The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990. (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team)

In honor of the Hubble Space Telescope's 25th anniversary on Friday, NASA representatives on Thursday unveiled an official celebratory image. You can read more about the Hubble's brilliant past and murky future here. But let's focus on the science behind the photo above, which is just one of so many beautiful shots the Hubble has given us throughout the past quarter of a century.

[The Hubble spotted this smiley face in space]

The images reveals a truth that the Hubble has helped us see for years: Our universe is alive with activity. Unlike the human eye, the Hubble can bring out a full spectrum of light emitted by new stars, giving us a stunning picture of the stellar birthing grounds and the gas and dust surrounding them. NASA has also released a 3-D fly-through of the image, thanks to the Hubble's incredible resolution coupled with NASA scientists' knowledge:

This visualization provides a three-dimensional perspective on Hubble's 25th anniversary image of the nebula Gum 29 with the star cluster Westerlund 2 at its core. (G. Bacon, L. Frattare, Z. Levay, and F. Summers and J. Anderson/NASA, ESA)

The image captures a section of Gum 29, a region of vigorous star birth around 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina. The glittering cluster you see is called Westerlund 2, and it's made up of around 3,000 stars and spans between six and 13 light-years across.

[From the Hubble, a new image of a glittering cosmic wonderland with stars as old as the universe itself]

Westerlund 2 is a young cluster -- only about 2 million years old -- so the stars its forming have yet to make their way into deeper space. Meanwhile, the clouds of gas and dust that form pillars and valleys around the new stars interact with them -- and serve as an incubator for even more glittering stars.

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