Hubble celebrates 26th year in space with Bubble Nebula photo

On Thursday, the Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 26th birthday, or its 26th year in space. And it did so in style, as officials from NASA, ESA, and the Hubble project itself released a photo of the Bubble Nebula.

The Bubble Nebula, quite fittingly, looks like a birthday balloon, and the photo released earlier this week is the clearest image we’ve seen of it so far. The nebula measures about seven light years across, and can be found over 7,000 light years from Earth. “

“We thought it was a pretty spectacular target,” said Space Telescope Science Institute imaging lead Zolt Levay in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “This is kind of in between … This particular phenomena of a star blowing this bubble is uncommonly seen … a very unusual landscape in space that is caused by a particular set of circumstances that we don’t see often.”

The Bubble Nebula surrounds a bright, massive star approximately 45 times as massive as our sun. And the reason why it is mostly blue is the cooling gas, as NASA pointed out in its official description for the nebula. The blue color comes from the heat, and the yellow pillars from the hydrogen and nitrogen. This is further accentuated by ultraviolet radiation that brightens the bubble shape surrounding the bright star. But what’s also quite interesting is the fact that the star isn’t located right in the center of the bubble.

Researchers believe that this peculiarity is due to the bubble expanding at varying rates as a result of different levels of density in the universe. In other words, the smaller side contains denser gas, while the larger one may have expanded to a greater distance before being slowed down by the right level of resistance. Levay also told the CSMonitor that the star itself may also be moving, though this is still conjecture at this point.

The Hubble Space Telescope was first deployed into space on April 24, 1990, which makes Sunday its actual 26th birthday. It measures 43.5 feet long, and is one of the few telescopes located right above Earth’s atmosphere. It will, however, be supplanted by the James Webb Telescope, which is designed to capture more of the universe and is scheduled to be launched sometime in 2018.