NASA on Thursday marked the silver anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope with fireworks, of a celestial kind, conveyed by the orbiting observatory itself.
To commemorate Hubble's launch on April 24, 1990, NASA selected a picture of a stellar nursery located about 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. (see picture above)
"This is really an exciting week for astronomers and people who love astronomy all over the world," said Hubble scientist Jennifer Wiseman at a televised anniversary celebration at the Newseum in Washington, DC.
From its orbital perch 340 miles (547 km) above Earth, Hubble's sharp eye can distinguish individual stars in the cluster, which is teeming with about 3,000 newborns. With its infrared vision, Hubble also can peep inside cocoons of dust and gas where even more stars are forming.
Learning about the lifecycle of stars was one of the reasons Hubble was built. By operating above distortions and blocking effects of Earth's atmosphere, astronomers hoped to look farther back in time, at generations of stars and galaxies that formed closer to the Big Bang, some 13.7 billion years ago.
The 50-year development effort nearly ended after Hubble's launch, when NASA discovered a manufacturing flaw in the telescope's 94-inch (2.4-meter) diameter mirror. Corrective optics, installed by space-walking astronauts, saved the day in 1993, the first of five servicing calls by space shuttle crews.
"We never thought it would last this long," said NASA administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden, the pilot on the mission that launched Hubble.
Many of the telescope's most important discoveries turned out to be in areas that didn't even exist when it was launched. Hubble's observations of a particular kind
of exploded star helped astronomers realize that the pace of the universe's expansion is ramping up, propelled by some unknown force referred to as 'dark energy.'
Hubble also has imaged a planet beyond the solar system and scanned other planets' atmospheres for telltale chemical fingerprints. The first so-called exoplanet was discovered in 1992, two years after Hubble's launch.
"Hubble has fundamentally changed our human understanding of our universe," Bolden said.
NASA hopes to keep Hubble operating through 2020 to overlap with its infrared successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in October 2018.
On this occasion HT brings out 25 selected images of our universe taken by the Hubble telescope in its 25-year long service.
Images and description credits : NASA, ESA
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
Distance: 5th planet from the Sun; average distance from the Sun is 778 million km (484 million miles) or 5.2 astronomical units (AU)
Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)
Located nearly 500 million miles away, the giant planet Jupiter’s atmosphere is a roiling cauldron of activity. It includes lightning, oppositely moving cloud belts, and hundreds of rotating storms that appear as large red, white, or brown ovals. The largest of these storms is the legendary anticyclone called the Great Red Spot (GRS). In fact, the GRS is the largest known storm in the solar system.
Distance: 6th planet from the Sun; average distance from the Sun is 1.4 billion km (886 million miles) or 9.5 astronomical units (AU)
Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Saturn is famous for the intriguing rings that encircle it. As Saturn orbits the Sun, though, our view of its rings changes. Roughly every 15 years (halfway through Saturn’s almost-30-year orbit), Saturn’s rings appear edge-on, sometimes seeming to disappear altogether. Because many of Saturn’s moons orbit the planet in the same plane as the rings, they appear to cross in front of the planet during this time.
Distance: 1,300 light-years
Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA), and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team
The Orion Nebula is a tumultuous region of dust and gas where thousands of stars are being born. Located 1,300 light-years away, it is the nearest area of star formation to Earth. In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, Hubble captured an unprecedented look at this nebula.
Distance: 1,500 light-yearsCredits: Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
The iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago in 1888 by Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers alike. Hubble’s infrared vision shows it in a dramatic new light. The nebula, shadowy in optical light, appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths, represented here with visible shades.
Planetary Nebula NGC 5189
Distance: 1,800 light-years
Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)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 is then illuminated by the ultraviolet radiation from the stellar remnant, producing glowing clouds of gas that can show complex structure.
Cat's Eye Nebula
Distance: 3,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Though the Cat’s Eye Nebula was one of the first planetary nebulae to be discovered, it is one of the most complex such nebulae ever seen. Planetary nebulae form when Sun-like stars gently eject their outer gaseous layers, creating amazing and confounding shapes. The Cat’s Eye Nebula, also known as NGC 6543, is a visual "fossil record" of the dynamics and late evolution of a dying star. It is estimated to be 1,000 years old.
