The Hubble Space Telescope was launched 25 years ago, and to start the celebration, NASA has released a pair of images that actually did make this space nerd's jaw drop. The first is an update of a classic: a much sharper photo of the so-called Pillars of Creation:
Although NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken many breathtaking images of the universe, one snapshot stands out from the rest: the iconic view of the so-called "Pillars of Creation." The jaw-dropping photo, taken in 1995, revealed never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.
The second image isn't so immediately amazing but is my favorite of the two. It's a photo of half of the Andromeda galaxy, the big galaxy closest to our own in distance but also in rough size and shape. Here's a very very scaled-down version of it:
The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long section of the galaxy's pancake-shaped disk. It's like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And, there are lots of stars in this sweeping view -- over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.
The original image is 1500 megapixels (1.5 gigapixels!), which is so big that you'd need 600 HD televisions to display the whole thing. But if you take the biggest reasonable size available for download (100 megapixels) and zoom in on it, you get this:
That looks like JPEG compression noise, right? Nope, each one of those dots is a star...some of the 100 million individual stars that can be seen in the full image.
That's right, Keanu. Whoa. For an even closer look, check out this annotated close-up released by NASA:
If you're curious and feel like crashing your browser and/or Photoshop a bunch of times (I did not), the full-res Andromeda images are available here. And Phil Plait writes much more joyfully and knowledgeably about these images than I do...go take a look at his Pillars of Creation and Andromeda posts.
Update: Rob Griffiths took 50+ photos from the Hubble web site and made them into Retina iMac-sized wallpapers. (via @djacobs)
Those wildly colorful Hubble telescope photos...how do they get them to look like that?
The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren't always what we'd see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object's detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye.
See also this informative Reddit thread.
In 2004, the Hubble Space Telescope took an image called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field; basically astronomers pointed the Hubble toward an "empty" part of space and took a long-exposure shot in the visible spectrum. What they found were thousands of far away galaxies from early in the development of the universe. Now the Hubble has peered even deeper into the universe in near-infrared and captured this image:
Each one of those little specks is an entire galaxy, some only 600 million years old. Here's a zoomed-in section:
Before and after photos from the Hubble telescope, which recently underwent spaceLASIK to extend the life and capabilities of the prolific telescope.
Live on NASA TV right now: the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, tasked to repair the Hubble telescope. Looks like if the weather holds, lift-off is around 2:01pm. (via @noahkalina)
From Harvard Magazine, an appreciation of the work that the Hubble telescope has done since its 1990 launch into orbit.
The "Pillars of Creation" may be the most iconic Hubble photograph ever taken. "Located in the Eagle Nebula, the pillars are clouds of molecular hydrogen, light years in length, where new stars are being born," says Aguilar. "However, recent discoveries indicate these pillars were destroyed by a massive nearby super nova some 6,000 years ago. This is a ghost image of a past cosmic disaster that we won't see here on Earth for another thousand years or so-and a perfect example of the fact that everything we see in the universe is history."
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space 18 years ago and to celebrate, NASA has put up a photo gallery of merging galaxies, galaxies as in love with each other as NASA is with the Hubble. Aww.
The Hubble telescope recently captured an image of a double Einstein Ring.
An Einstein Ring happens when two galaxies are perfectly aligned. The closer galaxy acts as a lens, magnifying and distorting the view of a more distant galaxy. But today astronomers announced that they've discovered a double Einstein Ring: three galaxies are perfectly aligned, creating a double ring around the lensing galaxy.
On an upcoming servicing mission scheduled for August 2008, NASA plans to upgrade the Hubble telescope to be 90 times as powerful as it currently is. 90 times!
Two powerful new instruments will be installed on the mission. The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) will allow Hubble to see fainter and more distant galaxies than anything it has seen before, shedding light on the early universe. This could allow Hubble to see galaxies so far away that we see them as they were just 400 million years after the big bang.
Using adaptive optics, which corrects for atmospheric distortion, some astronomers have modified a ground telescope to yield sharper images than the Hubble.
Hubble's optics provide greater detail over a wider angle, while the Lucky camera as used at Palomar gives ultra-high resolution only for a tiny slice of the sky at one time.
Woo, NASA finally decides to fix the Hubble, repairs that will keep it working until at least 2013. "Scientists expect an upgraded Hubble to continue to make groundbreaking discoveries."