Human beings have always looked to the night sky and marveled at the wonders on show in our universe. The science of astronomy has developed in parallel with the evolution of optical technology and photography.
One of the limitations of ground-based astronomy is that the Earth’s atmosphere distorts and restricts our view of outer space. The development of space photography, particularly the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, has greatly increased our ability to view and understand the universe. Free from the atmosphere, Hubble is able to capture extremely sharp images with minimum interference, and can peer deep into the furthest reaches of space and time.
The photographs of outer space that have been made in recent years have increased our knowledge of the universe, but are also visually stunning images in their own right. This post brings together 25 photographs of the universe, cosmic images to amaze and inspire.
This astonishing photograph was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and shows vast pillars of gas and stars in the Carina Nebula, seen in the Carina constellation, 7,500 light-years from Earth. NASA released the image in 2010 to mark the Hubble’s 20th anniversary. The image captures a stellar nursery with a pillar of gas being blasted and shaped by the radiation and winds of the newly born stars that blaze within the nebula’s clouds.
The Large Magellanic Cloud is a small galaxy located 160,000 light years from Earth. This photograph shows a ‘bubble’ of gas expanding as a result of the blast wave from an exploding supernova. The explosion caused the bubble to expand at 11 million miles per hour, in this image the sphere of gases grown to 23 light-years across
One of the most awe-inspiring revelations that space travel and outer space photography have offered to humanity is the ability to turn the camera back on the Earth and see our home planet’s place in the cosmos. NASA sent the Apollo 8 spacecraft to the Moon in December 1968, the first time that humans visited the Earth’s satellite. Crew members Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders performed 10 orbits of the Moon, and were treated to a view of the Earth rising each time they emerged from the dark side, as captured in this photograph.
4. Helix Nebula
Seen in the constellation of Aquarius, 700 light-years from Earth, is the Helix nebula, a gassy cloud that looks strangely like a huge eye. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured this infrared image of the Helix Nebula, revealing the layers of gas and dust of an epic cosmic event.
Planetary nebulae, such as the one in this photograph, are created when a star dies and becomes a white dwarf, which lies at the center of the image. As the star dies it fires of its outer layers, destroying any nearby planets and comets and causing those further away to crash into each other, producing a storm of dust and gas. The layers of material expand away from the white dwarf, creating the structures we see in this picture. A similar fate awaits our own Sun and solar system in approximately five billion years.
5. Helix nebula
This is another photograph of the Helix Nebula, this time captured using the Hubble Space Telescope. The image shows different wavelengths of light to the previous image, revealing other parts of the nebula’s gaseous structure. The scene we see in the photograph is over five-and-half light-years across.
This wondrous photograph shows another planetary nebular called NGC 6302, which is seen in the Scorpius constellation. The nebular is located about 3,800 light-years from the Earth, in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The cosmic explosion of superheated gases and dust is caused by the death of a star, which was originally roughly five times the size of the Sun, producing a butterfly-like nebular with a wingspan two light-years across. The bipolar wing structures are the created by the outflow of gases from the dying star, which is hidden within the ring of dust at the center.
7. Solar Flare
An active section of the Sun’s fiery surface is seen in profile in this photograph showing spurts of ionized Helium ejected from the star. The image was captured in extreme ultraviolet to reveal the details of solar flares as they flame out and then retreat back into the Sun.
8. Crab Nebula
Situated in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, 6,500 light-years from Earth, is the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant captured in this image. English astronomer John Bevis first recorded the nebular in 1731. Chinese, Japanese and Arabic astronomers observed the supernova explosion that created the nebular in 1054 AD, when a bright new ‘star’ appeared in the sky and remained there for two years. In the early-20th Century scientists compared photographs taken several years apart and established that the Crab Nebular was expanding. The Hubble telescope was used to capture this amazing photograph, revealing the intricate filaments within the nebula’s structure.
Europa is one of Jupiter’s moons, first observed by Galileo in 1610. The moon has a tenuous oxygen atmosphere and a thick icy surface. The cracks and lines seen in this image suggest that there is geological motion in the surface ice and an ocean of liquid water beneath. The discovery of life thriving in the Earth’s deepest oceans at hydrothermal vents has lead to exciting speculation that similar habitats, or even extraterrestrial life, could exist under Europa’s icy exterior. These possibilities make Europa one of the most fascinating objects in our solar system and a possible focus for future space exploration.
Between September 2003 and January 2004, the Hubble Space Telescope was pointed at a tiny patch of sky southwest of Orion in the southern-hemisphere constellation Fornax. Over the months the telescope peered extremely far into the depths of space. This image is the stunning result, the deepest image of the universe ever seen. The photograph contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies, and because the light captured in the image has traveled over such vast distances we are effectively looking back into our universe’s distant past. In fact, the image shows the universe as it was approximately 13 billion years ago. The scene is between 400 and 800 million years after the Big Bang, a relatively short time on the cosmic scale.
11. Young Galaxy
Data from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and observations from the WM Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii revealed one of the youngest galaxies in the far distance of space, as seen in this deep field photograph. The galaxies observed in these clusters contain stars that formed as early as 200 million years after the Big Bang, providing astronomers with clues to the first stages of the universe and the evolution of galaxies.
