Hubble kicks off new lease of life with firework display

29 Jun 2016

Kiso 5639 looks like a party, images via ESA/Hubble & NASA

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has spotted a timely firestorm of star birth in a nearby galaxy, with the firework-like view coming just ahead of 4 July celebrations in the US.

Shaped like a pancake, Kiso 5639 is a ‘tadpole galaxy’ 82m light-years away. And, just viewed by Hubble, it’s showing an explosion of life.

It has taken billions of years to develop, having drifted through a ‘desert’ of space with little gas for most of its existence. One million years ago, though, it bumped into some gas and, after matter was “dropped” onto the galaxy, a vigorous star birth ensued.

Hubble captured what it looked like, with its tilted edge meaning it resembles something like a skyrocket.

Rare but beautiful

NASA says Kiso 5639 is a rare, nearby example of elongated galaxies that occur in abundance at larger distances, where we observe the universe during earlier epochs.

“I think Kiso 5639 is a beautiful, up-close example of what must have been common long ago,” said lead researcher Debra Elmegreen.

“The current thinking is that galaxies in the early universe grow from accreting gas from the surrounding neighbourhood. It’s a stage that galaxies, including our Milky Way, must go through as they are growing up.”

The bright gas in the galaxy’s head contains fewer heavier elements (collectively called “metals”), such as carbon and oxygen, than the rest of the galaxy. The heavier metals are generally generated by stars, before being distributed throughout the surroundings as the hosts die.

Last week, the telescope produced an amazing image of the star cluster NGC 1854, a gathering of red, white and blue stars in the southern constellation of Dorado.

Hubble Telescope

The party continues

Yesterday, it was announced that Hubble was awarded a contract extension of five years, taking it through to more than 31 years of service come 2021.

The $200m support as part of the extension includes products and services required to execute science system engineering, science ground system development, science operations, science research, grants management and public outreach support for Hubble and data archive support for missions in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic