Paula Cleggett-Haleim Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-1547)

August 13, 1990

Randee Exler Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. (Phone 301/286-7277) RELEASE: 90-111 HST TAKES FAMILY PORTRAIT OF STARS OUTSIDE MILKY WAY

After only preliminary analysis, NASA'S Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has provided the first detailed views of how massive stars are formed in galaxies unlike our own. Early observations, in support of an engineering test, of 30 Doradus, the most prolific stellar nursery within the Large Magellanic Cloud, revealed new information about our neighboring galaxy. "To have important science unexpectedly arise from engineering test data came as a pleasant surprise to the HST science team," says Dr. Edward Weiler, HST program scientist. Hundreds of stars are believed to exist in this region, which is smaller than from here to the nearest star, about 4 light years away. One can easily count 60 stars just with the naked eye. Early computer analyses of this same image suggest that HST may be resolving many more stars. This region was thought to consist of a single star as recently as just 10 years ago.

NASA now has a unique and detailed view of massive stars in the neighborhoods of their birth. Dr. Sally Heap, a NASA astrophysicist remarked, "We now have the finest family portrait of stars outside our galaxy." Dr. Charles Pellerin, Director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, said, "This now demonstrates HST's ability to conduct crucial and important studies, even with the existing spherical aberration. We will continue to study this region over the next few months, and the best is yet to come." - more -2 -

HST scientists plan the following activities: --to use imagery, with the "planetary camera" mode of the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC) and the European Space Agency's Faint Object Camera (FOC) to gain another factor of at least two in clarity (the current image was taken in the "wide field" mode). --to use longer exposure times to image the fainter stars and make signal processing easier -- this image of 30 Doradus was acquired with an exposure of only 40 seconds. --to produce "color imagery" by using filters to image this region in the near ultraviolet, green, yellow, and near infrared; the current image was taken in one color, violet.

--to use spectroscopy to infer the temperatures, masses and chemical composition on many of the brightest stars, individually. The HST photograph of 30 Doradus was made on Aug. 3, 1990, with the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC) for use as a finding chart in the checkout of another HST instrument, the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph. The WF/PC produces star images with sharp cores, 0.1 arc-seconds wide. This image quality is sustained over the full field of view, which is 2.7 arc-minutes square. 30 Doradus is readily visible with the naked eye from the Southern Hemisphere of Earth, although it is located in another galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, at a distance of about 160,000 light-years from Earth. The late American astronomer Harlow Shapley stated that 30 Doradus is so bright that if it were put in place of the nearby Orion Nebula, it would cast shadows on the nighttime landscape of Earth. 30 Doradus is located in the constellation Dorado, the swordfish. HST astronomers studying the WF/PC picture report that they can make out the central stars of the R136 cluster, within the 30 Doradus nebula. They note that because the picture was taken in violet light, at a wavelength of 3680 angstroms, it brings out the hottest, most massive stars in the picture. Hot stars produce more blue and ultraviolet light than cooler stars. Several of the stars appear to be single objects at the resolution of the WF/PC picture. Given their brightness and the distance to 30 Doradus, this observation strengthens the possibility that they may be more than 100 times as massive as the Sun. - more -3 -

Every HST picture of star clusters should achieve the resolution demonstrated in the photograph of 30 Doradus. Such photographs, when obtained through the different colored filters on the WF/PC and the Faint Object Camera (FOC), are expected to provide detailed information on the masses of stars in the clusters. Then, knowing the mixtures of masses in a cluster (i.e., how many stars of each mass are present), astrophysicists can deduce basic information on how stars form and how they produce the chemical elements present in space. All massive stars probably become supernovae, spewing out their newly made elements. These elements, especially iron are essential ingredients to life on Earth. By determining how many such stars are present in 30 Doradus and similar star clusters in more distant galaxies, astronomers expect to deduce more accurate information on the enrichment of chemical elements in the universe. - end -

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