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Dutch school teacher reveals Hubble images

Dutch school teacher reveals Hubble Speace Telescope images of Hanny’s voorwerp, a space oddity

Published by the editorial team, 11 January 2011

New Hubble Space Telescope (HST) images of one of the strangest space objects ever seen, are being presented at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle this week. The Hubble observations represent the latest efforts to understand the nature of Hanny’s Voorwerp (Hanny’s object in Dutch), named after Hanny van Arkel, the Dutch school teacher who originally discovered the giant and mysterious green blob of gas floating in space via the Galaxy Zoo citizen-scientist project. Hanny is a member of the science team led by Bill Keel (University of Alabama), that has published the new Hubble results this week in Seattle where thousands of astronomers from all corners of the world have gathered for the annual AAS meeting. Last year, Hanny also participated in very sensitive radio observations of the Voorwerp made with ASTRON’s Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) and the European VLBI Network (EVN).

Hanny, who is also attending the meeting in Seattle this week, says the Hubble observations provide the sharpest view yet of Hanny’s Voorwerp. The Hubble images have uncovered star birth in a region of the green object that faces the spiral galaxy IC 2497, located about 650 million light-years from Earth. The previous WSRT and EVN radio observations had shown that the Voorwerp is part of a huge reservoir of gas surrounding the galaxy. A radio plasma jet also emanating from the galaxy was observed to be pointing in the direction of Hanny’s Voorwerp.

According to Hanny, the team’s analysis of the new Hubble images provides direct evidence that the galaxy’s gas is interacting with the gas in Hanny’s Voorwerp. “It looks like the gas is collapsing and forming stars. The youngest stars are only a couple of million years old and were previously too dim to see against the brilliant green light of the hot gas”. The team also think that a past outburst from a quasar lurking at the centre of the spiral galaxy may be casting a shadow on the Voorwerp. The shadow gives the illusion of a gaping hole in the Voorwerp about 20,000 light-years wide with sharp edges around the apparent opening. As Hanny explains: “the hole and its sharp features suggests that an object close to the quasar may have blocked some of the light and projected a shadow on the gas. It’s a bit like a fly on a movie projector lens, casting a shadow on a movie screen”.




Hanny van Arkel (centre) visiting the ASTRON booth in Seattle.



Prof. Mike Garrett, General Director of ASTRON and leader of the team that made the first radio measurements, is impressed by the new results. “The Hubble images look fantastic – there’s no doubt they are going to play an important role in helping to pin down the true nature of the Voorwerp.”

Meanwhile Hanny van Arkel is enjoying her stay in Seattle. It’s a long way from Hanny’s classroom at the Citaverde College in Heerlen where she teaches biology but she seems to be enjoying every minute of it. “Since my arrival, I’ve been meeting with scientists and journalist from all over the world – the Voorwerp, seems to fascinate everyone. I can’t wait to get home and tell my students just how much fun science can be!”


For images and more information about the Hubble Space Telescope observations of Hanny’s Voorwerp and spiral galaxy IC 2947, visit:

For images of Hanny in Seattle, visit:’s-voorwerp


For more information about Hanny’s Voorwerp, visit:


For WSRT and EVN images of Hanny’s Voorwerp and spiral galaxy IC 2947, visit:’s-voorwerp


For more information, please contact:

Hanny van Arkel. Tel.: +1 773 6273871 or e-mail:

Margreet Nannenberg, ASTRON. Tel.: 0521 595 119 or e-mail:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

ASTRON is the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).



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