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Hubble celebrates 30th anniversary with new view of nebulae

29 Apr 2020

Mission has so far generated 1.4 million observations, providing data for more than 17,000 papers.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s iconic images and scientific breakthroughs have redefined our view of the Universe. To commemorate three decades of scientific discoveries, the above newly-released image is one of the most photogenic examples of the many turbulent stellar nurseries the telescope has observed during its 30-year lifetime.

It features the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbor NGC 2020, which together form part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, approximately 163 000 light-years from Earth. The image has been nicknamed the "Cosmic Reef" because it resembles an undersea world.

On 24 April 1990, Hubble was launched on the Space Shuttle Discovery, along with a five-astronaut crew. Deployed into low Earth orbit a day later, the telescope has since opened the eyes of the world to the cosmos and transformed our collective knowledge of the Universe.

Hubble has revolutionised modern astronomy not only for astronomers, but also for the public, taking them on a journey of exploration and discovery. Unlike any other telescope before it, Hubble has made astronomy relevant, engaging and accessible for people of all ages.

The mission has yielded to date 1.4 million observations and provided data that astronomers around the world have used to write more than 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications, making it one of the most prolific space observatories in history. Its rich data archive alone will fuel future astronomy research for generations to come.

Anniversary images

Each year, Hubble has a small portion of its precious observing time dedicated to taking a special anniversary image, showcasing particularly beautiful and meaningful objects. These observations continue to challenge scientists with surprising new findings and to fascinate the public with ever more evocative images.

This year, Hubble is celebrating this new milestone with a portrait of two colourful nebulae that reveals how energetic, massive stars sculpt their homes of gas and dust. The sparkling centrepiece of NGC 2014 is a grouping of bright, massive stars near the centre of the image that has blown away its cocoon of hydrogen gas (colored red) and dust in which it was born. A torrent of ultraviolet radiation from the star cluster is illuminating the landscape around it.

These massive stars also unleash fierce winds that are eroding the gas cloud above and to the right of them. The gas in these areas is less dense, making it easier for the stellar winds to blast through them, creating bubble-like structures reminiscent of coral, that have earned the nebula the nickname "Brain Coral".

By contrast, the blue-coloured nebula below NGC 2014 has been shaped by one mammoth star that is roughly 200 000 times more luminous than our Sun. It is an example of a rare class of stars called Wolf-Rayet stars, thought to be the descendants of the most massive stars. Wolf-Rayet stars are very luminous and have a high rate of mass loss through powerful winds.

“The Hubble Space Telescope has shaped the imagination of truly a whole generation, inspiring not only scientists, but almost everybody,” commented Prof. Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science. “It is paramount for the excellent and long-lasting cooperation between NASA and ESA.”

What's on Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA. The anniversary image (above) was taken with the Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble is equipped with several different instruments:

  • WFC3 — Wide Field Camera 3: The main camera of the telescope which was installed during Servicing Mission 4
  • COS — Cosmic Origins Spectrograph: The spectrograph was installed during Servicing Mission 4, to expand the spectroscopic capabilities of Hubble’s scientific arsenal
  • ACS — Advanced Camera for Surveys: Repaired during Servicing Mission 4 this instrument replaced Hubble’s Faint Object Camera during Servicing Mission 3B Its wavelength range extends from the ultraviolet, through the visible and out to the near-infrared Its wide field of view is nearly twice that of Hubble’s former workhorse camera, WFPC2 Its name comes from its particular ability to map large areas of the sky in great detail ACS can also perform spectroscopy with a special optical tool called a ‘grism’
  • STIS — Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph: Repaired during Servicing Mission 4 this is a versatile “combi- instrument” taking advantage of modern technologies and combines a camera with a spectrograph It covers a wide range of wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared region
  • NICMOS — Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer: Though not currently operational, NICMOS provided the capability for infrared imaging and spectroscopic observations of astronomical targets, detecting light with wavelengths between 800 to 2500 nanometres These wavelengths are infrared and thus invisible to our human eyes
  • FGS — Fine Guidance Sensors: An optical sensor used to provide pointing information for the spacecraft and also as a scientific instrument for astrometric science

LaCroix Precision OpticsHÜBNER PhotonicsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationAlluxaLASEROPTIK GmbHTRIOPTICS GmbHUniverse Kogaku America Inc.
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