Accessibility links

Experience Hubble's Amazing View of the Cosmos in 3D

  • Penelope Poulou

Astronaut John Grunsfeld is positioned on a foot restraint on the end of Atlantis' remote manipulator system and astronaut Andrew Feustel (bottom center) participate in the mission's fifth and final session of extravehicular activity.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld is positioned on a foot restraint on the end of Atlantis' remote manipulator system and astronaut Andrew Feustel (bottom center) participate in the mission's fifth and final session of extravehicular activity.

Film offers first glimpse of space telescope's breathtaking deep space images in IMAX 3D

In the new film, "IMAX: Hubble 3D," an IMAX 3D camera chronicles the efforts of seven astronauts aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis to repair the Hubble space telescope as it orbits 320 miles above the Earth.

The film, narrated by Leonardo Di Caprio, also offers breathtaking images taken by the telescope during its nearly 20 years of probing space.

Astounding images

For 20 years, the Hubble telescope has been surveying the universe, bringing us astounding images of galaxies against the black void.

Dr. Ed Wyler, associate administrator for science at NASA, says Hubble has travelled four or five billion miles throughout the years.

"It's looked farther back in time than any other telescope that's ever looked. The universe is about 13.8 billion years old and it's gone back to about 600 million years after the big bang." These roiling cauldrons of gas are actually a dying star that was once about five times the mass of the sun. The "butterfly" stretches for more than two million light-years.

These roiling cauldrons of gas are actually a dying star that was once about five times the mass of the sun. The "butterfly" stretches for more than two million light-years.

Wyler says the farther the Hubble looks into the cosmos, the closer it gets to its origins. That's because the telescope is seeing light that began its journey across the universe billions of years ago.

But this time machine is getting old and will be retired in 2014.

Challenging conditions

Since Hubble's launch, astronauts have made five visits for repairs and upgrades. The last and final one, in 2009, was taped in IMAX 3D.

The astronauts repaired the telescope while one of them, in the shuttle, filmed the expedition with a 700-pound IMAX camera which had been loaded into the cargo bay before take-off. Abstract art found in the Orion Nebula

Abstract art found in the Orion Nebula

Filming was not easy. Hubble and the astronauts circled the Earth every 90 minutes, entering either sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.

The rapidly changing light was the crew's biggest challenge, says Mission Specialist Michael Massimino. He, the rest of the crew and the filmmakers attended the film premiere in 3D glasses.

"The sun is the brightest thing you can imagine in space," says Massimino. "And when you get into the dark part of the earth it is really dark. And there is no way to control the light. So, if the lighting is good and there is time to take a shot, you take it."

And then, there were the repairs, says Mission Specialist John Grunsfeld.

"Moving tiny screws with big space gloves. Point circuit boards, changing things out. Putting it all back together. Kind of like, watch repair."

So, the viewer sees space and earth as the astronauts saw them during their spacewalks.

"This is what heaven must look like," says Massimino. "There are no words that we have to describe the actual beauty of that earth, seeing it from that vantage point."

IMAX imagery

The film also shows the telescope's images from the deep universe in 3D. Filmmaker Toni Myers says this could not have happened without IMAX technology.

"This is a 3D film but Hubble doesn't shoot imagery in 3D. We have to make that happen." STS-125 Mission Specialist John Grunsfeld participates in the mission's fifth and final session of extravehicular activity (EVA).

STS-125 Mission Specialist John Grunsfeld participates in the mission's fifth and final session of extravehicular activity (EVA).

Astrophysicist Frank Summers says to create 3D images they had to use scientific data.

"It really has to start with the science. We've got a whole team of scientists that help provide us the data for how these images and how these models should look."

Graeme Ferguson, a Canadian filmmaker, invented IMAX technology some 40 years ago, along with his brother-in-law.

"I think that [soon] there will be an IMAX in everybody's living room or every home theater," says the IMAX inventor. "You'll be able to visit other planets in your own house."

Experiencing the Hubble mission in IMAX 3D makes Ferguson's prediction seem plausible. In the meantime, the film is the next best thing.

XS
SM
MD
LG