The Hubble Space Telescope is one of humanity’s most iconic instruments and has contributed to unraveling the mysteries of the universe. With multiple discoveries to its credit, we have compiled the most memorable images from the Hubble telescope in its more than three decades of operation.
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The Hubble telescope was launched into space on April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery. It orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 547 kilometers and a speed of 27,300 kilometers per hour, so it takes about 95 minutes to make one complete revolution.
While the US space agency NASA and the European ESA are close to launching the James Webb telescope (JWST), whose lens is 6.5 times larger in diameter, we review the best images from Hubble.
The Southern Crab Nebula, officially named Hen 2-104, is several thousand light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. It appears to have two hourglass-shaped structures, the product of the interaction of an aging red giant star and a white dwarf. The object was discovered in the late 1960s, but only in 1989 was it found to be no ordinary star. This image, captured in April 2019, shows the gases emanating from the nebula: red is sulfur, green is hydrogen, orange is nitrogen, and blue is oxygen.
For two decades, Hubble has monitored the giant star Eta Carinae, located about 7,500 light-years away. The largest body in a double star system has been prone to violent explosions, such as the one recorded in the 1840s that was captured by the Hubble telescope in this 2019 photograph. Astronomers discovered the magnesium glow embedded in hot gas ( blue) in places they haven’t seen it before. Meanwhile, the streaks in the blue region are created when light rays from the star pass through the scattered dust clumps.
This image of the Red Giant Nebula (NGC 2014) and its blue neighbor (NGC 2020) shows how the largest, most energetic and young stars illuminate and sculpt their birthplace with powerful winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation. Both nebulae are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away. The image is known as the Cosmic Reef, since according to astronomers the nebulae resemble the underwater world.
The photograph captured in 2018 offers an insider’s view of the birth of Herschel 36, a star 32 times larger and 200,000 times brighter than the Sun, emitting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, creating a stunning landscape. . This occurs inside the Lagoon Nebula, at a distance of about 4,000 light years away. The star is only 1 million years old, compared to the 5 billion years of our Sun.
Astronomers produced one of the most detailed images of the Crab Nebula, combining data from five telescopes, spanning almost the entire width of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Crab Nebula is the result of a supernova explosion and was seen by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054, it is about 6,500 light years from Earth. At its center is a neutron star that rotates once every 33 milliseconds.
In April 2017, Jupiter made its closest approach to Earth in a year, which was used by the Hubble Space Telescope to capture it in all its splendor. At a distance of 668 million kilometers, Jupiter offered spectacular views of its colorful and turbulent atmosphere, the legendary Great Red Spot, and its smaller companion, Red Spot Jr.
The Pillars of Creation, located in the Eagle Nebula (M16), are one of the most impressive objects captured by Hubble: three towers of gas and dust that give birth to new stars. The pillars, at a distance of about 6,500 light-years, were first photographed by Hubble in 1995, but this 2015 record offers a sharper and broader view than the original.
Hubble collects light from celestial objects and directs it to the telescope’s scientific instruments: the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), the Advanced Camera for Studies (ACS), the images from the space telescope (STIS) and fine guide sensors (FGS).
However, it does not have color cameras, but only has digital CCDs – charge coupled devices – that take images as grayscale pixels, but have filters to isolate different colors.
According to the observatory, the color of the photographs is usually “as natural as possible”, since many are combinations of three independent exposures (red, green and blue). However, color is also added to show chemical elements or highlight features that the human eye is unable to detect.
In this way, the colors in the Hubble photographs are not always what we would see if we had the possibility to visit these objects. “Creating color images from the original black and white exhibits is art and science in equal measure,” says the Official site from Hubble.