Hubble wows with stunning space images

The Hubble Space Telescope generates some of the most spectacular views of space ever seen. Step into a world of swirling nebulae, galactic gas clouds and sparkling galaxies.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
1 of 29 NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

Carina Nebula lives in chaos

The Hubble Space Telescope first launched in 1990. It's been busy ever since sending back data and imagery that brings us closer than ever to the far reaches of space.

This colorful image of the Carina Nebula from 2009 shows a massive pillar of gas and dust as stars are birthed. The nebula is located 7,500 light-years away. This particular image was taken in visible light. The pillar is shaped by radiation and streaming winds of charged particles.

First published Jan. 6, 2015, at 10:46 a.m. PT. 
Update, Oct. 6, 2017, at 12:51 p.m. PT: Added 12 images to the end of the gallery.

Hubble lightsaber
2 of 29 NASA/ESA/D. Padgett (GSFC)/T. Megeath (U. Toledo)/B. Reipurth (U. Hawaii)

Star Wars lightsaber in a new star

NASA celebrated the December 2015 opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with this Hubble image of what the space agency described as a celestial double-bladed lightsaber located in the Orion constellation. Two jets emanate from a newborn star. The resulting lines of light bear a resemblance to Darth Maul's two-sided weapon from the Star Wars prequel film "The Phantom Menace."

3 of 29 ESA/Hubble, NASA and S. Smartt

Glittering spiral galaxy

Hubble took note of this pretty spiral galaxy called NGC 4102 in 2014. NASA describes it as having an "understated, but charming, appearance." The galaxy is located in Ursa Major. The image was created by combining infrared and visible data from Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

4 of 29 NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Mystic Mountain within a nebula

Hubble has given scientists and space fans some real doozies when it comes to fantastical images from space. This particular shot from 2010 has been called the "Mystic Mountain" for its resemblance to a fictional landscape like you might find in "Lord of the Rings" or a Dr. Seuss book. The mountain is made of a pillar of dust and gas and is located in the Carina Nebula.

5 of 29 NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler

Andromeda in high-def

This sweeping view of the Andromeda galaxy is the largest Hubble image to date. Released in January 2015, it shows a portion of Andromeda put together as a composite image. The galaxy is our next-door neighbor, though it's still over 2 million light-years away. The bright points are stars.

"This ambitious photographic cartography of the Andromeda galaxy represents a new benchmark for precision studies of large spiral galaxies that dominate the universe's population of over 100 billion galaxies," says NASA.

6 of 29 NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.)

'Pillars of Creation' nearly 20 years apart

The Hubble Space Telescope first wowed scientists and the public with the famous "Pillars of Creation" image in 1995. The pillars are columns of gas found in the Eagle Nebula. NASA revisited the image with a fresh look at the pillars for Hubble's 25th anniversary.

Related article: Hubble revisits 'Pillars of Creation' in gorgeous high-def image

Twin Jet Nebula
7 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Shimmering space butterfly

The Twin Jet Nebula looks like a celestial butterfly. Jets of gas spread out in elongated bubbles, giving the nebula its "wings." The nebula was originally seen in 1947 and given the less-than-exciting moniker PN M2-9. Scientists believe the twin lobes formed about 1,200 years ago.

The European Space Agency highlighted this colorful view in mid-2015.

8 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA: acknowledgement: Josh Barrington

Large Magellanic Cloud glows blue

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a relatively small galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. NASA noted in 2014 that the image looks like an underwater scene, but what we're actually seeing are whirling clouds of gas.

9 of 29 NASA

Horsehead Nebula

It takes a little imagination to see the shape of a horse's head in this nebula captured by the Hubble Space Telescope infrared. Other images taken in optical light lend it a stronger equine look. The pink hue comes from hydrogen gas behind the nebula. This Hubble image dates to 2013.

10 of 29 NASA/ESA/A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)

Hubble peeks at Jupiter

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope doesn't just look at far-flung galaxies and nebulae. It sometimes takes a gander at planets located a little closer to home. Hubble took this close-up look at Jupiter in spring 2014 when the telescope was watching for changes in the planet's Great Red Spot storm.

The black pupil of the "eye" seen in the image is from a shadow cast by the moon Ganymede.

11 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Flickr user Det58

Spiral galaxy shimmers

This comely spiral galaxy NGC 1566 is about 40 million light-years away. The galaxy is part of the Seyfert class of galaxies. "The centers of such galaxies are very active and luminous, emitting strong bursts of radiation and potentially harboring supermassive black holes that are many millions of times the mass of the sun," says NASA, which released the image in 2014.

12 of 29 NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Monkey Head Nebula

Hubble celebrated its 24th anniversary in 2014 with an infrared-light image of a portion of the Monkey Head Nebula. Glowing gas and dust are visible in this image. It's an active area of star birth located 6,400 light-years away.

13 of 29 NASA/European Space Agency

Hubble eyes activity on Saturn

Saturn's north pole is an interesting place. This series of Hubble images from 2014 show auroral lights shifting at the pole. The ultraviolet images were taken using the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. "The cause of the changing patterns in Saturn's aurorae is an ongoing mystery in planetary science," NASA notes.

