IBTimes UK looks at some of the most beautiful pictures of intricate galaxies and nebulae captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Although it was launched in 1990, the first images captured by Hubble were disappointing because of problems with its main mirror. Servicing missions corrected the flaws and the telescope revolutionised the study of our universe by helping scientists reinterpret and re-analyse several pre-existing evolutionary theories by taking images of galaxies thousands of light years away, imaging nebulae, stellar formations and more cosmic events.
This Hubble mosaic of the spiral galaxy M83 or Southern Pinwheel, lies 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. It contains thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and "ghosts" of dead stars called supernova remnants. A photogenic and favorite target for amateur astronomers, the full beauty of nearby barred spiral galaxy M83 is unveiled in all of its glory in this Hubble Space Telescope mosaic image. The vibrant magentas and blues reveal the galaxy is ablaze with star formation. The galaxy, also known as the Southern Pinwheel, lies 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. The Hubble photograph captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and "ghosts" of dead stars called supernova remnants. The galactic panorama unveils a tapestry of the drama of stellar birth and death spread across 50,000 of light years. NASA, ESA/HHT/STScI/AURA/W.Blair, JHU/R.O'Connell, UV This Hubble Space Telescope mosaic, spanning a width of 600 light-years, shows a star factory of more than 800,000 stars being born. The stars are embedded inside the Tarantula Nebula. This near-infrared view reveals newly formed stars that are often embedded in clouds of dust, and only the near-infrared light can pass through these clouds. Also known as 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula is a raucous region of star birth that resides 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. Because it contains the nearest observable super-cluster of stars, the nebula is a nearby laboratory for seeing close-up a firestorm of star birth that was much more common in the early universe. Hubble can resolve individual stars and many red protostars as well as aging red giants and supergiants, giving astronomers new insights into the stars' birth and evolution. NASA, ESA, and E. Sabbi/STScI The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the Antennae Galaxies. Hubble has released images of these galaxies twice before, once using observations from its Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) in 1997, and again in 2006 from the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). Each of Hubble's images of the Antennae Galaxies has been better than the last, due to upgrades made during servicing missions, the last of which took place in 2009. Clouds of gas are seen in bright pink and red, surrounding the bright flashes of blue star-forming regions — some of which are partially obscured by dark patches of dust. The rate of star formation is so high that the Antennae Galaxies are said to be in a state of starburst, a period in which all of the gas within the galaxies is being used to form stars. This cannot last forever and neither can the separate galaxies; eventually the nuclei will coalesce, and the galaxies will begin their retirement together as one large elliptical galaxy. Hubble/European Space Agency The wingpsan of the butterfly nebula, or NGC 6302, covers over three light-year. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). NASA/ESA/Hubble This fiery swirl is a planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67. Set against a backdrop of bright stars, the rust-coloured object lies in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), in the southern sky. In this image of ESO 456-67, it is possible to see the various layers of material expelled by the central star. Each appears in a different hue - red, orange, yellow, and green-tinted bands of gas are visible, with clear patches of space at the heart of the nebula. It is not fully understood how planetary nebulae form such a wide variety of shapes and structures; some appear to be spherical, some elliptical, others shoot material in waves from their polar regions, some look like hourglasses or figures of eight, and others resemble large, messy stellar explosions. ESA/Hubble and NASA This close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane travelling at supersonic speed. The arcing structure just above and left of centre is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team The gravitational field surrounding this massive cluster of galaxies, Abell 68, acts as a natural lens in space to brighten and magnify the light coming from very distant background galaxies. In this photo, the image of a spiral galaxy at upper left has been stretched and mirrored into a shape similar to that of a simulated alien from the classic 1970s computer game Space Invaders. A second, less distorted image of the same galaxy appears to the left of the large, bright elliptical galaxy. NASA/ESA, N Rose The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the centre of this image, is swaddled in a cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than our sun and 200 times larger. RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than our sun's luminosity. The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a "light echo." NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collab. Looking towards the constellation of Triangulum (The Triangle), in