Astronomers have selected a dramatic image of the "Bubble Nebula", otherwise known as NGC 7635 to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. The gracefully ageing telescope is still in excellent shape despite over a quarter of a century of active service, and continues to provide invaluable contributions to mankind's exploration of the cosmos.
The seven-light-year-wide nebula imaged to mark Hubble's launch anniversary is located in the Cassiopeia constellation, some 7,100 light-years from Earth. Hubble targeted the structure in February 2016, capturing it in exquisite detail in the visible light spectrum with its Wide-Field Camera-3 instrument.
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At the heart of the bubble lies a monstrous star, which is estimated to be roughly 45 times the mass of our Sun, whilst only being four million years of age. The massive but short lived star is expected to meet its end in a dramatic supernova explosion some 10 – 20 million years from now.
The array of colors represented in the image are the result of different gasses being heated to varying temperatures. Blue represents oxygen, red for nitrogen, and green for hydrogen. Farther out from the star, a yellow pillar can be observed, consisting of a mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen.
The distinctive bubble shape is created as gas shed from the surface of the star is blown out by powerful stellar winds moving at speeds in excess of four million miles per hour. The discarded gas continues outward until it comes in to contact with the colder interstellar gas surrounding the star.
Once met with this resistance, layer upon layer of the stellar material has combined over time to form the distinctive bubble shape we observe today. Denser regions of cold gas on one side of the star have caused the reddish stellar giant to appear off-centre with the surrounding bubble.
"As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment," states John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C, who crewed two separate shuttle missions to service the telescope. "The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe inspiring universe we live in."
Scroll down for a video taking the viewer on a brief flight toward the Bubble Nebula.