Exploring the Expanse: 30 Years of Hubble Discoveries
Connect with us


Exploring the Expanse: 30 Years of Hubble Discoveries



View the full-size version of the infographic

Exploring the Expanse Hubble Discoveries

Exploring the Expanse: 30 Years of Hubble Discoveries

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here.

We’ve been fascinated by space for centuries, but telescopes truly opened our eyes to what lies beyond our frontiers.

For 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been our companion in helping us understand outer space, paving the way for many important scientific discoveries in the process.

A Window to the Universe

Hubble launched on Apr 24, 1990 and has been in our orbit ever since. However, it had something of a shaky start. Due to an error in its primary mirror, it returned many wobbly and blurry images—until a servicing mission in December 1993 fixed the issue.

Today’s incredible map was created by Nadieh Bremer of Visual Cinnamon, for the scientific journal Physics Today. It incorporates over 550,000 scientific observations, to show the diverse objects captured by Hubble between 1990-2019.

Certain constellations have been included to help place these findings, many of which are also visible to the naked eye. Here are the main color-coded categories found on the map:

  • Yellow: Star/ Stellar cluster
    Example: V838 Monocerotis, which includes a red star and a light echo.
  • Red: Galaxy/ Clusters of galaxies
    Example: Spiral galaxy M81, half the size of the Milky Way.
  • Green: Interstellar medium (ISM)
    Example: Eagle Nebula, a majestic spire of cosmic dust and gas, resembling pillars and spanning 4-5 light years.
  • Blue: Solar System
    Example: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a high-pressure storm in the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Pink: Calibration/Unidentified (e.g. Hubble Deep Field surveys)
    Example: Ultra Deep Field, which captured a view of 10,000 galaxies over 11 days—some which date back to the early billion years of the universe.

NASA considers the Hubble telescope the “most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope” and not without good reason—its total observations top 1.3 million.

Hubble Observations, by Category

The journey doesn’t end there, either. Bremer also looked at the frequency of Hubble observations that occurred within each of these categories, ranging from 1,000-20,000.

Hubble Observation by Category

Source: Physics Today

Each category encompasses multiple distinctive descriptions. For example, galaxies can be broken down further into whether they are spiral, nuclear, elliptical-shaped and much more.

Hubble’s Growing Legacy

The images sent back by Hubble over these three decades are not just for aesthetic purposes. The telescope is also responsible for immense contributions to the astronomy field: close to 13,000 scientific papers have used Hubble as a source to date.

The biggest scientific breakthrough thus far? The realization that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate—thanks to a force called dark energy.

Hubble really did open up the whole universe to us in a way that nothing else did.

—Colleen Hartman, Former Deputy Center Director, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s clear that Hubble already has an impressive legacy, and it’s not expected to be retired until at least the year 2025. Soon, it will be joining forces with the new James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched in March 2021. For the next generation of space enthusiasts, their eyes to the skies may well be the Webb instead.

For the true data viz nerds among us, here is an in-depth blog post detailing the sky map’s creation from scratch.

Click for Comments


Every Mission to Mars in One Visualization

This graphic shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960, highlighting which ones have been successful and which ones haven’t.



Timeline: A Historical Look at Every Mission to Mars

Within our Solar System, Mars is one of the most similar planets to Earth—both have rocky landscapes, solid outer crusts, and cores made of molten rock.

Because of its similarities to Earth and proximity, humanity has been fascinated by Mars for centuries. In fact, it’s one of the most explored objects in our Solar System.

But just how many missions to Mars have we embarked on, and which of these journeys have been successful? This graphic by Jonathan Letourneau shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960 using NASA’s historical data.

A Timeline of Mars Explorations

According to a historical log from NASA, there have been 48 missions to Mars over the last 60 years. Here’s a breakdown of each mission, and whether or not they were successful:

