Horsehead, not cake, marks Hubble's 11th

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The Horsehead nebula is silhouetted against the bright nebula, IC 434. The bright area at the top left edge is a young star

April 24, 2001
Web posted at: 9:04 AM EDT (1304 GMT)

(CNN) — The Hubble Space Telescope is having a birthday, but astronomy buffs are getting the gift.

To commemorate the telescope's 11th year in the sky since its launch in 1990, the Hubble was aimed at the Horsehead nebula. The nebula, a popular target for amateur astronomers, was selected by Internet voters last year as an astronomical target for the Hubble.

Also known as Barnard 33, the nebula comes by its nickname honestly. Its unusual shape, resembling the head of a horse, was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late 1800s.

From the home office in geosynchronous orbit... it's the Hubble Top Ten

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During its first 11 years Hubble has:
Orbited Earth 60,000 times
Traveled more than 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion km)
Made more than 400,000 exposures
Observed 15,000 astronomical targets
Downloaded more than 6 terabytes of data

Hubble's picture of the nebula shows a cold, dark cloud of gas and dust, silhouetted against a bright-red nebula referred to by scientists as IC 434. A bright area at the top left edge of the picture is a young star still embedded in gas and dust. Radiation from the young star is eroding its gaseous birthplace. A massive star located outside Hubble's view is sculpting the top of the Horsehead.

Horsehead lies just south of Zeta Orionis. A bright light, it's visible to the unaided eye as the left-hand star in the line of three that form Orion's Belt.

The nebula is a favorite of amateur astronomers, who often use it to test their stargazing skills. It's known as one of the more difficult objects to observe visually with an amateur-sized telescope.

Jointly managed by NASA and the European Space Agency, Hubble was launched by the shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Two days later, the telescope was on its own, drifting into space, recording cosmic images.

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