New images of star cluster commemorate Hubble's 25th anniversary

Space telescope's discoveries have revolutionized astronomy.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Apr 23, 2015
NASA released new images of the Westerlund star cluster to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, launched on April 24, 1990.

The cluster, a stellar nursery containing about 3,000 baby stars, is located in the constellation Carina, about 20,000 light years from Earth.

Free of the constraints and distortions of Earth's atmosphere, Hubble, which orbits 340 miles (547 km) above the planet, is capable of distinguishing individual stars in the cluster.

The telescope was launched to study the life cycle of stars and peer back in time to observe old stars and galaxies that formed not long after the Big Bang, estimated to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

Also capable of observing in the infrared, Hubble can peer into regions of dust and gas where new stars are forming.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut who piloted the shuttle mission that launched Hubble, admitted, "We never thought it would last this long.

Hubble has fundamentally changed our human understanding of our universe," he emphasized.

Astronomers at the time also could not envision many of the kinds of discoveries the telescope made over the last 25 years.

One such area is dark energy, the force behind the accelerating expansion of the universe. Hubble helped facilitate its discovery during its study of an exploded star.

Two years after the telescope was launched, the first exoplanet was discovered orbiting a pulsar, or dead star.

Since then, Hubble has played a key role in the study of exoplanets, observing their atmospheres to determine their chemical compositions. It has directly imaged one exoplanet.

NASA held a televised 25th anniversary celebration for Hubble in Washington, D.C.'s Newseum.

Current plans call for keeping Hubble operational at least through 2020.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which will observe in the infrared, is scheduled to launch in 2018.

A video tour of the Westerlund star cluster can be viewed athttp://www.space.com/29199-fly-through-a-3d-city-of-stars-to-honor-hubble-video.html .

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