Science never ends for NASA, but while space observation and exploration continues regardless of the season or special occasion, the space agency still enjoys celebrating holidays in its own unique way. Last week, NASA used the fast-approaching vacation as an opportunity to showcase a very special snapshot of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The picture shows the view of a distant star, the RS Puppis in all its glittering splendor. The star and the massive cloud of dust that accompanies it makes what NASA calls a "Christmas wreath", but this photo can even appreciate Scrooge.
The star actually pulses over time weeks, NASA says, but its average brightness is whopping 15,000 times that of our own sun. The massive burning ball is 200 times bigger than our star and ten times bigger. It is classified as a variable cepheid star, which means that its luminosity changes regularly.
"The fog swings in brightness as Cepheid light pulses propagate outward," explains NASA. "Hubble took a series of photos of flashes of light that flow across the fog in a phenomenon known as" light echo. " Although the light travels fast enough through space to bridge the gap between earth and moon in just over a second, the fog is so large that the reflected light can actually be photographed through the fog. "
Thanks to the star's unique light properties and the abundance of debris surrounding it, NASA was able to estimate their distance from Earth with great accuracy. It is estimated that RS Puppis is 6,500 light-years away, and NASA is confident that this estimate could be within a range of just one percent.
The photo is a great reminder that Hubble is still doing some serious things, even when it's fast approaching three full decades in space. It is the ultimate workhorse for astronomers, and its advancing age does not seem to hinder its ability to astonish us all.