The universe pictures of nebulae, galaxies, star outbursts, and planets shown on this page are some of the most amazing space pictures of all time. Most of these pictures were taken by very powerful space telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), etc. However, some of the pictures were also taken by Voyager, Mars Exploration Rover, and other space-probe apparatus.
This page is divided into the following four sections: -
The picture shown above is an infrared image of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. It is one of the most popular pictures of space because it bears an uncanny resemblance to a giant eye in the sky. On May 10, 2003 NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website displayed a Hubble Space Telescope picture of this nebula. That picture became one of the most shared Universe pictures of all time on the Internet and somebody on the net gave it the name, "The Eye of God." Many people still know it by the same name.
So, what is this mysterious eye in the heavens? To put it very simply, it is merely a dying star. The death of a star is a spectacular phenomenon which lasts for tens of thousands of years. When a star of a certain mass starts to die, its outer gaseous layers greatly expand to form an outer gas shell known as a "planetary nebula." The inner core of the star continues to remain extremely hot and emits radiation of high energy. The infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light waves from this central core make the outer gaseous layers shine as you can see in the infrared picture of the Helix Nebula shown above. This nebula is located about 700 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Aquarius constellation. It is about 2.5 light-years in length.
A light-year is not a unit of time; it is a unit of distance. It is the distance that light travels in one year. The speed of light is 1,86,282 miles per second (2,99,792 kilometers per second). That means one light-year is equal to about 6 trillion miles (or 10 trillion kilometers). As a yardstick, the average distance of the Sun from the Earth is only 8 light-minutes and 20 light-seconds, and the average distance of the Moon from the Earth is just about 1.2 light-seconds.
The previous Universe picture of the Helix Nebula was about the death of a star, and the Hubble Space Telescope image shown above is about the birth of new stars. Few Universe pictures have generated as much curiosity as this picture of a portion of the Eagle Nebula. This portion of the Eagle Nebula is an interstellar region of gas, plasma and dust in which new stars are formed (hence the name, "Pillars of Creation"). The materials in this region continuously clump together to form larger and larger masses which ultimately become so big that they form stars. This nebula is located about 6,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Serpens constellation. It is about 20 light-years in length. The towers of gas that form this emission nebula are trillions of miles in length.
Many Universe pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show only a portion of a nebula. The above picture shows a portion of the Eagle Nebula titled, "The Fairy of Eagle Nebula." It was released by NASA in 2005, on the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Universe pictures of many nebulae show ambiguous, cloud-like shapes and people tend to see some meaningful things within them. Sort of a cosmic Rorschach Inkblot Test, if you may. Does it really look like a fairy? You might be surprised to know that this 'fairy' is 10 light-years tall.
The Carina Nebula is a large and bright nebula located about 7,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Carina constellation in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a tumultuous nursery of stars. Eta Carinae, a hyper-giant star located in the nebula is about four million times brighter than our Sun! The picture shown above is one of the finest Universe pictures captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows chaotic activity on a pillar of gas and dust of the nebula. Super-hot infant stars firing jets of gas are buried within this 3.5 light-year-tall pillar. The length of the entire nebula is about 300 light-years.
Some Universe pictures can be spooky. The Universe picture shown above displays eerie whirlpool or twister-like structures inside the Lagoon Nebula. This nebula is a giant cloud of interstellar matter containing regions in which new stars are born. It is located about 5,200 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. Its length is about 140 light-years. The twister-shaped structures shown in the picture are formed by extreme stellar winds.
The picture of Perseus Nebula shown above is one of the finest infrared Universe pictures taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. This nebula is located about 1,043 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Perseus constellation. The reddish-pink dots on the right of this picture are new-born stars. Cosmic dust and gas collapse to form new stars in the right rim of the nebula. The pinkish-halos around the infant stars are the remnants of the cosmic dust and gas from which they were born. The presence of organic molecules called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are believed to be the reason for the greenish color in parts of the nebula.
The Omega Nebula is located about 5,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It is also called "Swan Nebula" or "Horseshoe Nebula." Its length is about 40 light-years. Like many Universe pictures of nebulae, the above picture makes people imagine many things within it. The image is a close-up of a small region of the nebula.
The Horsehead or Bernard-33 Nebula shown above is one of the most famous Universe pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It looks like a silhouette of a giant sea-horse rising from a sea of stardust and gas against IC-434, a bright nebula behind it. It is located about 1,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Orion constellation.
