With the passing of the legend and singular artist that was Prince, NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope, which turns 26 this year, has paid homage and tribute to that sexy midget with a gorgeous image of the purple Crab Nebula.
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Prince despite his small stature was big in space
“A purple nebula, in honor of Prince, who passed away today,” NASA officials tweeted Thursday (April 21) along with the photo of the of the purple Crab Nebula. The photo used in tribute was a composite image weaved together from observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory.
The Crab Nebula image is a fitting tribute to the iconic artist as it was formed by the explosive death of a huge star which burned fantastically brightly and died far before its time. Prince, of course, passed yesterday at the age of 57 in his suburban Minneapolis home and recording studio.
Hubble turns its attention to Bubble (Nebula) while celebrating its 26th birthday
NASA has released the clearest image of a giant space balloon in the Bubble Nebula to remind us of the beauty of the universe available to us from the oft-beleaguered Space Telescope launched in 1990.
“We thought it was a pretty spectacular target,” Zolt Levay, the imaging team leader for the Hubble.
“This is kind of in between,” Dr. Levay said. “This particular phenomena of a star blowing this bubble is uncommonly seen … a very unusual landscape in space that is caused by a particular set of circumstances that we don’t see often.”
It’s quite important to appreciate the work that the Hubble does as well as recognizing that the commonplace images won’t continue to capture our imaginations. If you remember, the Hubble flat-out didn’t work when it was launched by the space shuttle Discovery in 1990 and required a repair mission from the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor in 1993.
The space shuttle Discovery was reacquainted with the Hubble Space Station when the crew upgraded the telescope in 1997. Another Discovery crew further upgraded the observatory in 1999 before the Columbia’s crew flew the last service mission in 2002. One last service mission had been scheduled by NASA to take place in 2005, but the 2003 Columbia disaster rubbished these plans.
“The information from Hubble has been used to rewrite science textbooks for 26 years now,” Ann Jenkins, senior science writer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, told the Christian Science Monitor in a recent phone interview.
“It’s bringing things to us that we never would have been able to see,” Jenkins said. “And, in a way, it’s creating even more questions.”
Hubble and James Webb working in tandem
The point is that the Hubble is now on its own and can’t be expected to function properly forever, though NASA is hoping for another ten years of service. That would be ideal as it would allow NASA to get concurrent images from the Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope that is expected to launch in the fall 2018.
While the launch will likely go without a hitch, a functioning James Webb Telescope, NASA’s most expensive science project to date at over $10 billion, is far from a given. The James Webb Telescope following its launch will attempt to assemble itself on its trip of 30 days that will take it over a million miles from Earth.
The Hubble’s mirror was made from a single piece of glass while the Webb’s mirror is made up of 18 separate hexagonal pieces that will need to be brought together as the Webb assembles itself.
And of course, NASA no longer has a space shuttle program to fix the Webb telescope if something were to happen to it during launch or it failed to assemble itself properly.
Back to the Bubble Nebula
The Bubble Nebula is a massive seven light-years across and its light show is provided to us by star that is roughly 45 times the size of our sun. It burns so brightly that it expels super heated gasses that form a stellar wind, which moves over four million miles an hour who pushing out the intersteller gases it encounters to give us the bubble observed in the newest images.
The cooling of the gas is responsible for the vivid colors on display with oxygen turning blue and hydrogen and nitrogen painting the yellows.
The varying densities of space are likely to be responsible for the eccentric expansion of the bubble whose massive star is not quite at the center of the nebula. The oblong nebula’ smaller side is probably a result the presence of denser gasses while the side likely expanded outward as it encountered little resistance from lighter gases.
“There’s also a possibility that the star itself is moving,” Levay said, but noted that hypothesis was still being developed.