In commemoration of the three decades of discoveries of the Hubble telescope since it was launched in April 1990, those responsible for the project shared one of the most beautiful records of the many stellar incubators that this space observatory has seen: two neighboring nebulae in the Big Cloud of Magallanes.
The spectacular photographs and scientific innovations from the Hubble Space Telescope, released by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) on April 24, 1990, have redefined our picture of the universe. To commemorate its three decades of discoveries, those responsible for the project have offered one of the most photogenic examples of the many stellar incubators that the telescope has observed during all this time.
The photograph shows the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbor, NGC 2020, which are integrated into a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way some 163,000 light-years away. The image is nicknamed "Cosmic Reef" because of its resemblance to the underwater world.
NGC 2014 is a group of bright, massive stars near the center of the image that have pushed away the envelope of hydrogen gas (in red) and dust in which they formed. A torrent of ultraviolet radiation from the star cluster illuminates the landscape around it.
These massive stars also cause strong winds that erode the gas cloud above and to the right of them. The gas in these areas is less dense, which makes it easier for stellar winds to pass through them, creating bubble-like structures reminiscent of corals and which have earned the nebula the nickname "Brain Coral."
Instead, the bluish nebula under NGC 2014 owes its shape to a colossal star, some 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. It is an example of a rare class of stars called Wolf-Rayet stars. These stars, which are believed to be descended from the most massive stars in existence, are very luminous and have a high loss of mass due to powerful winds.
30 years of discoveries
So far, the mission has made 14 million observations and provided data that has enabled astronomers around the world to write more than 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, making it one of the most prolific space observatories in history. Its vast archive of data alone will be enough to power astronomical research for generations.
Each year, Hubble spends a small part of its valuable observing time taking a special anniversary image that reflects especially beautiful or significant objects.
Source: SINC NASA / ESA