Twenty-four years and two days ago, on a Tuesday morning, the space shuttle Discovery hitched a ride to low Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aboard the shuttle? NASA’s newest eye in the sky, the Hubble Space Telescope, an instrument capable of peering deep into the cosmos and capturing the universe’s inhabitants in exquisite detail. It had taken decades of design and planning to get the telescope ready for work. The next day, on April 25, astronauts delivered the telescope to space.
Then, scientists eagerly waited for Hubble to start revealing cosmic secrets.
But a flaw in the telescope’s primary mirror meant the images weren’t sharp. Observing incredibly faint objects, such as very distant galaxies, wasn’t possible. It would be three years before the first of five servicing missions let astronauts correct the defect and upgrade Hubble’s vision to what it should have been.
Since then, though, the Hubble space telescope has continually delighted Earthlings with its breathtaking views of stars, galaxies, and our planetary neighbors. Its impact on science has been no less important. Among other discoveries, Hubble helped scientists determine that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. This discovery, which happened in the late 1990s, is something we still can’t fully explain.
Every day, tales of life and death in the universe are told through faraway supernovas, galactic collisions and clusters, and violent stellar nurseries. These stories are often accompanied by profoundly beautiful images. Some of these, like the million-second-long exposure that produced the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, need to be viewed full-size for the appropriate amounts of cosmic oomph. Others, like the Pillars of Creation, have become extremely well-known — looking at these photos can be like seeing the smiling face of an old friend.
Here, in honor of Hubble’s 24th launchiversary, are 25 images that might be slightly less familiar…and I’ve added one to grow on, just for good measure.