NASA has released a breathtaking gallery of images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, showcasing celestial objects contained in the Messier catalog. The Messier collection was initially compiled by renowned French astronomer Charles Messier, using his own observations and those of his associates to help fellow 18th century astronomers differentiate wandering comets from more distant, static objects, such as nebulae.
The catalog contains a variety of some of the most famous astronomical objects known to adorn the night sky, from active star formation regions, such as the Orion Nebula, to the Andromeda galaxy, which will merge with our own Milky Way in roughly four billion years.
Messier objects are a popular target for both amateur and professional astronomers alike, as whilst they can be viewed in stunning detail through more powerful telescopes, the subjects are often bright enough to be picked out by smaller, cheaper instruments. Predictably, Hubble's observations of Messier objects are, well, just ridiculous.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, and, following a dramatic repair mission, has proceeded to capture incredible imagery and data that has allowed scientists to unravel the secrets of a universe filled with fascinating astronomical phenomena.
The telescope observes its target by taking multiple monochrome images, each capturing a single wavelength of light, which can be combined to create a more comprehensive and complete view of a celestial object.
Some images will not contain the full spectrum of visible light, or wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye, such as ultraviolet and infrared light. In these cases, particular wavelengths are assigned a color that allows scientists to visualise the characteristics of an object that would otherwise remain unseen.
To date, Hubble has observed 93 of the 110 Messier objects in incredible detail. The newly released gallery contains images of 63 Messier objects, with the agency planning to further expand the collection as more Hubble images are processed.
Fittingly, the release of the gallery has been timed to coincide with the Orionid meteor shower, which occurs each year as Earth passes through the trail of debris left in the wake of Halley's Comet after its 1986 Journey through the inner solar system.
Be sure to go out over the next few days after nightfall, and experience some "shooting stars" for yourself!
Take a look in the gallery to see some of the highlights from Hubble's take on the Messier catalog.