When you look up at the night sky, you only see a tiny fraction of the stars in space. Our rather limited view is partially due to light pollution, partially due to our position in the galaxy and the distorting effects of our atmosphere on the light that does make it over, also due to the fact that some of these stars are so far away that their light is still working its way over to us.
But if you can gain a view from space, you can see sights that are truly out of this world. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the product of a partnership between Europe's ESA and America's NASA, those of us on earth can see the spectacular sights of regions of space lightyears away. Though there have been other space telescopes launched earlier, the HST is recognized as the most important and useful for image capture.
Named for the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, HST, was launched on into an orbit of 600 kilometers above the earth on April 24, 1990. That position gives it a clarity of vision that is "5 times sharper than the best ground-based telescopes." It detects not just the light we can see but also the infrared and ultraviolet light that wouldn't penetrate the earth's atmosphere.
We now have a collection of truly amazing images taken over the past 29 years by the HST. For this article, we are limited to 10, but if you would like to see more, feast your eyes on the spectacular pictures collected on the Space Telescope site.
1. Before and after
The HST got off to a somewhat bumpy start, as a flaw in the design that rendered its image capture somewhat blurry was only discovered after the telescope was launched. A repair team was sent out to fix the problem, and the results were much improved as you can see from these two photos.
One is a picture of the galaxy M100 taken with the faulty optics and the other shows the same view after the first Hubble Servicing Mission at the end of 1993. The camera used for the improved view is the second generation Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC-2)
For a more dramatic contrast that results from the third generation camera, see the Hubble site's gif here. For the 25th anniversary of NASA's first astronaut mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows the blurry the image taken with Hubble's Wide Field/Planetary Camera 1 in 1993 in contrast to the one captured in 2009 by its Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, thanks to another service mission to upgrade the telescope again.
Another video of the galaxy with great clarity is this one:
One of those frames made up NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day on December 25, 2018.
2. Another famous feature of space captured by the HST
The original photo, taken in 1995, revealed a new level of detail on three giant columns of gas. That image proved so popular that it has been applied to shirts, pillow, stamps and made appearances on both television and film.
But after 25 years, astronomers decided they could do even better.
Paul Scowen, of Arizona State University, was quoted in Space.com saying, "It allows us to demonstrate how far Hubble has come in 25 years of observation."
As you can see in the video below, the original image captured in 1995 captured the form but was rather hazy. With the latest version of the camera on the HST, though even infrared light appears through the "pillars" that are no longer opaque in the image.
3. Globular clusters present a dazzling light display and valuable information on stars and the universe.
The HST captured this stunning image of Messier 3 in April 2019. As described on NASA's site, this is the image of an "8-billion-year-old cosmic bauble." Not only is it the biggest globular cluster known to us, but Messier 3 also is unique in having "stars that fluctuate in brightness over time." Among them are some that astronomers have classified that they can serve "as standard candles — objects of known luminosity whose distance and position can be used to help us understand more about vast celestial distances and the scale of the cosmos."
4. The 29th anniversary of the HST was the occasion of a number of dramatic captures.
Among them is this tentacled Southern Crab Nebula. The official name, according to the Hubble site, is Hen 2-104. It's thousands of light-years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus.
It gets its hourglass shape from a binary system made up of" an aging giant red giant star and a burned-out star, a white dwarf." As the red giant loses sections on the outside, some are drawn over to the white dwarf, and that accounts for the visible disk of gas between the two.
There some history to this nebula. It was first sighted back in the late 60s, though it was then thought to just be a star. It was not until 1989 that the crab-shape was recognized in a photo taken at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile.
5. Drama to spare
This photo was taken on February 8, 2004 with the HST Advanced Camera for Surveys. It shows what the Hubble site describes as "an expanding halo of light around a distant star, named V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon)."
What's lighting up the dust between the stars is a red supergiant star. The image captures a really far off view from the ends of the Milky Way galaxy, around 20,000 light-years away from our own planet in the constellation Monoceros.
6. The Lagoon Nebula
This colorful image was captured in April 2018 and marked the 28th anniversary of the HST.
As the NASA site describes it, "At the center of the photo, a monster young star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun is blasting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, carving out a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust.."
You can zoom right into the core of this nebula via this video:
7. The Sombrero Galaxy
The images of this galaxy were released on October 2, 2003. As the Hubble site explains, that was 5 years after they were captured. The pictures had to be put together:
"One of the largest Hubble mosaics ever assembled, this magnificent galaxy has a diameter that is nearly one-fifth the diameter of the full moon. The team used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image. "
The video was posted to the Hubble site with this description: "The Sombrero galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy." It is located "at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies and is one of the most massive objects in that group."
Space.com explains, "The Sombrero (M104) looks like a traditional Mexican hat because we view its dusty disk from just 6° north of the galaxy’s equator."
8. Another one of the HST's mosaic images is the Crab Nebula M1.
As described on the Hubble site, it's "a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. " The various hues that appear represent different elements.
"The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen," it explains. "The blue light comes from electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around magnetic field lines from the neutron star," which is super-dense core of a star that remains in place after it has gone supernova.
There's a lot of activity surrounding that neutron star. It sends out"twin beams of radiation that appear to pulse 30 times a second due to the neutron star's rotation."
This sight has a very long history in astronomical observations: "Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054, as did, almost certainly, Native Americans."
9. Another colorful post-Supernova scene.
NASA posted this image on November 30, 2018, with this description: "This dark, tangled web is an object named SNR 0454-67.2. It formed in a very violent fashion — it is a supernova remnant, created after a massive star ended its life in a cataclysmic explosion and threw its constituent material out into surrounding space. "
It's located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, "a dwarf galaxy" that is near our own Milky Way.
10. Last but not least: the Hubble Legacy Field Crop
This image was just released on May 2, 2019. What at first glance looks like just a view of space is really a lot more. You've heard of a picture being worth a thousand words, well, this one is worth 16 years of images and billions of years of the universe's existence!
NASA describes it as a " deep-sky mosaic, created from nearly 7,500 individual exposures, provides a wide portrait of the distant universe, containing 265,000 galaxies that stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the big bang."
Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, leader of the team that assembled the image declared, "This one image contains the full history of the growth of galaxies in the universe, from their time as 'infants' to when they grew into fully fledged 'adults.'"
NASA explains further: "This ambitious endeavor, called the Hubble Legacy Field, also combines observations taken by several Hubble deep-field surveys, including the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), the deepest view of the universe. The wavelength range stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing the key features of galaxy assembly over time."
So you may be wondering why no picture of a black hole is included. Capturing a black hole on camera is actually not all that simple. But now there is a rendered image of one that you can read about here: Image of a Black Hole Revealed for First Time Ever.