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Hubble Space Telescope is on the road to recovery

Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope hangs in orbit after a 2002 servicing mission. (NASA Photo)

Things are looking up for two of NASA’s Great Observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Both telescopes had to go out of service this month due to different types of problems experienced by their gyroscopic pointing systems.

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Gyro glitch hits Chandra X-ray telescope

Chandra X-Ray Observatory
An artist’s conception shows the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (NASA / CXC / SAO Illustration)

Even as experts worked on ways to get the Hubble Space Telescope back doing science, another one of NASA’s Great Observatories in space — the Chandra X-ray Observatory — went into safe mode as well.

NASA said the 19-year-old X-ray telescope put itself into hibernation on Oct. 10, possibly due to an issue with its gyroscopic pointing system. A gyro failure was behind the 28-year-old Hubble’s transition to safe mode last week.

Due to the glitch, Chandra swapped critical hardware operations to backup units and pointed its solar panels to soak up the maximum amount of sunlight, while pointing its mirrors away from the sun to minimize the risk of damage.

“All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe,” NASA said in a status update issued Oct. 12.

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Gyro failure holds up Hubble; Plan B pending

Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope gets its final close-up after a shuttle servicing mission in 2009. (NASA Photo)

The 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope is temporarily out of service, due to the failure of one of its gyroscopic pointing devices, but scientists say they’re working on a Plan B.

Today NASA confirmed reports that Hubble scientists such as deputy mission head Rachel Osten were passing along over the weekend: One of the telescope’s three active gyros had failed on Oct. 5, which hampered the telescope’s ability to point at astronomical targets for long periods.

NASA said that Hubble’s instruments were still fully operational, and that mission managers were working to address the gyro issue.

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Hubble boosts evidence for first exomoon

Kepler-1625b and moon transiting star
An artist’s impression shows the Jupiter-sized exoplanet Kepler-1625b transiting its parent star with the Neptune-sized candidate exomoon in tow. (Dan Durda Illustration)

With a lot of help from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers now feel confident enough to publish their evidence for the first moon detected in orbit around a planet beyond our solar system.

But they’re still not completely confident.

“At this point, it’s up to us to report what we’re seeing, hand it over to the community and let the community probe it,” said Columbia University astronomer Alex Teachey, one of the authors of a study about the find published in the open-access journal Science Advances. “If they see what we see, I expect some people will be convinced and other people will be skeptical. And that’s all part of the process.”

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Hubble hints that interstellar object is a comet

Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories indicate that the cigar-shaped interstellar object known as ‘Oumuamua got an unexpected boost in speed and a shift in its trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year. Scientists surmise that the source of the boost was an outflow of gas and dust from ‘Oumuamua, which suggests that the object is more like an active comet than a passive asteroid.

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Phobos photobombs Mars in Hubble view

Mars and Phobos
This multiple-exposure photo shows 22 minutes’ worth of Phobos’ orbit around Mars. (NASA / ESA / STScI Photo / Z. Levay)

Leave it to tiny Phobos to horn in on Mars’ glory in an image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The view of the Red Planet and the larger of its two moons, released today, is actually a testament to the orbiting observatory’s sharper vision.

Phobos is an irregular hunk of rock and ice, measuring no more than 16.5 miles in diameter. It’s small enough to sit comfortably inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C. (although residents of the nation’s capital would be none too comfortable).

Despite its status as one of the solar system’s smallest moons, Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 could pick out Phobos easily against the black background of space in a series of images acquired over the course of 22 minutes on May 12, 2016.

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Hubble spies galaxies far, far away

Abell 370
A Hubble Space Telescope view shows the Abell 370 galaxy cluster. (NASA / ESA / HST Frontier Fields)

Choose your movie meme: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” or “Star Wars” for May the Fourth. Either way, the Hubble Space Telescope’s newly released picture of the Abell 370 galaxy cluster is just the ticket.

This composite view from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys shows hundreds of galaxies in the cluster, which is 6 billion light-years away in the constellation Cetus.

The view is remarkable not only because the galaxies are so dense, but also because their mass serves as a gravitational lens, focusing the light from even more distant galaxies into luminous arcs of blue light.

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Hubble sees double to mark 27 years in orbit

NGC 4302 and NGC 4298
This Hubble image, marking the 27th anniversary of the space telescope’s launch, features the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4302 and the tilted galaxy NGC 4298. (STScI / NASA / ESA Photo / M. Mutchler)

It’s traditional for the team behind the Hubble Space Telescope to release a jaw-dropping picture to celebrate the anniversary of the observatory’s launch in April 1990, and this year’s image might well rate a double jaw drop.

The science team’s greeting card for Hubble’s 27th birthday features side-by-side views of two spiral galaxies much like our own Milky Way galaxy, seen from two angles.

The edge-on galaxy at left, NGC 4302, is about 60 percent of the Milky Way’s size and contains about 10 percent of our home galaxy’s mass, the Hubble team says in today’s image advisory.

The galaxy at right, NGC 4298, is tilted about 70 degrees as seen from Earth, and measures about a third as wide as the Milky Way. It weighs in at 17 billion solar masses, which is less than 2 percent of the Milky Way’s 1 trillion solar masses.

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Hubble telescope gives Jupiter its close-up

Jupiter as seen by Hubble
As Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. This picture was taken on April 3 from a distance of 415 million miles. (STScI / ESA / NASA / GSFC Photo / A. Simon)

Jupiter is as close as it’ll get to Earth this year, and the Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of the opportunity with a stunning picture that shows off the giant planet’s best-known spots.

Astronomer Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center arranged to have Hubble trained on the hemisphere that includes Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and another whirling storm to the south, dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” You can also see white spots speckling the planet’s cloud tops.

The interplay of orbits for Jupiter and Earth brought our two planets just 415 million miles apart, which means Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 could pick up features as small as 80 miles across.

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Hubble boosts galaxy count by factor of 10

Hubble galaxy survey
A deep-field image from the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey, or GOODS, shows a scattering of distant galaxies. (Credit: NASA / ESA / GOODS Team / M. Giavialisco / UMass-Amherst)

It looks as if astronomers have been way, way off on their galaxy counts: A new analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests that the observable universe holds at least 2 trillion galaxies, which is 10 times the previous estimate.

How could scientists be so far off? The key is that the early universe appears to have had lots of relatively small, faint galaxies. As they merged to form larger galaxies, the population density dwindled.

It took Hubble’s deep-field surveys to register the smaller galaxies that existed far back in time, and it took painstaking analysis to count up a sampling of those galaxies.

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