The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most amazing machines ever placed in orbit. Able to peer into deepest outer space -- back, indeed, through time itself -- the Hubble has dazzled scientists and citizens alike with is sharp, detailed images of heavenly bodies. First deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1990, the telescope endured some early, very public, technical hiccups but has nonetheless patrolled outer space with its roving eye ever since. Step through the pages of this gallery for more pictures of the Hubble Space Telescope as well as some of its fascinating finds.
Image Credit: NASA/National Geographic/Getty Images
Got power? The Hubble does, thanks to its use of solar array panels. Each panel has solar cells that convert the sun's energy into 2,800 watts of electricity in order to run the telescope's scientific instruments, computers and radio transmitters.
Here's an artist's rendition of the Hubble in action, with a space shuttle cruising below. Find out how the Hubble was repaired on the next page.
Shuttle astronauts, their ship docked with the Hubble, make repairs to the telescope's optics using COSTAR (Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement). Check out an image of the Hubble's mirrors on the next page.
Mirrors are at the heart of the Hubble's imaging capabilities. Here's a look at the primary mirror on the telescope, which is about 8 feet in diameter (2.4 meters) and weighs 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms). It's made of silica glass and coated with a thin layer of aluminum to reflect visible light. There's an even thinner layer of magnesium fluoride on top of that to reflect ultraviolet light and prevent oxidation.
If you're schematically inclined, here's a NASA cutaway diagram showing all of the major parts of the Hubble Space Telescope. Learn how the Hubble sends images back to Earth on the next page.
Here's a basic diagram showing how the Hubble Space Telescope sends information back to Earth. The Hubble's telescope gathers light from outer space and sends its data to a relay satellite. From there, the data bounces down to a ground station on Earth, which sends the data to the Goddard Space Flight Center. That's how the Hubble's dazzling pictures get from up there to down here. Check out some of the amazing images the Hubble has captured in the next few pages.
The Cone Nebula is a gigantic collection of gas and dust. The Hubble's incredible range lets it take pictures of multiple galaxies at once. See one of these pictures on the next page.
You can see several pinwheeling galaxies in this Hubble image. The Hubble has also captured some of the oldest galaxies known, such as the ones on the next page.
Image Credit: NASA/National Geographic/Getty Images
Images from the Hubble's Deep Field study of the skies reveal the kinds of galaxies that were up and running very close (is you consider within hundreds of millions of years to be close) to the time of the Big Bang. Next up, we'll see a nebula that's named after an animal.
Image Credit: NASA/Getty Images
This mosaic image of the Crab Nebula shows a six-light-year-wide, expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. We'll take a look at another aptly named nebula on the next page.
Here on Earth, sometimes cloud formation can make us imagine creatures in their shapes. It's no different for astronomers when they see nebula. This Hubble image capture, for example, has been dubbed the Horsehead Nebula. In keeping with the farm animal theme, we'll serve up some eggs in the next picture.
The Hubble telescope caught these newborn stars emerging from what NASA referred to as "eggs" -- dense, compact pockets of interstellar gas called evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs). The Hubble found them in a very fitting place: the Eagle Nebula, a star-forming region about 7,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
NASA reprocessed some archived Hubble telescope image data in order to take another look at the Cat's Eye Nebula, which is about 3,000 light-years away and boasts an eerie, jellyfish-like appearance. Its dying central star may have caused the outer shells of the formation, although scientists are less certain of how its inner structure was formed.
