While the James Webb Space Telescope is just getting started studying the Cosmos, the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, launched in the 1990s, has yet to stop, and the Hubble’s most recent images is colorful example of why its still trucking on.
A wash of tie-dye colors and tenuous, sinuous shapes, Hubble’s new image is a picture of stellar gas and violent shock waves in the Orion Nebula, which lies 1,000 light years away in the “belt” of the constellation Orion. The nebula is vast, 24-light years across, a cloud of stellar gas and dust that serves as a birthplace and nursery for young stars.
The curving shapes seen at the top and bottom of the image are formed by shock waves in the gas and dust created when the stellar winds and other outflows of gas and radiation from young stars pushes against and compresses the clouds of gas and dust in the nebula.
In the image, it is the the stellar outflows of the star IX Ori, which lies at the outskirts of the nebular, generating the shock waves and curving shapes seen among the colorful clouds.
As a relatively nearby site of star formation, the Orion Nebula is a frequent target of astronomers and the Hubble Space Telescope. By studying the way stellar outflows shape the surrounding gas and dust, astronomers can better understanding those outflows and how they affect the formation of other stars.
The Hubble telescope was launched in 1990 and immediately encountered its first challenge — a flaw in its primary mirror that had to be corrected with optics installed by astronauts using the space shuttle. The repaired telescope went on to capture some of the most stunning images of the universe ever seen, though in recent years the aging telescope has been plagued by multiple computer errors that have at time pushed the telescope offline.
Nevertheless, the Hubble keeps coming back to do more science, as the colorful Orion Nebula image brings home.