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Hubble Image Captures a Stunning Spiral Galaxy in Aquila

This week’s image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures the glorious spiral galaxy UGC 11537, seen at an angle that shows off both its long spiral arms and the bright clump of stars at its center. It is located 230 million light-years away in the constellation of Aquila (Latin for “eagle”).

As well as being pleasing to look at, this image was collected to further scientific knowledge about the enormous black holes at the galaxy’s heart. “This image came from a set of observations designed to help astronomers weigh supermassive black holes in the centers of distant galaxies,” Hubble scientists wrote. “Hubble’s sharp-eyed observations along with data from ground-based telescopes allowed astronomers to make detailed models of the mass and motions of stars in these galaxies, which in turn helps constrain the mass of supermassive black holes.”

Astronomical portrait from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope showcases an edge-on view of the majestic spiral galaxy UGC 11537.
This astronomical portrait from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope showcases an edge-on view of the majestic spiral galaxy UGC 11537. The infrared and visible light capabilities of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 have captured the galaxy’s tightly wound spiral arms swirling around its heart. The image reveals the bright bands of stars and the dark clouds of dust threading throughout the galaxy. ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Seth

Hubble is back up and running this week, with all four of its currently active instruments operational and collecting science data once again. The telescope had been automatically placed into safe mode following a synchronization error in late October, but the error seems to have been a one-off. In the weeks since the error occurred, the Hubble team turned on first one of the older inactive instruments, then each of the currently active instruments one by one.

No further errors have occurred, but NASA has said that the team is looking into performing a software update in the future. This would allow the instruments to continue operating even if a few synchronization messages were missed, which should prevent problems like this one from happening in the future.

Hubble is getting old, having been in operation for more than 30 years. Soon it will be joined by the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in a few weeks, which will be its successor  — however, the two telescopes have distinctly different specialties. Hubble observes primarily in the visible light wavelength, while James Webb will observe primarily in the infrared wavelength. So NASA plans to keep Hubble running as long as possible in addition to James Webb, and has recently extended its operations contract until 2026.

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