The Hubble Space Telescope, a successful collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, will mark its 23rd anniversary in Earth orbit on Wednesday, April 24th.
In celebration the partnership, along with the Space Telescope Science Institute and other organizations associated with the space observatory, has released an image of the iconic Horsehead Nebula, a gigantic cloud of dust and gas 1,500 light years distant in the constellation Orion.
In the Hubble image, the Horsehead’s faint upper ridge is illuminated by Sigma Orionis, a young five-star system just out of view. Along the nebula’s top ridge, two fledgling stars peek out from their now-exposed nurseries.
The Horsehead is one of the most often photographed objects in astronomy, both by amateurs and professionals.
The new Hubble image was taken with Wide Field Camera 3, an upgrade to the telescope installed by space shuttle astronauts in 2009. In all, space shuttle crews traveled to the Hubble Space Telescope five times following the April 24, 1990 launch by a crew that included NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, then a shuttle pilot astronaut.
The final shuttle Hubble mission in 2009 was intended to extend the life of the famous space telescope as long as possible.
Its successor, the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, is currently in the development and test phase. It is scheduled for launching in October 2018 atop a European Space Agency Ariane V rocket from French Guiana.