Posted: August 11, 2008
The Hubble Space Telescope is today celebrating its 100,000th orbit around the Earth since its launch over 18 years ago, with the release of a spectacular image of a fantasy-like landscape embellished with scenes of stellar birth and renewal.
Hubble has travelled around 2.72 billion miles – the
Hubble’s 100,000th orbit is celebrated by the release of this fantasy-like image showing a region of celestial birth and renewal near the Tarantula Nebula, 170,000 light years from Earth, in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The sea horse shaped pillar in the lower right is approximately 20 light years long, and the whole scene spans about 100 light years. Red colours represent emission from sulphur, green from hydrogen and blue from oxygen. Image: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio (STScI).
The telescope trained its eyes on a small portion of a nebula near the star cluster NGC 2074, a region jeweled with the sights of raw stellar creation, likely triggered by a nearby supernova explosion. The dazzling snapshot paints a three-dimensional picture of stellar nurseries, showing dramatic ridges and serpent-head ‘pillars of creation’ along with glowing gaseous filaments that are bathed in torrential ultraviolet radiation.
The high-energy radiation blazing out from clusters of hot young stars already born in NGC 2074 is sculpting the wall of the nebula by slowly eroding it away. Another young cluster may be hidden beneath a circle of brilliant blue gas seen in the centre towards the bottom of the image.
Despite its dedicating trekking, however, Hubble is still subject to wear and tear, particularly through micrometeorite impacts, sunlight and temperature extremes that corrode its thermal insulating shell. As a result the telescope will receive a final servicing this autumn, when astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis will carry out a space-based MOT, replace worn components and install brand new instruments to extend Hubble's vision for at least another five years, if not longer. Among the new instruments are The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which will observe light from extremely faint, distant quasars, and the Wide Field Camera 3 which will allow pictures to be taken across an even wider range of colours and in even greater detail than ever before achieved.
The repair mission is due for launch on October 8, and will span 11 days in order to complete 5 spacewalks.