This Friday, April 24, marks the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Telescope’s launch into space. In honor of the cosmic occasion, the famous observatory is—figuratively—turning its lens back down to Earth to help all of us celebrate our birthdays, too.
A few weeks ago, NASA announced the debut of a new feature on its website that would share with viewers a breathtaking image taken by the telescope on their birthdays. Because Hubble has only been in commission for three decades, the date won’t necessarily match a person’s birth year, but the site will still spit out a stunning snapshot from the right month and date, KDVR reported earlier this month.
Because Hubble has been in continuous operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since 1990, each date is inevitably linked to some extraordinary snippet of the cosmos. And NASA personnel have clearly curated the 366 of the best. Those celebrating a birthday today (April 23), for instance, would be met with a shot of the the center of the Milky Way—revealing a bustling population of massive stars and a complex swirl of hot, ionized gas—snapped in 2008.
Were Edwin Hubble—the telescope’s namesake who helped prove the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way—still around today, he would have found that his November 20 birthday matched with a 2005 image of Arp 148, a galactic duo likely in the midst of colliding. NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who died earlier this year, would have seen a photo from August 26, 2009 showing some of the oldest galaxies scientists had ever glimpsed at the time, including some that formed just 600 million years after the Big Bang. And then there’s Hubble’s own launch day, April 24: the telescope nabbed a shot of the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant—a relic of a star that exploded in a massive cataclysm about 15,000 years ago—on the first anniversary of its ascent into space.
NASA’s gimmick is a clever one, as it both engages space fans from around the world and boasts some of Hubble’s most astounding finds. Since its launch, the telescope has made about 1.4 million observations, leading to the publication of more than 17,000 scientific papers. Among them are shots of faraway galaxies and exoplanets, and data that’s helped researchers home in on black holes, gravitational waves and dark matter, according to NASA.
First conceived in 1946 by Yale astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer, Jr., the Hubble Space Telescope took several decades to come to fruition, Ellen Gutoskey reports for Mental Floss. But since its launch, it has become “one of humanity’s greatest scientific instruments,” NASA writes, helping uncover the age and evolution of the universe.
Though NASA has postponed its in-person Hubble celebrations to help curb the spread of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, resources abound online. In addition to finding and sharing their birthday space snapshots, fans can tweet about the telescope with the hashtag #Hubble30, tune in to anniversary podcasts and videos and hear happy birthday messages from some of science’s biggest (human) stars.