National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA) iconic Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has beamed back stunning image of two festive-looking nebulas this festive season which is a delight for stargazers and space enthusiasts.

The two nebulas are so close to each other that they appear as one. Scientists explained that they reside in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy. These nebulas are glowing in red color resembling the festive season on Earth. According to researchers, intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen which is the prime reason behind such illumination.

Scientists have named them as NGC 248. They were discovered in 1834 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel. NGC 248 is about 60 light-years long and 20 light-years wide. It is among a number of glowing hydrogen nebulas in the dwarf satellite galaxy, which is located approximately 200,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Tucana.

The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE). Astronomers are using Hubble to probe the Milky Way satellite to understand how dust is different in galaxies that have a far lower supply of heavy elements needed to create dust. The Small Magellanic Cloud has between a fifth and a tenth of the amount of heavy elements that the Milky Way does. Because it is so close, astronomers can study its dust in great detail, and learn about what dust was like earlier in the history of the universe.

“It is important for understanding the history of our own galaxy, too,” explained the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Karin Sandstrom of the University of California, San Diego. Most of the star formation happened earlier in the universe, at a time where there was a much lower percentage of heavy elements than there is now. “Dust is a really critical part of how a galaxy works, how it forms stars,” said Sandstrom.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

The telescope was launched in 1990 and since then it is the largest telescope in space. HST has helped scientists in exploring the deepest corners of the universe and has beamed back millions of stunning shots in its entire career. However, HST will be replaced by the James Webb Telescope in 2018 as it has thrice larger lens when compared to HST.

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