Hubble gives us a last superb photo before New Year’s Eve, after a year 2021 rich in adventures.
What a year for Hubble! The most famous of space telescopes experienced a thousand and one adventures in 2021, but grandpa continues to resist despite his canonical age; he concludes his year on a high note with a superb shot spotted by ScienceAlert.
We discover NGC 3568, a galaxy whose volutes have, as always, been well highlighted by the NASA teams. It is a representative of a rather particular category of spiral galaxy, called spiral galaxies crossed out by… Edwin Hubble himself in the sequence which bears his name.
Unlike other representatives of the genre, the arms of these galaxies do not emerge directly from the center; they start from the ends of a band of stars, which often produces rather spectacular photographs like those which were used to produce these images.
Because like all images from space telescopes, the end result was not directly captured by Hubble. It is a combination of a large number of images taken by different instruments, which were then synthesized and colored by astronomers.
Amateur astronomers at the heart of the process
The other interesting aspect that is not visible in this image is the little story that led to it. Nothing would have been possible without the contribution of a group of New Zealand amateur astronomers. It was in 2014 that they spotted a brief, but very intense flash from the constellation Centaur. Intrigued, the latter embarked on a small investigation to discover the origin.
They were a long way from imagining how lucky they were; NASA confirmed that they had just witnessed a supernova explosion, 57 million light years from Earth. A fleeting and difficult phenomenon to observe, however, that astronomers continue to hunt down on a daily basis to unravel the secrets of the life of the stars. So the agency called on good old Hubble to take a closer look. It is the data that he brought back during this sighting that made it possible to produce this superb image.
Hubble’s year has been rich in news, between its still essential contributions, its repeated failures and the recent take-off of its new sidekick, the James Webb Space Telescope. The latter will also be able to push this type of observations even further; since he will observe in the infrared, he will be able to see through clouds of gas and dust to observe the birth of stars directly in their nursery.
Beautiful promises that will not make Hubble obsolete for all that. In any case, this is a good conclusion for NASA, whose resolution of 2022 will certainly be to extend as much as possible this fantastic adventure which has lasted for more than three decades. With these two complementary instruments now perched in orbit, 2022 will certainly be a great vintage for astronomy enthusiasts.