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Different Stages of Birth and Death of Stars; Seen through Hubble Space Telescope

Updated on March 6, 2014
Astronauts John Grunsfeld, left, and Andew Feustel working on the Hubble Space Telescope
Astronauts John Grunsfeld, left, and Andew Feustel working on the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Telescope in Space
Hubble Telescope in Space
From: National Geographic Documentary

Iconic Telescope 'Hubble' and its Rescue

The most celebrated telescope on earth never touches the planet.’ Hubble Space Telescope’ orbits nearly four hundred miles above the earth, racing around the globe every ninety seven minutes. its powerful gaze; sees it all, soaring star factories; where new worlds are made, the violence of the exploding stars and the new light on black holes. Hubble is the key that has unlock some of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

In 2009 after nearly two decades, the telescope is in danger of being lost, instruments have broken down and worst of all; the 12 tone telescope; as big as a school bus is falling back to earth. Shuttle astronauts make one last servicing call. Rescuing Hubble is a perilous mission but astronaut John Grunsfeld is ready. When the shuttle astronauts finish, Hubble is saved and the telescope is more powerful than ever.

Wasp Trapped in its Star

In 2009 British astrophysicist Carol Haswell is one of the first astronomers to use the refurbished telescope. She points Hubble toward a gas giant planet called Wasp-12b some 600 light years from Earth in the constellation of Auriga. Although Hubble is more famous for its pictures much if it's science comes by converting starlight into numbers. The figures in Haswell’s data tell an astonishing tale. ‘Wasp-12b is trapped too close to its star. Gravity pulls the planet into a teardrop shape, the heated atmosphere rushes into space, and forms a ring. Wasp-12b is a dying world’. But thanks to Hubble not all of its secrets will be lost.

Scientists find, whirling in the clouds an overabundance of a chemical; called corundum. ‘Sapphire rain’! Like clouds on earth that produce showers have water, the searing heat of wasp-12b may cause showers of molten Sapphires to fall from the sky. Hubble has captured one world's glittering demise, a cosmic apocalypse revealed by the numbers. The fate that awaits a planet that drips too close to its star.

Aiming Eagle Nebula

For over two decades Hubble scientists are piecing together the big picture on the entire life cycle of the stars.Astronomers suspect that the Eagle Nebula in the constellation of serpents might provide clues, but even the most powerful earth-bound telescopes couldn't get a clear view. Spring 1995 'Jeff Hester' aims Hubble Space Telescope toward the Eagle Nebula as he downloads his images from Hubble, Hester can hardly believe his eyes.

Famous Picture Taken by Jeff Hester through Hubble, "Pillars of Creation'
Famous Picture Taken by Jeff Hester through Hubble, "Pillars of Creation'
Bumps on the pillar are formed by clumps of evaporating gaseous globules 'EGG'.
Bumps on the pillar are formed by clumps of evaporating gaseous globules 'EGG'.

Pillars of Creation

These celestial pillars had never been revealed in such stunning detail. For the first time scientists see that each pillar is dotted with small clumps of gas, could such clumps be a missing link in the birth of stars? Hester calls the clumps; evaporating gaseous globules ‘EGGS’ for short. The image reveals that forming inside some of the eggs are embryonic stars. In the photograph the eggs appear small, but our entire solar system could fit comfortably inside each one, these hot clumps of gas are the first stage of the formation of a star, and the towers where they hang are rightfully called the’ pillars of creation’. Hubble’s image of the Eagle Nebula shows us an early-stage in the creation of stars.

hatched EGGS; 30 proplyds, or protoplanetary discs, that were discovered in the majestic Orion Nebula
hatched EGGS; 30 proplyds, or protoplanetary discs, that were discovered in the majestic Orion Nebula

Birth of Star in the Sword of Orion

What it doesn't show is the next stage how stars hatch from eggs. That answer came from images Hubble captured of a nebula; some 1500 light years away, in the sword of Orion. Like the Eagle Nebula, Orion is a birthplace of stars. When scientists closely examined this image they discovered tiny dark spots; flattened discs of gas and dust, created by recently hatched eggs. The spots are called proto planetary discspro pleads’ for short.

The warm orange clump in the center, pools in loose material from the surrounding disc, this squeezes the matter in the center of the clump. The pressure grows, and the clump heats up, it becomes so hot it triggers nuclear fusion and a star is born.

planets like the Earth are formed from leftover waste and debris from their central star; protoplanetary disk
planets like the Earth are formed from leftover waste and debris from their central star; protoplanetary disk

Planets from Debris of Loose Matter

Heat and radiation from the nuclear fusion generates a stellar wind, sweeping away most to the loose matter in the disc, but some of this loose matter remains in orbit around the newborn star. Overtime the debris gathers into more knots and clumps growing and evolving into a planet.

