On April 24, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, with a very special item on board: the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into Earth's orbit a day later. Now, to celebrate the telescope's 30th anniversary observing the cosmos, NASA has released what it calls a "stunning new portrait of a firestorm of starbirth." In less-flowery layman's terms, it's a photo taken by the telescope itself of two gassy nebulae (a red one and a blue one) in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Space.com notes the photo has been dubbed "Cosmic Reef," as "the sparkling, brilliant structures resemble a cosmic coral reef glistening in some secret corner of a deep ocean."
The region where the nebulae were spotted is part of a star-birthing area known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is about 163,000 light-years away from Earth. "This image is amazing, it's really showing how powerful Hubble is," a Space Telescope Science Institute astrophysicist says. "Today, it has the sharpest eyes it's ever had." Space.com has more on the telescope's storied history, from the initial bumps when it was first sent into orbit, to its discovery of huge black holes hiding in distant galaxies. "Hubble has changed the landscape of astronomy and astrophysics," says an STSI senior staff member who watched the Hubble launch in 1990. "It has far exceeded its early goals—no other science facility has ever made such a range of fundamental discoveries." (Read more Hubble Space Telescope stories.)