From its vantage point high above the Earth's obscuring atmosphere, the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope continues to return spectacular images that are helping astronomers to explain the mysteries of the cosmos.

Most recently the Hubble sent back a group of snapshots that strengthen theories about the evolution of galaxies and shed additional light on the formation of stars. The infant stars also provide a yardstick for determining the age of objects in the universe.


On October 8, the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble, released an infrared image of the brightest star discovered to date--a behemoth called the Pistol Star, which burns so brightly that it emits more energy in six seconds than the Sun does in a year. It is located a mere 25,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.


That announcement was followed on October 21 by a series of images from the Hubble's optical telescopes that clearly show the formation of "globular clusters" of newborn stars in two colliding galaxies, called the Antenna galaxies because a pair of long tails of luminous matter formed by the collision resembles an insect's antennae. The galaxies are 63 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Corvus. Hubble astronomers closed the loop on October 29 when the offered an explanation for the origin of mysterious, apparently young stars in aging globular clusters. These "blue stragglers" are apparently formed when two of their elders collide.

Can it happen here? Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Andromeda galaxy are approaching each other at a speed of 300,000 miles per hour. If anyone is watching in about five billion years, it promises to be a major fireworks exhibition--and one that should continue to make sparks for at least a few billion years.

Images: NASA