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This week in space news, a new makeover for one of the Hubble Telescope’s most famous images, and tips on spotting Comet Lovejoy in the night sky.
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It's 2015 and one of our favorite pieces of hardware in the universe, the Hubble Space Telescope, is turning 25. Over the years, Hubble has taken a lot of iconic photos but NASA recently decided that one if it's most famous deserved a redo: the towering gas clouds of the Eagle Nebula, otherwise known as the "Pillars of Creation."

Nebulae are collections of gas and dust in interstellar space and they're great places to find newly forming stars. The Eagle Nebula has produced a few in it's time which is why, when the Hubble first turned toward it in 1995, it's striking formations were dubbed the "Pillars of Creation." But at the same time, the image Hubble took showed astronomers that the stars that had been born in the Eagle Nebula and were now sitting at it's top, were actually doing their best to destroy it.

Radiation from the stars has been ionizing the gas in the cloud and then stripping it away with their stellar winds. But near the top of the nebula there are huge pockets where the gas is more dense, shielding the less dense gas below them. So only the material between those super dense areas at the top have been wiped out. That's how the Nebula ended up with it's pillars of gas, five light years tall.

When Hubble took the original images, astronomers added colors to it based on the types of ionized gas in the nebula. Red for sulfur, blue for oxygen, and green for hydrogen. The colors were meant to be useful for scientists, but also turned out to be very striking. So NASA recently decided to see if modern camera technology could make the image even better. 

Just released on January 5, the new picture has a wider field of view, twice the resolution, and both visible light and infrared views. It's also a lot brighter. 

But the new pictures are more than just pretty, they also show that some things have changed in the last 20 years. For instance, by comparing the two images we can tell that a narrow jet, probably of hydrogen gas, being ejected from a baby star has stretched out by almost 100 billion kilometers from the top of the tallest pillar. 100 billion kilometers is really far, obviously, but compared with the light years that the image spans, it looks really tiny.

Now the Pillars of Creation are 6,500 light years away so the image that we see today is the light that left the nebula 6,500 years ago. A lot has happened since then and some astronomers think that the pillars might not even exist anymore. Which makes me happy that we got pictures of it while we could.

Speaking of doing things while you still can, the newest comet Lovejoy is in the neighborhood. I say newest because this is only the latest comet discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. Lovejoy has discovered five comets so far and he named two of them after himself, which totally isn't confusing at all. Slightly different long names but they're both comet Lovejoy.

The newest comet, just discovered last August, passed Earth on January 7th, missing us by 70 million km. And even though it's going away from us now, it's heading toward the sun, so it will keep getting brighter. It'll reach perihelion, the point where it's closest to the sun, on January 30. Before then it'll pass through the constellation Taurus, and then swoop through Aries. If you're looking for it, it should be pretty easy to spot, partly because the coma, the cloud of vaporized ice that surrounds the comet's core, is green. Lovejoy's also got a long tail, formed by ionized gases like carbon monoxide that are having their electrons ripped off by solar radiation. The comet should be visible with binoculars and on a clear night away from city lights it can even be seen with the naked eye.

Lovejoy hasn't been this close to earth in more than 11,000 years. But, as it passes through the solar system the planets gravitation will change it's orbit so it's expected to swing around again in just 8,000 years. Since most of us probably won't be around in 8,000 years now is probably your best chance to see it.

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