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Waspie_Dwarf

Light and Dust in a Nearby Starburst Galaxy

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Hubble Sees Light and Dust in a Nearby Starburst Galaxy

739492main1starburst673.jpg

Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA › Larger image

Visible as a small, sparkling hook in the dark sky, this beautiful object is known as J082354.96+280621.6, or J082354.96 for short. It is a starburst galaxy, so named because of the incredibly (and unusually) high rate of star formation occurring within it.

One way in which astronomers probe the nature and structure of galaxies like this is by observing the behavior of their dust and gas components; in particular, the Lyman-alpha emission. This occurs when electrons within a hydrogen atom fall from a higher energy level to a lower one, emitting light as they do so. This emission is interesting because this light leaves its host galaxy only after extensive scattering in the nearby gas — meaning that this light can be used as a pretty direct probe of what a galaxy is made up of.

The study of this Lyman-alpha emission is common in very distant galaxies, but now a study named LARS (Lyman Alpha Reference Sample) is investigating the same effect in galaxies that are closer by. Astronomers chose fourteen galaxies, including this one, and used spectroscopy and imaging to see what was happening within them. They found that these Lyman-alpha photons can travel much further if a galaxy has less dust — meaning that we can use this emission to infer how dusty the source galaxy is.

Hubble/European Space Agency

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Hubble is one of the best telescopes out in space. Hubble has opened our eyes to what is out in the universe. Unfortunately Hubble won't be around for long. :(

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Unfortunately Hubble won't be around for long. :(

Fortunately adaptive optics means that Earth based telescopes are now capable of producing images as good as those produced by Hubble. The next generation of ground based telescopes are now being funded and will have mirrors more than three times larger than anything that currently exists. These instruments will be superior to Hubble.

Hubble has a successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. This will be bigger and more powerful than Hubble. Unlike Hubble it will not be able to see the visible wavelengths of light (it doesn't need to, the new generation of ground based telescopes will fill that gap) but instead will look at the infra-red wavelengths which are not visible from the ground.

Hubble may be reaching the end but the future for astronomy is bright.

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Hubble's is like an old car that come to expensive to fix anymore. You loved it when it was new, but it is time to move on. Run it till it quits.

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