Planetary Nebula NGC 6302
Distance: 3,800 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
The spectacular planetary nebula NGC 6302 lies roughly 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius. More popularly known as the Bug Nebula or the Butterfly Nebula, this celestial object looks like a delicate butterfly. But what resemble dainty wings are actually roiling regions of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour — fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in 24 minutes.
Pillars in the Monkey Head Nebula
Distance: 6,400 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
The Monkey Head Nebula is a region of star birth located 6,400 light-years away. It is also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252. In 2014, astronomers using Hubble’s powerful infrared vision imaged a small portion of the nebula in the area of the monkey’s "eye."
Distance: 6,500 light-years
Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Hester (Arizona State University)
The Crab Nebula is an expanding remnant of a star’s supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054 AD, as did likely the Native Americans. The glowing relic has been expanding since the star exploded, and it is now approximately 11 light-years in width.
Distance: 7,500 light-years
The Carina Nebula is an immense cloud of gas and dust where a maelstrom of star birth and death is taking place. The nebula is located an estimated 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina the Keel (part of the older, larger southern constellation Argo Navis, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts).
Core of Omega Centauri
Distance: 17,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and J. Anderson and R. van der Marel (STScI)
Resembling a dazzling display of holiday lights, this crowded field of stars lies in the heart of a giant stellar swarm known as Omega Centauri. A collection of nearly 10 million stars in all, Omega Centauri is the largest of about 150 "globular clusters" in the Milky Way. It’s big enough that stargazers can spot it by eye from the southern hemisphere or from low northern latitudes.
Distance: 20,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
A halo of light surrounds an unusual, variable star called V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon). Called a light echo, the expanding illumination of interstellar dust around the star has been revealing remarkable structures in the dusty cloud ever since the star suddenly brightened in January 2002. V838 Mon temporarily became 600,000 times brighter than our Sun, until it faded in April 2002. It was one of the brightest stars in the entire Milky Way. The reason for the eruption is still unclear.
Star-Forming Nebula NGC 3603
Distance: 20,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team
The giant nebula NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of our galaxy, about 20,000 light-years away. Discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834, it is the largest nebula seen in visible light in the Milky Way. Within its core is nestled a stellar "jewel box" of thousands of sparkling young stars, one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Supernova Remnant 0509-67.5
Distance: 160,000 light-years
Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Floating among the stars, this cosmic bubble might look delicate, but it is the signature of a violent explosion. It is a supernova remnant, the gaseous remains of a star that blew up. Named SNR 0509-67.5 (or SNR 0509 for short), it inhabits a small, nearby galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, roughly 160,000 light-years away. On Earth, stargazers in the southern hemisphere could have seen the explosion about 400 years ago, but so far, no eye-witness accounts have turned up.
Heart of the Tarantula Nebula
Distance: 170,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and D. Lennon (ESA/STScI)
Several million young stars reside in a nearby region of frenzied star birth known as 30 Doradus. Located 170,000 light-years away in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula, 30 Doradus is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. It is the brightest star-forming region visible in a neighboring galaxy, and it is home to the most massive stars ever seen. No known star-forming region inside the Milky Way Galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.
Star Cluster NGC 602
Distance: 196,000 light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration
In a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud, young stars are spewing radiation that’s eating away at the cloud of gas and dust that gave birth to them not too long ago. This Hubble image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys, shows that scene.
Distance: 15 million light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).
