In this special feature, we have invited top astronomers to handpick the Hubble Space Telescope image that has the most scientific relevance to them. The images they’ve chosen aren’t always the colourful glory shots that populate the countless “best of” galleries around the internet, but rather their impact comes in the scientific insights they reveal.
Tanya Hill, Museum Victoria
My all-time favorite astronomical object is the Orion Nebula — a beautiful and nearby cloud of gas that is actively forming stars. I was a high school student when I first saw the nebula through a small telescope and it gave me such a sense of achievement to manually point the telescope in the right direction and, after a fair bit of hunting, to finally track it down in the sky (there was no automatic ‘go-to’ button on that telescope).
Michael Brown, Monash University
The impact of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 with Jupiter in July 1994 was the first time astronomers had advance warning of a planetary collision. Many of the world's telescopes, including the recently repaired Hubble, turned their gaze onto the giant planet.
William Kurth, University of Iowa
This pair of images shows a spectacular ultraviolet aurora light show occurring near Saturn's north pole in 2013. The two images were taken just 18 hours apart, but show changes in the brightness and shape of the auroras. We used these to better understand how much of an impact the solar wind has on the auroras.
John Clarke, Boston University
This far-ultraviolet image of Jupiter's northern aurora shows the steady improvement in capability of Hubble's scientific instruments. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) images showed, for the first time, the full range of auroral emissions that we were just beginning to understand.
Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory
Take a good look at these images of the dwarf planet, Pluto, which show detail at the extreme limit of Hubble's capabilities. A few days from now, they will be old hat, and no-one will bother looking at them again.
Chris Tinney, University of New South Wales
I once dragged my wife into my office to proudly show her the results of some imaging observations made at the Anglo-Australian Telescope with a (then) new and (then) state-of-the-art 8, 192 x 8, 192 pixel imager. The images were so large they had to be printed out on multipleA4 pages, and then stuck together to create a huge black-and-white map of a cluster of galaxies that covered a whole wall.
Lucas Macri, Texas A&M University
In 2004, I was part of a team that used the recently-installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on Hubble to observe a small region of the disk of a nearby spiral galaxy (Messier 106) on 12 separate occasions within 45 days. These observations allowed us to discover over 200 Cepheid variables, which are very useful to measure distances to galaxies and ultimately determine the expansion rate of the universe (appropriately named the Hubble constant).
Howard Bond, Pennsylvania State University
One of the images that excited me most — even though it never became famous — was our first one of the light echo around the strange explosive star V838 Monocerotis. Its eruption was discovered in January 2002, and its light echo was discovered about a month later, both from small ground-based telescopes.
Philip Kaaret, University of Iowa
Mike Eracleous, Pennsylvania State University
Some of the Hubble Space Telescope images that appeal to me a great deal show interacting and merging galaxies, such as the Antennae (t