In commemoration of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope completing its 100,000th orbit during its 18th year of exploration and discovery, scientists aimed Hubble to take a snapshot of a dazzling region of celestial birth and renewal.
Hubble peered into a small portion of the Tarantula nebula near the star cluster NGC 2074. The region is a firestorm of raw stellar creation, perhaps triggered by a nearby supernova explosion. It lies about 170,000 light-years away and is one of the most active star-forming regions in our local group of galaxies.
The image reveals dramatic ridges and valleys of dust, serpent-head “pillars of creation,” and gaseous filaments glowing fiercely under torrential ultraviolet radiation. The region is on the edge of a dark molecular cloud that is an incubator for the birth of new stars.
The high-energy radiation blazing out from clusters of hot young stars 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.
In this approximately 100-light-year-wide fantasy-like landscape, dark towers of dust rise above a glowing wall of gases on the surface of the molecular cloud. The seahorse-shaped pillar at lower, right is approximately 20 light-years long, roughly four times the distance between our sun and the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.
The region is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy. It is a fascinating laboratory for observing star-formation regions and their evolution. Dwarf galaxies like the Large Magellanic Cloud are considered to be the primitive building blocks of larger galaxies.
“This morning, the greatest scientific instrument since Galileo’s telescope has reached another great milestone – its 100,000th orbit around the Earth,” stated Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA. “Hubble has given us amazing insight into the origins of our universe, and I’m so proud of the men and women at Goddard and the Space Telescope Science Institute for their contributions and dedication to these great discoveries. The entire world is looking forward to the Hubble servicing mission in October 2008, when Hubble will get new scientific instruments, new batteries and new gyroscopes. The servicing mission will extend Hubble’s life and give it a more powerful view of our universe. Hubble is the telescope that could, and its best years are ahead of it!”
NASA is preparing the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission. In October, shuttle astronauts will take new instruments, gyros, batteries, and other components to enable the telescope’s continued success through the year 2013.