Great Discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope

Since its mission began in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than a million observations. Here are just a few of its most important revelations.


Hubble Space Telescope (2002-03-09) by NASANASA

The Hubble Space Telescope

Orbiting about 340 miles above Earth's surface, Hubble is so sensitive that it could detect a night light on the surface of the Moon and is so powerful that it could see a pair of fireflies less than 10 feet apart from almost 7,000 miles away. Observations made by Hubble have resulted in more than 16,000 published scientific papers, which have been cited in other papers roughly 800,000 times, making Hubble one of the most productive scientific instruments in history.

Orion Nebula (2001-12/2005-04) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Astronomers used Hubble data to create this billion-pixel mosaic of the great Orion Nebula, providing an unprecedented glimpse into this stellar nursery.

Hubble resolved disks of dust and gas — like the dark disk seen here — encircling many young stars in the Orion Nebula. Hubble also helped to confirm that planets form within such dusty disks.

Eagle Nebula 'Pillars of Creation' (2014-09) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

In the Eagle Nebula's towering columns of gas and dust, known as the Pillars of Creation, Hubble imaged never-before-seen details of star formation.

At the top of the tallest pillar, Hubble details finger-like protrusions — each somewhat larger than our own solar system — believed to be incubating new stars inside them.

One stellar newborn emerges from the gaseous fingertip just to the left of this bright star.

Mystic Mountain (2010-02-01/2010-02-02) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

This Hubble image captures the chaotic activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust inside the Carina Nebula.

This pillar is being eaten away by the brilliant light and fierce winds from nearby stars buried within.

In this part of the Carina Nebula, known as Mystic Mountain, towers of cool hydrogen gas laced with dust hide newborn stars that announce their presence by shooting jets of gas in opposite directions.

Hubble has imaged such stellar jets in unprecedented detail, and by studying some jets over many years, has also watched them move and change shape over time.

Collage of Planetary Nebulas by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

The telescope has uncovered the astounding variety and complexity of planetary nebulas — expanding clouds of gas given off by Sun-like stars that have entered the death throes of their lives.

Some of these nebulas look like pinwheels...

...others like butterflies...

...and some like hourglasses.

The Crab Nebula (1999-10/2000-12) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

The most massive stars die in titanic supernova explosions, spewing stellar debris that eventually enriches new generations of stars.

Hubble has revealed never-before-seen details in supernova remnants such as this one, known as the Crab Nebula.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field, 2004 (2004) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field is one of the most distant looks into space. To capture it, Hubble observed this tiny patch of sky for about a million seconds (11 days).

The view, covering an area of the sky seen through the eye of a sewing needle at arm's length, contains roughly 10,000 galaxies.

This Hubble image not only provides a sense of how populated the universe is, but how galaxies evolve over time.

The Sombrero Galaxy (2003-05/2003-06) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

When Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe contained innumerable galaxies beyond our Milky Way, he categorized them according to three basic shapes: spiral, elliptical, and irregular.

The space telescope named for him has revealed unprecedented details in these different types of galaxies.

Messier 87 (2002-12/2003-12) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

The telescope provided decisive evidence that the centers of most galaxies contain enormous black holes, which possess the mass of millions or even billions of stars — such as the one in the middle of this elliptical galaxy called Messier 87.

Hubble not only helped confirm that the center of galaxy M87 harbors a black hole 2.6 billion times more massive than our Sun but revealed unprecedented details in the jet of subatomic particles streaming away from the black hole.

Super Star Clusters in the Antenna Galaxies (2006-10-16) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Hubble has uncovered a plethora of strange galaxies in various stages of maturity and interaction with one another.

Its views of galaxy mergers offer us a preview of the inevitable collision between our own Milky Way Galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy billions of years from now.

Galaxy Cluster Abell 370 (2017-05-04) by NASANASA

Hubble has found distant galaxies that have been magnified by the immense gravity of closer galaxy clusters, a technique called gravitational lensing.

In this galaxy cluster, called Abell 370, one distant background galaxy is lensed multiple times into an elongated feature nicknamed "the Dragon."

