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Hubble Marks 30 Years of Seeing a Universe Being Born and Dying

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” So said Bob Dylan in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

As shown in a new picture of stormy star birth in a nearby galaxy, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, the cosmos is keeping up the tradition of both birth and death. Stars are being born out of the ashes of old ones, forever refreshing the universe.

The picture was released Friday by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, keepers of the Hubble, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the launch of that telescope on April 24, 1990.

That, too, was a time of darkness and rebirth in our world. Astronomers had dreamed for half a century of a telescope in space above the distorting and absorbing effects of the atmosphere, but that dream of a new rebirth for astronomy almost died when the telescope was launched and astronomers found they couldn’t focus it. The primary mirror had been ground to the wrong shape.

Hubble was famously reborn in 1993 when astronauts used the space shuttle to fit it with corrective lenses. Over the next 16 years, successive servicing missions kept Hubble on top of its game, and astronomers now are confident that it will still be in prime shape when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is at last launched next year, we hope, giving the world two peerless eyes in the sky.

And in pictures such as this 30th birthday portrait, it has documented the violent births and deaths of stars obeying Mr. Dylan’s dictum. Entitled “Cosmic Reef,” in an allusion to the richness of undersea life, it shows a so-called stellar nursery in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, about 163,000 light years from here.

The reddish nebula at upper right is full of stars at least 10 times as massive as the sun. Winds of particles and radiation coming off them push the gas in the nebula into waves and bubbles from which new stars will eventually form.

Below it, a single giant star 200,000 times brighter than the sun has blown its own blue bubble of gas.

And the cosmic beat goes on. And so does Hubble.

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