Revel in this spectacular commemorative image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of HubbleCast.

Hubble was launched in orbit on 24 April 1990 as the first space telescope of its kind. For two and a half decades, it has beamed back data and images that have changed our understanding of the Universe and how it came to be.

This amazing image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 is a giant cluster of about 3000 stars. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina.

The stellar nursery is enshrouded by dust, but Hubble’s Camera peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving us a clear view of its inner workings. The image resolves the dense concentration of stars in the center, about 10 light-years across.

The cluster is only about two million years old, but contains some of the brightest, hottest and most massive stars ever discovered. Some of the heftiest stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing torrents of ultraviolet light and high speed streams of charged particles, known as stellar winds. These are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born and are responsible for the weird and wonderful shapes of the clouds of gas and dust in the image.

The pillars in the image are composed of dense gas and dust, and are resisting erosion from the fierce radiation and powerful winds. These gaseous monoliths are a few light-years tall and point to the central cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including dark filaments of dust and gas.

NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary

The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.

“Hubble has completely transformed our view of the universe, revealing the true beauty and richness of the cosmos” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This vista of starry fireworks and glowing gas is a fitting image for our celebration of 25 years of amazing Hubble science.”

The sparkling centerpiece of Hubble’s anniversary fireworks is a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2, named for Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund who discovered the grouping in the 1960s. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina.

To capture this image, Hubble’s near-infrared Wide Field Camera 3 pierced through the dusty veil shrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the nebula and the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The cluster measures between 6 and 13 light-years across.

The giant star cluster is about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy’s hottest, brightest and most massive stars. Some of its heftiest stars unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds of charged particles etching into the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud.

The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges and valleys. The pillars, composed of dense gas and thought to be incubators for new stars, are a few light-years tall and point to the central star cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including reddish-brown filaments of gas and dust.

The brilliant stars sculpt the gaseous terrain of the nebula and help create a successive generation of baby stars. When the stellar winds hit dense walls of gas, the shockwaves may spark a new torrent of star birth along the wall of the cavity. The red dots scattered throughout the landscape are a rich population of newly-forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old — relatively young stars — that have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. The brilliant blue stars seen throughout the image are mostly foreground stars.

Because the cluster is very young — in astronomical terms — it has not had time to disperse its stars deep into interstellar space, providing astronomers with an opportunity to gather information on how the cluster formed by studying it within its star-birthing environment.

The image’s central region, which contains the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys with near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Shades of red represent hydrogen and bluish-green hues are predominantly oxygen.

For more, watch NASA’s Documentary Film: Hubble25

In its quarter-century in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope has transformed the way we understand the Universe, helped us find our place among the stars, and paved the way to incredible advancements in science and technology. The Hubble story is a human story. Hubble overcame much adversity early on in its mission and demonstrated the great heights NASA is capable of achieving against all odds. Much of that is thanks to the “Hubble Heroes”, including scientists, engineers, and the brave astronauts who flew five Space Shuttle missions to service Hubble.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
Source: NASA

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