11960Korabl 4USSR (flyby)Failure
21960Korabl 5USSR (flyby)Failure
31962Korabl 11USSR (flyby)Failure
41962Mars 1USSR (flyby)Failure
51962Korabl 13USSR (flyby)Failure
61964Mariner 3US (flyby)Failure
71964Mariner 4US (flyby)Success
81964Zond 2USSR (flyby)Failure
91969Mars 1969AUSSRFailure
101969Mars 1969BUSSRFailure
111969Mariner 6US (flyby)Success
121969Mariner 7US (flyby)Success
131971Mariner 8USFailure
141971Kosmos 419USSRFailure
151971Mars 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSRFailure
161971Mars 3 Orbiter/LanderUSSRSuccess/Failure
171971Mariner 9USSuccess
181973Mars 4USSRFailure
191973Mars 5USSRSuccess
201973Mars 6 Orbiter/LanderUSSRSuccess/Failure
211973Mars 7 LanderUSSRFailure
221975Viking 1 Orbiter/LanderUSSuccess
231975Viking 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSuccess
241988Phobos 1 OrbiterUSSRFailure
251988Phobos 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSRFailure
261992Mars ObserverUSFailure
271996Mars Global SurveyorUSSuccess
281996Mars 96RussiaFailure
291996Mars PathfinderUSSuccess
311998Mars Climate OrbiterUSFailure
321999Mars Polar LanderUSFailure
331999Deep Space 2 Probes (2)USFailure
342001Mars OdysseyUSSuccess
352003Mars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderESASuccess/Failure
362003Mars Exploration Rover - SpiritUSSuccess
372003Mars Exploration Rover - OpportunityUSSuccess
382005Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterUSSuccess
392007Phoenix Mars LanderUSSuccess
402011Mars Science LaboratoryUSSuccess
422013Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionUSSuccess
432013Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)IndiaSuccess
442016ExoMars Orbiter/Schiaparelli EDL Demo LanderESA/RussiaSuccess/Failure
452018Mars InSight LanderUSSuccess
462020Hope OrbiterUAESuccess
472020Tianwen-1 Orbiter/Zhurong RoverChinaSuccess
482020Mars 2020 Perseverance RoverUSSuccess

The first mission to Mars was attempted by the Soviets in 1960, with the launch of Korabl 4, also known as Mars 1960A.

As the table above shows, the voyage was unsuccessful. The spacecraft made it 120 km into the air, but its third-stage pumps didn’t generate enough momentum for it to stay in Earth’s orbit.

For the next few years, several more unsuccessful Mars missions were attempted by the USSR and then NASA. Then, in 1964, history was made when NASA launched the Mariner 4 and completed the first-ever successful trip to Mars.

The Mariner 4 didn’t actually land on the planet, but the spacecraft flew by Mars and was able to capture photos, which gave us an up-close glimpse at the planet’s rocky surface.

Then on July 20, 1976, NASA made history again when its spacecraft called Viking 1 touched down on Mars’ surface, making it the first space agency to complete a successful Mars landing. Viking 1 captured panoramic images of the planet’s terrain, and also enabled scientists to monitor the planet’s weather.

Vacation to Mars, Anyone?

To date, all Mars landings have been done without crews, but NASA is planning to send humans to Mars by the late 2030s.

And it’s not just government agencies that are planning missions to Mars—a number of private companies are getting involved, too. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has a long-term plan to build an entire city on Mars.

Two other aerospace startups, Impulse and Relativity, also announced an unmanned joint mission to Mars in July 2022, with hopes it could be ready as soon as 2024.

As more players are added to the mix, the pressure is on to be the first company or agency to truly make it to Mars. If (or when) we reach that point, what’s next is anyone’s guess.

Continue Reading


Visualized: Which Countries are Dominating Space?

Which countries dominate outer space? This visual displays the number of objects every country has launched into space over time.



objects in space

Visualized: Which Countries are Dominating Space

Believe it or not, there is a lot of stuff in space. In fact, our atmosphere is filled with more than 11,000 objects that have been launched since the foray into space began.

The Space Race started during the Cold War, and early on the Soviet Union dominated when it came to the amount of devices and objects launched into our atmosphere. But a few years ago, the U.S. took back that title with Elon Musk’s SpaceX helping lead the charge.

This visual, using data from Our World in Data, breaks down the amount of objects launched into space by country over time.

What Gets Launched Into Space?

What are the objects being sent into our atmosphere and why are they so important? Here’s a look at just a few:

  • Satellites
  • Crewed spacecraft
  • Probes
  • Space station flight equipment

Probes and landers like the Mars Rover, for example, have helped scientists explore other planets. Satellites provide us with everyday necessities like cell phone service, far reaching television signals, satellite imagery, and GPS.

As of late 2021, there were around 4,852 operational satellites in orbit2,944 belonging to the United States. Here’s a quick look at what the U.S. uses its satellites for:

  • Commercial: 2,516
  • Military: 230
  • Government: 168
  • Civil: 30

Many satellites in orbit, however, are no longer functional. In fact, there is a lot of junk in space—according to NASA, there are over 27,000 pieces of space debris in orbit.

The Space Race, by Country

The venture into outer space began during the Cold War when the USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957. After this, the U.S. and Soviet Union entered a definitive competition between technological advancements and scientific exploration into space—an extension of the battle between political ideologies.

Few countries have come close in matching either the U.S. or Russia so far. Here’s a look at the cumulative number of objects different countries have launched into orbit and beyond.

