For nearly three decades, the Hubble Space Telescope has been helping NASA research our own galaxy, as well as galaxies far, far away. Ever since the Hubble was launched into a low orbit around Earth, mankind has been privy to some “out of this world” images of the universe, ten of which are listed below.
1. The Ring Nebula AKA Messier 57
Looking like the friendlier version of the Eye of Sauron, the Ring Nebula – also known as Messier 57 – can be seen in this composite image, which uses visible-light observations by Hubble Space Telescope that are combined with infrared data from an earth-based telescope, resulting in something pretty magical.
Really, while the name M60-UCD1 doesn’t conjure up too many intergalactic thoughts, this image certainly does. Known in short as M60, this ultracompact dwarf galaxy is located near NGC 4649, another less than imaginative name for the elliptical galaxy, which is about 54 million light-years from Earth.
This composite image shows M60 (and the region around it), using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which are pink, along with data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which are red, green and blue.
3. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
While monitoring changes in Jupiter’s immense GRS storm on April 21, 2014, the shadow of the Jovian moon, Ganymede, happened to sweep across the center of the storm, which gave the giant planet the uncanny appearance of having a pupil in the center of a 10,000-mile-diameter “eye”.
Yeah, that’s right, for a moment, it seemed like was Jupiter staring back at Hubble like a giant intergalactic serpent.
4. The Carina Nebula AKA NGC 3372
Just to give some scale to this image, take note that the top of a pillar is three light-years tall, which is pretty tall. The pillar, which is made of gas and dust, is being eaten away by the light from nearby bright stars.
Plus, it’s also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars (buried inside it) fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks – talk about a dangerous place to live.
5. Horsehead Nebula AKA Barnard 33
The Horsehead Nebula is a favourite of astronomers, professional and amateur alike, which is why it has graced astronomy books since its discovery in 1888. When viewed at infrared wavelengths, it appears transparent and ethereal, but its rich tapestry pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars.
6. Planetary Nebula NGC 5189
Although it looks like the remains of the second Death Star streaking its way through the atmosphere of Endor, it is actually a planetary nebulae that represents the final stage in the life of a medium-size star – you know, just like our sun.
NASA explains that “while consuming the last of the fuel in its core, the dying star expels a large portion of its outer envelope, which becomes heated by the radiation and produces glowing clouds of gas that reveal complex structures.”
7. The Hercules A galaxy (and its supermassive black hole)
Let’s leave this one to NASA:
Spectacular jets powered by the gravitational energy of a supermassive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A were captured by two of astronomy’s cutting-edge tools, the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the recently upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico.
Far out, man.
8. Protostar IRAS 20324+4057 AKA “Cosmic Caterpillar”
This caterpillar-shaped knot, named IRAS 20324+4057, is a protostar in a very early evolutionary stage. That means it’s still in the process of collecting material from an envelope of gas surrounding it.
Although, that envelope is being eroded by the radiation from Cygnus OB2, too. NASA says that protostars in this region should eventually become young stars with final masses about one to ten times that of our sun.
9. Antennae Galaxies AKA NGC 4038 and NGC 4039
These two antennae galaxies, NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, are locked in a deadly embrace. The once normal, sedate spiral galaxies (just like the Milky Way) have spent the past few hundred million years sparring with each other, in a clash so violent that stars have been ripped from their host galaxies, forming a streaming arc between the two.
Let’s just say, this aggression will not stand, as it cannot last forever and the nuclei will coalesce, seeing the galaxies beginning their retirement together as one large elliptical galaxy.
10. Galaxy cluster Abell 1689
Like Hercules A Galaxy, it’s best to let NASA explain this image of Abell 1689, which is seen overlaid with,
the mass distribution of normal (baryonic) and dark matter. The distorted galaxies are clearly visible around the edges of the gravitational lens.
The appearance of these distorted galaxies depends on the distribution of matter in the lens and on the relative geometry of the lens and the distant galaxies, as well as on the effect of dark energy on the geometry of the universe.