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Hubble telescope marks anniversary by capturing star birth

This colorful collection of Hubble Space Telescope images of portion of the Monkey Head Nebula reveals a collection of carved knots of gas and dust silhouetted against glowing gas. The cloud is sculpted by ultraviolet light eating into the cool hydrogen gas.

NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

It has been 24 years since the launch of NASA's Hubble Telescope and to celebrate the anniversary, astronomers captured a photographic series of a star birth nearly 6,400 light-years away.

The collection of images showcase a shadowy, dense knot of gas and dust, contrasted against a background of brightly glowing gas. Photographed in February 2014, this celestial photo shoot took place in the Monkey Head nebula, or as it is officially called, NGC 2174.

Located in the constellation of Orion, the massive newborn stars photographed -- near the center of the nebula -- are blasting away at dust. Emitted by the bright stars, ultraviolet light helps shape the dust into giant pillars and the hydrogen gas becomes ionized, causing the carving action seen. As dust particles are warmed up by the ultraviolet light of the stars, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths.

The scientific breakthroughs made by the Hubble telescope over the past two decades will also be celebrated at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome later this month. The conference is meant to share the latest results from the telescope, as well as to help inspire the scientific community of the future discoveries that will hopefully be made with the Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.

These photos provide a demonstration of the infrared cameras on the aging Hubble telescope, while also offering a tantalizing hint of what scientists -- as well as stargazing fanatics -- can come to expect when the Webb telescope is launched in 2018.