the northern sky, lies the galaxy pair MRK 1034. The two very similar galaxies, named PGC 9074 and PGC 9071, are close enough to one another to be bound together by gravity, although no gravitational disturbance can yet be seen in the image. These objects are probably only just beginning to interact gravitationally. Both are spiral galaxies, and are presented to our eyes face-on, so we are able to appreciate their distinctive shapes. Gradually, these two neighbours will attract each other, the process of star formation will be increased and tidal forces will throw out long tails of stars and gas. Eventually, after maybe hundreds of millions of years, the structures of the interacting galaxies will merge together into a new, larger galaxy. ESA Lying more than 110 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump) is the spiral galaxy IC 2560. At this distance it is a relatively nearby spiral galaxy; it is easy to spot IC 2560's spiral arms and barred structure. Antlia was originally named antlia pneumatica by French astronomer Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, in honour of the invention of the air pump in the 17th century. Hubble/European Space Agency and NASA This light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust may resemble a caterpillar, but the meat of the story is not only what this cosmic caterpillar eats for lunch, but also what's eating it. Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this "wanna-be" star and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape. The culprits are 65 of the hottest, brightest known stars, classified as O-type stars, located 15 light-years away from the knot, towards the right edge of the image. These stars, along with 500 less bright, but still highly luminous B-type stars make up what is called the Cygnus OB2 association. Collectively, the association is thought to have a mass more than 30,000 times that of our sun. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) This cosmic whirl is the centre of galaxy NGC 524, located in the constellation of Pisces, some 90 million light-years from Earth. NGC 524 is a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies are believed to be an intermediate state in galactic evolution — they are neither elliptical nor spiral. Spirals are middle-aged galaxies with vast, pin wheeling arms that contain millions of stars. Along with these stars are large clouds of gas and dust that, when dense enough, are the nurseries where new stars are born. When all the gas is either depleted or lost into space, the arms gradually fade away and the spiral shape begins to weaken. At the end of this process, what remains is a lenticular galaxy — a bright disc full of old, red stars surrounded by what little gas and dust the galaxy has managed to cling on to. ESA/Hubble & NASA, Judy Schmidt This Hubble image, which shows what looks like the profile of a celestial bird, belies the fact that close encounters between galaxies are a messy business. This interacting galaxy duo is collectively called Arp 142. The pair contains the disturbed, star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2936, along with its elliptical companion, NGC 2937 at lower left. Once part of a flat, spiral disk, the orbits of the galaxy's stars have become scrambled due to gravitational tidal interactions with the other galaxy. This warps the galaxy's orderly spiral, and interstellar gas is strewn out into giant tails. Gas and dust drawn from the heart of NGC 2936 becomes compressed during the encounter, which in turn triggers star formation. NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team In this composite image, visible-light observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are combined with infrared data from the ground-based Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona to assemble a dramatic view of the well-known Ring Nebula. The Ring Nebula's distinctive shape makes it a popular illustration for astronomy books. But new observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of the glowing gas shroud around an old, dying, sun-like star reveal a new twist. Previous observations by several telescopes had detected the gaseous material in the ring's central region. But the new view by Hubble's sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3 shows the nebula's structure in more detail, suggesting the ring wraps around a blue, rugby ball-shaped structure. Each end of the structure protrudes out of opposite sides of the ring. NASA/Hubble Heritage This Hubble image shows a peculiar galaxy known as NGC 660, located around 45 million light-years away from us. NGC 660 is classified as a "polar ring galaxy," meaning that it has a belt of gas and stars around its centre that it ripped from a near neighbour during a clash about one billion years ago. The first polar ring galaxy was observed in 1978 and only around a dozen more have been discovered since then, making them something of a cosmic rarity. Hubble/NASA/European Space Agency Look at the bright star in the middle of this image. It appears as if it just sneezed. This sight will only last for a few thousand years — a blink of an eye in the young star's life. If you could carry on watching for a few years you would realize it's not just one sneeze, but a sneezing fit. This young star is firing off rapid releases of super-hot, super-fast gas, like multiple sneezes, before it finally exhausts itself. These bursts of gas have shaped the turbulent surroundings, creating structures known as Herbig-Haro objects. ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine