A quarter of a century ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into Earth’s orbit, giving us a revolutionary view of our universe. The joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has been helping scientists make incredible strides in the field of astronomy ever since.
The images taken by Hubble have allowed astronomers to peer lightyears away to see neighboring galaxies, details of how stars are formed, and so much more. It has made 1.2 million observations and gathered data that’s been used to publish more than 12,800 scientific papers, according to NASA. Its beautiful images have even captured the attention of the public and sparked our imagination. Perhaps most notably, the Pillars of Creation has been featured in pop culture and even on clothing, prompting Hubble to revisit the image this year.
More powerful telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, will soon be launched, but the contributions Hubble has made—and will continue to make until it stops functioning, likely in 2018—will not be forgotten.
As Hubble celebrates 25 years of discovery, we take a look back at 25 of its most memorable photos.
Spiral galaxies distorted into a rose shape, Dec. 10, 2010. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble’s largest galaxy portrait offers a new high-definition view, March 1994, September 1994, June 1999, November 2002, and January 2003. NASA, ESA, K. Kuntz (JHU), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (Jet Propulsion Lab), J. Mould (NOAO), Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana), and STScI
Magnificent details in a dusty spiral Galaxy 1995, 1999. The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)
The Great Orion Nebula, 1994. C.R. O’Dell/ Rice University NASA
Embryonic stars emerge from interstellar “eggs”(a.k.a. the Pillars of Creation) April 1, 1995. NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)
Heart of the whirlpool galaxy, Jan. 15 and 24, 1995, July 21, 1999. NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble finds an hourglass nebula around a dying star, July 30, 1995. NASA, R. Sahai, J. Trauger (JPL), and The WFPC2 Science Team
An infrared view of Saturn, Jan. 4, 1998. NASA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)
Dying star sculpts rungs of gas and dust, March 17, 1999. NASA, ESA, H. Van Winckel (Catholic University of Leuven) and M. Cohen (University of California, Berkeley)
Ghostly reflections in the Pleiades, Sept. 19, 1999. NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
A giant Hubble mosaic of the crab nebula. October 1999, January 2000, and December 2000. NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)
Tadpole Galaxy, April 1 and 9, 2002. NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA
Cat’s Eye Nebula, May 4, 2002. NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Sombrero Galaxy, May-June 2003. NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Eta Carina nebula, HST data: March/July 2005. CTIO data: December 2001/March 2003. Hubble Image: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). CTIO Image: N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley) and NOAO/AURA/NSF
Hubble’s deepest view ever of the universe unveils earliest galaxies. Sept. 24, 2003 – Jan. 16, 2004. NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
Space phenomenon imitates art in universe’s version of a van Gogh painting, Feb. 8, 2004. NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
The Bug Nebula: Demise in fire and ice, May 2004. NASA, ESA and A.Zijlstra (UMIST, Manchester, UK)
Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, September 2004. NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Butterfly emerges from stellar demise in planetary nebula NGC 6302, July 27, 2009. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Mystic mountain, February/March 2010. NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)
Taken under the “wing” of the small magellanic butt, March 31 and April 29, 2010. NASA, ESA, CXC and the University of Potsdam, JPL-Caltech, and STScI
Horsehead nebula, Oct. 22, 2012 – Nov. 7, 2012. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble M31 PHAT Mosaic, the largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, July 2010-October 2013.
NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler
Jupiter ascending, April 21, 2014. NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)Correction 4:50pm, May 27: An earlier version of this article included an artist’s interpretation alongside the photos; it has since been replaced.
Main photo via NASA (PD)