After a seven-year hiatus, astronauts headed once again to the Hubble Space Telescope this month to install new hardware and make repairs; these upgrades are expected to keep Hubble in working order until 2014.
In recognition of this last, historic mission, we asked astronomer David DeVorkin, a curator in the Space History division of the National Air and Space Museum, to select a few of his favorite—and most scientifically important—images taken by Hubble. DeVorkin is the co-author, with Robert W. Smith, of Hubble: Imaging Space and Time.
“The enormous range of things that the Hubble studies is an element that I think will be important in the eventual history of this object,” says DeVorkin. “Unlike many telescopes of the past that are designed to do one thing, the Hubble does all sorts of things, and is extremely versatile. [The two instruments that the astronauts just changed out] did totally different things, but with the same telescope. It’s kind of like the difference between a telescope and an observatory. An observatory is a collection of capabilities, and the Hubble is definitely an observatory in that regard.
“The photograph [above] shows a small part of the Carina Nebula. It’s so chaotic. Carina is a huge nebula where there are stars being formed, but it’s also a nebula that’s being driven by a very massive star that is in the stage of destroying itself.”
For more of DeVorkin's picks, see the photo gallery below.
Globular Cluster, Omega Centauri, NGC 5139 (2008)
“I once saw a cluster very much like Omega Centauri—although in the Hercules Constellation—through a very large telescope,” says DeVorkin. “It was just about three-dimensional, like diving into an endless sea of stars. The density of the bright stars in these clusters is much greater than it is in our stellar neighborhood. Yet there’s no gas, very little gas, so there’s very little that impedes the starlight. This [photograph depicts] just the center of the cluster”