12. Rose of Galaxies
This image was released in 2011 to mark the Hubble Space Telescope’s 21st anniversary. The magnificent photograph shows the celestial dance of two spiral galaxies, the gravitational interactions creating the rose-like formation.
In this beautiful image we see a small portion of the Carina Nebula with rolling cauldrons of gas, glowing stars and enormous pillars of cosmic dust.
Visible in the constellation of Centaurus, Centaurus A is a prominent galaxy with a super massive black hole at its heart. The black hole spurts towering jets of gas into space, emitting X-ray and radio waves. This image captures these radio waves to reveal the structure of the galaxy’s jetting lobes, each of which is about one million light-years in length.
15. Light Echo
V838 Monocerotis, visible at the center of this awesome photograph, is a red variable star located 20,000 from the Earth and one of the largest of all known stars. The star was observed lighting up with a massive outburst in early 2002. The Hubble Space Telescope records the expansion of the light echo of the blast as it travels through clouds of interstellar matter around the central star. Astronomers are uncertain of the type of event the outburst was, but suggestions include the thermal pulse of a dying star, a thermonuclear event or a planetary capture event, in which a star swallows one of its planets.
Saturn’s ‘year’, the time the planet takes to orbit the Sun, is 29.5 Earth years. During this time Saturn has seasonal tilts, in a similar way as the Earth tilts on its axis through the year, creating the changes we experience as seasons. Saturn’s tilting motion means that once every 30 years observers on Earth get to see the other planet’s southern hemisphere and rings at a maximum angle of 27 degrees. The most recent occasion this happened was during the months of March and April in 2003. NASA astronomers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at Saturn and captured a series of mesmerizing photographs, including this one, shot in stunning ultraviolet.
17. Spiral Galaxy
NGC 2841 is a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Ursa Major, about 46 million light years from Earth. The various colors of stars in the galaxy’s spiral arms tell us a great deal about their ages – light blue stars are relatively young, white stars are middle aged, while the pink glowing features are nebulae emissions from the birth of new stars.
18. Cat’s Eye Nebula
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, seen in the constellation of Draco, was among the first nebulae to be observed and studied, and it is also one of the most structurally complex. William Herschel discovered the nebula in 1786, and its mysterious shape has continued to fascinate astronomers ever since. The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed an astonishing array of structures including concentric rings, knotty twists, jets, bubbles and arcs. The Cat’s Eye has been studied across the full electromagnet spectrum, producing some amazing photographs such as this example, but the nebula still conceals many mysteries in its remarkable form.
19. Whirlpool Galaxy
M51, better known as the Whirlpool Galaxy, is located in the constellation Canes Venatici. This image shows the galaxy in all its spiraling glory, with its companion galaxy NGC 5195 seen to the right. It is believed NGC 5195 passed through the main body of M51 about 500 to 600 million years ago, the huge collision causing the spiral shape that we see today. The Whirlpool is one of the best known and most observed galaxies in the sky, and can be viewed from Earth with binoculars.
This image captures our nearest planetary neighbor, Mars, and was taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter spacecraft, which visited the Red Planet in 1980. The dark gash visible across the planet’s equator is Valles Marineris, the largest canyons known to exist. The system of valleys and ravines is a massive 4,000 kilometers long, 200 kilometers wide and up to seven kilometers deep.
These supersonic jets of gas and debris, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, are the result of star birth. Gases are fired off at incredible speeds as stars are formed – the jets in this photograph are traveling at over 440,000 miles per hour. Most cosmic events take place across a timescale beyond the limits of human observance, but in this case we are able to see the movement of the jets. NASA scientist recorded a series of photographs of the jets of gas over a period of 14 years, and then stitched them together into a time-lapse film.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and its moon Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system. Here we see Ganymede on one of its seven-day orbits disappearing into the giant planet’s dark side.
A solar eclipse is an extremely dramatic event when viewed from the Earth, the moment when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, blocking its light and revealing the corona. An annular eclipse is when the Moon and Sun are exactly in line in relation to the viewer, but the Moon appears smaller so an annulus, or ring, of bright Sun is exposed. This dazzling photograph was captured by the Hinode satellite, a Japanese mission to further our understanding of the Sun and solar phenomena.
24. Lagoon Nebula
Seen in the constellation of Sagittarius, 4,000 to 6,000 light-years from Earth, is the Lagoon Nebula, a massive interstellar cloud. The nebula is visible to the naked eye as a faint, grey cloud in the Milky Way, but this photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the dramatic colors and sandy beach-like structures. The eroded gas and dust formations we see are the result of star birth and ultraviolet radiation bombardment in this huge stellar nursery.
25. Dying Star
Finally, we have another astounding photograph of nebula NGC 6302, a bipolar mass of trailing gas, icy hailstorms and columns of cosmic dust, all with a burning, dying star at its center. The star is one of the hottest stars known, another example of the marvels humans continue to discover and record with amazing outer space photography.
knows a thing or two about design and photography and the universe as he’s written a few posts on the subject on the Cartridge Save blog. When he’s not guest posting, James maintains the blog, and researches and reviews toner cartridges for the site.