The week marks the 15th birthday for the most important instrument in modern astronomy — the 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope. On April 25, 1990, Space Shuttle Discovery astronauts released the school-bus-size telescope into Earth orbit. Despite controversy about its future and aging parts, the instrument continues to add to its archive of more than 700,000 images.
To celebrate its birthday, the team at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, Hubble's operational home, unveiled two magnificent new images of classic astronomy scenes: the Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51) in Canes Venatici and a column of gas in the Eagle Nebula (Messier 16) in Serpens, home to Hubble's earlier, epic image, the "Pillars of Creation."
Both images are available in various sizes up to the 100+ megabyte full-resolution, mural-sized versions at the STScI Web site.
Other Web sites have created online interactive ways to explore the images.