Hubble turns 25 years old. The importance of a good tool

Astrophysicists have a reputation as geeks. In general, all scientists, but perhaps astrophysicists are the prototype of a geek scientist. In our defense we can say that we are a separate group of scientists: our object of study is very far away, we can not touch it, nor change it, there is no interaction. To understand how the Universe is, we only have photons as messengers of information. So we had to develop methodologies that allowed us to extract all that information and develop theories that explained the observations. And, as important as the methodologies, we had to build telescopes that were able to make the most of the few photons that come from the stars.

Our understanding of the Universe has changed as telescopes were built getting bigger and bigger But the radical change, the most significant change in this path of knowledge occurred 25 years ago when the era of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) that revolutionized our way of seeing the Universe began: it was like putting on your glasses and stop seeing blurry .

At that time I was in full development of my thesis work studying a particular type of planetary nebulae, the very energetic ones. Planetary nebulae are among the most fascinating and grateful objects that can be studied in Astrophysics. They correspond to one of the final evolutionary states of stars like the Sun or a little more massive. This is what will happen to our star in about five billion years when, after exhausting its hydrogen, it becomes a red giant, it expels most of its photosphere and then becomes a white dwarf that " paint "of red, green and blue colors (thanks to the ionization) all that material that has formed very varied structures but, generally, in the shape of a shell.

My interest with these objects was to understand how they are created so different forms with apparently similar start conditions. One of those objects was the famous one (to say famous in this case perhaps denotes a little frikismo) Nebula of the Esquimal (NGC 2392). After studying it we came to the conclusion that it was the result of a succession of expulsions of material that had been accumulating.

Later, when the HST began to study the planetary nebulae everything changed and we understood better all the processes although, as always happens in science, new unknowns were also opened for all those new structures, unimagined until then, and that only the sharpness of the space telescope images allowed.

Now, when I see the images of NGC 2392 taken with the HST asked me: where has the Eskimo gone?

Luis Cuesta, head of the Scientific Culture Unit of the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA)


Fuente: QUO


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