Top Five Breakthroughs From Hubble's Workhorse Camera

Hubble Deep Field Several hundred never before seen galaxies are visible in this "deepest-ever" view of the universe, called the Hubble Deep Field (HDF), made with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/STScI
›  Full image and caption
  • submit to reddit

May 04, 2009

Deepest photograph of the universe. Hubble's famous "Deep Field" picture (above), taken by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, left the world with its mouth agape when it was first revealed in 1996. In just a small patch of sky, more than 1,000 galaxies located billions of light-years away could be seen floating in space like sea creatures at the bottom of an endless ocean. Our world and our galaxy suddenly seemed very small.

Observations of comet collision with Jupiter. The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 gave the world a rare, stunning view of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 plunging into the gas giant Jupiter in 1994. The images revealed the event in great detail, including ripples expanding outward from the impact.

The birth and death of stars. The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 brought the cosmos down to Earth with its exquisite pictures of stars in all stages of development. Its famed picture of the "Pillars of Creation" and other images of colorful dying stars offered the first, glorious views of a star's life. The camera also took the first pictures of the dusty disks around stars where planets are born, demonstrating that planet-forming environments are common in the universe.

The age and rate of expansion of our universe. Our universe formed from a colossal explosion known as the Big Bang, and has been stretching apart ever since. Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, by observing stars that vary periodically in brightness, was able to calculate the pace of this expansion to an unprecedented degree of error of 10 percent. The camera also played a leading role in discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, driven by a mysterious force called "dark energy." Together, these findings led to the calculation that our universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old.

Most galaxies harbor huge black holes. Before Hubble, astronomers suspected, but had no proof, that supermassive black holes lurk deep in the bellies of galaxies. The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, together with spectroscopy data from Hubble, showed that most galaxies in the universe do indeed harbor monstrous black holes up to billions of times the mass of our sun.

Media contact: DC Agle/JPL
(818) 393-9011