Hubble's Image of Tarantula Nebula  (Source: NASA)
NASA plans one final update to keep Hubble going until 2013

It's hard to believe that NASA first launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, making 2008 its 18th year of service. During all its years of service, it has seen numerous shuttle missions to fix and upgrade its systems. According to NASA, Hubble orbits the earth every 97 minutes at about 360 miles above the surface of the earth.

NASA announced today that the Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit. To celebrate its 100,000th orbit, NASA scientists aimed the telescope at a small portion of the Tarantula nebula that is a hotbed of celestial birth and renewal. With the myriad of updates and fixes the Hubble has seen during its 100,000-orbit voyage -- spanning the last 18 years -- it is easy to see the parallel NASA is trying to draw between the telescope and the image of the Tarantula nebula shot today.

NASA says the Tarantula nebula is near star cluster NGC 2074, which lies about 170,000 light-years away from the Earth. This region of space is the most active star-forming region in our local group galaxies according to NASA. NASA describes the image as containing dramatic ridges, valleys of dust, serpent-like "pillars of creation", and gaseous filaments glowing fiercely under torrential ultraviolet radiation.

NASA says that high-energy radiation coming from young, hot star clusters is sculpting the wall of the nebula and is slowly eroding it away. NASA reports that another young star cluster could be hidden beneath a circle of brilliant blue gas in the image. It's hard to get any sense of scale from the image, but NASA says the image is of an area almost 100 light-years wide. The seahorse shaped cloud pillar to the right and the image is 20 light-years long on its own -- roughly four times the distance between our sun and its nearest star Alpha Centauri.

"This morning, the greatest scientific instrument since Galileo's telescope has reached another great milestone - its 100,000th orbit around the Earth. Hubble has given us amazing insight into the origins of our universe, and I'm so proud of the men and women at Goddard and the Space Telescope Science Institute for their contributions and dedication to these great discoveries,” Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA said in a statement. “The entire world is looking forward to the Hubble servicing mission in October 2008, when Hubble will get new scientific instruments, new batteries and new gyroscopes. The servicing mission will extend Hubble's life and give it a more powerful view of our universe. Hubble is the telescope that could, and its best years are ahead of it!"

The Hubble Space Telescope has one more repair and updates slated for October 2008. This will reportedly be the final update or repair to the Hubble space telescope and is expected to allow the telescope to continue operating through 2013.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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