Every year, instead of us doing something nice for the Hubble Space Telescope on its birthday, the scientific instrument gives us a beautiful gift. As always on April 24th, the anniversary of when Hubble was launched into space on the back of the shuttle Discovery 26 years ago, Hubble has photographed a special, and always stunning, image of the cosmos for us to marvel at.
To commemorate its launch, Hubble closely examines a “specially chosen astronomical object” in space, one that will produce a gorgeous image. This year’s dedicated exploration was towards the constellation Cassiopeia — 8,000 light years away — specifically NGC 7635, or the Bubble Nebula.
As the ESA explains, this crazy beautiful image of the shell-like nebula is actually made up of four images from the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), making this the first time we’ve been able to see the whole thing all at once. The Bubble Nebula is made up of dust too, and it is lit from within by a giant star that has between ten and twenty times the mass of the Sun.
The star is responsible for the shell, as its flow of gas, known as a stellar wind, launches surrounding material outwards, creating the bubble effect. The molecular cloud pushes back against that growth, but the nebula is only getting bigger. It already has a diameter of ten light-years, and is growing at over 100,000 kilometers per hour. The whole thing is so pretty that it looks inherently peaceful. But make no mistake, this is interstellar violence on a grand scale.
The Bubble Nebula was discovered in 1787, and Hubble has taken its picture before, but nothing close to something like this. This photo was worth the wait.
Where does this rank in your favorite Hubble photos pantheon? Tell us in the comments below.