Hubble scientists commemorated the gloriously successful telescope turning 29 with an annual release of a heavenly, haunting photograph it captured this year.
This year's subject is none other than a very festive and colourful-looking Southern Crab Nebula, with its tentacle-like extensions and peculiar hourglass shape. The nebula is among the many objects in the known universe that Hubble has helped demystify over the course of its productive life.
And this newest image just goes to show that Hubble's still got game.
A mesmerising peek at the Southern Crab Nebula, courtesy Hubble. Image: NASA/STScI/Hubble
29 years on, Hubble still got it
On 24 April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in a collaborative effort between a NASA and ESA on space shuttle Discovery. The telescope saw its fair share of failures in early years but has revolutionised the entire field of astronomy with its glimpses of distant stars and galaxies. The Hubble has brought the universe closer to astronomers and the general public unlike any telescope before or after it.
But the past year hasn't been an easy one for the ageing telescope. It suffered from a broken gyroscope, a crucial pointing instrument that it uses to pinpoint star systems in the sky, but also to keep itself stable. The telescope was put in "safe mode" for two weeks, during which time, Hubble engineers tried to repair it using a strategy we know only too well: switch it off, wiggle some things around, and turn it back on again, Gizmodo >reported.
It worked. And now, several months after this mini-crisis that threatened the remaining agility Hubble is still clinging on to, Hubble is back to shooting images as pretty, as informative as ever.
The raw images from Hubble look very different than the wallpaper-worthy images NASA releases publicly. Hubble captures light (images) in four different wavelengths, from four different kinds of space radiation that astronomers use to study objects in space.
A deconstruction of the many layers of images that go into a processed Hubble photograph. Image: NASA/STScI
The Southern Crab Nebula: All you need to know
The nebula, also known as 'Hen 2-104' is thousands of light-years away in the southern hemisphere of the Centaurus constellation. Its hourglass-shaped structures give it a distinctive appearance. The nebula was formed from material ejected from a red giant (a dying star in the final stages of its evolution) in close quarters with a white dwarf (stars like the Sun become white drawfs once they run out of nuclear fuel).
The red giant in the Southern Crab Nebula is shedding its outer layers, and some of this "ejected" material is pulled towards its companion white dwarf by its gravity.
What a shot, Hubble. Can't wait to see what's next.