2012 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

Time once more for one of my favorite holiday traditions: the 2012 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Every day until Tuesday, December 25, this page will present one new image of our universe from NASA's Hubble telescope. Be sure to bookmark this calendar and come back every day until the 25th, or follow on Twitter (@in_focus), Google+, Facebook, or Tumblr for daily updates. I hope you enjoy these amazing and awe-inspiring images and the efforts of the science teams who have brought them to Earth. I also must say how fortunate I feel to have been able to share photo stories with you all year, and I wish a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and peace on Earth to all. [25 photos total]

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1
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a rare view of a pair of overlapping galaxies, called NGC 3314. The two galaxies appear to be colliding, but they are actually separated by tens of millions of light-years, or about ten times the distance between our Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The chance alignment of the two galaxies, as seen from Earth, gives a unique look at the silhouetted spiral arms in the closer face-on spiral, NGC 3314A. The motion of the two galaxies indicates that they are both relatively undisturbed and that they are moving in markedly different directions. (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and W. Keel, University of Alabama) #
2
The star HD 44179 is surrounded by an extraordinary structure known as the Red Rectangle. It acquired its moniker because of its shape and its apparent color when seen in early images from Earth. This strikingly detailed Hubble image reveals how, when seen from space, the nebula, rather than being rectangular, is shaped like an X with additional complex structures of spaced lines of glowing gas, a little like the rungs of a ladder. The star at the center is similar to the Sun, but at the end of its lifetime, pumping out gas and other material to make the nebula, and giving it the distinctive shape. It also appears that the star is a close binary that is surrounded by a dense torus of dust -- both of which may help to explain the very curious shape. The Red Rectangle is an unusual example of what is known as a proto-planetary nebula. These are old stars, on their way to becoming planetary nebulae. Once the expulsion of mass is complete a very hot white dwarf star will remain and its brilliant ultraviolet radiation will cause the surrounding gas to glow. The Red Rectangle is found about 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn). (ESA/Hubble and NASA) #
3
A small portion of the Carina Nebula, one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy. Towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. The image captures the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air. (NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team, STScI) #
4
Jupiter's volcanic moon Io passing above the turbulent clouds of the giant planet, on July 24, 1996. The conspicuous black spot on Jupiter is Io's shadow. The shadow is about the same size as Io (3,640 kilometers or 2,262 miles across) and sweeps across the face of Jupiter at 17 kilometers per second (38,000 miles per hour). The smallest details visible on Io and Jupiter are about 100 miles across. Bright patches visible on Io are regions of sulfur dioxide frost. (J. Spencer, Lowell Observatory, and NASA) #
5
Resembling comets streaking across the sky, these four speedy stars are plowing through regions of dense interstellar gas, creating brilliant arrowhead structures and trailing tails of glowing gas. The stars in these NASA Hubble Space Telescope images are among 14 young runaway stars spotted by the Advanced Camera for Surveys between October 2005 and July 2006. (NASA, ESA, and R. Sahai, NASA/JPL) #
6
The full beauty of the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), seen in a detailed view from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), showing a bull's eye pattern of eleven or even more concentric rings, or shells, around the Cat's Eye. Each 'ring' is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky -- that's why it appears bright along its outer edge. Observations suggest the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1,500-year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells, each of which contain as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined (still only one percent of the Sun's mass). These concentric shells make a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star. The view from Hubble is like seeing an onion cut in half, where each skin layer is discernible. (NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA) #
7
This object, known as Messier 54, could be just another globular cluster, but this dense and faint group of stars was in fact the first globular cluster found that lies outside our own galaxy. Discovered by the famous astronomer Charles Messier in 1778, Messier 54 belongs to a satellite of the Milky Way called the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. Messier had no idea of the significance of his discovery at the time, and it wasn't until over two centuries later, in 1994, that astronomers found Messier 54 to be part of the miniature galaxy and not our own. Current estimates indicate that the Sagittarius dwarf, and hence the cluster, is situated almost 90,000 light-years away -- more than three times as far from the center of our galaxy than the Solar System. Ironically, even though this globular cluster is now understood to lie outside the Milky Way, it will actually become part of it in the future. The strong gravitational pull of our galaxy is slowly engulfing the Sagittarius dwarf, which will eventually merge with the Milky Way creating one much larger galaxy. (ESA/Hubble & NASA) #
8
The newest candidate for Most Distant Galaxy Yet Known. This newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is very young and only a tiny fraction of the size of our Milky Way. The object is observed 420 million years after the big bang, when the universe was 3 percent of its present age of 13.7 billion years. The inset shows a close-up of the young dwarf galaxy. This is the latest discovery from a large program that uses massive clusters of galaxies as natural zoom lenses to reveal distant galaxies in the early universe. Called the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), the program allows astronomers to use the gravity of massive galaxy clusters to magnify distant galaxies behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing. In this Hubble observation, astronomers used the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015 as the giant cosmic telescope. The bright yellow galaxies near the center of the image are cluster members. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making its image appear approximately eight times brighter than it otherwise would. (NASA, ESA, M. Postman and D. Coe (STScI), and the CLASH Team) #
9
NGC 1999, a dust filled bright nebula surrounding a vast hole of empty space in the constellation Orion. Hubble Heritage astronomers, in collaboration with scientists in Texas and Ireland, used Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 to obtain this color image. (NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI) #
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Coming Soon! #
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But a fortnight until Christmas Day! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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One week left! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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So Close Now! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Coming Soon! #
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Happy Christmas Eve! #
25
You'll just have to wait until Christmas Day! #

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