Hubble celebrates 29 years in orbit

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Hubble's 29th anniversary image

Click for full image.

In celebration of the 29th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) that operates the telescope has released a new image of one of the more spectacular astronomical objects in the southern hemisphere, what astronomers have dubbed the Southern Crab Nebula. I have cropped and reduced the image slightly to post it to the right.

The nebula, officially known as Hen 2-104, is located several thousand light-years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus. It appears to have two nested hourglass-shaped structures that were sculpted by a whirling pair of stars in a binary system. The duo consists of an aging red giant star and a burned-out star, a white dwarf. The red giant is shedding its outer layers. Some of this ejected material is attracted by the gravity of the companion white dwarf.

The result is that both stars are embedded in a flat disk of gas stretching between them. This belt of material constricts the outflow of gas so that it only speeds away above and below the disk. The result is an hourglass-shaped nebula.

The bubbles of gas and dust appear brightest at the edges, giving the illusion of crab leg structures. These “legs” are likely to be the places where the outflow slams into surrounding interstellar gas and dust, or possibly material which was earlier lost by the red giant star.

The outflow may only last a few thousand years, a tiny fraction of the lifetime of the system. This means that the outer structure may be just thousands of years old, but the inner hourglass must be a more recent outflow event. The red giant will ultimately collapse to become a white dwarf. After that, the surviving pair of white dwarfs will illuminate a shell of gas called a planetary nebula.

Hubble first revealed this nebula’s shape in a photograph taken in 1999.

The telescope was initially designed for a fifteen year mission. It is about to double that, assuming its last remaining gyroscopes can hold on through next year.



  • eddie willers

    I was SOOO mad when they they finally figured out why the first pictures were fuzzy.

    Story Musgrave and crew restored my faith….for a few more years.

  • Col Beausabre

    Pictures like this show why it is tragic that we are going to lose Hubble and why it’s a sin that we don’t have a replacement even on the drawing boards (metaphorically, I realize it’s all CAD now, but that’s two years of mechanical drawing, a year of engineering graphics and a student job as a draftsman speaking)

  • Orion314

    The story has it , the corrective optics (COSTAR) installed by the Astronauts wasn’t actually needed. They figured out how to correct HST’s mirror shape error with updated s/w processing before the “rescue mission’ took place. so the story goes….

  • geoffc

    Even money says once Starship is flying regularly, Musk personally pays for a mission to retrieve Hubble for the Smithsonian.

  • Orion314: You are exhibiting a lack of knowledge about COSTAR, Hubble, and its repair. COSTAR was needed to repair at least one instrument on Hubble. When they installed it in 1993, along with a new camera, Wide Field Camera 2, it made useful all of Hubble’s instruments.

    In later years the instrument that COSTAR fixed was replaced with a new instrument with its own corrective optics, then making COSTAR unneeded. They then used COSTAR’s slot to put in another new instrument, maximizing Hubble’s capabilities.

    Also, corrective optics before the repair never fixed anything. It produced better images, but with many artifacts that caused many research problems. The repair was essential.

    I wish people would do a little research before talking. It would make whatever you say more creditable.

  • Orion314

    Just passing along a story I recall from that time.As I pointed out,I was refering to updated S/W image processing, not new H/W.

  • Orion314: “Just passing along a story” that you haven’t sourced and you have no idea is true is the equivalent of fake news. It is a bad habit that too many people do nowadays, far too nonchalantly. It can do real harm, not only to those you might be maligning but to yourself. As the old saying goes, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

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