All posts by C.C. Petersen

Celebrating 25 Years with Another Great Image


This is what you get when scientists peer into the heart of a starbirth region: lots of hot young stars, radiating ultraviolet light and blasting out strong winds that are eating away at the leftovers of their birth cloud. The still image of this is amazing, but when you let visualization experts loose on it, you get an amazing flythrough of a stellar créche.  The object Hubble Space Telescope observed is called Gum 28, which lies about 20,000 light-years away from us.

As we glide through the remains of the birth clouds, we’re aimed directly at a cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. They are about 2 million years old, which makes them toddlers compared to stars like our Sun, which is about 4.5 billion years old.

Put on some good space music and sail through the stars.

My Relationship with Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble’s panoramic view of the Orion Nebula, a starbirth region some 1,500 light-years away from Earth. Courtesy NASA/ESA/STScI.

A lot of blogs and Web pages are posting breathless headlines about Hubble Space Telescope and its 25th launch anniversary this week, along with things like the “Five Most Clickbaity Images Hubble Ever Produced”.  I thought about that, and to be honest, at first I, too, wanted a headline like “That Weird Thing Hubble Saw” or “The Most Mind-boggling, Eye-Melty, Ear-Rattling, Rip-snortin’ Image Hubble Ever Created”.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to tell a simple story about my relationship with this major observatory.  Of course, I definitely have my favorite images. In fact, the one I love the most is the Orion Nebula, shown here. It just speaks to me at so many levels (scientifically and artistically). And, to be honest, I HAVE written elsewhere about the cool images from Hubble, particularly in an article about the 25th anniversary (which has links to other pieces I’ve done about the telescope).

But, this story here is more personal.

Now, I didn’t get to use the telescope to observe something (although my team did—more on that in a bit).  I wasn’t even there when it launched. But, Hubble did turn out to be a big part of my life and my career. Here’s how that happened.

My story with Hubble started when I went back to school in the late 1980s. I was thinking about working toward an astrophysics degree, but I needed to make up some undergraduate course work before I could apply to grad school. So, I went back to the University of Colorado and began taking every astronomy class I could get into, plus geology, chemistry, and physics. I took so much astronomy that one of my advisors told me I could have been qualified to get a BS degree in it (if they’d offered one at the time). Didn’t matter. I just wanted to soak up astronomy!

Upon my return to school, I was offered a job by Dr. Jack Brandt, who is a comet expert, and also was Co-Investigator for the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph instrument that was onboard Hubble for a few years. He enticed me by saying that if I stuck around, I might get to work on HST results. Well, that sounded okay by me, so I signed on the dotted line and went to work on his comet team first, and later joined the GHRS team.

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