It’s been 25 years since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and began changing the way we look at the universe. To mark the occasion, NASA has re-released one of its most famous images, the Pillars of Creation, in stunning new detail.
It’s amazing to think that until 1610, everything we knew about space came from observations made with the naked eye. Then Galileo developed a telescope that could resolve moons orbiting distant planets and our understanding of the space around us was never the same.
Fast forward to April 24, 1990. The Hubble Space Telescope, named for astronomer Edwin Hubble who used a telescope at California’s Mount Wilson Observatory to confirm that our universe is expanding, is stored inside the payload bay of the space shuttle Discovery. The telescope was deployed and placed into an orbit about 353 miles above the planet.
In 1995, after one servicing mission to repair a warped mirror, Hubble took the iconic image of the so-called “Pillars of Creation.” It revealed in unprecedented detail three giant columns of cold gas bathed in hot ultraviolet light in the Eagle Nebula. It’s an evocative image. Inside those pillars of gas are the building blocks of solar systems like our own.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hubble’s launch (and this year also marks five years since it’s primary mission ended) NASA turned Hubble’s eyes back on the Eagle Nebula to re-image the pillars of creation.
To new image paints the iconic pillars in a different light, because they’ve changed a lot in the last two decades. The blue haze in the new image indicates material being heated, evaporating away into space. The pillars are also being ionized by the radiation and winds of nearby stars, which is stripping material from their mass. Though they look solid and enduring in the images, these pillars are actually fading away before our eyes.
Aren’t we lucky to have such a good pair of virtual eyes orbiting the Earth?