Space

Hubble reveals the local universe in glorious ultraviolet detail

Hubble reveals the local unive...
Visible and ultraviolet light Hubble image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744
Visible and ultraviolet light Hubble image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744
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Hubble image of survey galaxy NGC 4490, which is seen in a chaotic state as the result of a recent galactic collision
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Hubble image of survey galaxy NGC 4490, which is seen in a chaotic state as the result of a recent galactic collision
Visible and ultraviolet light Hubble image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744
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Visible and ultraviolet light Hubble image of spiral galaxy NGC 6744
Hubble image of NGC 1433, which is located some 32 million light-years from Earth
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Hubble image of NGC 1433, which is located some 32 million light-years from Earth
The 13 million light-year distant spiral galaxy NGC 7793, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope
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The 13 million light-year distant spiral galaxy NGC 7793, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope
IC 559 as captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3
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IC 559 as captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3
Hubble image of Messier 96, which lies some 35 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Leo
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Hubble image of Messier 96, which lies some 35 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Leo
A composite Hubble image of the dwarf galaxy UGCA 281
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A composite Hubble image of the dwarf galaxy UGCA 281
Hubble image of Messier 66 – a spiral galaxy located roughly 35 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Leo
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Hubble image of Messier 66 – a spiral galaxy located roughly 35 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Leo
Hubble view of Messier 106, which is located just 20 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Canes Venatici
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Hubble view of Messier 106, which is located just 20 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Canes Venatici
Hubble image of the dwarf galaxy UGC 5340
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Hubble image of the dwarf galaxy UGC 5340
Hubble image of the ill-defined galaxy ESO 486-21
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Hubble image of the ill-defined galaxy ESO 486-21
Hubble image of the dwarf spiral galaxy NGC 4605, which is located roughly 16 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major
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Hubble image of the dwarf spiral galaxy NGC 4605, which is located roughly 16 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major
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An international team of astronomers has completed the most comprehensive ultraviolet survey of the local universe to date, with the help of the venerated Hubble Space Telescope. The newly-released survey data will help scientists to better understand how stars come to form, and the processes by which galaxies like our own Milky Way evolve over time.

A grand total of 50 galaxies were observed by Hubble as part of the Legacy ExtraGalactic UV Survey (LEGUS). The specimens selected for the campaign included majestic spiral galaxies similar to our own, and smaller less structurally defined dwarf galaxies located within 60 million light-years of Earth. Each of the galaxies met a selection criteria based on mass, star formation rates, and the abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.

New visible and ultraviolet light observations of these vast cosmic structures taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, and Advanced Camera for Surveys, were supplemented with archived images that had been captured by the telescope at an earlier date.

Hubble image of NGC 1433, which is located some 32 million light-years from Earth
Hubble image of NGC 1433, which is located some 32 million light-years from Earth

From this wealth of Hubble data, astronomers compiled two massive cosmic catalogues – one containing data on roughly 8,000 star clusters, and a second characterizing some 39 million stars with a mass over five times that of our Sun.

The stars detailed in the new catalogues are super hot, bright, young stellar bodies, which blast out massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation. By observing these stars, and large clusters of them, astronomers hope to lean how they interact with their environment, the processes that govern their dispositions, and to better understand the relationship between star creation and huge galactic elements such as sweeping spiral arms.

Hubble view of Messier 106, which is located just 20 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Canes Venatici
Hubble view of Messier 106, which is located just 20 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Canes Venatici

Of course, the discoveries and insights that stem from the new data release will not be limited to our own "little" pocket of the universe. In much the same way that astronomers can apply lessons learned from studying the planets of our solar system to distant exoplanets, scientists will be able to use insights gleaned from galaxies in our local universe, to interpret signals from incredibly distant galaxies.

Galaxies detailed in the new catalogues will provide tantalizing targets for future space telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which having suffered yet another delay is expected to launch no earlier than May 2020. The power and sophistication of these next-generation telescopes will allow scientists to build on the LEGUS observations, and in so doing heighten humanity's understanding of the vast menagerie of galaxies that populate our universe.

Head to the gallery to see some stunning Hubble imagery of the survey galaxies.

Source: Hubble Space Telescope

View gallery - 12 images
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