Friday, April 19, 2013 11:58am -0400

Happy 23rd Anniversary Hubble!

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Horsehead Nebula Horsehead Nebula NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was launched with the Discovery Space Shuttle on April 24th 1990. Since then Hubble has wowed Earthlings with breathtaking cosmic images and changed our view of this vast universe.


To celebrate astronomers have used Hubble to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.

imagesHubble has been producing ground-breaking science for two decades. During that time, it has benefited from a slew of upgrades from space shuttle missions, including the 2009 addition of a new imaging workhorse, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3 that took the new portrait of the Horsehead.

The nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Orion. The cloud also contains other well-known objects such as the Great Orion Nebula (M42), the Flame Nebula, and Barnard's Loop. It is one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.images-1

In the Hubble image, the backlit wisps along the Horsehead's upper ridge are being illuminated by Sigma Orionis, a young five-star system just out of view. Along the nebula's top ridge, two fledgling stars peek out from their now-exposed nurseries. 

Scientists know a harsh ultraviolet glare from one of these bright stars is slowly evaporating the nebula. Gas clouds surrounding the Horsehead already have dissipated, but the tip of the jutting pillar contains a slightly higher density of hydrogen and helium, laced with dust. This casts a shadow that protects material behind it from being stripped away by intense stellar radiation evaporating the hydrogen cloud, and a pillar structure forms.

Thank you Hubble for the extraordinary images you have given to this world!

Space Shuttle Atlantis with Hubble.tif

Info via Hubble site

Image Credits: NASA


Read 5428 times Last modified on Friday, April 19, 2013 1:22pm -0400
Laurel Nendza

Laurel Nendza is the owner and creator of Stellar Eyes.