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Starts With A Bang

Say Goodbye To 2020 With The Year’s Top 10 Hubble Photos

Launched in 1990 and celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020, the Hubble Space Telescope continues to be humanity’s most powerful optical observatory from its perch above Earth’s atmosphere. Although it will be superseded by James Webb and Nancy Roman later this decade, its sights are still unlike any other. (NASA)

No matter how your year went, Hubble’s views of the Universe never disappoint.


Year after year, Hubble’s telescopic views are unparalleled.

Saturn, its rings, and 5 of its moons are imaged by Hubble, near opposition, in 2020. Saturn’s bands, polar hexagon, and main rings, complete with gaps, are starkly revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope and the OPAL imaging team. Hubble takes an annual photo of Saturn to track the evolution of its features and properties. (NASA, ESA, A. SIMON (GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER), M.H. WONG (UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY), AND THE OPAL TEAM)

From the Solar System to distant galaxies, it metaphorically unveils the Universe.

The massive galaxy cluster, MACS J1206, is revealed by Hubble in this image. A 2020 study identified a number of galaxies with bright, stretched, repeating streaks across them: even more distant galaxies whose light was gravitationally lensed by not only the foreground cluster, but by the individual galaxies within the cluster. Dark matter is distributed smoothly within the cluster and also clustered about the individual galaxies inside. (NASA, ESA, P. NATARAJAN (YALE UNIVERSITY), G. CAMINHA (UNIVERSITY OF GRONINGEN), M. MENEGHETTI (INAF-OBSERVATORY OF ASTROPHYSICS AND SPACE SCIENCE OF BOLOGNA), AND THE CLASH-VLT/ZOOMING TEAMS; ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: NASA, ESA, M. POSTMAN (STSCI), AND THE CLASH TEAM)

2020 marked Hubble’s 30th anniversary in space.

From solar system objects to stars, nebulae, galaxies, and cosmic structures, Hubble’s views of the cosmos have reshaped our understanding the Universe, on large and small scales, like no other observatory in history. Each year, for the past 30 years, have provided a new window into viewing and understanding the Universe and our place in it. (NASA/HUBBLE/STSCI MOSAIC)

Here are 2020’s ten most important Hubble photos.

Active galaxy IC 5063, residing 156 million light-years from Earth, has a unique shadow. Its central region is emitting copious amounts of light, but dust clouds theorized to be near the central black hole in a ring-like shape creates the visual effect of these rays, which appear to extend for ~36,000 light-years. (NASA, ESA, AND W.P. MAKSYM (CFA))

10.) A black hole’s dusty shadow. A dust ring surrounding active galaxy IC 5063’s central black hole creates this cosmic silhouette.

GAL-CLUS-022058s is one of the largest and most complete Einstein rings ever discovered. This beautiful gravitational lens is created by a bright, distant galaxy which happens to be aligned directly behind a massive galaxy at the center of a massive galaxy cluster. The lensing effect stretches, distorts, and magnifies the background galaxy, as well as creating multiple images of it. (ESA/HUBBLE & NASA, S. JHA; ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: L. SHATZ)

9.) Relativistic rings. In Einstein’s theory, massive objects behave lens-like, beautifully distorting distant objects.

A cloud of gas collapses, forming new stars, while radiation works to evaporate it. The evaporative ultraviolet radiation comes from two sources: the proto-stars forming inside, and the radiation of young stars from outside of it. When the cloud, known as a frEGG (free-floating evaporating gaseous globule) evaporates, a mix of true stars and “failed” stars will be left behind. (ESA/HUBBLE & NASA, R. SAHAI)

8.) frEGGS. These “free-floating evaporating gaseous globules” birth new stars inside.

This galaxy, UGC 2885, also known as Rubin’s galaxy, is the largest spiral galaxy ever discovered at approximately 800,000 light-years in diameter. It has approximately 10 times as many stars as the Milky Way inside of it. It is truly a G.O.U.S.: a galaxy of unusual size. (NASA, ESA, AND B. HOLWERDA (UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE))

7.) Grand spiral galaxy UGC 2885. With ten times the Milky Way’s stars, it’s truly a galaxy of unusual size.

This pair of Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 and April 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet of the breakup of the solid nucleus of the comet. Hubble’s eagle-eye view identifies as many as 30 separate fragments, but astronomers still aren’t sure exactly why this comet broke apart. (NASA, ESA, STSCI, AND D. JEWITT (UCLA))

6.) Comet ATLAS disintegrates. Hubble identified 30 separate fragments of this cometary nucleus breaking apart.

NGC 6302, the Butterfly Nebula, is viewed in multiple wavelengths of light. Hubble observations including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light enable astronomers to map out the various temperatures, densities, and compositions across this nebula, revealing an S-shaped bright streak of ionized iron: thought to be the most recent ejection from the central star. (NASA, ESA, AND J. KASTNER (RIT))

5.) The Butterfly Nebula. New observations of NGC 6302 reveal a bright “S-curve,” tracing a recent, iron-rich gas ejection.

Jupiter’s great red spot shines brilliantly in its 2020 imaging by Hubble, with Europa nearby. The turbulent flow above and below the great red spot is a consequence of atmospheric dynamics and the interplay between Jupiter’s clouds and this iconic storm. Below the Great Red Spot, Oval BA, known as “Red Spot Jr.,” has changed from red to white, but is now darkening again. (NASA, ESA, STSCI, A. SIMON (GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER), AND M.H. WONG (UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY) AND THE OPAL TEAM)

4.) Turbulent Jupiter. A smaller, color-changing spot joins the Great Red Spot this year.

What appears as a ribbon is a small section of the Cygnus supernova’s blast wave. The supernova remnant is likely 10,000–20,000 years old, having expanded to 60 light-years from its center in that time, where it continues to expand at 350 km/s, more than 1% the speed of light. This is the highest-resolution image of this ribbon ever taken. (ESA/HUBBLE & NASA, W. BLAIR; ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: LEO SHATZ)

3.) A ribbon’s edge. This gaseous shockwave is leftover from history’s Cygnus supernova, 2400 light-years away.

While observing targets in the Kuiper belt on November 2, 2020, a Starlink satellite passed across Hubble’s field of view. Starlink 1619 passed 80 kilometers from Hubble on this date, creating a streak that was 189 pixels wide in this image. Given that the main Starlink fleet cruises just 12 km above Hubble’s operating altitude, many more of these photobombs are anticipated. (NASA/HUBBLE/SIMON PORTER)

2.) Starlink photobombs Hubble. SpaceX’s satellite megaconstellation obscures not only ground-based observations, but Hubble’s, too.

A vast star-forming region has rich, gaseous structures illuminated by starlight. The giant red nebula consists of many massive stars, with the smaller, blue nebula created by a single massive star. This was chosen to be Hubble’s official 30th anniversary image. With more than 1.4 million observations of ~47,000 objects, Hubble has been the most scientifically prolific observatory in history. (NASA, ESA AND STSCI)

1.) The Cosmic Reef. Copious star formation creates the iconic red nebula, with a single glorious star creating the blue one.

Like many of Hubble’s images, this one is available in an ultra-high resolution. The blue nebula, shown here, arises from a solitary mammoth star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. The blue gas was ejected by the star through a series of eruptive events during which it lost part of its outer envelope of material. Many of its features can be seen in even greater detail than shown here. (NASA, ESA AND STSCI)

Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.

Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.


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