HST at 15

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) from the Shuttle. Plenty of people have commented on the anniversary and some have talked about their own observations with it. For the anniversary, STScI have released new images of the Whirlpool Galaxy and the Eagle Nebula. What caught my eye wasn't one of the spectacular images (actually they did catch my eye), but a plot of all the observations made by the HST during its 15 year lifetime up to 23rd March 2005.

Location of HST observations

IMAGE: NASA, ESA, and R. Thompson (CSC/STScI)

The image shows a rugby ball (American football) shaped view of the entire sky in galactic coordinates. What that means is that the very centre is in the direction of the centre of the Galaxy; a horizontal line across the centre of the image is the plane of the Galaxy; the direction in the sky away from the centre of the Galaxy is at the left and right edges (the image wraps around on the edges); the north galactic pole is at the top and the south galactic pole is at the bottom.

The observations of objects in the Solar System (e.g. planets/asteroids etc) show up as the s-shaped line called the ecliptic (basically the plane/disk of the Solar System). Comparing the plot with Axel Mellinger's optical all sky image, you can also see that the HST has made plenty of observations of the large and small Magellanic clouds (bottom right) and I guess that the splodge of red dots towards the top of the image must be of various galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. The Virgo Cluster (in the direction of the constellation Virgo) contains over 1300 galaxies and sits at the centre of the Local Supercluster of galaxies. You may also have noticed that most of the red dots are towards the bottom and top of the image. That is because in these directions, we are looking through a thinner chunk of the galaxy, so find it easier to see out towards other galaxies.

The HST has certainly not observed the entire sky, although it has made a good attempt. Hopefully it will be saved and allow astronomers to keep doing great astronomy until the James Webb Space Telescope gets going.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 26th Apr 2005 (14:31 UTC) | Permalink
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