Image Credit: NASA, MAST, STScI, AURA and Vicent Peris (OAUV/PTeam)
Here we see thin tendrils of gas floating amid a sea of stars. The Hubble image, with an assist from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, shows material cast off from the explosion of a massive star some 3,000 years ago. Now this supernova remnant drifts in space.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
This might look a bit like a headless, armless being of some sort floating in outer space, but it's actually what the NASA folks call a "bok globule." These are dense knots of dust and gas, resulting in the opaque, dark mass we see here. (They get their unusual name from an astronomer named Bart Bok, who first suggested their existence.) Dust like this is comprised of a healthy dose of the kinds of elements that allow for the formation (over time -- lots and lots of time!) of stars. This particular clump of dust is called NGC 281, about 9,500 light years from us. Not all bok globules end up being star factories, however -- some end up dissipating before they can coalesce enough to give birth to stars. Next, the Hubble takes a good look at Mars, during one of its closer swings by Earth.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
In this image, the Hubble caught Mars smiling (or is it twisting its evil mustache?) for a close-up when it was just 55 million miles -- 88 million kilometers -- away. Mars and Earth have such close visits about every 26 months. These periodic encounters are caused by the differences in the two planets' orbits. Earth goes around the Sun twice as fast as Mars, so it laps the Red Planet about every two years. Interestingly, though, both planets have elliptical orbits, so these close encounters aren't always at the same distance. Next, we'll see how the Hubble marks special dates in its life.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (Cornell University), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute, Boulder)
This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to mark its 21st anniversary of deployment in space. Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., pointed the giant galactic lens at a very photogenic duo of interacting galaxies called Arp 273. The larger of the spiral galaxies (upper center), is called UGC 1810, and its central disk has been distorted somewhat by the gravitational, tidal pull of the companion galaxy below it (known as UGC 1813).
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI/JHU), L. Macri (Texas A&M University), and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Here we see three images from the Hubble that reveal the emergence of an exploding star, a supernova nicknamed SN Primo. The top image shows the region where NASA astronomers were looking for a supernova blast. The white box shows where the supernova was later seen. The bottom-left image is a close-up of the field without the supernova. A new, bright object -- identified as the supernova and indicated by the arrow -- appears in the image at bottom-right. Next, the Hubble finds a new moon for a former planet.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (Space Telescope Science Institute and The Johns Hopkins University), and S. Rodney (The Johns Hopkins University)
The Hubble discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto (which was once a full-fledged planet but got demoted in 2006, thanks to new, official guidelines for what constitutes a planet). The tiny new moon – designated here as "P4" -- was found while the Hubble was looking for rings around the dwarf planet. The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles -- or 13 to 34 kilometers. (For comparison, Pluto's largest moon Charon is 648 miles (1,043 kilometers) across, and its other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 kilometers).
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI institute)
Here's the kind of shape you don't want to see while swimming, but it's not at all threatening when seen through the Hubble Space Telescope. This is the "Stingray" nebula, the youngest known planetary nebula. In this image, a bright central star is in the middle of a green ring of gas. Its companion star is diagonally above it at 10 o'clock. The red curved lines on the outer edges indicate bright gas that has been heated by the "shock" caused when the central star's wind hits the walls of the bubbles. Just because we can see the whole nebula in this image doesn't mean it's small either. The nebula is as large as 130 combined solar systems. But at this distance of 18,000 light years, it is akin to looking at a dime from one mile (1.6 kilometers) away. The colors shown here are the actual colors emitted by nitrogen (red), oxygen (green) and hydrogen (blue).
Image Credit: NASA
The box pull-out in this image highlights a 100-million-solar-mass black hole at the hub of the neighboring spiral galaxy M31, otherwise known as Andromeda. A compact cluster of blue stars in the center of the box is surrounded by the larger “double nucleus” of M31. This double nucleus is actually an elliptical ring of old, reddish stars that are orbiting around the black hole but are farther away than the blue stars. Next, we'll look at a galactic multi-vehicle collision.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and T. Lauer (National Optical Astronomy Observatory)
A team of scientists studying this galaxy cluster -- Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster -- have been able to determine its violent history thanks to telescopes in space, such as the Hubble, and others on the ground. The enormous galaxy cluster is what you end up with after at least four separate, smaller galaxy clusters have a pile-up on the intergalactic freeway. Scientists say the crash took place over the course of about 350 million years. Next we'll look at some accidental skywriting by two interacting galaxies.
