Hubble Celebrates 23 Years In Space With Spectacular View Of Horsehead Nebula
April 19, 2013

Hubble Celebrates 23 Years In Space With Spectacular View Of Horsehead Nebula

VIDEO: [Zooming Into The Horsehead Nebula] | VIDEO: [The Gaseous Landscape Of The Horsehead Nebula]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating its 23rd year in orbit, and to commemorate the veteran observatory, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have released an amazing image of the Horsehead Nebula.

For 23 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been making cutting-edge observations of several of the sky's best objects. Although the telescope has snapped amazing images of several cosmic objects, nebulae tend to be the most photogenic.

The new Hubble image features the Horsehead Nebula and its plumes of gas in the infrared. The nebula, which is also known as Barnard 33, sits in part of the sky in the constellation of Orion, about 1,300 light-years away. Scientists say it formed from a collapsing interstellar cloud of material.

The Horsehead Nebula is a very well-known object in the night sky, and a popular target for backyard astronomers. You can spot the nebulae in the easternmost part of Orion's famous three-star belt.

"The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ℠white horse´ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds," ESA said in a statement about the image.

The image was photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, which was installed on the telescope during the 2009 servicing mission. It is a composite of individual images made at wavelengths of 70 microns, 160 microns, and 250 microns. This infrared light view helps to show features usually obscured from the nebula's inner regions.

"We cannot see infrared radiation with our eyes or with standard cameras, which are designed to detect optical light. To observe these objects, we have infrared-sensitive telescopes or instruments," NASA said. "Hubble´s pairing of infrared sensitivity and unparalleled resolution offers a tantalizing hint of what we will be able to achieve with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2018."

The James Webb telescope is still under construction, with pieces of the future space observatory being assembled one at a time. Engineers just installed a support wing that will help place the telescope's primary mirror in place. The fully assembled primary mirror backplane will weigh over 2,000 pounds and measure about 24 feet by 21 feet. This structure needs to be extremely stable so it holds the instruments in a precise position in relation to the rest of the telescope.

Although its successor is well underway, the Hubble still isn't finished making great strides either. The veteran telescope recently broke the record in the quest to find the further supernova. This supernova exploded more than 10 billion years ago during the early years of the Universe.