Some are new, some older but all show the stunning beauty of our universe. With the rise of modern technology and space-faring telescopes, scientists are now able to look deeper into space, back through time, and see some of the most breathtaking objects our universe has to offer.
We’ve compiled an unscientific list of 9 of our favorite universe photos. Many of the images are multi-wavelength composite views, combining images in X-rays through infrared to reveal incredible details that would normally be invisible in optical light.
At about the size of our Milky Way, Messier 96 (also known as M96 or NGC 3368) is categorized as a double-barred spiral galaxy about 35 million light years away in the constellation Leo. This latest image of M96, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the normally fuzzy galaxy in never before seen stunning detail. The photo was released by NASA on September 4, 2015.
This image of a star cluster known as Gum 29 was released in 2015 to commemorate Hubble’s 25th anniversary. The central star cluster, named Westerlund 2 after Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund, is home to about 3,000 young stars about 1 to 2 million years old. The cluster is located approximately 20,000 light years away in our Milky Way galaxy.
Discovered by French astronomer Edouard Stephan in 1877, the iconic group of merging galaxies is the most studied of all compact galaxy groups. At about 280 million light years away, the galaxies are a rare opportunity to view a developing galaxy group evolve from younger spiral galaxies into more mature elliptical galaxies. Any one of Hubble’s amazing merging galaxies could have easily made the list. Check them all out here: Hubble Site.
Messier 63- The Sunflower Galaxy
In 2015 NASA’s Hubble got up close and personal with the famous Sunflower galaxy, Messier 63. Also cataloged as NGC 5055, Messier 63 is around 100,000 light-years across, is about the size of our Milky Way Galaxy, and is located about 30 million light years away.
30 Doradus, Tarantula Nebula
At the heart of 30 Doradus (also known as the Tarantula Nebula) lies a huge cluster containing some of the largest, hottest, and most massive stars known. The nebula lies within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way about 170,000 light years away. The 2009 image was one of the first to show the power of Hubble’s newly installed Wide Field Camera 3.
Messier 94 is a spiral galaxy located about 16 million light years away in the constellation Canes Venatici. The inner ring, shown up-close in this breathtaking Hubble shot, is the site of strong star formation activity and is sometimes referred to as a starburst ring. What a beautiful galaxy!
This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or Messier 101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and x-rays from four of NASA’s space telescopes. The massive spiral galaxy is about 70% larger than the Milky Way and it’s located about 21 million light years away in the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper).
Pillars of Creation, Eagle Nebula
In early 2015, astronomers released an updated infrared view of the iconic Pillars of Creation and the results were nothing short of spectacular. The stunning new detail shows just how much Hubble has improved thanks to its many upgrades over the years. The new view utilizes Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 which was installed by astronauts in a 2009 upgrade mission (the last-ever Hubble upgrade mission).
The turbulent active galactic nucleus of Centaurus A is shown in this hauntingly beautiful image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Like other starburst galaxies, a collision/ merger is suspected to be responsible for the intense burst of star formation observed in Centaurus A. Also known as NGC 5128, the galaxy is the fifth brightest in the nights sky making it a favorite among amateur astronomers.
That’s all 9! Admittedly, all the images were taken with, or in collaboration with the Hubble Space Telescope. Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has been a source of inspiration for the world and a scientific powerhouse, but sadly the mission is winding down, set to end in 2018.
Hubble’s successor is the $8.8 billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) set to launch in October of 2018. Its infrared capabilities will allow it to see the first ever galaxies some 13.5 billion light years away. It will also be able to look through cosmic dust clouds to find newly forming planetary systems. It’s estimated to be about 7 times more powerful than Hubble.