Hubble Goes High-Definition
January 6, 2015 6:28 AM   Subscribe

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. A new, higher quality image of the structure as seen in visible light recreates the original image, while a high quality image as seen in infra-red light reveals different aspects of the structure and hints of new stars being born.

Be sure to click the images to see the full-resolution versions. Or, if NASA's flash viewer doesn't work on your device, try these direct links: visible light, infra-red light.
posted by metaBugs (18 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
What did they change to make the new images higher quality?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:34 AM on January 6, 2015


Majestic.
posted by Gelatin at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2015


What did they change to make the new images higher quality?

There have been several service missions to provide equipment upgrades and additions over the years.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope#Servicing_missions_and_new_instruments
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 6:51 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "What did they change to make the new images higher quality?"

The newer image was made using the Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed on the Hubble in 2009.
posted by kyrademon at 6:51 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh, didn't realize the ESA was involved in providing money for Hubble. Neat, but damn you US Congress.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:14 AM on January 6, 2015


This is the week of the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. For astronomers, this is a mega-meeting - several thousand people in Seattle this week.

This is also the one time of the year that I find Twitter actually useful - I have a window with tweets tagged #aas225 (the official hashtag for the 225th AAS meeting) scrolling by, and there's enough there that #aas225 has been trending, even! (Yeah, trendy astronomers, who would have thunk it.)

Anyway, all this to say, over the last few hours the feed has just been inundated with this glorious image. It seems to have struck a chord...

(On preview, BB, it's always been the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, but Space Telescope Science Institute really transformed the way media publicity had been done before. Astronomers are mobile enough - not by choice, really, there are very few jobs - so that most large projects have to be international.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:19 AM on January 6, 2015


And then one day the hellish creature understood that it was being observed...

They can move really fast, can't they?
posted by Namlit at 8:23 AM on January 6, 2015


I wish I had a Hubble. I really do.

I've got a pretty awesome telescope. 12" diameter, 1500mm focal length. I'm getting better at star hopping to whatever I want to see in the night sky. My telescope uses a Dobsonian mount, which is very easy to use, but it doesn't track an object through the sky as the Earth rotates. So you can see the ring nebula there, but in a few seconds it's gone, so you have to continually "nudge" the scope. It's not hard, and I'm building an equatorial platform that will enable the scope to track an object for about an hour.

But just because the target will be in the eyepiece for an hour, long-exposure (over 60 seconds) astrophotography still won't be feasible, because although the target is centered in the eyepiece, it's still rotating. To stop the rotation, you need an equatorial mount.

For astrophotography, the mount is by far the most important part of the whole system. And the whole system depends on a lot of factors: camera, mount, scope, cloud cover, seeing conditions, light pollution, latitude, and time of year. Some of those things you can't really control, others you can. There's just as much luck as there is skill to the whole endeavor. I've gotten a crappy photo of Jupiter and 4 moons in the very early morning in my backyard, and I hope to get some of Saturn when the time is right later this year. Mars is going to be pretty close in the summer of 2016, and even closer in the summer of 2018, but even then it's going to be a red dot that's clearly not a star, with maybe some of the polar ice caps visible.

But the Hubble? The Hubble doesn't have to deal with the atmosphere. That's huge. That's everything really. When you look at deep-space objects, the ones overhead are going to look a lot better than the ones low on the horizon, because you're looking through less air. The Hubble doesn't have any atmosphere to deal with. My telescope's aperture (which is your ability to gather light) is 12in/305mm. The Hubble's is 95in/2400mm. My focal length (which is your ability to magnify) is 1500mm, the Hubble's is 57,600mm.

For visible-spectrum observing, the Hubble is just light years (har har) ahead of anything we'll ever be able to do here on the ground.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:27 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


For visible-spectrum observing, the Hubble is just light years (har har) ahead of anything we'll ever be able to do here on the ground.

