If you see a spectacular image of a galaxy far, far away, chances are it comes from one telescope. Since 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has been hanging out 350 miles above Earth’s surface, capturing the wonders of the universe removed from Earth’s hazy atmosphere. Hubble brings us some of the clearest, most vivid images of the birth and death of stars and galaxies available.
And though the photographs beamed back to Earth represent significant scientific data about the state of our ever-expanding universe, there’s also an undeniably artistic aspect to them, as the (visually spectacular) new book Expanding Universe argues. The telescope has helped nail down our best estimate for the age of the universe, in addition to discovering new galaxies. Hubble takes high-resolution images in black and white and transmits them to NASA astronomers. The astronomers then use data culled from different types of radiation invisible to our eyes–infrared, microwave, x-ray, and gamma rays–to create the sumptuous images that they share with the public. Some of Hubble’s most famous photos, like the iconic image of the star-birthing Pillars of Creation, resemble paintings more than photos. They detail unimaginably distant phenomena–and become works of art.
“Over the past 25 years, Hubble has been both a scientific marvel and a gallery of wonder, shedding light on dim places, and sending back gorgeous pictures that are expanding human knowledge and reminding us of earth’s tiny and precious place in the cosmos,” writes NASA’s head honcho, Charles Bolden, in the book’s introduction. See some of the telescope’s greatest hits above.