The Iconic Hubble Telescope Just Turned 34 And We Can’t Stop Staring At Its Birthday Snapshot

This pretty and puffy Nebula is more than what it seems.

A Hubble image of the Little Dumbbell Nebula. The name comes from its shape, which is a two-lobed st...

An iridescent bubble in space? The clash of two titan jellyfish? The beautiful object featured in NASA’s newest image tests our handle on perspective.

This isn’t the case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. The Little Dumbbell Nebula image is, for good reason, what NASA selected to celebrate the 34th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope. As with most things in the universe, however, this object is more than what it seems.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula’s fabulous looks might distract from one obvious visual anomaly. The object, located 3,400 light-years away in the constellation Perseus, is on its side. The bar in the center, looking like the spine of an enchanting butterfly, is Earth’s side-on perspective of a ring. Some aliens, if they exist, get to see a glowing donut if they’re in another corner of the galaxy. The ring traces the former orbit of a fellow star. We cannot see the full path.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula.

NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Pagan (STScI)

Another jarring realization is that this showstopper will not last forever. “It will vanish in about 15,000 years,” NASA officials write in the image description published on Tuesday. “Given our Solar System is 4.6 billion years old, the entire nebula is a flash in the pan by cosmological timekeeping.”

The serene visual vibes are also a mask. The nebula looks like two hearty soap bubbles sticking together midair at a child’s birthday party. The truth is a probable case of space cannibalism.

The side-on ring results from gas in space tracing the former orbit of a long-gone star. It’s missing, likely owing to the nebula’s creator gobbling it up. This stellar Hannibal Lector will look like a bright white speck at the nebula's center. It’s a dying star, sloughing off its layers into space.

According to NASA, one of the Space Shuttle Columbia STS-109 crew members took this photograph of the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002. Columbia flew over the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, when an astronaut snapped the picture.


In addition to the dog-eat-dog world, another infernal reality is at play. The nebula glows because the central star radiates intense ultraviolet light. The red colors are heated nitrogen. The blue is from oxygen. NASA calls this stellar wind “ferocious,” and for good reason.

“It is one of the hottest stellar remnants known at a scorching 250,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 times our Sun's surface temperature,” according to the space agency.

Hubble gave us a new perspective on space, too. Since flying into Earth’s orbit in 1990, its work is nothing short of revolutionary. The telescope has taken more than 1.6 million observations. They’ve changed astronomers’ views of the Solar System and the evolution of the universe. Hubble merited a birthday card as perplexing as its discoveries have been.

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