In 1054 A.D. a star located in the direction of the Taurus constellation exploded violently to form what is known as the Crab Nebula. The Chinese, Japanese, Arab, and Native American astronomers observed the event and recorded that it was visible to the naked eye for 23 days in broad daylight, and for 653 days in the night sky. Few Universe pictures grab as much curiosity as the Hubble Space Telescope image of the nebula shown above. It shows the mess that is left behind when a star explodes. The filament-like structures are the tattered remnants of the exploded star. The nebula is about 11 light-years in length. It is located about 6,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Taurus constellation. It is constantly expanding at a rate of 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) per second. A neutron star that is only 12 miles (19 kilometers) across, but as massive as our Sun lies in its center. This neutron star is known as Crab Pulsar. It rotates about 30 times per second and emits gamma-rays, X-rays, and radio waves.
One of the finest Universe pictures, the above infrared image of the Heart and Soul Nebulae was taken by Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) of NASA. If you look at the picture above, do you see a heart shaped structure? The nebula on the right side of the image is called the Heart Nebula (IC 1805), and the nebula on the left side of the image is called the Soul Nebula (IC 1848 or W5). They are about 580 light-years across and are located about 6,000 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Cassiopeia constellation. Two galaxies, Maffei 1 and Maffei 2 are visible near the bottom of the picture as tiny, bluish objects. These galaxies are about 10 million light-years away. Each of them contains billions of stars.
Shown above is an infrared picture of California Nebula taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). A vague resemblance to the map of California gives the nebula its name. The length of this nebula is about 100 light-years. It is located about 1,800 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Perseus constellation. Menkhib, one of the brightest stars in the Perseus constellation is visible as a bright, bluish-star in the picture (on the left side near the red colored dust cloud). This star blows a fast stellar wind that creates a shock wave and heats up the dust around it. It can be seen as a red cloud in the top left portion of image. Stars within the nebula ionize its gas, which can be seen as red and green colors in the picture.
W5 or Wispy Star-Forming Region is a massive star-forming region located about 6,500 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Cassiopeia constellation. Radiation and stellar-winds from the region's most massive stars have carved large cavities within it. The gas that is pushed together heats up tremendously, and new stars are formed. The infrared image shown above is one of the most intriguing Universe pictures taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. It shows several generations of stars. The blue colored dots within the hollow cavities are the oldest stars, the pink-colored dots near the rims of the cavities are the younger stars, while the whitish areas are regions where the youngest stars are forming. Heated dust within the cavities of the region is represented by red color. The dense stellar clouds are represented by green color. Infrared Universe pictures such as the one displayed above are color-coded to represent different temperatures or wave-lengths of light.
The above picture of NGC 6302 is one of the most peculiar Universe pictures. It shows a bipolar planetary nebula located about 4,000 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Scorpius constellation. It is also known as the Butterfly Nebula, the Bug Nebula, or Caldwell 69. A dying star present in the center of this nebula has an extremely hot surface-temperature of 200,000 degrees Kelvin. What look like the wings of a butterfly are actually hot and furious jets of gas traveling with a speed of 600,000 miles (965,606 kilometers) per hour. A rocket traveling with such a speed would cover the distance from the Earth to the Moon in just 24 minutes. The 'wings' of this nebula are more than 2 light-years long.
Some Universe pictures can be framed and hung on the wall instead of abstract-art paintings. There are dozens of pictures of the Orion Nebula, and each picture is very spectacular. The above picture of the nebula was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2006. The nebula is about 24 light-years across. It is located at a distance of about 1,500 light-years from the Earth. It is visible to the naked eye in the direction of the Orion constellation toward the south of its Orion Belt asterism. It is one of the most photogenic nebulae, and the closest star-formation region to the Earth. It provides one of the best opportunities to study how new stars are born in the Universe, both due to its proximity and due to the relative absence of nebular dust and gas clouds that block the view of star forming regions in nebulae.
Universe pictures of nebulae often display shapes that resemble insects or bugs. The above picture displays the Ant Nebula (Menzel 3 or Mz 3), which looks like the body of an ant. It is a bipolar planetary-nebula having a length of about 1 light-year. It is located about 8,000 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Norma constellation. Its fiery outflows or lobes protrude from a dying, Sun-like star. The jets of gases expelled by the violent explosion of the dying star have an estimated speed of 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) per second. The cause of the intriguing ant-like shape is speculative -- the dying star might be spinning and a companion star might be orbiting close to it, exerting strong gravitational forces that influence the outflow of the gas.
Some Universe pictures are composite images formed by combining two or more telescope images. The above image is a composite image made from the visible-light and infrared-light images of the Sombrero Galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, respectively. This unbarred spiral galaxy spans about 50,000 light-years. It lies about 28 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Virgo constellation. Due to its shape, it gets its name from a type of Mexican hat called 'sombrero.' A large black hole, a billion times more massive than our Sun is suspected to be present in its center. The closeup images of this galaxy are among some of the most photogenic pictures of the Universe.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy. It spans about 200,000 to 260,000 light-years and is located about 2.5 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Andromeda constellation. It is visible to the naked eye. It contains about one trillion stars. Many Universe pictures such as the one shown above are taken as frames and then combined together to form the whole picture of the celestial object.
