Fabulous space photos from NASA’s Hubble telescope

NASA’s Hubble telescope is celebrating 22 years as a space discovery icon

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In its 22nd year of operation NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has become an icon of space exploration. As evidence of its influence, NASA said in December 10,000 science papers have been published utilizing data discovered by the telescope by scientists across the globe, making Hubble one of the most prolific astronomical endeavors in history. Here we look at some of Hubble’s amazing discoveries and the surrealistic images that show why the telescope has become such as scientific star.

From hubblesite.org we get a picture of how Hubble works: A quartet of antennae on the telescope sends and receives information between Hubble and the Flight Operations Team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Engineers use satellites to communicate with the telescope, giving it directions and commands. The telescope has two main computers and a number of smaller systems. One of the main computers handles the commands that point the telescope and other system-wide functions. The other talks to the instruments, receives their data, and sends it to satellites that in turn transmit it to the ground. Once the ground station transfers the data to Goddard, Goddard sends it to the Space Telescope Science Institute. Hubble sends the archive enough information to fill about 18 DVDs every week. Astronomers can download archived data via the Internet and analyze it from anywhere in the world.

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In 2011 astronomers said they used the Hubble to spot a galaxy whose light traveled 13.2 billion years to reach Earth, about 150 million years longer than the previous record holder. According to NASA the tiny, dim object is a compact galaxy of blue stars that existed 480 million years after the big bang. More than 100 such mini-galaxies would be needed to make up our Milky Way. The research offered surprising evidence that the rate of star birth in the early universe grew dramatically, increasing by about a factor of 10 from 480 million years to 650 million years after the big bang, NASA stated.

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Star V838 Monocerotis's (V838 Mon) light echo, which is about six light years in diameter, is seen from the Hubble. Light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of Monoceros the unicorn.

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Here the telescope catches the Boomerang Nebula. This reflecting cloud of dust and gas has two nearly symmetric lobes of matter that are being ejected from a central star. Each lobe of the nebula is nearly one light-year in length, making the total length of the nebula half as long as the distance from the Sun to the nearest neighbors-the Alpha Centauri stellar system, located roughly 4 light-years away.

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A new view of the Whirlpool Galaxy, one of the two largest and sharpest images Hubble Space Telescope has ever taken. The new Whirlpool Galaxy image showcases the spiral galaxy's curving arms where newborn stars reside and its yellowish central core that serves as home for older stars.

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Astronomers unveiled one of humankind’s most spectacular views of the universe as captured by Hubble. The Cone Nebula, M17 is pictured here. As spectacular as the central subjects of the photographs are, the background is of critical importance to astronomers. What appear as jewel-toned pinwheels, ovals and diamonds on the blackness of space are actually faraway galaxies. The sharpness of these images will allow scientists to study the furthest reaches of the universe.

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This image captures the tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation Carina.

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Some stars aren't born, they're hatched from interstellar gas pockets called EGGS (Evaporating Gas Globules) at the end of vast tubes known as "elephant trunks."

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Hubble image of Arp 148 is the staggering aftermath of an encounter between two galaxies, resulting in a ring-shaped galaxy and a long-tailed companion. The collision between the two parent galaxies produced a shockwave effect that first drew matter into the center and then caused it to propagate outwards in a ring. The elongated companion perpendicular to the ring suggests that Arp 148 is a unique snapshot of an ongoing collision. Infrared observations reveal a strong obscuration region that appears as a dark dust lane across the nucleus in optical light. Arp 148 is nicknamed "Mayall's object" and is located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, approximately 500 million light-years away. This interacting pair of galaxies is included in Arp's catalog of peculiar galaxies as number 148.

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These Hubble images of Saturn depict the planet in different stages of its 29-year journey around the sun. Astronomers are studying these images to investigate the detailed variations in the color and brightness of the rings to learn more about the rings' composition.

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Astronomers using Hubble nabbed images of the strikingly unusual planetary nebula, NGC 6751. Glowing in the constellation Aquila like a giant eye, the nebula is a cloud of gas ejected several thousand years ago from the hot star visible in its center.

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The Eagle Nebula image reveals a tall, dense tower of gas being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars.

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This Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is one of the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

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Supernova remnant 0509-67.5, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 170,000 light-years from Earth. Optical data of the supernova remnant and its accompanying star field, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, are composited with X-ray images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The supernova that resulted in the creation of SNR 0509-67.5 occurred nearly 400 years ago for Earth viewers. The bubble-shaped shroud of gas is 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 11 million miles per hour (5,000 kilometers per second).

