NASA – On Thursday, astronomers released new images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope showing what scientists described as a gigantic cosmic soap bubble. The space observatory will turn 26 years old on April 24. Featuring the Bubble Nebula, an astonishing video has been released to celebrate the telescope’s birthday.
“The object, known as the Bubble Nebula, is, in fact, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the brilliant star within it,” Hubble mission officials wrote in a photo description, as reported by Space.com. They added that the dramatic images gained a place in the Hubble hall of fame.
A so-called emission nebula, the cosmic soap bubble is scientifically known as NGC 7635 and is located 8,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of Cassiopeia, the constellation, according to the report by Space.com. Astronomer William Herschel first discovered the Bubble Nebula in 1787. Although the just-released images are not the first taken by Hubble, they are a mix of four different photos captured by the observatory’s Wide Field Camera 3 and combined to show the entire nebula for the first time ever.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. It captured an image of the nebula shortly after but its camera was having some technical issues at the time and the bubble was mostly a blur, according to a report by NatGeo. In 1993, a repair mission installed an upgraded version and Hubble was later able to take more detailed photos of the bubble. However, the space observatory could only capture parts of the nebula at a time due to its reduced field of view. Hubble operators installed a more advanced camera in 2009 and the telescope has finally provided a full, astonishing view of the Bubble Nebula.
Hubble mission representatives said they are now able to fully appreciate the shell that is almost perfectly symmetrical and gave the nebula its name. Researchers say the sphere, which measures about 10 light-years in diameter, is steadily growing because of the constant pressure of the stellar wind. The rate of expansion is about 62,000 mph.
Called SAO 20575, Bubble Nebula’s parent star is not located at the center of the bubble and that’s a fact that puzzles astronomers. The star has a mass up to 20 times that of our sun and is surrounded by formations known as cometary knots, which are as massive as our home planet and larger than our entire solar system. SAO 20575 is the source of the stellar wind that’s currently at 100,000 kilometers per hour.