NASA celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope with the release of a new snapshot of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula -- the image that made Hubble famous.
Taken with more advanced instrumentation than the original, it will seen in greater detail. The anniversary serves as a reminder that Hubble's days are numbered.
NASA projects its end as some seven or eight years from the final Servicing Mission of May 2009. The agency will return the telescope, roughly the size of a bus, to Earth in a controlled re-entry some time after it expires.
The gift for the 24th birthday was an image of NGC 2174, a vast stellar nursery being blasted away by the ferocious light and heat of nearby stars.
Launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on Apr 24, 1990, Hubble orbits Earth. Its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light that reaches Earth, gives it a view of the Universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes. It has beamed hundreds of thousands of images back to Earth, shedding light on many of the great mysteries of astronomy, helping to determine the age of the Universe, the identity of quasars and the existence of dark energy.
Hubble fans hope it will continue to run even after its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is launched in 2018.
Date written/update: 2014-05-15