The Hubble Space Telescope has celebrated its 30th birthday by issuing an extraordinary new picture from a distant galaxy.
The stunning image is of a vast star-forming region close to the Milky Way, located some 163,000 light-years away from Earth.
It shows giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbour NGC 2020 and has been nicknamed the “Cosmic Reef” because it looks like an undersea world.
The two star-forming regions are dominated by the glow of stars at least 10 times more massive than our sun, although they live only a few million years, compared to the 10-billion-year lifetime of our sun.
The giant telescope was sent into low Earth orbit (an Earth-centered orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km (1,242 miles) or less) in 1990.
Its mission was to capture images and data of distant galaxies, planets and supermassive black holes deep within our universe.
It has given scientists some 1.4 million previously-unseen images and provided data for more than 17,000 scientific papers, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) which operates the telescope with NASA.
It has come a long way from its troubled early years when the it suffered with blurred vision due to a flawed mirror, not corrected until a shuttle mission in 1993.
Each year, Hubble issues a milestone image and it shows no sign of retiring anytime soon.
Professor Gunther Hasinger, ESA director of science, said it still has a vital role: “The Hubble Space Telescope has shaped the imagination of truly a whole generation, inspiring not only scientists, but almost everybody.
“It is paramount for the excellent and long-lasting cooperation between NASA and ESA.”
Narrowing the age of the universe down to about 13.8 billion years is one of Hubble‘s many achievements.
It has also found that the universe is not just expanding, but accelerating, a discovery which won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.