Newswise — When NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, astronomers anticipated great discoveries, ranging from finding black holes to looking back billions of years toward the beginning of time. Now, 15 years later, the versatile telescope continues to deliver exciting new science, including helping to prove the existence of dark energy, tracing enigmatic gamma-ray bursts to distant galaxies, and sampling the atmospheres of far-flung planets. To celebrate Hubble's 15th anniversary, new breathtaking images will be released of a majestic spiral galaxy teeming with newborn stars and an eerie-looking spire of gas and dust.

The new image of the well-known spiral galaxy M51 (known as the Whirlpool Galaxy), showcases a spiral galaxy's classic features, from its curving arms, where newborn stars reside, to its yellowish central core, a home for older stars. A feature of considerable added interest is the companion galaxy located near the end of one of the spiral arms. The new photograph of the Eagle Nebula shows a tall, dense tower of gas that is being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars.

The pictures are among the largest and sharpest views taken by Hubble. The images taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, are 20 times larger than a photograph taken by a typical digital camera. The new images are so sharp that they could be enlarged to billboard size and still retain the stunning details.

The Space Shuttle Discovery placed Hubble into Earth-orbit on April 25, 1990. For the first time, a large telescope that sees in visible light began orbiting above Earth's distorting atmosphere, which blurs starlight and makes images appear fuzzy. After installation of a new camera and a device that compensated for an improperly ground mirror, images of planets, stars, galaxies, and nebulae began pouring in -- all up to 10 times sharper than any previous telescope had ever delivered.

During its 15 years of viewing the universe, the telescope has:--Helped astronomers calculate the precise age of the universe (13.7 billion years old);--Helped confirm the existence of a strange form of energy called dark energy;--Detected small proto-galaxies that emitted their light when the universe was less than a billion years old;--Proved the existence of super-massive black holes;--Showed that the process of forming planetary systems is common throughout the galaxy, and;--Taken more than 700,000 snapshots of celestial objects such as galaxies, dying stars and giant gas clouds, the birthplace of stars.Astronomers are looking forward to more great discoveries by Hubble.

Mural-sized celestial images of the new Whirlpool Galaxy and the new Eagle Nebula will be unveiled this morning at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Musuem in Washington and will be unveiled later today at 100 museums, planetariums, and science centers across the country, from Guam to Maine. The new 4-foot-by-6-foot image of the Whirlpool Galaxy and the new 3-foot-by-6-foot photograph of the Eagle Nebula will be on display at all the sites. A list of these sites is available on: .

If you cannot see the pictures at a museum or planetarium, catch them on the new "Gallery" at Views of the Whirlpool Galaxy and the Eagle Nebula, along with more than 1,000 other glorious Hubble images, can be savored from the comfort of your home. If you want some Hubble pictures to hang in your home, then go to "Astronomy Printshop." Choose from a list of Hubble images that are specially formatted for printing. Select the image, the size you want (from 4 inches by 6 inches to 16 inches by 20 inches), and download it. Then take it to your favorite photo lab to make a copy suitable for framing.

Looking for information about Hubble and its discoveries that is written for children? Then go to the Amazing Space education website at: Children can read a story tailored just for them on Hubble's 15th anniversary, entitled "Hubble's Picture Book of the Universe." The story is under "The Star Witness," a section of the website offering Hubble news written for children. Children also can take a journey through the eras of telescope history by going to Amazing Space's "Online Explorations" and clicking on "Telescopes from the Ground Up." This newest addition to Amazing Space traces the fascinating history of telescope evolution from the technological advancements to the people who made the telescopes.

Electronic files for the new Hubble images and additional 15th anniversary information are available at:

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

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