On this day 25 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in what marked the beginning of an incredible journey, and the start of a new golden age in the exploration of our Universe. In celebration of this auspicious occasion, NASA has released the official image for Hubble's 25th anniversary in low-Earth orbit. The focus of the image is the Westerlund 2 cluster, which contains roughly 3,000 stars in the scope of its glittering expanse.
Since its launch, Hubble has revealed countless wonders and contributed greatly to our understanding of the nature of the cosmos in which we live. Furthermore, innumerable images returned by Hubble of galaxies, stars, planets and almost every other celestial object imaginable have been a source of inspiration for millions, and the anniversary image is a perfect tribute to the telescope and its manifold accomplishments.
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Sitting 20,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Carina, Westerlund 2 cuts a majestic figure, and at its heart lies a story of creation. The cluster and its surroundings represent a maelstrom of star birth, and contains some of the Milky Way's most massive and brightest stars. These stellar giants emit powerful barrages of ultraviolet light and stellar winds that serve to sculpt the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds into the beautiful vista we see today. The cluster, which measures between 6 - 13 light years across, is awash with recently birthed red stars, dotted among the filaments of gas and dust that form a stunning backdrop to the piece.
The center of the image containing the star cluster was captured by combining data from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and near-infrared exposures taken by its Wide Field Camera 3. The remainder of the image was taken only in the visible light spectrum by the ACS.
"Hubble has completely transformed our view of the universe, revealing the true beauty and richness of the cosmos" states John Grunsfeld, 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 video below, courtesy of NASA and ESA, contains a spectacular virtual flythrough of Westerlund 2.