Celebrating Hubble’s 25th Anniversary

In April, Hubble will celebrate a quarter-century in space. The telescope, launched into orbit in 1990, has become one of NASA’s most beloved and successful missions, its images changing our understanding of the universe and taking root in our cultural landscape. Hubble pictures have not only expanded our scientific knowledge, they have altered the way we imagine the cosmos to appear.

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Hubble took its iconic “Pillars of Creation” image of these star-forming clouds of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula in 1995. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

Hubble’s prolonged success has been a testament to its innovative design, which allowed it to be periodically updated by astronauts with new equipment and improved cameras. Hubble  has been able, to an extent, to keep up with technological changes over the past 25 years. The benefits are evident when comparing the images of the past and present.

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This new image of the Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation” was taken in 2014 to launch Hubble’s year-long celebration of its 25th anniversary. The image was captured with Wide Field Camera 3, an instrument installed on the telescope in 2009. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Hubble’s new instruments — specifically, the near-infrared capabilities of Wide Field Camera 3 — are what makes the Frontier Fields project possible. The faint infrared light of the most distant, gravitationally lensed galaxies sought in the Frontier Fields project would be beyond the reach of Hubble’s earlier cameras. Frontier Fields highlights Hubble’s continuing quest to blaze new trails in astronomy — and pave the path for the upcoming Webb Space Telescope — so it makes sense that its imagery is included in a collection of 25 of Hubble’s significant images, specially selected for the anniversary year.

The immense gravity in this foreground galaxy cluster, Abell 2744, warps space to brighten and magnify images of far-more-distant background galaxies as they looked over 12 billion years ago, not long after the big bang.  This is the first of the Frontier Fields to be imaged.

Abell 2744, the first of the Frontier Fields to be imaged, is part of Hubble’s 25th anniversary collection of top images. The immense gravity of the foreground galaxy cluster warps space to brighten and magnify images of far-more-distant background galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)


The 25th birthday is a significant milestone, so Hubble is throwing a year-long celebration, with events happening in communities and online throughout 2015. Last week, Tony Darnell hosted a discussion of the beauty and scientific relevance of the Hubble 25th anniversary images, one of the many anniversary-themed Hubble Hangouts he’ll be doing as the months go on. To keep an eye on upcoming events, see the images, and learn about the science, visit our special 25th anniversary website, Hubble25th.org.

Frontier Fields Hangout: Hubble Finds Extremely Distant Galaxy in Gravitational Lens

Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted one of the farthest, faintest, and smallest galaxies ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be over 13 billion light-years away.
This new detection is considered one of the most reliable distance measurements of a galaxy that existed in the early universe, said the Hubble researchers. They used two independent methods to estimate its distance.

The galaxy was detected as part of the Frontier Fields program, an ambitious three-year effort, begun in 2013, that teams Hubble with NASA’s other Great Observatories — the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory — to probe the early universe by studying large galaxy clusters. These clusters are so massive that their gravity deflects light passing through them, magnifying, brightening, and distorting background objects in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. These powerful lenses allow astronomers to find many dim, distant structures that otherwise might be too faint to see.

Frontier Fields at AAS 224

Frontier Fields had a big presence at this year’s January meeting of the American Astronomical Society.  On Jan. 7, there was a news release announcing the results of the first set of observations of galaxy cluster Abell 2744, along with a gorgeous image of the cluster.  We met with Dr. Jennifer Lotz, the principal investigator for Frontier Fields to get an update and discuss these latest results.

Frontier Fields Hangout Highlights

For those who would rather not sit through the whole hangout (and I really can’ t imagine why you wouldn’t since it was very interesting), I’ve taken the time to index some of the more interesting topics discussed during the hour.  Click on the topic below to go to that part of the hangout.

Please stay tuned for more Hubble Hangouts on the Frontier Fields as the project progresses.  We are planning more hangouts that discuss the role of dark matter in the Frontier Fields clusters, how to get the data yourself from the Hubble archive, and much more!

First Hubble Hangout Featuring Frontier Fields

Hubble Hangout BannerPlease join us for our first Hubble Hangout that features the Frontier Fields Survey.

A collaboration of astronomers are poised to make observations with the Hubble Space Telescope that will provide us with the deepest views we’ve ever had of the cosmos and give us a glimpse of what the James Webb Space Telescope will routinely provide us.

Known as the Frontier Fields survey, this revolutionary deep field program will combine the power of the Hubble Space Telescope with the natural gravitational telescopes of high-magnification clusters of galaxies. Using both the Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys in parallel, HST will produce the deepest observations of clusters and their lensed galaxies ever obtained, and the second-deepest observations of blank fields (located near the clusters).

These images will reveal distant galaxy populations ~10-100 times fainter than any previously observed, improve our statistical understanding of galaxies during the epoch of reionization, and provide unprecedented measurements of the dark matter within massive clusters.

The Frontier Field Survey will be pushing the limits of our beloved space telescope, making it more powerful than ever before, and providing us with some of the most important images ever taken.

Our goal is to have more of these as the project progresses, so please follow our g+ page to learn about future hangouts as they are scheduled.