Breathtaking Images to Celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope Getting Another Five Years of Life

These amazing views are just a selection of the beautiful images the craft has captured over the years

About 150 years ago, the star Eta Carinae experienced a massive outburst, becoming one of the brightest stars in the southern sky. However, it didn't become a supernova: the star survived. Instead, the outburst produced two massive lobes and a smaller disc of debris circling a star 100 times more massive than our own sun. Hubble captured this image of the remarkable star in 1995. Jon Morse (University of Colorado), and NASA
This image of the galaxy Messier 104 (better known as the Sombrero Galaxy) was taken by the Hubble back in 2003, but astronomers have observed the distant galaxy since the 19th century. Its flat shape comes from its edge-on orientation in relation to our view of the Virgo cluster 28 million light-years away from Earth. With about 800 billion suns spanning 50,000 light-years across, the Sombrero Galaxy is one of the most massive objects in that group. NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team
Most images of Jupiter show it as a roiling mass of orange, red, and brownish clouds, but this shot the Hubble snapped in 2004 showcases what the gas giant looks like in the infrared spectrum. The photo also captures five of its moons, three of which are undergoing a rare triple eclipse. NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)
This photo of the galaxy cluster Abell 370 looks a little off, but that's because the light from its stars has been warped by the cluster's gravitational fields. This image taken in 2009 showcases one of the first galaxy clusters where astronomers observed this phenomenon, known as "gravitational lensing." NASA, ESA, the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, and ST-ECF
The "Mystic Mountain" image released for the Hubble's 20th anniversary showcases a three-light-year tall pillar of gas and dust stretching out of the Carina nebula. Mostly made of cool hydrogen, the structure is created by stars releasing jets of gas, which is worn away by radiation from other nearby stars, giving it its eroded shape. NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)
This sinister-seeming image may look like an evil eye peering across the depths of space, but it is actually a young planetary nebula designated "MyCn18." Hubble captured this image back in 1996, and shed new light on what happens when stars like our own sun slowly die. Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger (JPL), the WFPC2 science team, and NASA
This "Rose" of galaxies was revealed to celebrate the Hubble's 21st anniversary. Though it may seem delicate at first, it depicts two interacting galaxies that are being warped by their gravitational pulls. The upper galaxy has been distorted into a rose-like shape by the tidal pull of its companion's gravitational field. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Since 1990, when the Hubble Space Telescope launched into Earth's orbit, the craft has captured some of the most beautiful and significant images of deep space objects ever seen. From billowing nebulas to distant galaxies, the Hubble has expanded scientists’ understanding of our universe while showing just how gorgeous the cosmos can be. Now, NASA has decided to extend the Hubble’s lifespan for an extra five years, giving the researchers working on the space telescope more time to continue their work while its successor is completed.

The Hubble has been circling the Earth for 26 years, but it was never meant to stick around this long. The space telescope was supposed to last for about 15 years, but thanks to several repair missions, it has lasted almost twice as long, Jenna Amatulli writes for the Huffington Post. Thanks to a $2.3 billion contract with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which operates the Hubble from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the Hubble will continue to work from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2021.

“After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever,” according to a NASA statement. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020’s, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe.”

The Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, has long been scheduled to head out into the starry skies in 2018. The James Webb Telescope will peer much deeper into space than the Hubble to study the beginnings of our universe. For one, it observes the cosmos in infrared light, which is much more sensitive than the visual and ultraviolet sight of the Hubble, Matthew Reynolds reports for Wired UK. James Webb is also equipped with a much larger mirror, greatly increasing its light-gathering power. To top it off, while the Hubble orbits just 354 miles away from Earth, the James Webb will explore much deeper into space, venturing over 900,000 miles away.

The James Webb Space Telescope is still two years away from being launched into orbit. Until then, the Hubble will continue to give astronomers a glimpse at the wonders of the universe. In honor of its decades of service, the slideshow above are a few examples of the coolest things the Hubble has discovered during its 3-billion-mile trip around the Earth.

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