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."
PHOTOS: Space Telescope's Top Science Discoveries
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.
PHOTOS: The Space Telescope by the Numbers
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.
PHOTO: Stunning Hubble Silver Anniversary Picture Unveiled
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.