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NASA’s trusty Hubble just got a whole new job

Published Nov 5th, 2020 10:23PM EST
hubble star survey
Image: Yin/Adobe
  • The Hubble Space Telescope is about to embark on its most intense investigation ever.
  • NASA has tasked the space telescope with studying over 300 stars in our own galaxy and neighboring galaxies.
  • The survey will mainly focus on younger stars in the hopes of better understanding their evolution.

The Hubble Space Telescope has been with us for decades, and it’s done an incredible job of documenting some of the more interesting aspects of the cosmos. Now, despite its advancing age, the trusty telescope is being tasked with its largest observing program ever, according to NASA, as it will study over 300 stars using their ultraviolet light signatures.

The survey, which is called the “UV Legacy Library of Young Stars as Essential Standards,” or ULLYSES for short, will be aimed at building out the documentation and data on young stars in our own Milky Way galaxy and other stars of varying ages in nearby galaxies.

Understanding how stars form, live, and die is crucial to our understanding of our galaxy and of the universe as a whole. As NASA notes in a new blog post, without stars, none of us would be here, and the universe “would be a pretty boring place” without them. Indeed, if the material from the big bang never coalesced into stars, many elements would not exist, and planets like Earth would simply not be possible.

“One of the key goals of ULLYSES is to form a complete reference sample that can be used to create spectral libraries capturing the diversity of stars, ensuring a legacy dataset for a wide range of astrophysical topics. ULLYSES is expected to have a lasting impact on future research by astronomers around the world,” Julia Roman-Duval, program lead for ULLYSES said in a statement. “This unique collection is enabling diverse and exciting astrophysical research across many fields.”

NASA says that the overarching aim of the program is to “give astronomers a much better understanding of the birth of stars and how this relates to everything from planets to the formation and evolution of galaxies.” Indeed, stars are crucial to the life of galaxies, as young, star-forming regions of galaxies are always the most active and, in turn, volatile.

“The ULLYSES program is building a legacy for the future, creating a comprehensive database that astronomers will use for research for decades to come,” NASA says. “The archive also complements the portions of the star-formation story that will soon be obtained with infrared-light observations from NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Working together, both Hubble and Webb will provide a holistic view of stars and the star-formation history of the universe.”

The program is also a great reminder of just how incredible Hubble is, and how big of a role it has played in our understanding of the cosmos in the past and, going forward, how valuable it will continue to be in the future.

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