Hubble is still going strong, captures stunning new fiery nebula image

"Hubble's pretty much the only game for a huge chunk of astrophysics."
Chris Young
The Soul Nebula image captured by Hubble.
The Soul Nebula image captured by Hubble.

ESA / Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai 

The Hubble Space Telescope is still going strong, despite a number of recent setbacks.

The iconic space observatory captured a stunning image of a region of space called Westerhout 5, also known as the Soul Nebula, as per a press statement.

The region glows a fiery red due to H-alpha emissions, which occur when very energetic electrons in hydrogen atoms lose energy and emit a red glow.

Hubble captures stunning Soul Nebula

The Hubble Space Telescope captured the fiery image of the Soul Nebula, which is located roughly 7,000 light-years away from Earth late last year. The new image reveals a number of impressive features, according to the Hubble team. One of the stand-out features is a free-floating evaporating gaseous globule (frEGG) that can be seen as a dark floating cloud near the top of the image.

The frEGG, dubbed KAG2008 globule 13 and designated J025838.6+604259, belongs to a class of evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs) that occur in nebulae when energetic radiation from young stars ionizes surrounding gas by removing their electrons. The gas then disperses away from the stars via a process called photoevaporation.

FrEGGs differ from EGGs due to the fact that they are detached from the surrounding gas, giving them a teardrop-like appearance. Both are a source of interest for the astronomical community as it is believed they may act as stellar birthing grounds.

As a European Space Agency (ESA) statement explains, "their relative opacity means that the gas within them is protected from ionization and photoevaporation. This is thought to be important for the formation of protostars, and it is predicted that many FrEGGs and EGGs will play host to the birth of new stars." 

Astronomers only discovered EGGs recently; however, one notable example is viewable in an iconic Hubble image published in 1995, showing the tips of the Pillars of Creation.

Hubble's legendary legacy grows

The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting Earth for more than 30 years. In 2021, it was believed that a software glitch in the observatory's aging hardware could spell the end for the iconic observatory. However, NASA officials were able to resolve the glitch, allowing Hubble to resume science operations.

Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations leading to the publication of over 18,000 scientific papers on subjects ranging from dark energy to black holes and gamma-ray bursts.

Hubble is still relevant, even though the James Webb Space Telescope has been wowing scientists and space enthusiasts since it started science operations last summer. Webb captures images in infrared wavelengths, while Hubble takes observations in high-energy ultraviolet light.

As Tom Brown, head of the Hubble mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), recently explained, when asked if Hubble is still in the game, the observatory's unique capabilities mean that "Hubble's pretty much the only game for a huge chunk of astrophysics."

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