NASA Staff Shared Their Favorite Hubble Photos for the Telescope's 30th Anniversary

We talked to over a dozen NASA experts, who revealed photos from the telescope that changed the way we look at space.

best hubble photos
NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

At the time of its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was one of the most significant projects NASA had ever embarked upon. It didn't put a human on the moon, but it has advanced our understanding of the universe in innumerable ways and was the first major optical telescope put into orbit.

In April, NASA is celebrating the telescope's 30th anniversary. Hubble's legacy is much more than pretty pictures of distant objects, but, for most people, that's a big part of what it's done. The telescope has produced iconic images that have changed the way we think about space and the vast expanses of stars, dark matter, and gaseous clouds that make up the Milky Way and beyond. 

To celebrate the anniversary, Thrillist asked NASA staff members to share some of their favorite Hubble images.

Hubble Images
NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble)

Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division Director

My favorite is the detailed image of the Crab Nebula. Even better is the multiwavelength picture of the Crab Nebula that includes Chandra and Spitzer data as well.
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant, the remnant of a star that ended its life in a supernova explosion about 1,000 years ago. The Hubble image of the Crab Nebula shows incredible detail in the structure of the nebular filaments. Since these filaments are the remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova, we are really looking directly at the insides of a star. And since all the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are created at the cores of stars through nuclear fusion, we are really looking at the star stuff from which the Earth and everything on it are made.

Jessica Regalado, Communications Engineer

My favorite Hubble image is the Crab Nebula. When I look closely into the image, I feel like something big has exploded, but there is serenity inside it, like the blue sky after a cloudy, rainy, dark day.

best hubble images
NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team and R. Gendler

Michael Garcia, Hubble Program Scientist

M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is my favorite because I’ve spent a lot of time using Hubble and Chandra to find new black holes in M31 -- found over two dozen new ones -- and because you can see it with the naked eye. When I get out to my casita outside of Taos, New Mexico, where the skies are very dark and clear, the view of M31 is spectacular. 

hubble photos
NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Mike Nolan, Systems Administrator

Growing up, the “Pillars of Creation” was my favorite Hubble image until the 20th-anniversary image titled “Mystic Mountain” was released. In “Mystic Mountain,” I love the colors and the few areas that look like arrows shooting through the tops of the “mountains.” Both of these images are incredible and truly stimulate our imaginations.

hubble images anniversary
R. Williams (STScI), the Hubble Deep Field Team and NASA

Morgan Van Arsdall, Systems Engineer

My favorite Hubble image is the original Hubble Deep Field. With this image, we could begin to visualize the incredible scale of the universe. Because it was taken over 10 days, the Hubble Deep Field also highlights Hubble’s outstanding pointing control capabilities.

Galaxy image of hubble

Nzinga Tull, Systems Engineer

The “smiling galaxies” image taken by Hubble is one of my favorites. I’ve long been enamored by the notion of intergalactic connectedness, and this image captures that spirit for me with playfulness and joy

colorful galaxy image
NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: R. Corradi (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Spain) and Z. Tsvetanov (NASA)

Maurice Henderson, Outreach Specialist

For a single image, the story of the Cat’s Eye Nebula is a favorite in my family. It doesn’t hurt that it hangs in our stairwell at home, backlit. 

great hubble images
ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Bellini

Taliha Brock, Resource Analyst

Hubble Embraces Spiral With Open Arms. This image reflects to me the eye of some superior force looking and embracing the galaxy.

Hubble anniversary images
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

Stephanie Clark, Outreach Specialist

Westerlund 2, a star cluster made up of about 3,000 stars, is my favorite Hubble image. I absolutely love the depth, color, and contrast of this spectacular star nursery.

great hubble telescope images
NASA, ESA, and D. Lennon (ESA/STScI)

Pat Crouse, Project Manager

I like the Tarantula Nebula because I like the dynamic appearance of the image.

great space images
NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Paul Morris, Video Producer

Messier 51, or the “Whirlpool Galaxy,” makes me stop in my tracks every time I see it. Over the past 30 years, Hubble has captured some truly stunning images, but there’s just something special to me that lives within the shape, the colors, and the action of Hubble’s Whirlpool Galaxy image; you can almost feel it spinning. I love it, I really love it.

best images of space
NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA);

Ken Carpenter, Project Scientist

My favorite Hubble image is the huge mosaic of the Carina Nebula. This is an image you can “fly into” and examine in amazing detail, to see multiple examples of star birth and star death and the interaction of stars with the dense interstellar clouds of dust and gas that exist throughout the region. You can see evaporating clouds and shock waves in those clouds and turbulence and flows in them as well. It is a great image to download and make a wall-sized print of -- then you can stare at it for hours in the comfort of your own home!

pillars space image
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Lynn Foster Bassford, Flight Operations Manager

The jaw-dropping star-forming “Pillars of Creation” region of the M16 Eagle Nebula is my favorite Hubble image. The series, ranging from the famous April 1995 visible-light image that is displayed as I enter my house, to the upgraded 2014 image displaying thousands of more infant stars utilizing near-infrared light, symbolizes the diversity of our past and the exciting challenges in our future as we explore how our piece of the puzzle fits into the universe. I am eager for the story to continue through the next image of the series planned as the James Webb Space Telescope’s far-infrared punches through the pillar’s clouds to unveil planets around the young stars.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.