14 of 29 NASA, ESA, J. Trauger (Jet Propulson Laboratory)

Lagoon Nebula pools in the cosmos

The Hubble Space Telescope looked to the constellation of Sagittarius, the centuar, and sent back this glowing image of the Lagoon Nebula. The nebula is nearly 3 light-years wide and about 5,000 light-years away from Earth.

"The region is filled with intense winds from hot stars, churning funnels of gas, and energetic star formation, all embedded within an intricate haze of gas and pitch-dark dust," NASA said in a release in 2015.

15 of 29 ESA, Hubble, R. Sahai (JPL), NASA

Ghostly clouds in the dark of space

Some of Hubble's space subjects are haunting, like phantoms rising up out of the darkness. Hubble captured this image of Nebula IRAS 05437+2502 in 2010. Dust clouds account for the nebula's spectral look.

16 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: Marc Canale

Hubble spies a bubble

This bubbly nebula can be found in a little-known constellation called Camelopardalis (The Giraffe). Known as NGC 1501, the nebula displays all sorts of lumps and bumps around its shape. The light at the center comes from a star. The nebula's nickname is the Oyster Nebula due to it appearing to have a "pearl" inside a shell. This image dates to 2014.

17 of 29 ESA/NASA

Dark and light nebulae

Though not as colorful as some images derived from Hubble, this picture shows quite a few interesting features. An infant star is visible just above the center while both light and dark nebulae overlap. Dark nebulae are so dense as to block light coming from behind them.

18 of 29 G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; Chandra/CXC; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

Crab Nebula gets crackin'

Hubble played an important role in the creation of this 2017 composite portrait of the Crab Nebula that also uses data and images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (all located in space), and the ground-based VLA observatory in the US.

The Space Telescope Science Institute describes the Crab Nebula as a "tortured-looking supernova remnant." 

19 of 29 NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

Comet K2 makes an entrance

Hubble caught sight of comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS from the crazy distance of 1.5 billion miles (about 2.4 billion kilometers) away in June 2017. This image shows a large, hazy cloud of dust around K2.  

"These observations represent the earliest signs of activity ever seen from a comet entering the solar system's planetary zone for the first time," NASA noted in a statement. 

20 of 29 NASA, ESA, and M. Mutchler (STScl)

Snuggling galaxies

Hubble celebrated its 27th anniversary in 2017 with this image of two spiral galaxies that could star in their own buddy movie. Galaxy NGC 4302 shows its edge, while galaxy NGC 4298 shows off its full spiral. Hubble captured the four shots used to create this gorgeous view in January 2017.

21 of 29 NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team

Hubble's bubble

NGC 7653 is better known as the Bubble Nebula for obvious reasons. It's located in the constellation of Cassiopeia. This image earned a place in the Hubble Heritage gallery, a sort of greatest-hits collection, in 2016.

22 of 29 NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC)

Jupiter gets a close-up

Hubble turned its gaze on Jupiter in early 2017 and delivered this scenic close-up of the planet. The gas giant's swirling storms and clouds are on full display. Jupiter was at a distance of 415 million miles (668 million kilometers) from Earth when Hubble took a look. 

23 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA

Huntings Dogs

Amateur astronomers with telescopes can spot this nebula, named NGC 4242, from Earth. It's located in the constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. NASA and the European Space Agency highlighted this diffuse, but lovely nebula in mid-2017.

Mars by Hubble
24 of 29 NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Mars as seen by Hubble

Orbiters and rovers aren't the only things keeping an eye on Mars. The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this portrait of the red planet in 2016. You can see the planet's varied terrain of craters, basins and sandy deposits as wispy clouds gather around the edges.

25 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

A Rotten Egg in space

The Rotten Egg Nebula, seen here in a Hubble image from 2017, gets its nickname more from its smell than its shape. The nebula contains a large amount of sulfur. Never fear. It's located 5,000 light-years away from Earth so we can't get a whiff of it.

Little Gem Nebula
26 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Schmidt (geckzilla.com)

A little gem of a nebula

The Little Gem Nebula shows off its ethereal side in this 2016 Hubble portrait released by the European Space Agency. It's located in the constellation of Sagittarius and gets its nickname from how it looks like it could be mounted on a ring. 

27 of 29 NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Orion Nebula

Hubble researchers released this composite mosaic image of the Orion Nebula in early 2017. It shows a scenic swath of colors and is a great example of how Hubble can generate some of our most ethereal views of space. As its name suggests, the nebula is located south of the "belt" in the Orion constellation. 

28 of 29 NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Veil Nebula

This 2015 Hubble image looks at a section of the Veil Nebula, which is made up of the remnants of a supernova. The Hubble team says the nebula "resembles a crumpled bed sheet viewed from the side."

29 of 29 ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgements: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla)

Tarantula Nebula

Delve into the creepier side of space with this 2017 Hubble image showing the "spindly, spidery filaments of gas" in the Tarantula Nebula. Look closely in the lower left corner and you'll see a series of bubble-like formations that make up the more innocuously named Honeycomb Nebula.

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