A barred spiral galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars. The above image is a Hubble Space Telescope picture of the 'NGC 1672' barred spiral galaxy. Many Universe pictures of galaxies such as the one shown above reveal star-forming regions of interstellar clouds and dust. The NGC 1672 galaxy is located at a distance of 60 million light-years from the Earth in the direction of the Dorado constellation of the Southern Hemisphere. It spans about 75,000 light-years across. The above picture reveals filaments of dust lanes, red emission nebulae, young clusters of stars, and a bright active nucleus (which is thought to contain a black hole).
Classical Universe pictures of galaxies, such as the image of the Whirlpool Galaxy shown above fascinate sky gazers. This galaxy is a grand design spiral galaxy located about 31 million light-years away from the Earth. It is estimated to have a length of about 65,000 light-years. It is even visible through a good pair of binoculars in the direction of the Canes Venatici constellation. Its spectacular spiral shape is thought to be a result its gravitational interaction with NGC 5195, a dwarf galaxy visible on the top right side of the above picture. A black hole surrounded by a ring of dust is thought to be present in the center of the spiral. The knots in the spiral arms that appear in the pictures of this galaxy are regions of compression of hydrogen gas and the birth-places of new stars.
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured many amazing Universe pictures, such as the one shown above. It shows the 'NGC-2207' spiral galaxy colliding with the 'IC-2163' spiral galaxy. However, don't assume that this collision will be over in the blink of an eye. Astronomers estimate that the process of galactic collisions takes billions of years, and in the end the colliding galaxies often merge together. These galaxies are located about 114 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Canis Major constellation. Universe pictures of colliding galaxies attracted a lot of attention when they were first released. Also see this picture of the same colliding galaxies taken by ESO.
Some of the most amazing pictures of the Universe are those of nebulae and interacting galaxies. The above Universe picture shows NGC-3808A (the larger galaxy) interacting with NGC-3808B (the smaller galaxy). This galaxy pair is also known as Arp 87. Its length is about 75,000 light-years, and it is about 300 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Leo constellation. In interacting galaxy pairs, the gravity of the larger galaxy pulls out stars and other cosmic material from the smaller galaxy. This process is known as tidal stripping. Such interactions of galaxies can occur for billions of years and ultimately both the galaxies merge together.
In January 2002, V838 Monocerotis, which had hitherto been a dull star, suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun and its outer surface seemed to expand greatly making it the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy for several weeks. As the light from the flash traveled through the Universe, it progressively illuminated the previously invisible shells of dust surrounding the mysterious star. This created an illusion that the star itself was expanding. This phenomenon is called a "light echo." The star is a red variable star located about 20,000 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Monoceros (or Unicorn) constellation. It has now faded back to obscurity. The reason for its outburst still continues to puzzle astronomers. The above picture of the star is one of the most amazing Universe pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The photograph shown above is one of the classical Universe pictures taken by Voyager 1 back in 1979. Lo and Europa, two of the 63 moons of Jupiter can be seen in this picture. Lo is on the left side of the image on top of the 'Great Red Spot.' The Voyager 1 spacecraft was about 12.4 million miles (20 million kilometers) away from Jupiter when it captured this picture.
Considered one of finest Universe pictures, the above picture is a 'false-color' image showing the stormy atmosphere of Jupiter. It was captured by Voyager 1 in late 70s. Jupiter is a gas giant with a turbulent atmosphere. The 'Great Red Spot' that can be seen in the top right corner of the above picture is a persistent storm in its atmosphere, known to have existed at least since 1831. Some astronomers think that the storm has existed since 1665. The diameter of this spot is about 3 times the diameter of the Earth. The wind speeds around the edge of this storm reach about 268 miles (432 kilometers) per hour.
The above picture is one of the favorite Universe pictures of Mars lovers. It shows the Sun setting below the edge of the Gusev crater on Mars. This picture was captured by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit (MER-A) on May 19, 2005
The above picture of Earthrise on Moon is one of the most historical Universe pictures of all time. It is the first photograph of the Earth taken by humans from deep space. It was shot on Dec 24, 1968 by William Anders, the lunar module pilot of the Apollo 8 mission (the first manned lunar-orbit mission). It was featured in Life Magazine's 2003 book, "100 Photographs that Changed The World." Galen Avery Rowell, a noted wilderness photographer called it "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." Environmentalists throughout the world are still inspired by it and the famous quote of William Anders, "We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth."
Finally a famous photograph of the Earth, our sweet home in the Universe. This photograph (called "The Blue Marble") was shot on Dec 7, 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17 spacecraft from a distance of 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers). They were traveling toward the Moon. It is one of the most favorite Universe pictures of environmentalists, because so far our Earth is the only known place in the Universe that harbors life.