PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Cosmic "Question Mark" Honors Hubble

interacting galaxies arp 194 picture
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April 21, 2009—Call it a Freudian picture. Even as the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope is in question, astronomers are celebrating the famed observatory's 19th year conducting science in space with this image of a galactic mixer that seems to trace a giant glowing question mark.

(Related: "'Hidden' Planet Found in Old Hubble Image.")

This latest picture released by the Hubble team shows a group of interacting galaxies, collectively known as Arp 194.

The upper portion is a cluttered, deformed mix of galaxies, some of which seem to be in the process of merging. The lower "dot" is a single large spiral galaxy.

Streaming from the upper galactic jumble is a structure NASA has dubbed a "fountain of youth"—bright blue stellar superclusters, each of which may contain dozens of young star clusters, totaling millions of stars.

Meanwhile, NASA mission managers met yesterday and today to discuss their readiness to launch the fifth and final space shuttle mission to service the aging Hubble.

The routine servicing mission was postponed last fall, when the space telescope started experiencing unforeseen glitches that put it out of commission for almost a month.

The shuttle Atlantis is now slated to launch May 12 carrying hardware for repairs, along with new science instruments.

The mission should boost Hubble's performance and hopefully keep the iconic instrument in service for at least another five years. Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is due to launch in 2013.

—Victoria Jaggard

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