Press Release

Hubble Space Telescope: Painting with Oxygen and Hydrogen

By SpaceRef Editor
October 19, 2001
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18-October-2001 A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope is an
example of `painting with light’. Astronomers use the separated
colours produced by oxygen and hydrogen to investigate star-forming
processes in the nebula NGC 2080. The colours explain much about the
nature of such nebulae.

The colours from stars, nebulae and galaxies come to us in bold
strokes as if they had been painted by a renaissance master. But they
are not artistic adornment, they provide details into the scientific
workings of these objects.

This new picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope
demonstrates how astronomers can `paint with light’. Light emitted by
different chemical elements, and from elements at different
temperatures is separated by special narrow-band filters to reveal
the nature of complicated and violent star-formation

processes.

The Hubble image shows the nebula NGC 2080, nicknamed the “Ghost Head
Nebula” by astronomers. It is one of a chain of star-forming regions
lying south of the 30 Doradus nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud
that have attracted special attention. These regions have been
studied in detail with Hubble and have long been identified as unique
star-forming sites. 30 Doradus is the largest star-forming complex
not only in the Large Magellanic Cloud, but also in the whole local
group of galaxies.

The light from the nebula caught in this image is emitted by two
elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The red and blue light comes from
regions of hydrogen gas heated by nearby stars until it is fully
ionised. The green light of the filament shape on the left comes from
doubly ionised oxygen. The energy to illuminate the filament is
supplied by a powerful stellar wind coming from a massive star just
outside the image. The white region in the centre is a combination of
all three emissions, and indicates a core of hot, massive stars in
this star formation region. The intense emission from these stars has
carved a bowl shaped cavity in the surrounding gas.

Two bright regions (the `eyes of the ghost’), named A1 (left) and A2
(right), are very hot, glowing `blobs’ of hydrogen and oxygen. The
bubble in A1 is produced by the hot, intense radiation and powerful
stellar wind from a single massive star. A2 has a more complex
appearance due to the presence of more dust, and it contains several
hidden, massive stars. The massive stars in A1 and A2 must have
formed within the last 10,000 years since their natal gas shrouds are
not yet disrupted by the powerful radiation of the newly born stars.

These results will be published in a forthcoming issue of the
Astronomy and Astrophysics journal, where the team behind the image
describe the processes taking place in NGC 2080. The research team
noted that Hubble’s high resolution is essential in order to reveal
the various features in the nebula, and to better understand the
formation of massive stars in this interesting region.

This `enhanced colour’ picture is composed of three narrow-band
filter images obtained with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on
28 March 2000. The colours are red (ionised hydrogen, H-alpha, 1040
seconds), green (ionised oxygen, 1200 seconds) and blue (ionised
hydrogen, H-beta, 1040 seconds). The image spans 67 x 67 arc-seconds,
corresponding to 55 x 55 light-years at the distance of the Large
Magellanic Cloud (168,000 light years).

Credit: ESA, NASA, & Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de
Paris, France)

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Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international co-operation
between ESA and NASA.

The scientists involved in these observations are M. Heydari-Malayeri
(Observatoire de Paris, France), V. Charmandaris (Cornell University,
U.S.A.), L. Deharveng (Observatoire de Marseille, France), F.
Meynadier (Observatoire de Paris, France), M.R. Rosa (ST-ECF,
Germany), D. Schaerer (Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees, France) and H.
Zinnecker (Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam, Germany).

Contacts

Lars Lindberg Christensen

Hubble European Space Agency Information Centre, Garching, Germany

Phone: +49-89-3200-6306 (089 in Germany)

Cellular (24 hr): +49-173-38-72-621 (0173 in Germany)

E-mail: [email protected]

Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri

Observatoire de Paris, France

Phone: +33-1-40-51-20-76

E-mail: [email protected]

SpaceRef staff editor.