Click on these wondrous photos to enlarge them and read the explanations below each photo.
Whirlpool Galaxy and Companion The graceful, winding arms of the majestic spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194) appear like a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space. They are actually long lanes of stars and gas laced with dust. Some astronomers believe that the Whirlpool’s arms are so prominent because of the effects of a close encounter with NGC 5195, the small, yellowish galaxy at the outermost tip of one of the Whirlpool’s arms. Photo from the Hubble Telescope.
DEM L 190 Resembling the puffs of smoke and sparks from a summer fireworks display, these delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy. Denoted N 49, or DEM L 190, this is the remnant of a massive star that died in a supernova blast whose light would have reached Earth thousands of years ago. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Butterfly Nebula, NGC 6302 What resemble dainty butterfly wings are actually roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour—fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in 24 minutes. A dying star is at the center of this fury. It has ejected its envelope of gases and is now unleashing a stream of ultraviolet radiation that is making the cast-off material glow. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
M82 The starburst galaxy is remarkable for its bright blue disk, webs of shredded clouds, and fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions. Throughout the galaxy’s center, young stars are being born 10 times faster than they are inside our entire Milky Way Galaxy. The fierce galactic superwind generated from these stars compresses enough gas to make millions of more stars. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Horsehead Nebula The Horsehead Nebula is a dense cloud of gas and dust embedded in a much larger structure, and a favorite target of astrophotographers because of its unusual shape. Most previous views have been almost identical. But when seen in infrared light, it takes on a whole new appearance. Strikingly, it is nearly a negative of the visible-light view. The area above the top of the horse is bright in visible but dark in infrared, while the body of the horse shows up much brighter in the infrared compared to the visible. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Omega Centauri Hubble snapped this view of a colorful assortment of 100,000 stars residing in the crowded core of a giant star cluster. The image reveals a small region inside the massive globular cluster Omega Centauri, which boasts nearly 10 million stars. Globular clusters, ancient swarms of stars united by gravity, are the homesteaders of our Milky Way Galaxy. The stars in Omega Centauri are between 10 billion and 12 billion years old. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula Appearing like a winged fairy-tale creature poised on a pedestal, this object is actually a billowing tower of cold gas and dust rising from a stellar nursery called the Eagle Nebula. The soaring tower is 9.5 light-years or about 57 trillion miles high, about twice the distance from our Sun to the next nearest star. The tower may be a giant incubator for newborn stars. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Stephan’s Quintet A clash among members of a famous galaxy quintet reveals an assortment of stars across a wide color range, from young, blue stars to aging, red stars. Three of the galaxies have distorted shapes, elongated spiral arms, and long, gaseous tidal tails containing myriad star clusters, proof of their close encounters. Group member NGC 7320, at upper left, is actually a foreground galaxy about seven times closer to Earth than the rest of the group. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Pismis 24 The small open star cluster Pismis 24 contains extremely massive stars. The brightest object in the picture was once thought to weigh as much as 200 to 300 solar masses. This would have made it by far the most massive known star in the galaxy, and put it considerably above the currently believed upper mass limit of about 150 solar masses for individual stars. However, Hubble images show that it is really two stars, each 100 solar masses, orbiting one another. Photo by the Hubble Telescope.
Cat’s Eye Nebula The Cat’s Eye Nebula, one of the first planetary nebulae discovered, also has one of the most complex forms known to this kind of nebula. Eleven rings, or shells, of gas make up the Cat’s Eye. Each “ring” is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky — that’s why it appears bright along its outer edge. The view from Hubble is like seeing an onion cut in half, where each skin layer is discernible. Photo by Hubble Telescope.
Wikipedia: Hubble Space Telescope
DailyMail.com: Is China Building The Next Hubble?