Since its launch in 1990, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has offered us stunning images that capture the awe-inspiring beauty of the universe, but Hubble is far more than pretty pictures. Its suite of scientific instruments make it an orbiting observatory that gathers wavelengths of light from ultraviolet, through visible, and into the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Hubble’s sensitivity to such a broad range of wavelengths makes it one of the most valuable and productive observatories in the history of astronomy.
Developed as a partnership between the United States space program and the European Space Agency, Hubble orbits 326 miles (525 km) above Earth’s surface. Its location above the distorting effects of our atmosphere allows Hubble to observe astronomical objects and phenomena more consistently and with better detail than is attainable from most ground-based observatories. The telescope's sensitive instruments can view objects near and far – from small colliding asteroids in our solar system, to distant star-forming galaxies that date back to when the universe was only three percent of its current age. Hubble observations have made key discoveries that characterize the structure and evolution of the universe, galaxies, nebulae, stars, exoplanets, and our solar system neighbors.
Well into its third operational decade, Hubble continues to be extremely productive. It exceeds one million observations, from which astronomers have written more than 20,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers. More than 1.1 million publications reference those original papers – a number that increases by an average exceeding 150 per day. Every current astronomy textbook includes contributions from Hubble.
In its three-plus decades of exploration, Hubble has generated as many questions as it has answered – uncovering new mysteries while expanding our understanding of the universe in ways we never imagined.
The stories you find here represent a small sample of Hubble’s thought-provoking discoveries and images. Selecting this set from the thousands of awe-inspiring Hubble observations was difficult, but they serve to highlight some of Hubble’s greatest scientific achievements to date.