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Awesomeness Round-Up – 12/22/2011

  • By Maggie Masetti
  • December 22, 2011
  • Comments Off on Awesomeness Round-Up – 12/22/2011

Hubble Holiday Card
Credit: NASA/ESA/HubbleSite

Looking for a space-themed way to say “Happy Holidays!” to your family and friends? How about some printable holiday cards with Hubble images? Every card features fabulous astronomical objects… and when you go to download a card, you’ll find links to articles about related Hubble discoveries! The ornaments above feature Mars, the Whirlpool Galaxy, the star LL Ori, and several nebulae – the Cone Nebula, the Orion Nebula, the Retina Nebula, the Eskimo Nebula, the Bubble Nebula, and the Crab Nebula. Can you tell which is which?

We’ve got big news and new photos from the James Webb Space Telescope! The satellite’s mirrors have completed deep-freeze tests and are below shown being removed from the X-ray and Cryogenic test Facility at Marshall Space Flight Center. This milestone represents the successful culmination of a process that took years and broke new ground in manufacturing and testing large mirrors.

James Webb Space Telescope mirrors
Credit: Emmett Given, NASA Marshall

“The mirror completion means we can build a large, deployable telescope for space,” said Scott Willoughby, vice president and Webb program manager at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “We have proven real hardware will perform to the requirements of the mission.”

Read more in this NASA feature.

James Webb Space Telescope mirrors
Credit: Emmett Given, NASA Marshall

Hubble Serves Up a Holiday Snow Angel
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Here’s a stellar “snow angel” captured by Hubble. It’s actually a star-forming region called Sharpless 2-106, a nebula with “wings” of glowing, hot gas around the central star. The HubbleSite has more information and images.

Our friends over at Geeked on Goddard featured a very helpful video about newly discovered exoplanet Kepler 22b, which orbits within the habitable zone of its parent star. What does that mean? How did scientists find this planet? Christian Ready’s video explains:

Tycho's Star Shines in Gamma Rays
Credit: Gamma ray, NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration; X-ray, NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared, NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical, MPIA, Calar Alto, O. Krause et al. and DSS

Though this may look like something from an old 8-bit video game, it’s actually an exciting new result from the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. Those magenta squares show gamma rays shining bright from the remnant of Tycho’s supernova, which was witnessed by the famous astronomer back in 1572. The presence of gamma rays gives scientists new clues about the origin of cosmic rays, and how they may be accelerated by exploding stars. To find out more about this supernova remnant (including some very interesting information about Tycho’s observations) and cosmic rays, check out the news release.

When astronomers are hunting for distant objects and interesting cosmic phenomena, it’s helpful to watch (or listen) for patterns. Some objects are periodic in their observable behavior – that is, they release a variable amount of energy in a pattern (sort of like the beacon at a lighthouse, where the light brightens and dims as the light rotates). When astronomers observed black holes GRS 1915 and IGR J17091, they detected a “heartbeat” – a pulsing pattern in their X-ray emissions due to their interactions with companion stars that they are slowly consuming.

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