Hubble at 25: the cosmos at its most breathtaking – in pictures
The Hubble telescope was launched in April 1990. Ever since, it has been providing astronomers with breathtaking images of the cosmos
By Robin McKie
THE CARINA NEBULA
One of the largest regions of star-birth in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula is made up of vast towers of cool hydrogen that are laced with dust and which are rising from the nebula’s wall. This strikingly beautiful image of stellar creation, taken in 2010, reveals the head of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried deep inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air
THE CRAB NEBULA
The Crab Nebula is a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded its eruption in 1054. This composite image was assembled from 24 individual exposures taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 in 1999 and 2000. It is one of the largest images taken by Hubble and is the highest-resolution photograph that has ever been made of the Crab Nebula. At the centre of the nebula, astronomers have detected the Crab Pulsar, a 30-kilometre-diameter neutron star.
A ROSE MADE OF GALAXIES
This ravishing image is made up of a pair of interacting galaxies that are known as Arp 273. The larger of the spiral galaxies, UGC 1810, has a disc that is being tidally distorted into a rose-like shape by its companion, UGC 1813. The swath of blue jewels across the top is made up of clusters of intensely hot, young blue stars that glow fiercely in ultraviolet light. The smaller galaxy shows signs of intense star formation at its nucleus, perhaps triggered by the galactic encounter. The image was taken in 2010.
GANYMEDE AND JUPITER
Hubble is mostly known for the images that it has taken of distant stars and galaxies. However, the telescope has also made considerable contributions to the study of objects, mainly planets, found within our own solar system. This image, taken in April 2014, is a close-up view of the giant planet Jupiter, which Hubble was monitoring in order to study changes in its immense Great Red Spot, a persistent atmospheric storm that dominates the planet’s appearance. During the exposures taken by Hubble, the shadow of Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, swept across the Great Red Spot, giving the planet the appearance of having a pupil at the centre of a 10,000-mile-diameter red eye.
Sent into space in 1990, the Hubble telescope, built by Nasa in collaboration with the European Space Agency, was found to have a serious optical flaw in its main mirror within weeks of its launch. In 1993, a service mission carrying a corrective optics package was flown to the telescope and successfully installed. This photograph shows astronauts Story Musgrave (on the robotic arm) and Jeffrey Hoffman during the mission. A further four service missions were flown to the Hubble, in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2009. With the remaining craft in the US space shuttle fleet having been grounded, there is now no way to reach the Hubble, which orbits 340 miles above the Earth. When its last components fail, hopefully not for a few years, the telescope will no longer be able to point at stars accurately.
Taken in 2013, this Hubble image shows part of the sky in the constellation of Orion. Rising like a giant seahorse from turbulent waves of dust and gas is the Horsehead Nebula, otherwise known as Barnard 33. This image shows the region in infrared light (the Hubble is capable of taking some images in infrared), which has longer wavelengths than visible light and which can pierce through the dusty material that usually obscures the inner regions of a nebula. The result is this ethereal and fragile-looking structure, made of delicate folds of gas and dust. The nebula, which is 1,500 light years from Earth, is a stellar nursery in which stars are coalescing out of clouds of material. The bright spots that can be seen in its base are young stars that are just in the process of forming.
THE SOMBRERO GALAXY
The galaxy, seen edge on, is made up of a brilliant white core encircled by a thick line of dust and is 50,000 light-years in diameter and 28m light years from Earth. Using Hubble observations, astronomers calculate that there is a supermassive black hole, with a mass one billion times the sun’s, at its core.
THE CAT’S EYE NEBULA
A pattern of concentric shells of dust surround this dying star 3,000 light years from Earth. Each shell contains as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined and have created a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star.
THE ANT NEBULA
The Ant Nebula earned its name from ground-based observations that showed it resembled the head and thorax of an ant. This Hubble image, showing 10 times more detail, reveals that the “ant’s” body is actually a pair of fiery lobes of matter pouring from a dying star.
Messier 81 (or Bode’s Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. The galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way, is 11.6 million light-years distant but Hubble’s view is so sharp it can resolve individual stars in the galaxy – along with open star clusters, globular star clusters, and even glowing regions of fluorescent gas.
Source: The Guardian
More cool stuff: The Hubble Site