Hubble still delivering the goods after 26 years

The Bubble Nebula
The Bubble Nebula is seven light-years across, residing 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

For 26 years the Hubble Space Telescope has been taking us to the stars, unveiling our universe as Hubble looks into space — and back in time — farther than any other man-made sensor.

NASA astronomers celebrated the telescope's birthday this week — Hubble launched into orbit on April 24, 1990 — with a "spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment" of the Bubble Nebula, according to the Hubble website.

The Hubble Space Telescope
A view from aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-125 they continue their relative separation from the Hubble Space Telescope after the final space shuttle servicing mission in May 2009.

After a rocky start, requiring some adolescent corrective eye surgery, Hubble has been a workhorse, beaming back image after image. In all, astronauts have visited the school bus-sized telescope five times for repairs and upgrades.

Ring Nebula, Messier 57
The Ring Nebula, otherwise known as Messier 57. From Earth's perspective, the nebula looks like a simple elliptical shape with a shaggy boundary. However, recent observations combining existing ground-based data with new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope data show that the nebula is shaped like a distorted doughnut.
ESA | Hubble | NASA

Floating 340 miles above the Earth, Hubble is not affected by our mercurial atmosphere and transmits data back, rain or shine. According to NASA, the telescope can detect objects that are 10 billion times fainter than what the human eye can see. This sensitivity allows us to detect objects both ancient and distant as their faint light is drowned out in more conventional systems.

In October 2018, Hubble will be joined by the next generation of space telescopes, the James Webb Space Telescope, further expanding our ability to observe the heavens. NASA expects to operate Hubble until at least 2020.

The image of the Crab Nebula from Hubble was combined with the view from the Herschel Space Observatory to create the image that NASA chose to commemorate the passing of music icon Prince.

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