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This image of the Bug Nebula (NGC 6302) taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows impressive walls of compressed gas, laced with trailing strands and bubbling outflows. A dark, dusty torus surrounds the inner nebula (seen at the upper right). At the heart of the turmoil is one of the hottest stars known. Despite a sizzling temperature of at least 250,000 degrees C, the star itself has never been seen, as it is hidden by the blanket of dust and shines most brightly in the ultraviolet, making it hard to observe.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this snapshot of Mars 11 hours before the planet made its closest approach to Earth on August 2003. The two planets are 34,648,840 miles (55,760,220 km) apart.

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This photograph of the coil-shaped Helix Nebula is one of the largest and most detailed celestial images ever made. The composite picture is a seamless blend of ultra-sharp images from Hubble combined with the wide view of the Mosaic Camera on the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. The image shows a fine web of filamentary "bicycle-spoke" features embedded in the colorful red and blue ring of gas. At 650 light-years away, the Helix is one of the nearest planetary nebulae to Earth. A planetary nebula is the glowing gas around a dying, Sun-like star. The Helix appears to be round because we are looking at one end of the nebula. It is actually a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases.

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This image shows a ghostly ring of dark matter in a galaxy cluster designated Cl 0024+17. Astronomers call the ring one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date for the existence of dark matter, an unknown substance thought to pervade the universe. Astronomers suggest that the ring was produced from a collision between two gigantic clusters.

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Massive baby stars, nestled in a cloud of glowing gases and shining as bright as 300,000 suns, are at the center of a galactic "family portrait." The snapshot of the celestial area, 200,000 light-years away, could provide clues to how ancient, super-massive stars formed, the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a statement.

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From ground-based telescopes, this cosmic object - the glowing remains of a dying, Sun-like star - resembles the head and thorax of a garden-variety ant. This image of the so-called "ant nebula" (Menzel 3, or Mz3) shows even more detail, revealing the "ant's" body as a pair of fiery lobes protruding from the dying star.

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Astronomers using the Hubble discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite – temporarily designated P4 -- was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching 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 (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 km).

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In April 2012 for first time, NASA scientists said they captured images of auroras above the giant ice planet Uranus, finding further evidence of just how peculiar a world that distant planet is. Detected by means of carefully scheduled observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the newly witnessed Uranian light show consisted of short-lived, faint, glowing dots – a world of difference from the colorful curtains of light that often ring Earth's poles. Unlike auroras on Earth, which can turn the sky greens and purples for hours, the newly detected auroras on Uranus appeared to only last a couple minutes.

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These bright stars shining through what looks like a haze in the night sky are part of a young stellar grouping in one of the largest known star formation regions of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, NASA said. The stellar grouping is known to stargazers as NGC 2040 or LH 88. It is essentially a very loose star cluster whose stars have a common origin and are drifting together through space.

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In this image, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the brilliance of the compact center of Messier 70, a globular cluster. NASA said quarters are always tight in globular clusters, where the mutual hold of gravity binds together hundreds of thousands of stars in a small region of space. Having this many shining stars piled on top of one another from our perspective makes globular clusters a popular target for amateur skywatchers and scientists alike. Messier 70 offers a special case because it has undergone what is known as a core collapse. In these clusters, even more stars squeeze into the object's core than on average, such that the brightness of the cluster increases steadily towards its center.

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NASA said astronomers observed what appears to be a clump of dark matter left behind from a wreck between massive clusters of galaxies. The result could challenge current theories about dark matter that predict galaxies should be anchored to the invisible substance even during the shock of a collision. Abell 520 is a gigantic merger of galaxy clusters located 2.4 billion light-years away. Dark matter is not visible, although its presence and distribution is found indirectly through its effects. Dark matter can act like a magnifying glass, bending and distorting light from galaxies and clusters behind it. Astronomers can use this effect, called gravitational lensing, to infer the presence of dark matter in massive galaxy clusters.

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NASA said blue is typically an indicator of hot, young stars. In this case, however, the stellar oddities are aging, sun-like stars that have prematurely cast off their outer layers of material, exposing their extremely blue-hot cores. NASA said a astronomers were surprised when they spotted these stars because physical models show that only an unusual type of old star can be as hot and as bright in ultraviolet light.