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Hubble hooks crackin' crab nebula image for 29th anniversary

NASA and ESA's space telescope gifts us with a gorgeous view of the Southern Crab Nebula.

The Southern Crab Nebula looks like it has legs.

The Hubble Space Telescope started its stellar journey on April 24, 1990 by hitching a ride on the space shuttle Discovery. NASA and the European Space Agency are celebrating its 29th anniversary with a picture of a wild nebula that looks like it could lurk under the waves.

ESA described the hourglass-shaped Southern Crab Nebula as "peculiar." It's the creation of a binary star system made up of a red giant and a white dwarf. "The red giant is shedding its outer layers in the last phase of its life before it too lives out its final years as a white dwarf," ESA said.

Some of the material from the red giant is pulled to the white dwarf, which in turn ejects it outward, feeding this spectacular nebula formation. "The bubbles of gas and dust appear brightest at the edges, giving the illusion of crab leg structures," NASA said.

Hubble gathered the images used in this composite view in March. The colors indicate the types of gases in the nebula: red is sulfur, green is hydrogen, orange is nitrogen and blue is oxygen.

Previous anniversary images have given spectacular looks at spiral galaxies and a lagoon-like nebula. The Southern Crab and its ethereal spindly legs fits right in with Hubble's eye-popping body of work.  

The space telescope has lived an eventful life, overcoming technical glitches and orbiting Earth more than 169,000 times. 

What's even more mind-boggling is how astronomers have used Hubble data to publish over 16,000 scientific papers. That's a remarkable achievement for a 29-year-old.