I agree in some ways, and disagree in other ways. It depends on what you really want to do.

Being in space buys you angular resolution - you get diffraction limited seeing. But the Hubble's mirror is, as you say, only 2.4m. The gorgeous old Hale telescope on Mount Palomar has a 5m (200 inch) mirror, the twin Keck telescopes have 10m mirrors, and the race is on to build the next generation - the Giant Magellan telescope, the EELT, the TMT - with 30m mirrors. These are prodigiously larger light buckets, and they collect more photons from your source, so you can study fainter objects, peer deeper back in time, and so on.

With adaptive optics, the goal is also to buy back the resolution that the atmosphere takes away. Project a laser "guide star" on the upper reaches of the atmosphere, image it, and twist and deform your corrective optics hundreds of times a second to keep the guide star in sharp focus, and bingo. (This is where someone says "it's just software" and everyone laughs nervously.)

But yes, for now, if you care about high resolution optical and (especially) UV imaging, the HST is the best game in town...
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:41 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


But yes, for now, if you care about high resolution optical and (especially) UV imaging, the HST is the best game in town...

Until the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in about 3.5 years. I guess it's kinda comparing apples to oranges since the JWST is going to be used for infrared and near-infrared observing. Still, amazing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see a representation of what it would look like if one were in a spaceship nearby. Would it still be too dim to see? The visible light image is very cool, but what would it really look like to a human in the vicinity?
posted by cosmac at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2015


long-exposure (over 60 seconds) astrophotography still won't be feasible
I was under the impression that nobody did "pure" long-exposure astrophotography anymore, because the processing that your image sensor implicitly does for a long exposure (taking a mean signal over time) is inferior to what you can do after the fact in image stacking software (e.g. taking a median or a weighted mean to eliminate outliers and reduce noise). Even Hubble does this (and pioneered some of the techniques). But this may just be my ignorance of the tradeoffs speaking; even the simple introductions to stacking I've read recommend ~20 second exposures, so there must be some benefit to using N of those rather than taking ~2 second exposures and using 10*N.
posted by roystgnr at 9:03 AM on January 6, 2015


Many do both. I don't know the merits of one method vs the other honestly. I know that others prefer to take video using a modified webcam, and stack those frames.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:05 AM on January 6, 2015


Let's just be honest and call this what it is: RISE OF THE SLOTHGOD PAW. (It's a cosmology I could get behind)
posted by gwint at 9:08 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh, didn't realize the ESA was involved in providing money for Hubble. Neat, but damn you US Congress.

Operating the telescope done under contract with NASA, so it is funded by Congress. As with everything else budgetary, they argue about the funding levels every year.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 9:26 AM on January 6, 2015


> "I'd like to see a representation of what it would look like if one were in a spaceship nearby. Would it still be too dim to see? The visible light image is very cool, but what would it really look like to a human in the vicinity?"

Short answer -- you wouldn't really see anything if you were right up next to it / inside it.

You know how you can see a fog bank from a distance and it looks solid, but then when you go stand in it, you're not totally blind? You can see a certain distance, and then there's kind of a fog wall at the end of it -- and if you move, the fog wall stays at the same distance from you? The same effect would happen in space; it's a function of something known as optical depth. And fog is a lot thicker than the densest molecular gas cloud. I mean, a LOT thicker.

If you were actually in or next to one of the pillars, you'd most likely be able to see all the way through it unobstructed. You might be able to see the other pillars, though ... I don't know for sure without crunching the numbers.
posted by kyrademon at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


roystgnr: " even the simple introductions to stacking I've read recommend ~20 second exposures, so there must be some benefit to using N of those rather than taking ~2 second exposures and using 10*N."

Below a certain threshold, the signal is drowned by the noise. So the 20 sec is enough to get *something*. Then you median a stack of those, and you have a real nice image.
posted by notsnot at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Phil Plait: Behold, the Pillars of Creation

Andromeda
posted by homunculus at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


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