Hubble Spies 26th Birthday Bubble Beauty

To celebrate its 26th year in space -- yes, twenty-six years! -- Hubble has gotten into the birthday spirit and captured a stunning portrait of the aptly-named 'Bubble Nebula.'

To celebrate its 26th year in space - yes, twenty-six years! - Hubble has gotten into the birthday spirit and captured a stunning portrait of the aptly-named "Bubble Nebula."

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This nebula is located around 8,000 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopia. Although the Hubble Space Telescope has observed this iridescent object before, as it is so big, we've usually only seen close-up sections of its shape. This time, however, 4 separate images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) have been stitched together as a mosaic, capturing it's full, bubbly personality for the first time.

At first sight, you may assume the Bubble Nebula to be the aftermath of some kind of stellar eruption; a supernova remnant perhaps. But the engine behind the bubble is actually a star generating powerful stellar winds, producing a near-perfect bubble that looks like it came straight from a bubble bath.

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The star, called SAO 20575, can be seen to the left of center of the bubble. It is a massive star, around 10 to 20 times the mass of our sun. The star is embedded inside a molecular cloud of gas and dust, the type of cloud where young stars are born. But in the case of SAO 20575, its powerful stellar winds are blasting through the molecular cloud, pushing against the surrounding cloud, producing the bright bubbly appearance.

The bubble is approximately 10 light-years across - more than double the distance from the sun to neighboring star system Alpha Centauri - and the stellar winds have been clocked traveling some 100,000 kilometers per hour. This is a bubble of epic proportions and it continues to expand, driven by the ferocious stellar hurricane that relentlessly rips through the molecular cloud.

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Interestingly, previous close-up Hubble observations have shown small knots of gas and dust sitting in the middle of this relentless wind, around the mass of the Earth but with elegant tails blown back.

26 years after launch aboard NASA's space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, Hubble continues to wow us with stunning science and beautiful imagery we never thought possible and, though aging, is showing few signs of slowing down.

Source: Hubble

As part of Science Channel Weekend,

Discovery Channel will premiere "Telescope" on Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT

, a "dynamic journey behind the scenes of the next step in the evolution of telescopes: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope," directed by Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn. This next-generation telescope will be 100 times more powerful than the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, but Hubble, which has been observing the cosmos for quarter of a century, continues to dazzle us with stunning views of the universe.

Top 10 Astronomical Discoveries Of All Time

As we look forward to the revolutionary James Webb, let's take a look back over the past 12 months of discoveries made by the most famous space telescope of all time.

Hubble is famed for the deep views of the cosmos it is able to generate, seeing some of the earliest galaxies that formed billions of years ago. But with the help of a spacetime quirk, as predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, Hubble is now using gravitational lensing as a means to superboost its vision even further. As part of the Frontier Fields project, this observation revealed hundreds of baby galaxies never before seen, from just 600 million years after the Big Bang.

MORE: Hubble Sees 'First Light' Galaxies at Dawn of Time

Galaxies are certainly Hubble's "thing" and these last 12 months have been no different. Seen here is one such galaxy, but it can't be easily categorized; it's neither elliptical or spiral, it is "irregular." Though they don't seem to conform to specific formation rules, irregular galaxies are still beautiful, as this example shows.

MORE: Hubble Spies on a Beautifully Messed-Up Galaxy

Not to be left out on 2015's feverish buildup to "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" in December, Hubble released this very sci-fi view of a Herbig-Haro (HH) object -- basically a violent young star. This particular example seems to be channeling its own Star Wars spirit, producing a double-bladed lightsabre.

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First observed in 2014, this ancient supernova has popped up three more times, in different locations in a galactic cluster. This quirk of spacetime -- gravitational lensing -- can cause beams of light to travel different paths around massive objects. Sometimes, as Hubble has shown, although they all originate from the same source, 4 points of light can appear as a cross (nicknamed an "Einstein Cross").

MORE: Hubble's 'Einstein Cross' Supernova Strikes Back

Not forgetting the objects in our own backyard, Hubble was commanded to spend 10 hours looking at the biggest planet in our solar system, revealing previously unseen detail in the gas giant's beautiful atmosphere. Watch Jupiter's Big Red Spot rage in one of the most stunning 2-frame animations of the year.

MORE: Hubble's Jupiter Maps Reveal Weird Structures

Ready for some hard core physics? Though Hubble can't technically "see" black holes themselves, it can certainly see their impact on local space. And in this case, the space telescope saw relativistic shocks in the flow of material blasting from a supermassive black hole 260 million light-years from Earth.

MORE: Hubble Witness to Relativistic Crash in a Black Hole Jet

In new images released by Hubble, some stunning detail in the nebulous aftermath of a supernova has been revealed. Shown here is the cooling plasma in the Veil Nebula, the remnant of a star that exploded 8,000 years ago.

MORE: Hubble Zooms-in on Veil Nebula's Shocked Tendrils

In April 2015, Hubble officially turned 25 years old and to celebrate this view of the star-forming region in the cluster Westerlund 2 in the Gum 29 interstellar cloud nebula was released. In the observation is a 2 million year-old cluster of around 3,000 stars that are in the process of being born.

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Like all good parties, there's going to be some damage. And this is certainly the case for the young bright stars inside the open cluster Trumpler 14 where a huge void is being blasted into a star-forming nebula by the baby stars it once nurtured.

MORE: Hubble Sees Stellar Block Party Rip-Up Neighborhood

You may remember Hubble's early observations of the "Pillars Of Creation" that featured giant columns of dust and gas, beaded with young stars in their stellar cocoons. Now Hubble has revisited the Pillars to reveal a new 3-D view showing us a lot more spatial detail in this famous photo.

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Hubble has shown itself to be very adept at discovering planets orbiting other stars and the stellar disks they are birthed from. In these new observations of the young star Beta Pictoris' protoplanetary disk, a strange stirring was detected in the disk's dust -- revealing the presence of an otherwise invisible giant exoplanet.

MORE: Hubble Watches Massive Exoplanet Stir Stellar Dust

Trapped in a vast, empty region of the universe this galaxy seems to be the loneliest galaxy in the universe. Voids are known to exist throughout the cosmos, flanked by a "web" of dark matter and galaxies, but they are not


empty. Often, as this elegant spiral galaxy shows, entire galaxies can become marooned and there is little idea as to whether they were born there, alone, or flung there billions of years after some massive gravitational upheaval.

MORE: Is This the Loneliest Galaxy In the Universe?