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January 24, 2000 01:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2000-07

Hubble Reopens Its Eye on the Universe

An Early Release Observation Release

January 24, 2000: The Hubble telescope reopened its "eye" on the universe following a successful December 1999 servicing mission by imaging a Sun-like star, dubbed the "Eskimo Nebula" (NGC 2392 and a hefty cluster of galaxies, Abell 2218.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. How did the Eskimo Nebula get its name, and what are the most interesting details in the picture?

  2. This stellar relic, first spied by William Herschel in 1787, is nicknamed the "Eskimo" Nebula (NGC 2392) because, when viewed through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face surrounded by a fur parka. In this Hubble telescope image, the "parka" is really a disk of material embellished with a ring of comet-shaped objects, with their tails streaming away from the central, dying star. The Eskimo's "face" also contains some fascinating details. Although this bright central region resembles a ball of twine, it is, in reality, a bubble of material being blown into space by the central star's intense "wind" of high-speed material.

  3. 2. What does the picture of Abell 2218 reveal to astronomers?

  4. This "hefty" cluster resides in the constellation Draco, some 2 billion light-years from Earth. The cluster is so massive that its enormous gravitational field deflects light rays passing through it, much as an optical lens bends light to form an image. This phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, magnifies, brightens, and distorts images from faraway objects. The cluster's magnifying powers provide a powerful "zoom lens" for viewing distant galaxies that could not normally be observed with the largest telescopes.

    This useful phenomenon has produced the arc-shaped patterns found throughout the Hubble picture. These "arcs" are the distorted images of very distant galaxies, which lie 5 to 10 times farther than the lensing cluster. This distant population existed when the universe was just a quarter of its present age. Through gravitational lensing these remote objects are magnified, enabling scientists to study them in more detail. This analysis provides a direct glimpse of how star-forming regions are distributed in remote galaxies and yields other clues to the early evolution of galaxies.

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Credits: NASA, Andrew Fruchter and the ERO Team [Sylvia Baggett (STScI), Richard Hook (ST-ECF), Zoltan Levay (STScI)] (STScI)