The most iconic photos captured by the 25-year-old Hubble space telescope

The Hubble space telescope turned 25 today. In the past two and half decades, it has given us spectacular images of the universe, which had remained hidden to the human eye. On this momentous occasion, here are some of the best photos shot by Hubble, along with the distance at which those objects exist from Earth.

Westerlund 2 star cluster – 20,000 light-years

For the 25th anniversary NASA released a picture of the Westerlund 2 star cluster that the telescope shot. The image shows an expanding shell of gas lit up by the radiation from a cluster of 3,000 stars at its center.

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster Westerlund 2 and its surroundings has been released to celebrate Hubble’s 25th year in orbit and a quarter of a century of new discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science. The image’s central region, containing the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys.
(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Pillars of Creation – 6,500 light-years

This was the first shot by Hubble in 1995, and it is arguably the telescope’s most iconic snap. The pillars are four-light-year long columns of gas and dust blown outward by a cluster of energetic stars in the Eagle Nebula, and they’re also nursing young stars within themselves.

m16pillarsHSTvis1024
(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Sombrero Galaxy – 28 million light-years

Known and named for its resemblance to the Mexican hat, the Sombrero Galaxy is quite the looker for its nearly side-on appearance in this picture and for the beautiful halo enveloping it. It also has a noticeably pronounced dust-lane rimming its circumference. Like the Milky Way, the galaxy is thought to house a large black hole at its center.

sombrero_hst_1071
(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Horsehead Nebula – 1,500 light-years

In the stupendous sequence of graphics depicting the origins of life in the universe in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, the Horsehead Nebula makes an appearance presumably because, like the Pillars of Creation, it’s an object made famous by Hubble’s snaps of it. Though its contours bear a distinct resemblance to the head of a horse, they will be eroded in a few million years by the radiation from a nearby massive star, Sigma Orionis.

NASA/ESA Hubble
(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Butterfly Nebula – 2,100 lightyears

The Butterfly Nebula is actually a planetary nebula, a misleading name that stuck to identify the violent expulsion of its uppermost layers by a dying star. In between the two “wings” of irradiated gas is a torus of dust 10-times as wide as the orbit of Pluto. At its center is a pair of stars, one of which is the dying star causing its surrounding to heat up to 250,000 degrees Celsius.

(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Jupiter – 588 million km

This picture—shot in April 2014—is a favorite because it does well to show that despite being the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter’s also the least fully-formed. The fluidic bands of gases circulating at various latitudes bear testimony to that. For another, Hubble’s snap also shows the Great Red Spot—a violent storm larger than the Earth’s diameter that has been churning for at least 150 years—is shrinking.

jupiter

Messier 5 – 25,000 light-years

This is is a massive cluster of 100,000 stars, packed in a volume of space 165 light- years in diameter due to their own gravitation. It inhabits Milky Way’s halo; however, it is much older, hosting some stars that are more than 13 billion years old. M5 gets its name from being the fifth in a famous catalog of astronomical objects compiled by the French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771.

This sparkling jumble is Messier 5 — a globular cluster consisting of hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by their collective gravity. But Messier 5 is no normal globular cluster. At 13 billion years old it is incredibly old, dating back to close to the beginning of the Universe, which is some 13.8 billion years of age. It is also one of the biggest clusters known, and at only 24 500 light-years away, it is no wonder that Messier 5 is a popular site for astronomers to train their telescopes on. Messier 5 also presents a puzzle. Stars in globular clusters grow old and wise together. So Messier 5 should, by now, consist of old, low-mass red giants and other ancient stars. But it is actually teeming with young blue stars known as blue stragglers. These incongruous stars spring to life when stars collide, or rip material from one another.
(NASA/ESA Hubble)

Orion Nebula – 1,500 light-years

This is a very large star-forming region not too far from Earth, its location best identified by the belt of three stars. The chaotic spread of gases and dust is sculpted by the birth of more than 700 stars at the moment, each in different stages of formation. The nebula itself is part of a much bigger gas cloud that includes the Horsehead Nebula. This view was snapped up by Hubble with some help from the ESO’s La Silla telescope.

(NASA/ESA Hubble)

NGC 1672 – 60 million light-years

A spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, NGC 1672’s claim to fame is a Hubble image in which it throws up many features that have seldom been spotted at once, in exquisite detail. Tentacular lanes of dust are visible to the left; a dense bar of stars sits at the galaxy’s center; clumps of blue indicate hot star-forming regions; and a bright nucleus betrays the presence of a black hole.

(NASA/ESA Hubble)

AM 0644-741 – 300 million light-years

This galaxy has an odd composition: a wide ring of stars, about 150,000 light-years in diameter, surrounding a highly condensed cloud of gas and dust, with a lot of space in between. Astronomers have reason to believe the shape is the result of a cosmic collision between two galaxies. When the smaller galaxy passed into the larger one, the incursion of all that mass provided a focal point at which the interstellar matter in the vicinity gathered.

(NASA/ESA Hubble)

This post was first published on Is Nerd. Please send us your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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