Image Credit: NASA
These interacting galaxies, collectively called Arp 147, are aligned such that they resemble the numeral "10." The "1" is seen nearly on edge, from the Hubble's vantage point, while the "0" displays a bright, blue ring of star formation. In the next image, we'll look at Jupiter's auroras.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio (STScI)
These pictures show changes in Jupiter's auroras as well as how the small auroral spots just outside the emission rings are linked to the planet's volcanic moon, Io. Thanks to the Hubble, the images are the best views ever seen of Jupiter's auroras. The top panel shows the effects of emissions from Io (the miniscule dot at the edge of the blue arc), which is about the size of Earth's moon. The black-and-white image on the left, taken in visible light, shows how Io and Jupiter are linked by an invisible electrical current of charged particles called a "flux tube." The particles, ejected from Io by volcanic eruptions, flow along Jupiter's magnetic field lines, which thread through Io, to the planet's north and south magnetic poles. The black-and-white image on the right was taken in ultraviolet light about 15 minutes later and shows Jupiter's auroral emissions at the north and south poles. Just outside these emissions are the auroral spots. Called "footprints," the spots are created when the particles in Io's flux tube reach Jupiter's upper atmosphere and interact with hydrogen gas, making it shine with fluorescence. (Note that in this image, Io can't be seen because it is too faint in the ultraviolet.) The two ultraviolet images at the bottom of the picture show how the auroral emissions change in brightness and structure as Jupiter rotates.
Image Credit: JPL/NASA/STScI
This picture is of the planet Neptune, on the day it arrived in the same location in space where it was first discovered more than 160 years ago. The administrators of the Hubble telescope decided to take note of the event with some pictures. Neptune, the most distant planet in our solar system, was discovered by German astronomer Johann Galle on September 23, 1846. It's 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun, 30 times farther from our warm friend than is Earth. Because the sun's pull isn't very strong at such a distance, Neptune has a gigantic orbit, lazily completing one revolution -- its planetary year -- about every 165 years. While Neptune has seasons, just as we do (it is tilted 29 degrees, similar to Earth's 23-degree-tilt), each of its seasons lasts about 40 years. Imagine a 40-year-long summer vacation!
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
It's pretty hard to sneak past the Hubble when something is well enough within its view. Here we see Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, just before it ducks behind the giant planet. Perhaps it's camera shy. Ganymede orbits fully around Jupiter every seven days. It's made of rock and ice, and it's the largest moon in our solar system. In fact, it's even bigger than Mercury. Jupiter, by contrast, is so big that only part of its Southern Hemisphere can be seen in this image. Next, we'll see a fireworks display.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)
In this image, the Hubble telescope offers us a star cluster surrounded by interstellar dust and gas, which are the kinds of ingredients you need to make new stars. This nebula is in the constellation Carina and lives about 20,000 light years away. Its center contains a cluster of very large, hot stars called NGC 3603. It's only thanks to ultraviolet radiation and extremely violent stellar winds that we have this unobstructed view of the cluster -- those forces simply blew a clear hole in the cloud of dust and gas, just as if they'd opened a window for us. Speaking of violent forces, our next picture will show the aftermath of two asteroids colliding.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell, F. Paresce, E. Young, WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, Hubble Heritage Team
The Hubble observed a strange X-shaped debris pattern (inset box) and trailing streamers of dust that suggested to scientists that two asteroids had collided head-on. While astronomers have long believed the asteroid belt is being ground down by collisions, a head-on smash like this had never before been observed. Asteroid collisions are high-energy affairs, with an average speed at impact of more than 11,000 miles per hour (17,702 kilometers per hour). Space looks beautiful from here, but out there it's a rough and tumble universe.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles). Photo No. STScI-2010-07
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA
In our final picture, we take a look at a galaxy known as the "UFO galaxy," thanks to a shape that makes it look like a prototypical, 1950s science-fiction spaceship. The edge-on view we have of the galaxy makes it look like that, and it also gives astronomers a great chance to see the dusty spiral arms well defined against the galaxy’s core. Somehow the Hubble Space Telescope's search of the heavens never fails to amaze.
Now that you've seen our Hubble Space Telescope Pictures, check out our Kepler Telescope Pictures