WATCH ABOVE: Fly through hundreds of galaxies and billions of stars
Beginning its 25th year in service, NASA is celebrating the accomplishments of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Designed to provide us with a deeper understanding of the universe, the telescope started off on a disappointing note when it went into orbit in 1990. Instead of providing us with crisp images, scientists were shocked to get back poor, out-of-focus photographs. The $1.5-billion dollar telescope had a mirror (used to collect light, much like our eyes do) that was the wrong shape. Essentially, Hubble needed glasses.
Hubble soars above Earth in 2009. (Credit: NASA)
In December 1993, a servicing mission was sent to make the necessary repairs. Since then, Hubble’s view of the universe has been nothing short of breathtaking. Here are some of Hubble’s best shots.
This image was dubbed “Pillars of Creation.” Taken in 1995, this close up view of the Eagle Nebula displays cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust which act as incubators for new stars. For a higher-resolution image, click here. (Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen [Arizona State University])
Aside from about 10 stars, everything you see in this image is a galaxy, made up of billions of stars each. This galaxy cluster, Abell 1689, helped scientists see the interaction of dark matter, an invisible part of our universe that accounts for about 24 per cent of our universe. The curved streaks at the centre create something called gravitational lensing that bends and magnifies the light of galaxies far behind it. This is created by the trillions of stars at the heart of the cluster, as well as the dark matter. (Credit: NASA, N. Benitez [JHU], T. Broadhurst [Racah Institute of Physics/The Hebrew University], H. Ford [JHU], M. Clampin [STScI], G. Hartig [STScI], G. Illingworth [UCO/Lick Observatory], the ACS Science Team and ESA)
Why send a telescope into space? Earth’s atmosphere provides disturbances in the air. Hubble, which orbits at an altitude of 569 kilometres above Earth, is above the shaky atmosphere, allowing it to take much more detailed images. The telescope moves at 28,000 kilometres per hour.
In celebration of Hubble’s 21st anniversary, astronomers imaged this beautiful image of interacting galaxies called Arp 73. The large galaxy’s disk is distorted by the gravitational pull of its companion galaxy, UGC 1813. The blue stars at the top are bright, hot, new stars. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA])
Nebulae, some of the most beautiful things in our universe, are vast regions of interstellar gas, including hydrogen and helium, as well as dust.
The word actually comes from Latin word meaning “cloud” and, looking at these regions, it’s obvious why the ancients used the word to describe these things they saw in the heavens that were clearly not stars.
Nebulae are really stellar nurseries, as when gravitational forces begin to act and clump the gases together, they can create stars and later on, possibly planets. Many nebulae are created from supernova explosions.
The Orion Nebula, the most visible nebula in the northern hemisphere, is a vast star-forming region. More than 3,000 stars are visible in this image. (Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto [Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA] and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team) (For a high-resolution image, click here.)
This image of the Carina Nebula, located in the southern hemisphere, was taken in 2007 to mark Hubble’s 17th anniversary. This image spans 50 light-years (the unit used to calculate distance in the expanse; one light year is the distance light can travel in a vacuum in one year’s time, which is roughly 9 trillion km). For a zoomable image, click here. (Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith [University of California, Berkeley], and The Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA])
Like a giant (and kind of creepy) eye, the planetary nebula (it’s not actually creating planets; the nebula got its name from astronomer William Herschel in 1847 who thought these new nebulae resembled Uranus, which he had discovered) MyCn18 stares back at us. The nebula is 8,000 light-years away from Earth. (Credit: Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger [JPL], the WFPC2 science team, and NASA)
This 20th anniversary image of a close-up section of the Carina Nebula shows a three-light-year tall pillar of cool hydrogen while jets of gas are unleashed from its peak. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team [STScI])
This could be called a baby picture of our universe. Hubble captured four bright, young galaxies, just 500 million years after the Big Bang. Our universe is believed to be around 13.8 billion years old. (Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth [University of California, Santa Cruz], P. Oesch [University of California, Santa Cruz; Yale University], R. Bouwens and I. Labbé [Leiden University], and the Science Team)
The magnificent Omega Centauri globular cluster, located in the southern hemisphere, is a collection of about 10 million stars. It is the biggest globular cluster — a cluster of some of the oldest stars in the universe — that is orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. It lies about 17,000 light-years from Earth. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA])
This galaxy, catalogued as NGC 3256, is actually the remnant of a galactic collision. The galaxy has a double nucleus and is giving birth to young star clusters. (Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage [STScI/AURA-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans [University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University])
As stunning as these images are, it takes a lot of work to create them. It is a culmination of science and art. Watch the video below to get a better understanding of the process.
Some cool Hubble facts:
- Since its launch, Hubble has orbited Earth more than 3 billion times
- Hubble has made more than 1 million observations since 1990, observing 38,000 objects
- As of April 2014, Hubble’s observations have taken up more than 100 terabytes of data
- About 4,000 astronomers from around the world have used the telescope
- Hubble weighs 24,500 pounds (on Earth, of course)
- Hubble is 13.3 metres long, about the length of a long school bus