Hubble has been operational for nearly 30 years, and still produces the most spectacular images of all. Here are this year’s best.
Hubble, astronomy’s revolutionary observatory, narrowly survived last year’s
The Hubble Space Telescope, as imaged during the last and final servicing mission. Although it hasn’t been serviced in over a decade, Hubble continues to be humanity’s flagship ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared telescope in space. (NASA)
After returning, it produced amazing science over this past year.
This small, irregular galaxy, NGC 4485, is imaged here after a recent interaction with a larger galaxy (NGC 4490), out of frame and now 24,000 light-years away from the one shown here. The pink and blue regions display a massive burst of star-formation, arising from the gravitational tug-of-war, while the normal structures at left have thus far remained intact. This galaxy is only an honorable mention this year; it couldn’t crack our list of Hubble’s top 10 for 2019. (NASA AND ESA; ACKNOWLEDGMENT: T. ROBERTS (DURHAM UNIVERSITY, UK), D. CALZETTI (UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS) AND THE LEGUS TEAM, R. TULLY (UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII), AND R. CHANDAR (UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO))
Here are Hubble’s top 12 images from 2019.
This Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the gradual self-destruction of an asteroid, whose ejected dusty material has formed two long, thin, comet-like tails. The longer tail stretches more than 500,000 miles (800,000 kilometers) and is roughly 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) wide. The shorter tail is about a quarter as long. The streamers will eventually disperse into space. (NASA, ESA, K. MEECH AND J. KLEYNA (UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII), AND O. HAINAUT (EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY))
10.) Asteroid (6478) Gault. This isn’t a dust-and-ion-tailed comet, but a twin dust-tailed asteroid, caught while partially disintegrating.
The graceful, winding arms of the majestic spiral galaxy NGC 3147 appear like a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space in this Hubble Space Telescope image. They are actually long lanes of young blue stars, pinkish nebulas, and dust in silhouette. The galactic disk is so deeply embedded in the black hole’s intense gravitational field that the light from the gas disk is modified, according to Einstein’s theories of relativity, giving astronomers a unique peek at the dynamic processes close to a black hole. (NASA, ESA, S. BIANCHI (UNIVERSITÀ DEGLI STUDI ROMA TRE UNIVERSITY), A. LAOR (TECHNION-ISRAEL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY), AND M. CHIABERGE (ESA, STSCI, AND JHU))
9.) Galaxy NGC 3147. This face-on spiral’s supermassive black hole gravitationally redshifts the interior starlight, which Hubble captures.
With over 2 decades of Hubble observations, including in ultraviolet light, astronomers have newly revealed some striking features, including streaks (in blue) emerging from the lower-left lobe. These streaks are created when the star’s light rays poke through the dust clumps scattered along the bubble’s surface. Wherever the ultraviolet light strikes the dense dust, it leaves a long, thin shadow that extends beyond the lobe into the surrounding gas. (NASA, ESA, N. SMITH (UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA), AND J. MORSE (BOLDLYGO INSTITUTE))
8.) Eta Carinae. This future supernova still displays the spectacular remnants of its 1843 eruption.
The distant lensed galaxy, nicknamed the Sunburst Arc, has its light arriving now from when the Universe was just 3 billion years old. The lens magnifies and brightens the background galaxy to up to 30 times its normal apparent luminosity, revealing features as small as 520 light-years across. (NASA, ESA, AND E. RIVERA-THORSEN (INSTITUTE OF THEORETICAL ASTROPHYSICS OSLO, NORWAY))
7.) PSZ1 G311.65–18.48. This foreground cluster gravitationally lenses an ultra-remote galaxy into a magnificent, dozen-image arc.
The Southern Crab Nebula, officially known as Hen 2–104, is an hourglass-shaped created by a whirling pair of stars: a burned-out white dwarf orbiting a diffuse red giant that’s in the process of shedding its outer layers. The long ‘legs’ are where these gaseous outflows slam into the interstellar gas and dust, creating these illuminated structures. (NASA, ESA, AND STSCI)
6.) The Southern Crab Nebula. This planetary nebula arises from a dying red giant orbiting a binary companion.
The spiral galaxy D100, on the far right of this Hubble Space Telescope image, is being stripped of its gas as it plunges toward the center of the giant Coma galaxy cluster. The dark brown streaks near D100’s central region are silhouettes of dust escaping from the galaxy. The dust is part of a long, thin tail, also composed of hydrogen gas, that stretches like taffy from the galaxy’s core. Hubble, however, sees only the dust, with the brightest small, blue clump containing at least 200,000 new stars. (NASA, ESA, M. SUN (UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA), AND W. CRAMER AND J. KENNEY (YALE UNIVERSITY))
5.) Galaxy D100. The rightmost galaxy, captured speeding through the Coma Cluster, shows silhouetted, stripped dust actively forming new stars.
This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of a concentration of stars within the globular cluster NGC 6752. Hidden among the stars is an image of a background galaxy that is much farther away. The diminutive and faint galaxy, named by its discoverers as Bedin 1, measures only around 3,000 light-years at its greatest extent — a fraction of the size of the Milky Way. (NASA, ESA, AND L. BEDIN (ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY OF PADUA, ITALY))
4.) Dwarf galaxy Bedin 1. This minuscule dwarf galaxy, discovered accidentally, lies far beyond the foreground stars, spans only 3,000 light-years.
This image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveals an ancient, glimmering ball of stars called NGC 1466. It is a globular cluster — a gathering of stars all held together by gravity — that is slowly moving through space on the outskirts of the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our closest galactic neighbors. It is rich in blue stragglers towards the center: stars that only arise from the relatively recent mergers of older, low-mass stars. (ESA AND NASA)
3.) Globular cluster NGC 1466. This ancient stellar cluster orbits the Large Magellanic Cloud, centrally rich in recently formed blue stragglers.
As part of Hubble’s Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, Hubble provides global views of all of the outer planets annually to view changes in their storms, winds, clouds, and spots. The winds in this image have speeds up to 640 km/hr (400 mph). (NASA, ESA, A. SIMON (GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER), AND M.H. WONG (UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY))
2.) Jupiter. This incomparable, enhanced color view is self-explanatory.
In this new Hubble Space Telescope image, an uncanny pair of glowing eyes glares menacingly in our direction. The piercing “eyes” are the most prominent feature of what resembles the face of an otherworldly creature. But this is no ghostly apparition. Hubble is looking at a titanic head-on collision between two galaxies. Each “eye” is the bright core of a galaxy, one of which slammed into another. The outline of the face is a ring of young blue stars. Other clumps of new stars form a nose and mouth. The entire system is catalogued as Arp-Madore 2026–424 (AM 2026–424), from the Arp-Madore “Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations.” (NASA, ESA, AND J. DALCANTON, B.F. WILLIAMS, AND M. DURBIN (UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON))
1.) Galaxy pair AM 2026–424. With two massive galaxies colliding head-on, an intermediate ring of blue stars appears before the inevitable final merger.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astonomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Enjoy seven runners-up here ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , and 7 ). Talk less; smile more . Ethan Siegel is the author of
Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.