Hubble Zooms in on the Marvelous Serpens Nebula

The crew responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope got in on the Halloween action yesterday. A stunning shadow dubbed the Bat Shadow, can be seen cast on the nebula in behind it. And “reveals telltale signs of its otherwise invisible protoplanetary disc.”

Hubble serpens nebula

We all know the Hubble Space Telescope is powerful, but a wide-field view of the Serpens Nebula from the ground perfectly illustrates how powerful it is.

Here it is from the Earth’s surface.

Serpens Nebula from ground

That’s one helluva ‘enhance’ button the Hubble is smashing.

So what do we know about the Serpens Nebula? You might not know this, but there are different types of nebula. This one is known as a reflection nebula. Most of the light we see here is thanks to nearby stars like HBC 672 (the one casting the shadow). Energy from HBC 672 isn’t quite enough to ionize the gas (which would then emit light across different wavelengths) in the nebula but does shine bright enough make all that star stuff visible to the Hubble.

Astronomers explain why even the tiniest detail like a shadow being cast on a nebula is important.

“These precious insights into protoplanetary discs around young stars allow astronomers to study our own past. The planetary system we live in once emerged from a similar protoplanetary disc when the Sun was only a few million years old. By studying these distant discs we get to uncover the formation and evolution of our own cosmic home.”

A closer look at the top image shows a second bat shadow. Check out the white star in the top left. The shadow is smaller but visible. That’s another protoplanetary disc in action.

While work continues on Hubble’s successor, the space telescope did recently have a hiccup in its operations. In early October, one of Hubble’s gyros failed. This was expected for quite some time, but the problem was with the backup. Its rotation rates weren’t normal.

Two weeks ago, the folks commanding Hubble put the telescope through a series of maneuvers and switched the backup gyro through its different modes. It was a bit more complicated than unplugging your router for 15 seconds to reset it. Engineers were going through a series of planned steps they believed would fix the issue. And last week, Hubble performed a few tests and passed them with no problems. The Hubble Space Telescope is back in business. 28+ years and counting.

Image credits: NASA/ESA

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