The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating its 28th anniversary in style, the U.S. space agency announced in a news release.
With Hubble’s special day just around the corner (the telescope celebrates 28 years in orbit on April 24), the Earth-orbiting observatory took a peek at the Lagoon Nebula and sent back two epic photos of a cosmic birthday party. Literally.
These spectacular images, released by NASA today (April 19), offer two different perspectives of the Lagoon Nebula, one taken in visible light and the other in near-infrared light.
The breathtaking snapshots peer into the heart of the gargantuan nebula and compare contrasting views of its “fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust.” And the result is mesmerizing.
Together with the two Hubble images, NASA also posted a YouTube video (that you can watch below), which zooms even deeper into the center of the nebula, unfolding “the universe’s extraordinary stellar tapestry of birth and destruction.”
The Lagoon Nebula, also known as Messier 8 (M8), hosts a perpetual birthday party. This is a place where countless stars are continuously being born — a “vast stellar nursery,” as NASA describes it.
This gigantic star-birth region is located some 4,000 light-years away, in the Sagittarius constellation — right in the direction of our galaxy’s central bulge, the U.S. space agency informs.
The Hubble images, taken on February 12 and February 18 with the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, capture a mere speck of the enormous Lagoon Nebula.
The snapshots only depict a small stretch that measures about four light-years across. Yet the entire nebula is truly colossal and expands 55 light-years in length and 20 light-years in height, notes the European Space Agency (ESA).
This is not without a reason, ESA explains. Since the Lagoon Nebula occupies a relatively large portion of the night sky (it can even be spotted with the naked eye on dark, cloudless nights), NASA’s telescope can only capture a tiny segment of the giant nebula.
Nevertheless, however small, Hubble still gets the best view. The telescope managed to peep into the center of the nebula and even caught a glimpse of “a young monster star” called Herschel 36, which sits right in the middle of this action-packed stellar breeding ground.
The giant star, 32 times more massive than our sun and nearly nine times wider, is featured in both Hubble images, which paint an awe-inspiring portrait of its frantic bloom.
The visible-light image captured by Hubble in the wake of its 28th anniversary displays the bright star (200,000 times brighter than our sun) embedded in a colorful cloud of glowing interstellar gas. The photo was tweeted earlier today by former NASA astronaut Terry Virts with the caption “Hubble’s 28th birthday picture: The Lagoon Nebula.”
The young star, merely 1 million years old, is slowly evolving, throwing tantrums along the way. Herschel 36 “is bursting out of its natal cocoon of material, unleashing blistering radiation and torrential stellar winds,” which sculpt the dust-and-gas landscape around it, NASA reveals.
“Among the sculptures created by Herschel 36 are two interstellar twisters — eerie, rope-like structures that each measure half a light-year in length,” shows ESA.
The other Hubble image reveals a different facet of Herschel 36. The star looks quite different in near-infrared imaging, which helps astronomers “penetrate vast clouds of gas and dust to uncover hidden gems,” notes the U.S. space agency.
One different thing is the plethora of stars, clearly visible in near-infrared. On the star-filled background, the young, impetuous monster star appears calmer and more serene — a powerful contrast to agitated whirls that explode with color in the sister image.