A colorful image resembling a cosmic version of an undersea world teeming with stars is being released to commemorate the Hubble Space Telescope’s 30 years of viewing the wonders of space. In the Hubble portrait above, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away. The image is nicknamed the “Cosmic Reef,” because NGC 2014 resembles part of a coral reef floating in a vast sea of stars.
Some of the stars in NGC 2014 are monsters. The nebula’s sparkling centerpiece is a grouping of bright, hefty stars, each 10 to 20 times more massive than our Sun. The seemingly isolated blue nebula at lower left (NGC 2020) has been created by a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material.
Thirty years ago, on April 24, 1990, Hubble was carried aloft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard the space shuttle Discovery, along with a five-astronaut crew. Deployed into Earth orbit a day later, the telescope opened a new eye onto the cosmos that has been transformative for our civilization.
Hubble has yielded to date 1.4 million observations and provided data that astronomers around the world have used to write more than 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications, making it the most prolific space observatory in history. Its archival data alone will fuel future astronomy research for generations to come.
Editor’s note: See some of the Hubble images I’ve processed in my Flickr gallery here. — JM
Hubble’s longevity can be attributed to five space shuttle servicing missions, from 1993 to 2009, in which astronauts upgraded the telescope with advanced instruments, new electronics, and on-orbit repairs. The venerable observatory, with its suite of cameras and other instruments, is expected to stay operational through the 2020s, in synergy with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
Source/Read more: Hubble Marks 30 Years in Space With Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth | NASA