The Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday and NASA has released a new photograph from the orbiting observatory of a cosmic pillar of gas and dust piled high in the Carina Nebula galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday and NASA has released a new photograph from the orbiting observatory of a cosmic pillar of gas and dust piled high in the Carina Nebula galaxy.

Three light-year-tall towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula, the US space agency said, in a scene that is reminiscent of Hubble’s classic “Pillars of Creation” photograph from 1995.

Hubble, named after the astronomer Edwin P Hubble (1889—1953), was launched into low—Earth orbit on April 24, 1990.

Since then, it has been sending back some of the most spectacular images of galaxies - helping scientists to place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, learn that black holes are at the centre of most galaxies, monitor planetary formation and discover that the universe is expanding at an ever-faster pace.

To date, Hubble has looked at over 30,000 celestial objects and amassed over a half million pictures in its archive.

In May, a revamped Hubble provided colourful images and crisper pictures of distant stars and galaxies after a servicing mission that installed new instruments and repaired broken ones that had hampered the world’s most famous telescope.

Despite its storied past, Hubble had looked set for the junk heap until the space shuttle Atlantis’ repair mission that sought to extend the telescope’s life until at least 2014, and possibly beyond.

NASA had originally decided against the maintenance mission because of the risks involved and pressures to complete International Space Station construction by the end of 2010, when the shuttle is to be retired.

But US politicians and world astronomers fought to keep alive the instrument that has expanded knowledge of space.

“Most of us humans ... will never travel physically to some of the exotic places that we see in Hubble,” said Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator, earlier this year. “What Hubble has done is enabled our hearts, our minds, our spirits to travel throughout the solar system even billions of light years to the very beginning of time.” Hubble fans worldwide are being invited to share the ways the telescope has affected them — they can visit the “Messages to Hubble” page on http://hubblesite.org. The messages will be stored in the Hubble data archive along with the telescope’s many terabytes of science data.

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