Located in the constellation Hydra, this colorful, swirling spiral galaxy is known as M83. A "starburst" galaxy, M83 is considerably smaller than our own galaxy but is producing stars at a much faster rate. The pink clouds of hydrogen gas that dot the galaxy’s spiral arms are the nurseries where new stars are being born. The blue, grainy clumps mixed in with these star-forming regions are clusters of hot, young stars that have blown away the surrounding gas with their fierce ultraviolet radiation. Some of these young stars are only about a million years old. The yellow glow closer to the center of the galaxy comes from more mature stars that have lived for 100 million years or more
Distance: 29 million light-yearsCredits: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Resembling a wide-brimmed hat with a tall bulge at the center, galaxy M104 is nicknamed the Sombrero Galaxy. Far larger than any hat on Earth, this Sombrero is 50,000 light-years wide. We see the galaxy nearly edge-on, so the dark dust in its pancake-like disk appears to bisect a large, white, rounded core of stars. Roughly 29 million light-years away, the Sombrero can be spotted with a modest telescope in the constellation Virgo.
Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Distance: 61 million light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Bold and beautiful, NGC 1300 is a marvelous example of a barred spiral galaxy. Unlike in other spiral galaxies where the starry arms curl outward from the center of the galaxy, NGC 1300’s arms twist away from the ends of a straight bar of stars that stretches across the galaxy’s core. Observational evidence suggests that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a barred spiral as well.
Distance: 65 million light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and B. Whitmore (STScI)
This celestial firestorm is the blazing wreckage of a collision between two spiral galaxies. The two galaxies, whose bright yellow cores appear to the lower left and upper right of center, began their fateful confrontation a few hundred million years ago. Formally known as NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, the pair is nicknamed the Antennae Galaxies because of two long streamers of stars, gas, and dust that extend from the crash site. Wide-field images reveal the elongated "antennae" formed during the initial impact, but this Hubble image concentrates on the heart of the galactic collision.
Distance: 290 million light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
In 1877, French astronomer Édouard Stephan turned a telescope to a spot in the constellation Pegasus and discovered this cozy collection of five large galaxies. Stephan’s Quintet, as the group is now known, includes four distant galaxies that are connected to each other through gravity and one galaxy that is much closer to us but just happens to lie in the same direction in the sky. The imposter is easy to pick out in this Hubble image, because it looks different than the other galaxies. The bluer galaxy, called NGC 7320, is only about 40 million light-years from Earth, while the other, redder galaxies are about 290 million light-years away.
Interacting Galaxies Arp 273
Distance: 350 million light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Two misshapen spiral galaxies combine to form a beautiful celestial flower in this Hubble image taken with the Wide Field Camera 3. Known as Arp 273, the pair is among hundreds of "peculiar" galaxies catalogued by astronomer Halton Arp in the 1960s. The gravitational attraction between these two galaxies has created their physical distortions.
Abell 2744 Frontier Field
Distance: 3.5 billion light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)
The Frontier Fields program is an ambitious, three-year effort that combines the power of space telescopes with nature’s own lenses to peer deeper into the universe than ever before. Hubble, in conjunction with the Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes, is harnessing the phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, by which the gravity of massive clusters of galaxies acts as a natural "zoom lens" in space.
Galaxy Cluster Abell 370
Distance: 5 to 6 billion light-yearsCredits: NASA, ESA, the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, and ST-ECF
Smears and streaks of light punctuate this Hubble image of an enormous cluster of galaxies called Abell 370. These weird shapes are the warped appearances of galaxies that are not part of the cluster but lie far beyond it. The immense gravity of the galaxy cluster causes these far-off galaxies to look distorted.
Hubble Ultra Deep Field
Distance: 13.2 billion light-years
2004 HUDF Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith, M. Stiavelli, A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Thompson (University of Arizona), and the STScI HUDF Team
2009 HUDF Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, R. Bouwens (University of California, Santa Cruz), and the HUDF09 Team
2012 HUDF Credit: NASA, ESA, R. Ellis (Caltech), R. McLure, J. Dunlop (University of Edinburgh), B. Robertson (University of Arizona), A. Koekemoer (STScI), and the HUDF12 Team
2012 XDF Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
2014 HUDF / UV-UDF Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz, M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)
This tiny slice of the universe, speckled with galaxies near and far, tells the story of galaxy evolution over cosmic time. Among the 10,000 or so galaxies pictured here are newborns, adolescents, adults, and retirees. Like looking through a vast collection of family photos, astronomers are poring over this comprehensive image to see how galaxies grew up, matured, and aged.
(Reuters and NASA)