19 of Hubble's best views of the mysteries of space (pictures)

First imagined in the 1940s, designed in the 1970s, and built in the 1980s, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 25, 1990 and has explored our universe as never seen before.

James Martin
1 of 19 NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA

The Spirograph Nebula

For 23 years now, the Hubble Space Telescope, our ultimate eye in the sky, has been orbiting Earth -- once every 97 minutes -- and has explored our universe with detail never seen before, uncovering galaxies far, far away, black holes, cosmic collisions, and many other mysteries of the universe.

Free of any atmospheric distortions and background light which affect the quality of images from ground-based observatories, the resolution of Hubble's images are more than 10 times that of anything based on Earth.

This glowing orb is the planetary nebula IC 418, which is about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lepus. In this picture, the Hubble telescope reveals some remarkable textures weaving through the nebula. Their origin, however, is one of the many, many mysteries of space.
2 of 19 ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble),NASA

Crab Nebula

Here, we see Hubble's most detailed view so far of the entire Crab Nebula. The Crab is arguably the single most interesting object, as well as one of the most studied, in all of astronomy, NASA says. This image is the largest ever taken with Hubble's WFPC2 workhorse camera.

Astronomers say the Crab Nebula is one of the most intricately structured and highly dynamical objects ever observed.
3 of 19 Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA/ESA)

Ring Nebula

One of the most famous of all planetary nebulae, the Ring Nebula, photographed here in October 1998, is about a light-year in diameter and was formed as a dying star threw off some of its outer material thousands of years ago. The nebula is situated 2,000 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.
4 of 19 NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team

A powerful stellar explosion

SNR B0509-67.5 is the visible remnant of a powerful stellar explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 160,000 light-years from Earth. The gaseous envelope formed as the expanding blast wave and ejected material from a supernova tore through the interstellar medium.
5 of 19 ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Interacting galaxies

The distorted shape of the larger of these two galaxies shows signs of tidal interactions. The smaller of the pair of interacting galaxies is called Arp 273. It is thought that the smaller galaxy has actually passed through the larger one.
6 of 19 NASA/ESA,Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger (JPL)

The Hourglass Nebula

This is an image composed from three separate images taken in the light of ionized nitrogen (represented by red), hydrogen (green), and doubly ionized oxygen (blue), of the hourglass-shaped MyCn18, a young planetary nebula located about 8,000 light-years away, taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 aboard the Hubble Space Telescope.
7 of 19 HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA),ESA, NASA

Cat's Eye Nebula

In this detailed view from the Hubble Space Telescope, we see what is known as the Cat's Eye Nebula, cataloged as NGC 6543, the first planetary nebula ever to be discovered. It is one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever seen in space, formed when sun-like stars eject their outer gaseous layers.
8 of 19 ESA/Hubble and NASA

The Red Rectangle

Star HD 44179 is surrounded by a quite extraordinary-looking formation known as the Red Rectangle.

Hubble's newest, more detailed image shows the unearthly nebula is shaped more like an X, with additional lines of glowing gas. The star at the center is believed to be similar to the sun, but near the end of its life, spewed gas and other materials to form the oddly shaped surrounding nebula.

The Red Rectangle is an unusual example of what is known as a proto-planetary nebula. These are old stars, on their way to becoming planetary nebulae. Once the expulsion of mass is complete, a very hot white dwarf star will remain and its brilliant ultraviolet radiation will cause the surrounding gas to glow. The Red Rectangle is found about 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn.
9 of 19 NASA

A comet's collision with Jupiter

In 2009, Hubble used its newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 -- which features two UV/visible detecting CCD sensors, each 2,048×4,096 pixels, and a separate Infrared light detector of 1,024×1,024 pixels, capable of receiving infrared radiation up to 1700 nm -- to record a comet's collision with Jupiter.
10 of 19 NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Hubble spots a celestial bauble

This delicate-looking shell, known as SNR B0509-67.5, is in fact a gaseous envelope formed by the expanding blast wave and ejected material from a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The bubble-shaped shroud of gas is believed to be 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 18 million km/h.
11 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Mystic Mountain

Atop a pillar of gas and dust three light-years tall, infant stars buried inside shoot towering peaks of gas, creating this fantastical image from inside the Carina Nebula, 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina.
12 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Dione, Enceladus, Mimas, Saturn, Titan

Looking closely at Saturn, we can see the transit of several moons as they move across the face of the giant planet. The orange moon Titan can be seen at the upper right, and the white icy moons from left to right are Enceladus, Dione, and Mimas.

The dark band running across the face of the planet slightly above the rings is the shadow of the rings cast on the planet. This picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on February 24, 2009.
13 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Cosmic dust

Complex loops and whisps of cosmic dust lie hidden in the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 1316. This image, made from data obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the dust lanes and star clusters of this giant galaxy that give evidence that it was formed from a past merger of two gas-rich galaxies.
14 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Surface of Pluto

One of Hubble's grand achievements was giving us our first direct look at the surface of Pluto.
15 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

The halo of NGC 7049

This image of NGC 7049 in the constellation of Indus shows clusters of glittering dust spotted around the galaxy halo. Astronomers study these globular clusters in NGC 7049 to learn more about its formation and evolution. The dust lanes, which appear as a lacy web, are dramatically backlit by the millions of stars in the halo of NGC 7049.
16 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Stellar demise

At the center of these tumultuous cauldrons of gas, heated to nearly 20,000 degrees Celsius, is a dying star that scientists believe was once about five times the mass of the sun.

Its gasses ejected, the star is now unleashing a stream of ultraviolet radiation which is making the cast-off material glow. This object is an example of a planetary nebula, so-named because many of them have a round appearance resembling that of a planet when viewed through a small telescope.
17 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos, spanning a distance of billions of light years. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe.

The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies -- the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals -- thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old.
18 of 19 NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Hubble's sharpest view of the Orion Nebula

The image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard Hubble, represents the sharpest view ever of the Orion Nebula. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image.
19 of 19 NASA

Colliding galaxies

This Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

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