell of surrounding gas. At the same time, the star’s core shrinks and grows hotter, emitting ultraviolet light that causes the expelled gases to glow.
Gravity is obviously pretty important. It holds your feet down to Earth so you don’t fly away into space, and (equally important) it keeps your ice cream from floating right out of your cone! We’ve learned a lot about gravity over the past few hundred years, but one of the strangest things we’ve discovered is that most of the gravity in the universe comes from an invisible source called “dark matter.” While our telescopes can’t directly see dark matter, they can help us figure out more about it thanks to a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
The Gravity of the Situation
Anything that has mass is called matter, and all matter has gravity. Gravity pulls on everything that has mass and warps space-time, the underlying fabric of the universe. Things like llamas and doughnuts and even paper clips all warp space-time, but only a tiny bit since they aren’t very massive.
But huge clusters of galaxies are so massive that their gravity produces some pretty bizarre effects. Light always travels in a straight line, but sometimes its path is bent. When light passes close to a massive object, space-time is so warped that it curves the path the light must follow. Light that would normally be blocked by the galaxy cluster is bent around it, producing intensified — and sometimes multiple — images of the source. This process, called gravitational lensing, turns galaxy clusters into gigantic, intergalactic magnifying glasses that give us a glimpse of cosmic objects that would normally be too distant and faint for even our biggest telescopes to see.
Hubble “Sees” Dark Matter
Let’s recap — matter warps space-time. The more matter, the stronger the warp and the bigger its gravitational lensing effects. In fact, by studying “lensed” objects, we can map out the quantity and location of the unseen matter causing the distortion!
Thanks to gravitational lensing, scientists have measured the total mass of many galaxy clusters, which revealed that all the matter they can see isn’t enough to create the warping effects they observe. There’s more gravitational pull than there is visible stuff to do the pulling — a lot more! Scientists think dark matter accounts for this difference. It’s invisible to our eyes and telescopes, but it can’t hide its gravity!
The mismatch between what we see and what we know must be there may seem strange, but it’s not hard to imagine. You know that people can’t float in mid-air, so what if you saw a person appearing to do just that? You would know right away that there must be wires holding him up, even if you couldn’t see them.
Our Hubble Space Telescope observations are helping unravel the dark matter mystery. By studying gravitationally lensed galaxy clusters with Hubble, astronomers have figured out how much of the matter in the universe is “normal” and how much is “dark.” Even though normal matter makes up everything from pickles to planets, there’s about five times more dark matter in the universe than all the normal matter combined!
WFIRST Will Escalate the Search
One of our next major space telescopes, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), will take these gravitational lensing observations to the next level. WFIRST will be sensitive enough to use weak gravitational lensing to see how clumps of dark matter warp the appearance of distant galaxies. By observing lensing effects on this small scale, scientists will be able to fill in more of the gaps in our understanding of dark matter.
WFIRST will observe a sky area 100 times larger than Hubble does, but with the same awesome image quality. WFIRST will collect so much data in its first year that it will allow scientists to conduct in-depth studies that would have taken hundreds of years with previous telescopes.
Space telescopes like Hubble and our upcoming James Webb Space Telescope use light not only to create images, but can also break light down into individual colors (or wavelengths). Studying light this way can give us a lot of detail about the object that emitted that light. For example, studying the components of the light from exoplanets can tell us about its atmosphere’s color, chemical makeup, and temperature. How does this work?
Remember the primary colors you learned about in elementary school?
Those colors are known as the pigment or subtractive colors. Every other color is some combination of the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.
Light also has its own primary colors, and they work in a similar way. These colors are known as additive or light colors.
TVs make use of light’s colors to create the pictures we see. Each pixel of a TV screen contains some amount of red, green and blue light. The amount of each light determines the overall color of the pixel. So, each color on the TV comes from a combination of the primary colors of light: red, green and blue.
Space telescope images of celestial objects are also a combination of the colors of light.
Every pixel that is collected can be broken down into its base colors. To learn even more, astronomers break the red, green and blue light down into even smaller sections called wavelengths.
This breakdown is called a spectrum.
With the right technology, every pixel of light can also be measured as a spectrum.
Images show us the big picture, while a spectrum reveals finer details. Astronomers use spectra to learn things like what molecules are in planet atmospheres and distant galaxies.
An Integral Field Unit, or IFU, is a special tool on the James Webb Space Telescope that captures images and spectra at the same time.
The IFU creates a unique spectrum for each pixel of the image the telescope is capturing, providing scientists with an enormous amount of valuable, detailed data. So, with an IFU we can get an image, many spectra and a better understanding of our universe.
Watch the full video where this method of learning about planetary atmospheres is explained:
The James Webb Space Telescope is our upcoming infrared space observatory, which will launch in 2021. It will spy the first galaxies that formed in the universe and shed light on how galaxies evolve, how stars and planetary systems are born and tell us about potentially habitable planets around other stars.