In pictures: Hubble Telescope releases stunning new image to celebrate 24 years in orbit

In April the Hubble telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990, will turn 24 and to celebrate this momentous occasion Nasa has released a new image from the telescope.

The image is part of NGC 2174, which is most commonly known as the Monkey Head Nebula. The colourful region is filled with young stars.

The latest release shows colourful plumes of gas and fiery bright stars in the nebula.

The Hubble Space Telescope, a 2.4m aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, was carried into orbit by a space shuttle. It has four main instruments which observe near ultraviolet, visible and near infrared spectra.

New Hubble image of NGC 2174

The new image of NGC 2174, which lies about 6400 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Orion. The key ingredient in tNGC 2174 is hydrogen gas, which is ionised by radiation emitted by the young stars.


Image courtesy of Nasa, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).


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This image shows a wide field view of NGC 2174. The region of sky surrounding NGC 2174 is more commonly known as the Money Head Nebula. The small square near the centre of the image shows the location of the previous photo.


Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech


Visible and Infrared Comparison of NGC 2174

This image shows the visible and infrared comparison of the same detailed area in the star-forming nebula NGC 2174. Located on the left is a visible-light image and on the right is the infrared version. Infrared light penetrates more dust and gas than visible light allowing details to become visible.


Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and J. Hester


Location of the Hubble IR Detail in NGC 2174

The image on the right shows the region of NGC 2174 taken in infrared. The left image comes from a ground based image taken by an amateur astrophotographer – the square shows the region where the Hubble’s photograph is located.


Image courtesy of  NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and R. Crisp

Featured image courtesy of European Space Agency


Big Bang evidence discovered: Scientists confirm gravitational waves

In the scientific discovery of the year, if not the decade, scientists have found the first images of gravitational waves: ripples in space-time that provide the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation.

The inflation, which has only been theory until now, is evidence of the extremely rapid expansion of the universe.

After 14bn years of the universe existing, the new findings by the BICEP2 collaboration, an international team of scientists, provide the most substantial evidence for the theory of the Big Bang.

Their work also provides the first images of gravitational waves – described as the “first tremors of the Big Bang.”

The waves were the final untested prediction of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – which he predicted almost 100 years ago in 1916.

The news confirms heavy rumours from within the physics community about the team’s research, which they have checked and double checked for the last three years.

Their data also confirms a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

One of the project’s co-leaders, Clem Pryke, said: “This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar.”

While not fully proving the Big Bang Theory happened, the team have proved that a huge expansion happened in space, which created the waves. The inflation theory is the most accepted model of how the Big Bang happened.

Harvard theorist Avi Loeb said: “This work offers new insights into some of our most basic questions: Why do we exist? How did the universe begin?

“These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was.”

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Gravitational waves squeeze space as they travel, and this squeezing produces a distinct pattern in the cosmic microwave background – a faint glow left over from the Big Bang.

As the cosmic microwave background is a form of light it contains all the properties of light, including polarisation.  The cosmic microwave was scattered by atoms and electrons and became polarised.

The scientists managed to find the waves after looking for a distinct pattern in the cosmic background.

“Our team hunted for a special type of polarization called ‘B-modes,’ which represents a twisting or ‘curl’ pattern in the polarised orientations of the ancient light,” said co-leader Jamie Bock (Caltech/JPL).

Cardiff University’s Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash, a theoretical physicist who worked on the project, said: “This result is key to answering some of the biggest questions in cosmology.

“It provides insights into processes that took place in the early Universe, and just how violent the birth of the Universe was. It’s wonderful to see the realisation of the prediction that our esteemed colleague Leonid Grishchuk made back in 1975.”

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The results have been produced by a team of scientists and engineers who have been using the BICEP2 telescope based at the South Pole.

John Kovac, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said: “Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point.”

“The South Pole is the closest you can get to space and still be on the ground,” said Kovac. “It’s one of the driest and clearest locations on Earth, perfect for observing the faint microwaves from the Big Bang.”

The BICEP2 collaboration is funded by the National Science Foundation, US, and has involved work from University of California at San Diego, the University of British Columbia, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Toronto, Cardiff University and Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique.


Images courtesy of Harvard/BICEP2.