Space Photos of the Week: Happy Birthday, Hubble!

NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope on April 24, 1990, and Hubble has been busy observing the universe ever since. In honor of its 30th birthday, we’ll explore some of its most memorable and mind-blowing photos, starting with the anniversary photo. This image contains two nebulas both nicknamed the Cosmic Reef. When stars are born or when they die, they often shed material with such great force that it molds and shapes the environment around the star, creating a nebula. Some nebulas are created by the death of a singular star, while others are existing interstellar dust and gas that function as stellar nurseries for young stars. Some of the most famous nebulas are in the shape of horseheads, crabs, and other fanciful objects.

Hubble has taught us a lot in its 30 years. Thanks to Hubble we now know that our galaxy is just one of many hundreds of billions in the universe. Because Hubble is able to study such distant galaxies, it can tell scientists more about the expansion of the universe. Studying these galaxies also helped scientists get an idea of the approximate age of the universe: about 13.8 billion years old.

Grab your birthday candles and paper hats, because this week, we’re singing to Hubble.

This is Hubble’s 30th anniversary photo, and it is a doozy. Meet the Cosmic Reef, technically two nebulas called NGC 2014 (the big red one) and NGC 2020 (the smaller blue neighbor). These two nebulas are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located some 163,000 light years away.Photograph: NASA/ESA/STScI
This 29th anniversary photo showcases the Southern Crab Nebula, thousands of light years away. The hourglass shape is created by two stars circling each other and the respective shockwaves they generate. One star is an ancient red dwarf (which our sun will become one day) and one is a white dwarf. Each are shedding material out into space and creating tails of dust and gas behind them.Photograph: NASA/ESA/STScI
For Hubble’s 28th anniversary, NASA released a new photo of the Lagoon Nebula. This beauty is a stellar nursery located 4,000 light years away. The bright star central to the photo is Herschel–it’s young and enormous, coming in at 200,000 times brighter than our sun. This star is expelling material outward at hurricane speeds, creating caverns and mountains of stellar dust.Photograph: NASA/ESA/STScI
These two space buddies are located 55 million light years away. The galaxy on the left is NGC 4302, and NGC 4298 is on the right. The clumps of reddish brown are dust that collects together, while the bluer regions are active star formation. If you look in the galaxy on the left, that bright blue area is extremely active star formation.Photograph: NASA/ESA/STScI
For Hubble’s 26th anniversary, NASA released this astounding image of the Bubble Nebula. The “bubble” is created by the stellar wind coming off of the central star, SAO 20575. It was first discovered by William Herschel in 1787.Photograph: NASA/ESA
Hubble’s 25th anniversary photo explored the cluster called Westerlund 2. This star cluster is young, only around 2 million years old, and is in our very own Milky Way Galaxy. It contains some of the most massive, hottest, and brightest stars scientists have ever discovered.Photograph: NASA/ESA/STScI

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