Trailing a thick column of exhaust, the Space Shuttle Columbia blasted into the twilight morning sky in 2002, its thundering rockets briefly flooding a cloud bank with the light of a false dawn. The event marked the start of the ongoing eleven day mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle would later be burned up on re-entry in a tragic 2003 accident, killing all seven of its crew. KSC/NASA
In this Sept. 25 photo, a Minotaur 4 rocket carrying the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite blasts off and heads toward orbit at 9:41 p.m., at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The satellite is designed to detect and monitor debris, satellites and other space objects that could be a threat to national security, communications and weather satellites. Andrew Lee/US Air Force/AP
Estimated to be 100 times heftier than our Sun, Eta Carinae is one of the most massive stars in our galaxy. It may also turn out to be one of the shortest-lived, because results for SN 2006gy suggest that it may be destroyed by a supernova at any time. Since Eta Carinae is located in our galaxy only about 7500 light years away, this would be a spectacular event. NASA/N.Smith & J.Morse)
A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a superdense neutron star left behind by the stellar death is spewing out a blizzard of extremely high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. NASA/CXC/J.Hester (ASU); Optical: NASA/ESA/J.Hester & A.Loll (ASU); Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R.G ehrz (Univ. Minn.)
The supernova remnant 1E0102.2-7219 sits next to the nebula N76 in a bright, star-forming region of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy located about 200,000 light-years from Earth. A supernova remnant is made up of the messy bits and pieces of a massive star that exploded, or went supernova. NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stanimirovic (UC Berkeley)
Chandra's image of N63A shows material heated to about ten million degrees Celsius by a shock wave generated by the supernova explosion. This image has been inverted to better show the fluffy crescent-shaped X-ray features that appear around the edge of the remnant. The features are thought to be fragments of high-speed matter shot out from the star when it exploded, like shrapnel from a bomb. NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren et al.
Glowing gaseous streamers of red, white, and blue — as well as green and pink — illuminate the heavens like fireworks. The colorful streamers that float across the sky in this photo taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope were created by the universe's biggest firecracker, the titanic supernova explosion of a massive star. The light from the exploding star reached Earth 320 years ago. NASA
The Helix Nebula, which is composed of gaseous shells and disks puffed out by a dying sunlike star, exhibits complex structure on the smallest visible scales. The "cometary knots" show blue-green heads due to excitation of their molecular material from shocks or ultraviolet radiation. The tails of the cometary knots appear redder due to being shielded from the central star's ultraviolet radiation and wind by the heads of the knots. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ J. Hora (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)
Resembling sparks from a fireworks display, this image taken by a JPL camera onboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows delicate filaments that are sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. NASA/JPL/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Astronomers have obtained an unprecedented look at the nearest example of galactic cannibalism - a massive black hole hidden at the center of a nearby giant galaxy that is feeding on a smaller galaxy in a spectacular collision. Such fireworks were common in the early universe, as galaxies formed and evolved, but are rare today. NASA
The Hubble telescope has uncovered over 1,000 bright, young star clusters bursting to life in a brief, intense, brilliant 'fireworks show' at the heart of a pair of colliding galaxies. This picture provides a sweeping view of the two galaxies, called the Antennae. A wide band of chaotic dust stretches between the cores of the two galaxies. The sweeping spiral-like patterns, traced by bright blue star clusters, are the result of a firestorm of star birth that was triggered by the collision. NASA
Mysterious stellar fireworks create expanding gas shells and blowtorch-like jets which form a spectacularly intricate and symmetrical structure. The nebula is a fossil record of the late stages of the star's evolution. J.P. Harrington and K.J. Borkowski (University of Maryland), and NASA
This is an artist's impression of how the very early universe (less than one billion years old) might have looked when it went through a voracious onset of star formation, converting primordial hydrogen into myriad stars at an unprecedented rate. NASA and K. Lanzetta (SUNY). Artwork Credit: Adolf Schaller for STScI.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of a cosmic explosion that is quite similar to fireworks on Earth. In the nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, a massive star has exploded as a supernova, and begun to dissipate its interior into a spectacular display of colorful filaments. The greenish-blue supernova remnant, E0102, resides 50 light-years away from the edge of a bright glowing massive star-forming region. NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage/AURA/J. Green (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Nearly 12.5 million light-years away in the dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 stellar 'fireworks' are going off all the time. The image was taken in November 2005 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. NASA/ESA/A. Aloisi/STScI/ESA/Hubble Heritage
At greater distances (looking farther back in time) our view of the universe becomes murkier; the number of known galaxies is smaller and their distances are more uncertain. Using the deepest images from the largest ground- and space-based telescopes, astronomers are just now beginning to see into the era when the first stars may have formed. NASA