NASA releases new image to mark Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th anniversary

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This Hubble image shows how young, energetic, massive stars illuminate and sculpt their birthplace with powerful winds and searing ultraviolet radiation.

In this Hubble portrait, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) 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 nicknamed the “Cosmic Reef,” because the nebulas resemble an undersea world.

The sparkling centerpiece of NGC 2014 is a grouping of bright, hefty stars, each 10 to 20 times more massive than our Sun. The stars’ ultraviolet radiation heats the surrounding dense gas. The massive stars also unleash fierce winds of charged particles that blast away lower-density gas, forming the bubble-like structures seen on the right, which resemble coral. The stars’ powerful stellar winds are pushing gas and dust to the denser left side of the nebula, where it is piling up, creating a series of dark ridges bathed in starlight. The blue areas in NGC 2014 reveal the glow of oxygen, heated to nearly 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit by the blast of ultraviolet light. The cooler, red gas indicates the presence of hydrogen and nitrogen.

By contrast, the seemingly isolated blue nebula at lower left (NGC 2020) has been created by a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material.

The image, taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, commemorates the Earth-orbiting observatory’s 30 years in space. (Photo courtesy NASA/STSCI)

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Friday marked 30 years since the Hubble Space Telescope launched into orbit aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.

To mark the occasion, NASA released a new portrait showing what is described as “a firestorm of starbirth in a neighboring galaxy.”

Hubble, orbiting above the atmosphere, provides crystal-clear images of the cosmos to researchers, scientists, enthusiasts, and the general public alike.

Besides the images, Hubble has also measured the expansion and acceleration rate of the universe, discovered black holes are common in galaxies, studied the atmospheres of planets around other stars, monitored weather on other planets in the solar system, and has looked back in time across 97% of the universe to chronicle the birth and evolution of galaxies and stars.

Its 1.4 million observations have led to 17,000 research publications and will continue to fuel astronomy for generations to come.

The James Webb Space Telescope, expected to launch in 2021, will spend its first few years operating and observing alongside Hubble.

Friday’s image shows a group of bright stars in one nebula, each 10-20 times more massive than the Sun, pushing gas away to form bubble-like structures. In a separate nebula, a single star 200,000 times more massive than the Sun has ejected gas in a series of events which caused it to lose part of its outer “shell.”

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