Butterfly Nebula

The Hubble Space Telescope got back to business this summer after an intensive repair and upgrade mission in May by a crew aboard the space shuttle. This week, an exultant NASA praised the work done by the astronauts--"Bottom line, these professionals left Hubble as a new state-of-the-art telescope," said Ed Weiler, the agency's associate administrator for space science--and released a series of photos that offer fresh and spectacular glimpses of the interstellar realm.

This image, taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3, shows the Butterfly Nebula (or Bug Nebula, cataloged as NGC 6302), at the center of which is a dying star that once had five times the mass of Earth's sun. The wings of this butterfly are actually gas heated to 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit and traveling faster than 600,000 miles per hour, NASA says. The nebula is some 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius, within the Milky Way galaxy. The outer edges of the butterfly wings arise from light emitted by nitrogen, while the white areas show light emitted by sulfur.

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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Barred spiral galaxy

Astronomers, too, were giddy about Hubble's makeover. "We couldn't be more thrilled with the quality of the images from the new Wide Field Camera 3 and repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys, and the spectra from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph," Keith Noll, a team leader at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in NASA's press release.

This view of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217, located 6 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major, was the first post-repair image of a celestial object taken with Advanced Camera for Surveys.

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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Stephan's Quintet

The Wide Field Camera 3 captured this still life of Stephan's Quintet, a group of five galaxies. (It's also known as Hickson Compact Group 92.) At the top right is NGC 7319, a barred spiral, and those blue and red specks are clusters of thousands of stars.

At the center are two galaxies that appear from this perspective almost as one, where there's "a frenzy of star birth" going on. (For the record, they're NGC 7318A and NGC 7318B.) At bottom left is NGC 7317, which NASA describes as "a normal-looking elliptical galaxy."

At upper left is the dwarf galaxy NGC 7320, where the blue and pink dots represent bursts of star formation. It's actually much closer to Earth (40 million light-years away) than the other four galaxies here (290 million light-years away, in the constellation Pegasus).

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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Carina Nebula

A "huge pillar of star birth" taking place in the Carina Nebula is seen here in two images from the Wide Field Camera 3, the top one taken in visible light and the bottom one in infrared. In the infrared image, only a faint outline of the cloudlike pillar remains, allowing astronomers to see fledgling stars and other details more clearly.

At the center of each image is an infant star that is shooting out a jet of cosmic material to the left and to the right. The jets are thought to be moving at speeds of up to 850,000 miles an hour.

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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Omega Centauri

Can you count all the stars here? NASA says there are 100,000, all squeezed (relatively speaking) into a small portion of the Omega Centauri star cluster. The yellow-white dots are adult stars powered by hydrogen fusion, the orange ones are late-life stars, and the red giants, which are shedding their gaseous envelopes, are older still.

The brilliant blue dots are stars that have ejected most of their mass and spent much of their hydrogen, and "are desperately trying to extend their lives by fusing helium in their cores," NASA says. "At this stage, they emit much of their light at ultraviolet wavelengths." The faint blue dots are white dwarfs--stars that have run out of helium and are now just burnt-out and have ever cooler cores.

Omega Centauri is among the approximately 200 globular clusters that orbit the Milky Way, and it's one of the most massive, host to nearly 10 million stars. It lies 16,000 light-years away from us.

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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Supernova remnant N132D

In this pointillist image of supernova remnant N132D, the pink sections correspond to hydrogen gas, while the traces of purple correspond to regions of oxygen. These are "the remains of a star 10 to 15 times the mass of the sun that we would have seen exploding as a supernova 3,000 years ago," NASA says.
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Spectrograph reading of supernova remnant

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, added to the Hubble Space Telescope in May, tracks the output of gases from supernova remnant N132D. The remnant is in the small galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 170,000 light-years from Earth. (The inset is a smaller version of the image in the preceding slide.)
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Eta Carinae

NASA describes Eta Carinae as having a "volatile temperament," and as a doomed star, why shouldn't it be just a little moody? Here's how it has behaved in the last two centuries: "In 1843, Eta Carinae was one of the brightest stars in the sky. It then slowly faded until, in 1868, it became invisible in the sky. Eta Carinae started to brighten again in the 1990s and was again visible to the naked eye. Around 1998 and 1999, its brightness suddenly and unexpectedly doubled."
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Eta Carinae spectrograph

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, repaired in May, offers details on chemical elements dispatched from Eta Carinae. This narrow slice shows, among other things, iron and nitrogen in the outer reaches. Eta Carinae, first catalogued by Edmund Halley in 1677, is 7,500 light-years away in the constellation Carina.
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Markarian 817

The spiral galaxy Markarian 817 is a study in blue--and in super high speeds. NASA says that the black hole affiliated with the galaxy is shooting out material at 9 million miles per hour. Markarian 817 is 430 million light-years away in the constellation Draco.
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Markarian 817 spectrograph

This Cosmic Origins Spectrograph reading shows the difference a dozen years can make, even in the vastness of cosmic time. Says NASA: "The COS spectrum of Markarian 817 highlights the outflow's dynamic nature. A gas cloud containing hydrogen gas that was detected in Hubble data taken in 1997 does not appear in the COS observation because the cloud has apparently been driven out by an outflow of material from the galaxy."
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Quasar PKS 0405-123

Light from the quasar PKS 0405-123 is allowing Hubble to peer great distances and get a bead on the "the cosmic web" of faint and diffuse gas that lies between galaxies, and thus the raw material from which those galaxies are conjured up. PKS 0405-123 is a scant 6.4 billion light-years away.
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Quasar PKS 0405-123 spectrograph

Looking at quasar PKS 0405-123, the Hubble's spectrograph tracks filaments of hydrogen, along with "evidence of glowing oxygen and nitrogen that predominantly trace strong shocks in the filamentary cosmic web. These shocks are produced by gravitational interactions between intergalactic clouds of gas falling onto filaments in the web and by the fast outflow of material from star-forming galaxies."
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:

Abell 370

The arcs and streaks in galaxy cluster Abell 370 reveal "gravitational lensing," the distortion of light from far-off, background galaxies by the cluster's gravitational field. The lensing effect helps astronomers measure the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters.
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Photo by: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team / Caption by:
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