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Astronomy Teacher Finds Hubble Telescope's Hidden Treasure
Nearly 200 000 light-years from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, floats in space, in a long and slow dance around our galaxy. As the Milky Way’s gravity gently tugs on its neighbour’s gas clouds, they collapse to form new stars. In turn, these light up the gas clouds in a kaleidoscope of colours, visible in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: ASA, ESA. Acknowledgement: Josh Lake

A Connecticut astronomy teacher has uncovered a dazzling view of a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way while exploring the "hidden treasures" of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The new Hubble photo, released Thursday (Jan. 17), shows an intriguing star nursery dotted with dark dust lanes in the Large Magellanic Cloud about 200,000 light-years from Earth. The Hubble observation used to create the image was discovered in the telescope's archives by Josh Lake, a high school astronomy teacher at Pomfret School in Pomfret, Conn., as part of the "Hubble Hidden Treasures" contest that challenged space fans to find unseen images from the observatory.

Hubble officials also released an eye-popping video tour of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which zooms in on the region highlighted in Lake's photo.

Lake won first prize in the Hubble photo contest with an image of the LHA 120-N11 (N11) region of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Hubble officials combined Lake's image with more observations of the N11 region in blue, green and near-infrared light wavelengths to create the new view.

"In the center of this image, a dark finger of dust blots out much of the light," Hubble officials said in an image description. "While nebulae are mostly made of hydrogen, the simplest and most plentiful element in the universe, dust clouds are home to heavier and more complex elements, which go on to form rocky planets like the Earth." [Hubble Telescope's Hidden Treasures: Winning Photos

The interstellar dust in N11 is extremely fine, much more so than household dust on Earth. It is more similar to smoke, researchers explained.

Josh Lake (USA) submitted a stunning image of NGC 1763, part of the N11 star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. ESA/Hubble had previously published an image of an area just adjacent to this (heic1011), based on observations by the same team. Josh took a different approach, producing a bold two-colour image which contrasts the light from glowing hydrogen and nitrogen. The image is not in natural colours — hydrogen and nitrogen produce almost indistinguishable shades of red light that our eyes would struggle to tell apart — but Josh’s processing separates them out into blue and red, dramatically highlighting the structure of the region. As well as narrowly topping the jury’s vote, Josh Lake also won the public vote.
Josh Lake (USA) submitted a stunning image of NGC 1763, part of the N11 star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. ESA/Hubble had previously published an image of an area just adjacent to this (heic1011), based on observations by the same team. Josh took a different approach, producing a bold two-colour image which contrasts the light from glowing hydrogen and nitrogen. The image is not in natural colours — hydrogen and nitrogen produce almost indistinguishable shades of red light that our eyes would struggle to tell apart — but Josh’s processing separates them out into blue and red, dramatically highlighting the structure of the region. As well as narrowly topping the jury’s vote, Josh Lake also won the public vote.
Credit: Josh Lake/NASA & ESA

The Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC, is one of two small satellite galaxies of the Milky Way (the other is the smaller, aptly named Small Magellanic Cloud). Because of its relatively close proximity, the Large Magellanic Cloud has long been used as a sort of cosmic laboratory to study how stars form in other galaxies.

"It lies in a fortuitous location in the sky, far enough from the plane of the Milky Way that it is neither outshone by too many nearby stars, nor obscured by the dust in the Milky Way’s center," Hubble officials said in a statement. "It is also close enough to study in detail … and lies almost face-on, giving us a bird’s eye view."

In addition to the N11 region, the Large Magellanic Cloud is also home to the spectacular Tarantula nebula, the brightest nearby star nursery, Hubble officials said.

The Hubble Space Telescope has been snapping spectacular photos of the universe since 1994 and is a joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency. This month, NASA officials said the long-lived space observatory could potentially last through 2018.

This story was provided by SPACE.com, a sister site to LiveScience. You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalikFollow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.