Hubble Telescope Celebrates 24 Years With a Great Wave

This composite infrared image shows a small section of the Monkey Head Nebula, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 during a series of exposures in February 2014. NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

Astronomers have caught a cosmic wave to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope's launch.

Anniversary pictures have become a yearly tradition for the telescope, which went into space on April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The latest picture, released Monday, reminds the Hubble team of "The Great Wave," a 19th-century print by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

This "wave" is a cosmic crest of hydrogen gas and dust in the Monkey Head Nebula, a star-forming region 6,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. Hubble's infrared view shows how the dusty cloud is being sculpted by ultraviolet light from hot stars in the center of the nebula. Check out these images from Hokusai (and Hubble) to put the picture in perspective.

Image: The Great Wave
"The Great Wave Offshore of Kanagawa," a 19th-century print by Katsushika Hokusai, shows a wave bearing down on boats with a view of Mount Fuji in the background. Katsushika Hokusai / Via LOC
Image: Two views
These images show a visible-light and infrared view of the same small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula. The visible-light view at left was captured by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 in 2001. The infrared view at right comes from the newer Wide Field Camera 3. J. Hester (visible) / Hubble Heritage Team (infrared)
Image: Monkey Head Nebula
This ground-based telescope image shows a wide-angle view of the Monkey Head Nebula, also known as NGC 2174. The nebula is so named because under the right conditions, the nebula looks like a monkey's head facing left. In this image, Hubble's infrared view takes in the area within the white-bordered box, where the monkey's eye would be. R. Crisp / Hubble Heritage Team