The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 23 years and, to celebrate this milestone, the space telescope has revisited the famous Horsehead Nebula in the constellation of Orion.
But on this particular observing session, Hubble had a little help from another space telescope friend.
We may be familiar with the majestic pillar of dust and gas, but this view was imaged using Hubble's high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3, which views the universe in near-infrared wavelengths. See the comparison of Hubble's infrared view and the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) optical view of the nebula below:
Usually, the thick dust obscures the baby stars forming inside the Horsehead's distinctive pillar, but Hubble's infrared imaging allows the hot stars cocooned inside to be seen. Also, the nebula's outermost 'edge' appears to glow as it is illuminated by a nearby hot star.
In addition to Hubble's view, sibling space telescope, the European Herschel space observatory, imaged the region surrounding the Horsehead Nebula in an even more extreme wavelength: far-infrared. The Herschel observation not only picks out violent regions of starbirth in the Orion B molecular cloud region, it also provides a context to the scale of the Horsehead feature jutting out.
23 years since Hubble was released into orbit from the cargo bay of space shuttle Discovery (during the STS-31 mission), the telescope hasn't only brought us incredible views of the cosmos, it has transformed our understanding of the underlying science behond objects such as the Horsehead Nebula.
As this new, infrared view of the Horsehead shows us, we have a lot to look forward to when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope -- a powerful infrared observatory -- is launched in 2018.