RankCountry Cumulative Number of Objects Launched into Space
#1🇺🇸 United States5,534
#2🇷🇺 Russia3,611
#3🇨🇳 China 731
#4🇬🇧 UK 515
#5🇯🇵 Japan 300
#6🇫🇷 France130
#7🇮🇳 India 127
#8🇩🇪 Germany 114
#9🇨🇦 Canada 82
#10🇱🇺 Luxembourg53
#11🇮🇹 Italy52
#12🇰🇷 South Korea43
#13🇧🇷 Brazil 39
#14🇦🇺 Australia 36
#15🇧🇪 Belgium36
#16🇮🇱 Israel 30
#17🇪🇸 Spain29
#18🇺🇾 Uruguay 23
#19🇮🇩 Indonesia21
#20🇦🇷 Argentina20
#21🇸🇪 Sweden19
#22🇲🇽 Mexico18
#23🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia17
#24🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates17
#25🇹🇼 Taiwan17
#26🇫🇮 Finland 17
#27🇹🇷 Turkey16
#28🇨🇭 Switzerland15
#29🇹🇭 Thailand14
#30🇳🇿 New Zealand14
#31🇳🇴 Norway14
#32🇳🇱 Netherlands13
#33🇩🇰 Denmark12
#34🇪🇬 Egypt9
#35🇰🇿 Kazakhstan9
#36🇲🇾 Malaysia 9
#37🇱🇹 Lithuania9
#38🇺🇦 Ukraine8
#39🇵🇱 Poland8
#40🇻🇳 Vietnam7
#41🇵🇭 Philippines7
#42🇨🇿 Czechia7
#43🇩🇿 Algeria 6
#44🇮🇷 Iran 6
#45🇵🇰 Pakistan6
#46🇳🇬 Nigeria 5
#47🇿🇦 South Africa 5
#48🇭🇺 Hungary 5
#49🇻🇪 Venezuela4
#50🇵🇪 Peru 4
#51🇨🇱 Chile 4
#52🇲🇦 Morocco3
#53🇦🇿 Azerbaijan3
#54🇬🇷 Greece3
#55🇪🇪 Estonia3
#56🇧🇾 Belarus3
#57🇧🇬 Bulgaria3
#58🇦🇹 Austria3
#59🇨🇴 Colombia2
#60🇪🇨 Ecuador 2
#61🇰🇵 North Korea2
#62🇧🇩 Bangladesh2
#63🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea2
#64🇸🇰 Slovakia 2
#65🇸🇮 Slovenia2
#66🇬🇭 Ghana 1
#67🇪🇹 Ethiopia1
#68🇰🇪 Kenya 1
#69🇷🇼 Rwanda 1
#70🇦🇴 Angola 1
#71🇬🇹 Guatemala1
#72🇨🇷 Costa Rica1
#73🇧🇴 Bolivia1
#74🇵🇾 Paraguay1
#75🇲🇳 Mongolia1
#76🇹🇲 Turkmenistan1
#77🇯🇴 Jordan1
#78🇶🇦 Qatar 1
#79🇱🇰 Sri Lanka 1
#80🇳🇵 Nepal 1
#81🇧🇹 Bhutan 1
#82🇱🇦 Laos1
#83🇱🇻 Latvia1
#84🇷🇴 Romania1
#85🇲🇨 Monaco1
#86🇵🇹 Portugal1

One important disclaimer here is that not all of these countries have orbital launch capabilities, meaning that although the satellite in space may belong to a certain country, that doesn’t mean that it was launched by said country. For example, the UK’s first launch in 1971 was out of Australia and France’s first launch took place in Algeria in 1965.

In total, around 86 countries have attempted some kind of entry into space. However, as of 2022, only 11 countries have the ability to send objects into space using their own launch vehicles, and only three—the U.S., Russia, and China—have ever launched people into outer space.

The Future of Space

With corporations beginning to take the lead in this new frontier, the landscape of space launches is changing. In 2019 Starlink, a constellation of satellites which provides 36 countries with internet access, was launched. With over 2,200 Starlink satellites in the sky and counting, SpaceX’s ultimate goal is global internet coverage; China is planning a similar venture.

Beyond useful satellites and scientific exploration, other potential space industries are emerging.

As one example, the business of commercial space tourism is no longer a futuristic concept. In late 2021, famous billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson flew briefly into space on a private flight. Jeff Bezos, having founded Blue Origin, followed shortly after.

Today, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration for passenger space travel. However, if you want to be launched into space, it will cost you around $250,000-$500,000.

Continue Reading