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Episode 6: Hubble's Next Discovery — You Decide

6 Feb 2009, 05:00 UTC
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Four hundred years ago, Galileo improved the recently invented spyglass, pointed it toward the heavens, and saw things no one else had seen before. In celebration of this anniversary, 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy. As part of the festivities, you have the chance help choose the Hubble telescope's next target. Cast a vote to pick an astronomical object that Hubble has never observed before. What will you choose? What wonders will the telescope reveal? In this episode, you can learn all the details of the selection process. But hurry — you must cast your vote by March 1, 2009.

Hubble press release:

Hubble's Next Discovery, You Decide


Correction: The image in the video podcast that is identified as star-forming region NGC 6634 is mislabeled. It should be NGC 6334. The original press release got the number incorrect because the database it was pulled from was inaccurate. The error was not noticed until after the press release was issued. Since this vote only lasts for a month, we did not go back and correct the video podcast.

Many folks think that Galileo invented the telescope. That is wrong. The telescope, or spyglass as it was called, was invented in the Netherlands. Several folks could be credited as the inventor, but Hans Lippershey is the most famous one, as he was the first to apply for a patent in 1608. Galileo improved the device from about 3X magnification to about 30X magnification. That and other improvements made the device useful for examining astronomical objects. The word "telescope" was not coined until about 1612.

The International Year of Astronomy has adopted a motto of "The Universe: Yours to Discover." Many events designed to help you learn or re-learn the wonders of the cosmos are occurring worldwide, with special emphasis on enabling as many people as possible to look through a telescope. To look for events in your area, try the international IYA website, the US IYA website, or the NASA IYA website.

The low-resolution black-and-white images for the candidate objects are from the Digitized Sky Survey, or DSS. Astronomers use DSS images like these to see previews of any point in the sky, in advance of taking observations with Hubble or other telescopes. The exact positioning and orientation of the telescope are programmed in advance to optimize the precious observing time. For Hubble, observing commands are uploaded about 11 days in advance. The old idea of an astronomer adjusting the telescope on the fly is just that — an old idea.

Better images of the candidate objects can be found elsewhere on the internet. Type any object's name into an image search engine and you will find several that are higher in resolution and better in color. We chose to use only the DSS images so that each object would be presented in the same manner, and none would get an advantage due to different image sources. Just remember, no matter how good an image you may find out there, Hubble's image will be better.

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