For 25 years now, the Hubble Space Telescope has expanded the frontiers of human knowledge. Using it to peer deep into space and back in cosmic time with unprecedented clarity, astronomers learned that galaxies formed from smaller patches of stuff in the early universe and that massive galaxies typically harbor supermassive black holes at their centers.
The space telescope’s global popularity surely arises, though, not only from its many scientific attainments but also from the spectacular images it has produced of glittering galaxies, softly glowing nebulae, and the wreckage of shattered stars. A quarter century later the cosmic scenes assembled by Zoltan Levay and his colleagues at the Space Telescope Science Institute have, in the words of NASA historian Steven J. Dick, “enhanced the very idea of what we call ‘culture.’ ”
That human beings find them to be as beautiful and evocative as photos of earthly sunsets and mountain peaks affirms anew that nature is all of a piece, and that we're part of it.