Revel in this spectacular commemorative image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of HubbleCast.
Hubble was launched in orbit on 24 April 1990 as the first space telescope of its kind. For two and a half decades, it has beamed back data and images that have changed our understanding of the Universe and how it came to be.
This amazing image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 is a giant cluster of about 3000 stars. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina.
The stellar nursery is enshrouded by dust, but Hubble’s Camera peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving us a clear view of its inner workings. The image resolves the dense concentration of stars in the center, about 10 light-years across.
The cluster is only about two million years old, but contains some of the brightest, hottest and most massive stars ever discovered. Some of the heftiest stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing torrents of ultraviolet light and high speed streams of charged particles, known as stellar winds. These are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born and are responsible for the weird and wonderful shapes of the clouds of gas and dust in the image.
The pillars in the image are composed of dense gas and dust, and are resisting erosion from the fierce radiation and powerful winds. These gaseous monoliths are a few light-years tall and point to the central cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including dark filaments of dust and gas.