Friday, February 5, 2010

Hubble Space Telescope

Some time ago, in this post, I promised I would make a post about each of the three active space telescopes.

Hubble Space Telescope
Scientific Breakthroughs and Breathtaking Images

This time I'll talk about Hubble, the most well-known one and the one with most of the famous images. Hubble is cool, no doubt about it.

 Hubble against Earth's horizon

Remember: As always, you can click all images in this post to learn more about it.

Cool Images of the Universe
Some examples of cool images taken by Hubble.

This image shows the star V838 Mon and the expanding halo of light around it, as it illuminates the surrounding dust clouds. The dust cloud was most likely expelled from the star itself during an earlier outburst.

V838 Monocerotis and its surrounding light echo

Hubble has taken many amazing images of distant galaxies. The following two examples are among my favourites. The Sombrero Galaxy is just amazingly beautiful. The twisted galaxy below is just cool.

The Sombrero Galaxy

A twisted galaxy

Images of nebulae are always impressive and memorable. The immensely large interstellar gas clouds being illuminated by galaxies, stars, supernovas and so forth produce amazing images.
Below I've chosen a few of my favourites.

The Crab Nebula is illuminated by a supernova, which was observed by Japanese and Chinese astronomers a thousand years ago.

The Crab Nebula

Another amazing nebula illuminated by the hot glowing gas expelled from the star at the centre, the star now long dead.

Hot Nebula

A lamppost shining through the fog? The Moon shining down through the clouds?
Not even close. This last nebula image shows a young, bright start illuminating the nebula between it and us. The black centre of the nebula is cold, dense gas which
blocks the light from passing through.

Reflection Nebula

The Solar System
Hubble has also taken images of the planets in our own solar system. I've chosen a few cool ones below.

A dust storm on Mars engulfs the entire planet.

Dust storm on Mars

Four moons pass by Saturn.

Saturn and four of its moons.

Io passes by Jupiter.

Jupiter and Io

Some Hubble images of Pluto were released recently which revealed that Pluto is changing colour rapidly.

You can read more about the story here on Phil Plaits blog.

The faces of Pluto

Deep Field Images
One of the cooler missions Hubble has undertaken are the Hubble Deep Field (1995, HDF) and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field missions (2003-2004, HUDF). The goal was to point Hubble at a single point of the sky for a long period, catching as much light as possible, from as distant objects as possible.

HDF looked at a small area of the northern sky, around the constellation Ursa Major, for 10 days straight. The image produced was amazing, featuring 3000 galaxies, many previously unseen, dating back to around 1 billion years after the Big Bang. Another HDF was made in 1998 on the southern hemisphere.

Hubble Deep Field (detailed information here: Astronomy Picture of the Day)

HUDF attempted to look even further back in time, by using both the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS) on Hubble and staring at a very dark area of the sky, known to be devoid of stars and gas from the Milky Way.
Because the target area was obscured by the Earth during Hubble's orbit, the HUDF was taken over a long period of time.
And the end result was an image that looked 13 billions years into the past, with galaxies that were created merely 4-800 million years after the Big Bang!

Hubble Deep Field (detailed information here: Astronomy Picture of the Day)

The Big Picture
I would also like to direct you to a couple of cool online advent calendars of Hubble images, made by The Big Picture at

There's a calendar from 2008 and one from 2009. You really should check them out, they feature explanations of the images as well. 

Image from the 2008 calendar
Image from the 2009 calendar

If you want more you can see all the galleries of Hubble here on