The Hubble Space Telescope has taken millions of images of our universe. In an unusual move, NASA and the European Space Agency opened up the vaults of Hubble data, asking professional and amateur astronomers to pick and choose the best of the bunch. This contest to find the "hidden treasures" of Hubble ended up fielding over 3,000 submissions. Here are the best of the bunch.
The winning submission (seen here): Josh Lake, who enhanced this image of star-forming region NGC 1763 in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Andre van der Hoeven came in a close second in the "hidden treasures" contest. This image, actually a combination of several datasets from different observation instruments, shows Messier 77, a spiral galaxy much like our Milky Way.
A haunting and beautiful image of XZ Tauri, a newborn star still shedding gas into the cosmos. This picture, the third place finisher, was put together by Judy Schmidt. The Hubble team called it "an unusual object that we would never have found without her help."
Chameleon I is a large nebula near the south celestial pole. The stellar body is so vast that it cannot fit on a single Hubble snapshot. So Frenchman Renaud Houdinet compiled several Hubble images into this incredible mosaic. The technical skill required to piece the image together was enough to earn Houdinet fourth place in the "hidden treasures" contest.
Robert Gendler took fifth place with this image of spiral galaxy Messier 96. Gendler is well-known in amateur astronomy circles, mainly because his version of Hubble's image of galaxy NGC 3190 is the default background on new Apple computers.
Visualizing the X-ray emissions of distant celestial body SNR E0519-69.0 led to this incredible image from sixth place finisher Claude Cornen.
Another example of the beauty achievable by visualizing normally invisible energy rays. PK111-2.1 is a planetary nebula, seen here thanks to Josh Barrington.
NGC 1501 is a planetary nebula some 4,800 light years from Earth. The object was first observed in 1787, but it took until recently to fully appreciate its deep space beauty, thanks to Flickr user kyokugaisha1.
Nebula Abell 68
Perhaps the least colorful image to win a prize from the ESA, this picture of nebula Abell 68 is no less astounding. Nick Rose earned ninth place with this stripped-down view of the many stars and galaxies contained within Abell 68.
IC 10 is what's known as a dwarf galaxy. But don't let the name fool you. IC 10 is still a massive space object, as Nikolaus Sulzenauer shows with this tenth place submission. Sulzenauer named the image "Iridescent Dwarf."
Hubble's "hidden treasure" contest also had a category for unaltered submissions. The winning contender, this image of nebula NGC 6300 chosen by Brian Campbell, shows that celestial images can still provoke awe without any touch-ups.
A massive swath of gas, illuminated against the inky blackness of space by the binary star system VV Cephai, was good enough for second place for Alexey Romashin.
Luca Limatola submitted this image of deep space object IRAS 14568-6304, earning second place in the unaltered category.
North Trifid Nebula
This image shows NGC 1597, also known as the Northern Trifid Nebula, with several bright stars against a backdrop of a vast gas cloud. The picture was good enough for forth place for Kathlyn Smith.
Numberless galaxies extend into deep space in this image submitted by Adam Kill.
Nebula NGC 4490
Light and dark contrast in this image of Nebula NGC 4490, submitted by Kathy van Pelt.
Nebula NGC 4217
Nebula NGC 4217 cuts a dramatic swath of color through the vastness of space in this image submitted by Ralf Schoofs. He and Kathy van Pelt tied for sixth place in the "hidden treasures" contest.
Swirling gas cloud
A swirling gas cloud envelops nebula NGC 6153, located in Scorpius. The image was submitted by Matej Novak.
The beating heart of a spiral galaxy is shown in this stark image of NGC 7814, submitted by Gavrila Alexandru.
Wild colors clash in planetary nebula NGC 7026, located some 6,000 light-years from Earth. This image was submitted by Linda Morgan-O'Connor.
Spiral galaxy NGC 4100 is shown to its fullest extend in this submission that won the public vote in Hubble's "hidden treasures" contest.