Lensed Star in Galaxy Cluster MACS J1149+2223 (2014-11-03/2014-12-14) by NASANASA

Gravitational lensing has allowed Hubble to spot the farthest star discovered to date.

Magnified by the gravity of a galaxy cluster called MACS J1149+2223, the star is a blue supergiant more than 9 billion light-years from Earth.

Galaxy Cluster Cl 0024+17 (2004-11) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

In this galaxy cluster, named Cl 0024+17, the odd-looking blue arcs seen among the yellowish galaxies are the magnified and distorted images of galaxies located billions of light-years beyond the cluster.

Some of the large, blue arcs are from a single galaxy that has been lensed multiple times.

Two Views of Galaxy Cluster Cl 0024+17 (2004-11) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

The effects of gravitational lensing, observed by Hubble’s uniquely sharp vision, also help astronomers map dark matter in galaxy clusters (in blue at right) to garner clues to what this mysterious substance is.

A Cepheid Star in the Andromeda Galaxy (2010-12/2011-01) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Cyclical brightness changes in Cepheid stars, like this one in the Andromeda Galaxy, help astronomers determine astronomical distances.

Using Hubble to measure cosmic distances, astronomers have refined the expansion rate and age of the universe, calculating that it is 13.8 billion years old.

Supernova 1994D in Galaxy NGC 4526 (1994-05-09) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Hubble's studies of exploding stars called supernovae (like the one at lower left) helped show that the universe is not just expanding, but expanding faster and faster – a discovery that led to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The mysterious force behind this accelerated expansion, called dark energy, pervades the universe.

Optical Light from a Gravitational Wave Event (2017-10-16) by NASANASA

After astronomers discovered ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves from a neutron-star collision in the galaxy NGC 4993, Hubble detected visible light from the associated kilonova and watched it fade away over several days.

A kilonova happens when a pair of compact objects such as neutron stars crash together.

This was the first time visible light from a gravitational-wave event had ever been seen.

Jupiter Impacts in 1994 and 2009 (1994-07-22/2009-07-23) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

In 1994 Hubble watched 21 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 bombard Jupiter and create dark impact scars — the first time astronomers witnessed such an event.

It happened again in 2009, when a suspected asteroid struck Jupiter.

The 2009 impact left a temporary dark feature the size of the Pacific Ocean.

Pluto and Its Moons (2012-07-07) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

While probing the dwarf planet Pluto at the outskirts of our solar system, Hubble spied four previously unknown moons orbiting the icy world, later named Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx.

These observations helped the New Horizons mission prepare for humanity's first flyby of Pluto and its moons.

Comet-like Asteroid P/2010 A2 (2010-01-29) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Hubble captured the aftermath of two asteroids colliding with each other in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Hubble's observations showed a bizarre, X-shaped pattern of filamentary structures near the point-like core of the surviving object, with streamers of dust trailing behind.

Extasolar Planet Fomalhaut b (2004/2012) by Hubble Space TelescopeNASA

Hubble captured what may be the first visible-light image of a planet orbiting another star and watched the object move in its orbit over several years.

The candidate planet circles a star called Fomalhaut, 25 light-years from Earth.

Illustration of a Cloudy Exoplanet with Sodium Absorption Spectrum (2018-03-21) by NASANASA

Hubble became the first telescope to probe an exoplanet's atmosphere when it detected sodium around the planet HD 209458b, located 150 light-years from Earth.

It has studied many exoplanet atmospheres since, even detecting large amounts of water in the atmosphere of a “hot Saturn” called WASP-39b.

V838 Monocerotis Dissolve Sequence of EpochsNASA

A flash of light from a red supergiant star called V838 Monocerotis lit up nearby clouds of dust in a phenomenon called a light echo.

A series of Hubble images captured this remarkable reverberation of light.

Hubble Space Telescope (2002-03-09) by NASANASA

These ground-breaking discoveries represent a mere fraction of what Hubble has taught us so far and what the telescope will continue to reveal as it continues to explore the universe over the years to come.

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Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA Hubble Space Telescope

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