The Hubble Telescope's Greatest Hits

Few of us accomplish this much by our 25th birthday. 


Earlier this year the Hubble Telescope turned 25. Ridiculed for its early bugs, the telescope soon allowed us to look deeper into our universe than we ever have before. It has miles to go before the James Webb Space Telescope replaces it in 2018. But this milestone was one not to overlook. Here are some of its most awe-inspiring photos, to the farthest edges of human perception, literally into the distant past.


The Hubble made like your girlfriend on Instagram and captured this image of the so-called Large Magellanic Cloud using a set of filters — though these ones were infrared — to bring out the ocean-like scene above, which is a nebula that orbits our Milky Way galaxy.

This galaxy, called NGC 6503, is all by its lonesome in the Local Void, an expanse 150 million light-years wide, 18 million light-years away from the Milky Way. The blue regions around its edges are newly forming stars.

The Arches Cluster seen above, in the heart of the Milky Way near the constellation of Sagittarius, is denser than a David Foster Wallace novel. In fact, it’s the most tightly packed star cluster in our galaxy, and those bright dots that look like Christmas lights in the photo are actually among the brightest stars ever discovered.

Dwarf irregular galaxies, like UGC 8201 above, are small but chaotic, and this specific one just ended a relatively brief hundred-million-year period of constantly producing new stars. It looks like the universe’s version of a Georges Seurat painting.

The universe’s answer to the Eye of Sauron is a bubbly nebula surrounding a central pulsating star nicknamed the Oyster Nebula, a real pearl.

NGC 1566 is a hypnotic intermediate spiral galaxy potentially pocked with ginormous black holes bigger than the sun.

Here’s a preview of what will happen to the Sun once it punches out a couple of billion years from now. IC 289, above, is a planetary nebula, or dying star, misty from the massive nuclear reaction that caused its core to overheat and collapse.

The butterfly nebula above is another dying star burning at 450,032 degrees. At three light-years long, it’s probably the biggest butterfly-related thing in the universe.

This photo of the Horsehead Nebula was snapped to mark the Hubble’s 23rd anniversary. The nebula was discovered more than a century ago and has been around for about a half-a-million years in total.

Nope, this isn’t the terrible psychedelic cover art to some terrible prog rock band’s album you got from your dad; it’s a photo of cosmic winds called the Orion Nebula flow (which does sound like a prog rock band) surrounding a star called LL Orionis.

The Whirlpool Galaxy is like the cosmic equivalent of a blacklight poster, except this blacklight poster is 60 million light years long.

This is another look at the Large Magellanic Cloud, except the photo zeros in on a small cluster of stars called LH63. The whole area coated in bright swaths of red are massive collections of gas and dust that could eventually develop into a star like our sun.

V838 Mon is a galactic magic trick. The photo above is the remnant of a gigantic star that suddenly burst for reasons unknown and then vanished. Chalk this one up to just looking cool without being explainable.

The NGC 6872 galaxy at the bottom right of the photo includes a stellar tail due to its interaction with the much smaller galaxy just above it. It’s the second-largest galaxy ever discovered, and at 500,000 light-years across it’s five times as large as the Milky Way.

The light-red smear along the bottom of the photo is the Magellanic Stream, a massive flow of gas that stretches halfway around the entire Milky Way galaxy that was formed when the galaxy’s gravity pulled it from a large nearby gas cloud over two billion years ago. If you got though this paragraph without thinking about farts then you’re better than most of us.

This star is called V1331 Cyg, and it’s a teeny-weeny little guy that’s developing into a full grown star just like our sun. This photo is special because it captures an unobscured part of the star through the swirling dust. Impressive, yes, but reminiscent of the universe shining a flashlight in our face.

This galactic jack-o-lantern is a galaxy cluster called SDSS J1038+4849. The face owes to a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which is caused by the forceful gravitational pulls of the galaxies warping spacetime around them.

The Hubble can see things within our galaxy too. The telescope caught this comet around the orbit of Mars; we Earthlings can see it when it makes its closest approach (at 39.9 million miles away) on December 26.

Another candidate for the celestial Eye of Sauron, this planetary nebula and the colors seen in the photo are the layers of gases discharged from its central star.

At the center of this hazy mess are four light beams from a dying star in a stage of decay called the preplanetary or protoplanetary stage, in which its nuclear energy runs out. It’ll stay like this for a few thousand years before completely dying off.

After a star like the one in the last photo runs out of its nuclear energy it becomes unstable and ejects perfectly spherical rings of gas before its long life abruptly ends.

This is the Eagle Nebula, a massive, 57-trillion-mile-long plume of dust and gas that serves as an incubator for new stars, some of which can be seen at the left side of the photo.

First discovered in 1787, the so-called Eskimo Nebula can be viewed from earthbound telescopes and is named that way because it’s said to resemble a face in a down parka. Like the star from two photos ago, this star has dispensed its outer gaseous layers to produce the spherical trails that surround it.

This composite image of two galaxies colliding is one of the most epic things perhaps in the history of the universe. The collision itself began more than 100 million years ago and is still happening. But out of violence comes life: the galactic impact has allowed new stars to be born.

Okay, we take it back, this is the most epic thing we’ve ever seen. Eta Carinae is a forthcoming supernova only 200 million light-years away. When it fully explodes it should be observable from Earth, the brightest supernova on record.