On April 24, 1990 — 25 years ago tomorrow — the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit. Ever since, it's been sending back some of the most captivating images of outer space ever taken. The Hubble's images have become a staple of science textbooks, and a core enabler of modern astrophysics research — without them, we wouldn't know nearly as much as we do about how the universe works.
Hubble has had some setbacks over the years — it's been repaired five times — but it's been a trooper, sending back high-resolution image after high-resolution image for many more years than originally expected. It's now in old age — NASA believes it will operate until perhaps the year 2020, and will fall back to Earth sometime between 2030 and 2040. But it's accomplished a lot in its first quarter-century.
Here are 10 of the Hubble Space Telescope's most enduring photos. (All images courtesy of NASA.)
1. The Horsehead Nebula, an interstellar cloud approximately 1,500 light years from Earth
2. The Lagoon Nebula, a giant cloud inside the constellation Sagittarius
3. The Antennae galaxies, which are shown colliding with each other (the collision started 100 MILLION YEARS AGO and is still happening)
4. The Carina Nebula, 7,500 light years away
5. NGC 4911, a gorgeous-looking galaxy 320 million years away from Earth
6. NGC 2467, an enormous gas cloud known as the "Skull and Crossbones Nebula" that was first discovered in the 19th century
7. 30 Doradus, a.k.a. the "Tarantula Nebula," is roughly 170,000 light years from Earth and is thought to contain some of the biggest stars in the universe
8. Astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was caught by the HST's camera on a 2009 maintenance mission
9. A pillar of gas and dust nicknamed "Mystic Mountain," located inside the Carina Nebula, 7,500 light years away