Hubble captures stunning image of star birth nicknamed 'Cosmic Reef' marking the telescope's 30 years in space

The image, taken from 163,000 light-years away by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, resembles the cosmic version of an undersea world teeming with stars


                            Hubble captures stunning image of star birth nicknamed 'Cosmic Reef' marking the telescope's 30 years in space
(NASA, ESA and STScI)

The Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled an incredible new image of a "firestorm of star birth" in a neighboring galaxy for its 30th birthday, revealing a beautiful nursery for new stars. In the Hubble portrait, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away. 

The colorful image, captured Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, commemorates the Earth-orbiting observatory's 30 years in space. The image has been nicknamed the "Cosmic Reef" because NGC 2014 resembles part of a coral reef floating in a vast sea of stars. The whole region shows how dynamic our universe is, with stars continuing to form and affect their surroundings. "The image is 11 arcminutes across or about 520 light-years," say experts. 

Thirty years ago, on April 24, 1990, Hubble was launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard the space shuttle Discovery, along with a five-astronaut crew. It was deployed into Earth's orbit a day later. Hubble has given the world stunning insights about the universe, from nearby planets to the farthest galaxies. The new space portrait is one of the "most photogenic examples of the many turbulent stellar nurseries" Hubble has observed during its lifetime. These regions are dominated by the glow of stars.

On April 24, 1990, Hubble was launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard the space shuttle Discovery. It was deployed into Earth orbit a day later (Getty Images)

Some of the stars in NGC 2014 are monsters. The nebula's centerpiece is a "grouping of bright, hefty stars, each 10 to 20 times more massive than our Sun". The powerful radiation from these stars is causing the surrounding gas to glow in stunning colors. The blue areas in NGC 2014 indicate oxygen gas that has been heated to nearly 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit (11,000 degrees Celsius) by the blast of ultraviolet light. The cooler, red gas indicates the presence of hydrogen and nitrogen. Those massive stars are also driving powerful winds of charged particles which are sculpting out the bubble-like structures one can see across the nebula.

"The seemingly isolated blue nebula at lower left (NGC 2020) has been created by a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material," describe scientists.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, DC.

The telescope has racked up more than 175,000 trips around our planet, totaling about 4.4 billion miles. So far, Hubble has made over 1.4 million observations of nearly 47,000 celestial objects. More than 900,000 observations were taken with imaging instruments.

Using Hubble data, astronomers have published over 17,000 scientific papers, with more than 1,000 of those papers published in 2019. Some of Hubble's top accomplishments include measuring the expansion and acceleration rate of the universe, monitoring weather changes on planets across our solar system, finding that black holes are common among galaxies, and "looking back in time across 97% of the universe" to chronicle the birth and evolution of stars and galaxies.

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