Astronomy Teacher Finds Hubble Telescope's Hidden Treasure

Large Magellanic Cloud Seen by HST
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. (Image 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. (Image 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.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.