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Exploring the Birth of Stars

Hubble’s near-infrared instruments see through the gas and dust clouds surrounding newborn stars.

Hubble image of NGC 1977. Bright blue cloud with a reddish-orange jet (bottom, center). Far-right side and bottom right corner, reddish-orange cloud

Stars form in large clouds of gas and dust called nebulae that scatter the visible wavelengths of light our eyes can see. The longer wavelengths of infrared light can pass through the cloud relatively undisturbed. Hubble’s near-infrared capabilities and high resolving power make it an important tool in the study of how stars form.

Hubble observations of Carina Nebula section
Dubbed “Mystic Mountain,” this is a region of the much more extensive Carina Nebula. In it, towers of cool hydrogen gas laced with dust are seen to rise along the nebula’s wall. At the top, a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust is being eaten away by the brilliant light and winds from nearby stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming left and right from the tips of the peaks.
NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Hubble’s observations of nebulae reveal bizarre landscapes sculpted by radiation from young, exceptionally bright stars. The observations reveal the violent process of star birth that produces intense ultraviolet radiation and shock fronts. The radiation clears out cavities in stellar nursery clouds and erodes material from giant gas pillars that are incubators for fledgling stars.

Hubble image of NGC 1977. Bright blue cloud with a reddish-orange jet (bottom, center). Far-right side and bottom right corner, reddish-orange cloud
A jet from a newly formed star flares into the shining depths of reflection nebula NGC 1977 in this Hubble image. The jet (the orange object at the bottom center of the image) is being emitted by the young star Parengo 2042, which is embedded in a disk of debris that could give rise to planets. The star powers a pulsing jet of plasma that stretches over two light-years through space, bending to the north in this image. The gas of the jet has been ionized until it glows by the radiation of a nearby star, 42 Orionis. This makes it particularly useful to researchers because its outflow remains visible under the ionizing radiation of nearby stars. Typically the outflow of jets like this would only be visible as it collided with surrounding material, creating bright shock waves that vanish as they cool.
NASA, ESA, and J. Bally (University of Colorado at Boulder); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Hubble also captured energetic jets of glowing gas from young stars in unprecedented detail. These jets, called Herbig-Haro objects, are a byproduct of gas swirling into newly forming stars. The jets form when the star’s magnetic field channels gas toward the spinning star’s poles where it shoots out at supersonic speeds in opposing directions. Hubble’s longevity allows astronomers to observe Herbig-Haro objects over time. These observations show us how these jets evolve as they travel through the interstellar medium. Measuring and studying the motions and shape changes of Herbig-Haro objects helps astronomers untangle the complicated physical processes that form them, while also providing clues about the environment in which newborn stars develop.

Glowing, clumpy streams of material moving left and right. Left side of the image is a bright-blue cloud slowly moving further to the left. Extending from the blue cloud is a tenuous strand of material moving toward the right. It appears to connect to a bright-white cloud at far right. This white cloud is also moving further to the right
The glowing, clumpy streams of material shown moving left and right in this Hubble image are the signposts of star birth. Collectively named Herbig-Haro 47 (HH 47), the speedy outflows have been ejected episodically, like salvos from a cannon, from a young star in the center of the image that is hidden by dust. As they move through space, these outflows create bow shocks and ripples as they collide into other clouds of material in the neighborhood of the star.
NASA, ESA, P. Hartigan (Rice University), and G. Bacon (STScI)
Glowing, clumpy streams of material moving left and right. Left side of the image is a small blue-white cloud slowly moving further to the left. Extending from the blue cloud is a strand of clumpy orange gas moving toward the right.
This series of observations by Hubble documents changes in a powerful jet called Herbig-Haro 34 (HH 34) located in the Orion Nebula.
NASA, ESA, P. Hartigan (Rice University), and G. Bacon (STScI)
Colorful nebulae are signposts of star formation. Those beautiful clouds shine by the light of enormous young stars within them. Credit: NASA GSFC; Director, Producer, and Editor: James Leigh

Explore Other Hubble Science Highlights

Learn about some of Hubble's most exciting scientific discoveries.

Cepheid star in Andromeda galaxy (Hubble observations)

Discovering the Runaway Universe

Our cosmos is growing, and that expansion rate is accelerating.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field image

Tracing the Growth of Galaxies

Hubble is instrumental in uncovering the various stages of galactic evolution.

Hubble image left to right: Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Neptune

Studying the Outer Planets and Moons

Hubble’s systematic observations chart the ever-changing environments of our solar system's giant planets and their moons. 

Hubble view of an expanding halo of light around star v838 monocerotis

Seeing Light Echoes

Like ripples on a pond, pulses of light reverberate through cosmic clouds forming echoes of light.

Hubble observations of galaxies' centers

Monster Black Holes are Everywhere

Supermassive black holes lie at the heart of nearly every galaxy.

An oval of colorful tendrils of gas and dust stretching from lower-left to upper right. Ova's outer ring is rusty-red tendrils, followed by a yellow/lime-green ring of tendrils. Oval's center is bright turquoise with white tendrils bisecting it. All set on a black background.

The Death Throws of Stars

From colliding neutron stars to exploding supernovae, Hubble reveals details of some of the mysteries surrounding the deaths of stars. 

depiction of gravitational lensing

Shining a Light on Dark Matter

Hubble’s observations help astronomers uncover the underlying structure of the universe.

Thirty proplyds in a 6 by 5 grid. Each one is unique. Some look like tadpoles, others like bright points in a cloudy disk.

Finding Planetary Construction Zones

Hubble’s sensitivity can reveal great disks of gas and dust around stars.

Three views of Pluto. Three mottled circles in colors of yellow, grey, rusty-orange, and black.

Uncovering Icy Objects in the Kuiper Belt

Hubble’s discoveries helped NASA plan the New Horizon spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto and beyond.

Comma shaped curved cloud of gases in bright white edged with bright-pink star forming regions, and threaded with rusty-brown tendrils of dust at center and throughout the comma shaped merger. All set against the black of deep space.

Galaxy Details and Mergers

Hubble’s observations reveal a menagerie of galaxies.

Blue background. Center of image is a disk blocking the light of a star. Below and just to the left of the disk, at about seven o'clock, is a bright white point. This is PDS 70b.

Recognizing Worlds Beyond Our Sun

Hubble’s unique capabilities allow it to explore planetary systems around other stars. 

animation of a binary asteroid with a shifting tail

Tracking Evolution in the Asteroid Belt

These conglomerates of rock and ice may hold clues to the early solar system.