Hubble telescope celebrates 29 years of mind-blowing space pictures
Circling the Earth above the distortion of the atmosphere, Hubble has an unobstructed view of the universe.
NASA astronauts Steven Smith and John Grunsfeld perform a spacewalk during a December 1999 mission of the space shuttle Discovery to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble flew into orbit on April 24, 1990, aboard Discovery. The first major optical telescope to be placed in space, Hubble is currently located about 340 miles above Earth’s surface where it completes 15 orbits per day — one approximately every 95 minutes. The satellite moves at the speed of about five miles per second, fast enough to travel across the United States in about 10 minutes.
Here's a small sampling of some of the dazzling images captured by Hubble that have changed the way we view the universe.
Southern Crab Nebula
In celebration of the 29th anniversary since Hubble's launch, astronomers captured this festive, colorful image of the tentacled Southern Crab Nebula (not to be confused with the Crab Nebula)
This nebula, a giant cloud of dust and gas, is officially known as Hen 2-104. It's located several thousand light-years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus. It appears to have two nested hourglass-shaped structures that were sculpted by a whirling pair of stars in a binary system. The duo consists of an aging red giant star and a burned-out star, a white dwarf. The red giant is shedding its outer layers. Some of this ejected material is attracted by the gravity of the companion white dwarf.
Hubble shows this vast stellar nursery in unprecedented detail.
At the center of the photo, a monster young star 200,000 times brighter than our sun is blasting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, carving out a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust. This region epitomizes a typical, raucous stellar nursery full of birth and destruction.
Pillars of Creation
Hubble Space Telescope has taken many breathtaking images of the universe, but one snapshot stands out from the rest: the iconic view of the so-called "Pillars of Creation." The jaw-dropping photo, taken in 1995, revealed never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.
Hubble revisited the famous pillars in 2015, providing astronomers with the sharper and wider view seen here.
Monkey Head Nebula
This infrared image shows part of NGC 2174, the Monkey Head Nebula. The structure lies about 6,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
This group of five galaxies are known as Stephan's Quintet.
Three of the galaxies have distorted shapes, elongated spiral arms, and long, gaseous tidal tails containing myriad star clusters, proof of their close encounters. But studies have shown that group member NGC 7320, in the upper left, is actually a foreground galaxy that is about seven times closer to Earth than the rest of the group.
The star cluster Pismis 24 sits in the core of the large emission nebula NGC 6357.
Part of the nebula is ionized by the youngest (blue) heavy stars emitting intense ultraviolet radiation, heating the gas surrounding the cluster, and creating a bubble in NGC 6357.
This February 2010 image shows a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust in the Carina Nebula that is being eaten away by the light from nearby bright stars.
Inside, infant stars fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks. The stellar nursery is located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. The colors in this composite image correspond to the glow of oxygen (blue), hydrogen and nitrogen (green), and sulfur (red).
This cluster of young stars — one to two million years old — is located about 20,000 light-years from Earth.
The central region, containing the Westerlund 2 star cluster, blends visible-light data and near-infrared exposures. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations.
The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova noted by Earth-bound chroniclers in 1054 A.D., is filled with mysterious filaments. Not only are the filaments tremendously complex, but also they appear to have less mass than those expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion.
The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's center lies a pulsar: a neutron star that emits electromagnetic radiation. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.
An enormous bubble is blown into space by a super-hot, massive star in this image of NGC 7635, or the Bubble Nebula.
The Bubble Nebula is 7 light-years across — about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri — and resides 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.
Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers.
This image shows the region in infrared light, which has longer wavelengths than visible light and can pierce through the dusty material that usually obscures the nebula's inner regions in visible light.
Messier 57, or the Ring Nebula, is a planetary nebula, the glowing remains of a sun-like star.
The tiny white dot in the center of the nebula is the star’s hot core, called a white dwarf. M57 is about 2,000 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, and is best observed during August. Discovered by the French astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix in 1779, the Ring Nebula has an apparent magnitude of 8.8 and can be spotted with moderately sized telescopes.
Planetary nebula NGC 5189
Hubble's website compares this bright gaseous nebula to a festive "glass-blown holiday ornament with a glowing ribbon," but some see a menacing skull instead.
Planetary nebulae represent the final brief stage in the life of a medium-sized star like our sun. While consuming the last of the fuel in its core, the dying star expels a large portion of its outer envelope. This material then becomes heated by the radiation from the stellar remnant and radiates, producing glowing clouds of gas that can show complex structures, as the ejection of mass from the star is uneven in both time and direction.
Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this "wannabe" star and sculpting a light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust. The culprits are 65 of the hottest, brightest known stars, classified as O-type stars, located 15 light-years away from the knot, toward the right edge of the image.
The caterpillar-shaped knot, called IRAS 20324+4057, is a protostar, a very young star that is still in the process of collecting material from an envelope of gas surrounding it.
The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named after flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception.
With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust.
The star was once about five times the mass of the sun.
Several million young stars are vying for attention in this image of a raucous stellar breeding ground in 30 Doradus, located in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula. Early astronomers nicknamed the nebula because its glowing filaments resemble spider legs.
30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region visible in a neighboring galaxy and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula resides 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.
This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos.
Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years.