This is a Hubble photo of galaxy NGC 976. It looks calm and peaceful, doesn’t it? While it does in this picture, that wasn’t always the case.
This Hubble photo shows a calm galaxy off in the depths of space, but a long time ago, it was home to death and destruction. Among all the tools at NASA’s disposal, Hubble remains one of the most incredible instruments for charting the universe. The nearly 32-year-old telescope has determined how quickly the universe is expanding, given astronomers a better understanding of dark matter, and provided invaluable information about Pluto and its moons.
Another important aspect of Hubble is its photography skills. Some of the best space pictures over the years have been captured by Hubble — and it shares new ones all the time. In 2021, NASA shared Hubble photos of planetary nebulae, large ‘shockwaves’ in space, and some of the many galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Ande just because it’s 2022, those photos haven’t stopped coming.
On January 14, NASA uploaded a Hubble photo of the NGC 976 galaxy. It’s a spiral galaxy not unlike the Milky Way, though it resides a whopping 150 million light-years away from us (specifically, in the Aries constellation). In this picture, NGC 976 appears quite peaceful. It has a bright white center, intricate spiral arms, and clouds of cosmic dust all around it. It’s honestly a very calming image. However, as NASA explains in a blog post accompanying the photo, NGC 976 wasn’t always like this.
This Galaxy Once Experienced A Supernova Explosion
Long, long ago, NGC 976 was home to a supernova explosion. This occurs when a star has reached the end of its life, resulting in an enormously powerful and bright eruption — often becoming brighter than an entire galaxy. While these explosions are very violent and destroy everything near them, they’re also the spark of new beginnings. In NASA’s words, they’re “also responsible for the creation of heavy elements that are incorporated into later generations of stars and planets.”
But that’s not all supernovae are capable of. These huge explosions can also help astronomers measure the distance of galaxies like NGC 976. While parts of a supernova are wild and out of control, some energy it releases is extremely uniform. Using this energy, astronomers can look at it, see how bright it appears from Earth, and use that to determine how far away the galaxy is.
Along with continued observations from Hubble, 2022 is also the year NASA will start conducting science observations with the James Webb Space Telescope. James Webb is around 100x more powerful than Hubble and capable of finding things Hubble just isn’t. Combined, these two telescopes should make this year one of the most exciting yet for space exploration.
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