April 24, 2006This is one sweet 16 that calls for more than just a first driver's license photo.
NASA and the European Space Agency today marked the 16th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope by releasing a brilliant new image captured by the orbiting observer.
The composite picture, taken last month, depicts the starburst galaxy Messier 82, a hothouse of rapidly forming stars some 12 million light-years away. The image features the long blue disk of the galaxy's core laced with fiery tendrils of hydrogen gas (shown in red). The image is the sharpest wide-angle view ever obtained of the galaxy.
Interstellar eye candy like this has been part of Hubble's stock in trade over the past 16 years, but the telescope has much more to show for its service than an album of cool images.
Since it was launched into space on April 24, 1990, the Hubble has contributed to some significant astronomical studies, from measuring the effects of mysterious dark matter to helping scientists determine the age of the universe itself.
NASA has tentatively cancelled missions to maintain the Hubble, citing safety concerns for astronauts after the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
But the space agency plans to replace the Hubble in 2013 with the larger, stronger James Webb Space Telescope.
Blake de Pastino
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