Hubble shows us the Genesis of a new solar system and answers an age-old question of how our own star the Sun and our earth came into existence. Beyond the eagle and Orion Nebulae even larger star-forming regions lie within the plane of the Milky Way. Scientists wonder is the life cycle of stars is the same in these distant regions?

Development of Hubble's Image

Creating images that help scientists unlock the mysteries with this data, falls to imaging expert Zsolt Luvae. picture data comes in from Hubble in black and white, Luvae assigns colors to these images according to the chemical elements detected by Hubble's instruments. Blue shows oxygen, red shows sulfur and green is hydrogen. Luvae works for about a year to produce the full mosaic out of forty eight separate pictures.

Birth of Star in Celestial Graveyard

In March 2005 Hubble began relaying images of a new target, the ‘Carina nebula’ one of the largest star-forming regions in the sky, but the raw data sent by Hubble looks nothing like this.The sheer size of this landscape is astonishing. Hubble’s image of Carina shows a region over 50 light years across. Intense stellar winds from newborn stars sweep clouds of gas and dust. Here too are the eggs that will one day become solar systems like ours.

Among the thousands of new born stars lurks a surprise; within the cloudy holes of Carina, Hubble detects the death rows of a massive star.Hubble zooms into the Carina nebula; its images reveal a massive and hostile Environment. One that shows stars and solar systems being born, it also shows at least one star about to die. For scientists a dying star is an opportunity to see the future of our own solar system.

White Dwarf & Giant Red

What these Hubble images show are shells of gas, which serve as tombstones. Their quiet beauty is deceptive. These walls of color are the outer layers of a star much like our Sun. as a star runs out of fuel, these layers expand until the gravity of the star can no longer hold them, and in time they drift into space.

In 2004 Hubble captures an image that gives us a glimpse of our eventual demise; the helix nebula. As these outer layers of a star expand they leave behind a searing hot ball of solidified oxygen and carbon, astronomers call them a white dwarf. Someday the same thing will happen to our own Sun. the Sun will run out of fuel and that will cause it to expand into a giant red star. That’s bad news the temperatures on our planet rise over a 1000 degrees, all life on Earth will perish. A wall of hot gas will sweep over the earth through our solar system and into space; every planet and moon in its path will be incinerated. The only thing left of our sun will be a splash of color visible from thousands of light years away.

Life Cycle of The Sun
Life Cycle of The Sun
Supernova Crab-nebula
Supernova Crab-nebula

Supernova

Even the death of our own Sun hardly compares to a more powerful downfall. Some stars are over a hundred times more massive than our Sun. the bigger the star the shorter its life, and the more violent its death. These stars explode in a massive fireball called a supernova.

Every stock is carefully balanced between the inward pull of star's gravity and the outward pressure of the heat it generates from nuclear fusion. When it runs out of fuel the pressure needed for balance is gone, gravity now reigns supreme, the star caves-in and explodes. The full fury of supernova destroys the star and everything around it.

One such giant star has already exploded in our own galaxy. The 'crab nebula' is the expanding wreckage from a supernova that occurred in the year 1054. The explosion was recorded by Chinese astronomers, so we know exactly when the explosion was Hubble Space Telescope recorded the aftermath. Expanding debris from this thousand-year-old supernova is still moving into space at over three million miles per hour. But the image is more than just a snapshot of ancient history. For scientists the interconnected web like filaments offer a clue as to the nature of life itself. The basic elements needed to create life are formed in the heart of stars. when stars explode these fundamental elements are scattered throughout the universe seeding distant nebula clouds which give birth to new planets and new life.

Eta carinae
Eta carinae

Hubble is giving scientists the ultimately learning experience by monitoring one particular star, Eta Carinae; back in the Carina nebula. For over a decade Hubble creates a series of photos of Eta Carinae. the photos show two enormous loads of superheated gas erupting from the surface. although Eta Carinae is a young star its huge mass makes it unstable. this star will not survive for long.Whenever Eta Carinae goes it will become one of the most devastating supernova ever recorded.

the fireworks will begin when the star runs out a fuel, the gigantic star will destroy itself in just a few seconds. the core of the exploding star will bear the full brunt of the catastrophe. when that happens it will leave behind the one outer space phenomenon that has long capture the imagination of stargazers; a blackhole.

the mysterious black hole is the product of a violent and powerful explosion of a supernova, at least in theory. before hubble there was no conclusive proof that black holes existed at all, the modern concept of a black hole comes from the Einstein’s theory of general relativity. So long live 'the Hubble'.



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