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News Release 422 of 961

April 25, 2005 12:01 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2005-12

Hubble Celebrates 15th Anniversary with Spectacular New Images

A Hubble Heritage Release

April 25, 2005: During the 15 years NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has orbited the Earth, it has taken more than 700,000 photos of the cosmos; images that have awed, astounded and even confounded astronomers and the public. WATCH: HubbleMinute Video HubbleMinute: 15 Years of Science from Hubble Space Telescope HubbleMinute: 15 Years of Science from Hubble Space Telescope HubbleMinute: Amazing Space "Galileo to the Great Observatories: Telescopes from the Ground Up" HubbleMinute: Amazing Space "Galileo to the Great Observatories: Telescopes from the Ground Up"   NASA released new views today of two of the most well-known objects Hubble has ever observed: the Whirlpool Galaxy (spiral galaxy M51) [left] and the Eagle Nebula [right]. These new images are among the largest and sharpest Hubble has ever taken. They were made with Hubble's newest camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The images are so incredibly sharp, they could be enlarged to billboard size and still retain stunning details.

For the 15th anniversary, scientists used the ACS to record a new region of the eerie-looking Eagle Nebula. The Eagle Nebula image reveals a tall, dense tower of gas being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars. The new Whirlpool Galaxy image showcases the spiral galaxy's classic features, from its curving arms, where newborn stars reside, to its yellowish central core that serves as home for older stars. A feature of considerable interest is the companion galaxy located at the end of one of the spiral arms.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. Where are M51 and M16 located in our sky?


  2. The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, is located 31 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). The Eagle Nebula, M16, is 6,500 light-years away, within our Milky Way galaxy. It is located in the direction of the constellation Serpens.

  3. 2. When were these images taken?


  4. M51 was taken in January 2005. The image of the Eagle Nebula was taken in November 2004.

  5. 3. How do these images differ from previously released Hubble images of these objects?


  6. The center portion of M51 was taken with 2 pointings of the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. This newer image of M51 was taken with 6 pointings of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) allowing its companion to also show in the image. Both images of M51 are a composite of blue, green, infrared and hydrogen emission filters.

    A Hubble image of the Eagle Nebula was released in 1995 and was a single pointing of the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. It was a composite of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur filters. This new image of the Eagle Nebula looks vastly different than the 1995 image, and rightly so. This image is of a different column of gas in a different part of the nebula. It is composed of two ACS pointings in blue, green, and infrared light, as well as emission from hydrogen and oxygen. (The ACS detector does not have a sulfur emission filter.)

  7. 4. What are Hubble's most important science achievements?


  8. Scientists using Hubble have compiled a long list of scientific achievements since its launch 15 years ago. Hubble has helped astronomers calculate the precise age of the universe (13.7 billion years old); helped confirm the existence of a strange form of energy called dark energy; detected small proto-galaxies that emitted their light when the universe was less than a billion years old; proved the existence of super-massive black holes; provided sharp views of a comet hitting Jupiter; showed that the process of forming planetary systems is common throughout the galaxy; and has taken more than 700,000 snapshots of celestial objects such as galaxies, dying stars, and giant gas clouds - the birthplace of stars.

 
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Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)